yum

Last week, as I was working on my fridge cleanse (it’s sort of cleansed… at least the main culprits are gone), I realized that I needed a delightful side dish to go with my pan Asian spicy pork loin that I had marinating in the fridge. 101 Cookbooks had a tasty looking recipe for miso veggies with tofu the other day and I figured that would be a good accompaniment to the pork. Only I knew that I didn’t want to use tofu and also that I probably wasn’t going to buy sake just for this dressing. Mirin, maybe. So I made up my own miso vinaigrette and it came out pretty darn tasty.

ramps

I went down to Union Square on Wednesday while that pork did its thing to see what was going on at the green market. And hey! There are veggies at the farmer’s market now! This is really exciting news, because as much as I love kale and roots vegetables (and I really, really, really do), I also like green things that aren’t bitter leaves. Spring is here, hurray!

asparagus!

Originally, I was going to make some fried rice to go with the veggies (use up those eggs! use up some more ginger!), but I ended up finding some beautiful purple fingerling potatoes at the market and I threw those into the oven with some asparagus (first of the season!), carrots (from Whole Foods, kind of a cheat), and ramps (maybe overhyped, but not overrated). The vegetables all benefited from their time in the oven, resulting in a pleasant depth of flavor that was complimented nicely by the dressing. I would use this combination again, but ramps are on the outs pretty soon and asparagus has a short season too, so feel free to substitute scallions or red onions for the ramps and some broccoli for the asparagus. Or really any veggies you like roasted (or grilled!).

marinade

As for the pork, I made a marinade of garlic, dried ginger (fresh would be great but I didn’t have it yet), fish sauce, sesame oil, mustard, crushed red pepper flakes, rice wine vinegar, and a touch of honey. It was sort of slap dash but came out nice and crusted up pretty well in the oven. I made mine in my mortar and pestle because I never use it, but this would come together faster and easier in the food processor. You can also use this marinade on pork tenderloin, fish, or chicken (choose a sturdy fish like tuna or swordfish, otherwise it will be overwhelmed). Just adjust the marinating time.

marinating

Recipe: Spicy Marinated Pork Loin
Serves 4 – 6
6-8 cloves garlic (you want this garlicky!)
1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp fish sauce
1.5 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp honey
2 to 2.5 lb pork loin roast

Combine ingredients for marinade in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a coarse paste is formed. Rub all over pork. Let the pork sit, covered, in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450. Put the pork in the oven for 10 minutes (this is to get a nice crust on the meat). Reduce the heat to 350 and continue cooking for about an hour or until the inside is no longer pink. Turn the pork over halfway through cooking to ensure you get a nice crust on the top and bottom.

Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes before slicing thinly and serving.

veggies

Recipe: Miso Veggies
Serves 4
4 large carrots
1/2 – 3/4 lb potatoes (I used pretty purple ones, but any new potatoes will work)
1 bunch asparagus (or a head of broccoli)
1 bunch ramps (or scallions)
olive oil, salt, and pepper
3 tbsp red miso paste (found in your grocer’s fridge)
2 cloves garlic
1″ piece ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp mirin or other rice wine
1 tbsp honey

To prepare dressing, combine miso, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, olive oil, rice wine vinegar, mirin, and honey in a blender. Blend until smooth. Set aside.

Scrub the potatoes and carrots and cut into 1″ chunks. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper on a foil lined baking sheet. Put in the oven with the pork for the last 40 minutes of the pork’s cooking time.

Meanwhile, clean and trim the asparagus. Separate the ramp greens from the white and purple bulbs. Toss the asparagus and the ramp bulbs with olive oil, salt, and pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet. Put in the oven with the pork for the last 12 minutes of the pork’s cooking time.

When the asparagus, carrots, and potatoes have about 3 or 4 minutes of cooking time left, add the ramp greens to the baking sheets to wilt them.

Allow the asparagus to cool slightly and cut it into 1 inch chunks. Combine all the vegetables and add enough dressing to coat (you will have dressing leftover, which will keep well in the fridge for a week or two). Serve alongside the pork.

As you may remember, I am trying to cook through all the crap in my fridge this week. I am having mixed results. The céleri rémoulade I made was a bit off. I think I can blame it on the mayonnaise I bought (Whole Foods 365 mayo, in case you’re wondering… I’ve never tried it before and I find it does not stand up to the Hellman’s I grew up with). I added apples in at the end to try and brighten it up, but it didn’t work. I think I will taste it one last time today (it’s had a full 3 days of flavor melding to improve) and then chuck it if it still sucks. Oh well. No love lost.

livers

Last week, I bought a couple of scant pound containers of chicken livers at Whole Foods (apparently this is the way to enjoy organic chicken, because they were reasonably priced and, of course, delicious). I made one of the containers the same day I got them and I jealously hoarded the other one until yesterday. I prepared them the same way both times: gently pan-fried in tons of butter until cooked through but still pink on the inside, and served with a sauce of balsamic vinegar, onions, shallots, and even more butter. The result is a dish that is fatty, rich, tangy, and sweet. It is heavenly (and, I think, a great introduction to liver for those friends who profess they hate it). These chicken livers are so good, I didn’t even get to photograph them before I devoured them the first time. And the second time I made them, I also did not photograph them (too hungry). Oops! There were a few left over, and that is what you see above.

I served my livers over baby spinach (because that makes them healthy, right?) but these would be really nice over some arugula (the peppery bite would be the perfect foil for the richness of the meat) or on toasted pieces of baguette as a crostini type appetizer. Or as a sandwich on that baguette with some arugula thrown in. Or with some rice or pasta. Or next to some steamed veggies. Really, the possibilities are endless.

These livers are easy to make, inexpensive, and delicious. What’s not to love?

also livers

Recipe: Balsamic Chicken Livers
Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter
1 lb chicken livers, cleaned, lobes separated *
1/3 cup flour
2 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp pepper, divided
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
5 tbsp butter, divided
1 small red onion, diced
3 shallots, sliced thin
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Combine flour, 1 tsp salt, half a tsp pepper, and the cayenne in a bowl big enough to hold all the livers. Rinse the livers if you wish and pat dry. (I do not rinse my livers, but you can if you want. Make sure you pat them dry regardless, otherwise all the oil will spatter everywhere.) Dredge the livers in the flour.

Heat a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. Melt 2 tbsp butter in the skillet. When the butter is all melted and foaming, place the livers into the skillet, gently tapping off excess flour before putting them in the fat. Cook for 3 minutes on the first side, flip them, and then cook for another 2 minutes or so (this will give you livers that are pink inside; cook a bit longer if you want them all the way done, but beware, they may dry out). Remove from the pan and set aside. Season with about half the remaining salt and pepper.

Let the pan cool down for a minute, then return it to medium heat and add a tbsp and a half of butter. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and shallots. Cook for about 4 minutes, until they are soft but not falling apart. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir around, scraping up any stuck on bits on the bottom of the pan (hello, flavor!). Let the vinegar, onion, and shallot mixture reduce for about 2 minutes (don’t put your face in the steam coming off the pan — there is nothing worse than getting hit with a strong whiff of reducing vinegar). Season with the rest of the salt and pepper. Add the remaining butter and cook until the butter melts, about 1 minute. Remove sauce from the heat.

Spoon the sauce over the livers. Serve over mixed greens or on toasted pieces of baguette.

* This may sound kind of intimidating, but it’s really easy. Cut off any grizzly looking bits, veiny bloody bits, and yellow fatty bits (these are usually all located between the chicken liver lobes).

fridge

Time to try something new. As you see, above is a picture of my messy, overly full fridge & freezer. For the next week, I’m gonna clean that sucker out, cooking my way through it (at least, I’m going to try).

I’ve got 3/4 lb of chicken livers, left over french onion soup, a celery root (set to become céleri rémoulade), a ton of goat cheese, a pork loin (I’ll have to roast that one off, I guess, and make sandwiches and quesadillas and things), fresh thyme, some apples (maybe a sauce with the pork one night? maybe some sort of salad?), a couple of pears, an orange, some baby spinach, 3 eggs, milk, goat’s milk kefir… the list goes on. There are also some prepared meals in the freezer, but I’m going to save those for the proverbial rainy day (there are a few kinds of soup, curried chickpeas, some braising liquid from a brisket I made that I think will go fantastically over some pasta, some pelmeni, and some booze). I’ve got some grains and pasta in the pantry and I’ll use those too, but the only thing I want to buy is supplemental salad veggies and things of that nature.

We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully next weekend, I’ll have a much cleaner fridge to show off (and a couple of recipes during the week, too!).

pretty plate

Spring is definitely here (at least in New York City). I made my first pair of cutoffs last week (when we had record temperatures in the low 90s) and ramps are at the Greenmarket and the kids are out playing baseball in full force and Mr. Softee’s jingle fills the air here in the Heights. So it’s time to set aside the substantial winter soups and hearty braises (although, let’s be real, I am quite sure I will be making this brisket well into the summer months, and you should too) and cook up something a little lighter.

I’ve had a bunch of golden beets in my refrigerator since Passover (I made a beet, fennel, and orange salad for my family’s seder) and it was time to use them before the greens went bad. Originally I had planned to roast the beets, slice em up, and give them a quick pan fry to crisp them up a little bit. Then I was going to sauté the beet greens (with plenty of garlic) and serve them with the crispy beets as a warm salad. But Friday ended up being kind of chilly and I decided I wanted something a little more substantial. At first I thought about running out to get some quinoa (the nuttiness would pair very nicely with beets and beet greens), but then I remembered the farro I had in the pantry. I boiled it and and tossed it with the beets (roasted and then cubed) and sautéed beet greens and then added a little goat cheese to the mixture for added body and creaminess.

cooking

I knew right away that the beety farro was going to be the real star of the show, but I wanted a protein to go with it as well. I’ve had a couple of porkchops in the freezer for quite some time and I pulled those out and defrosted them. I always make porkchops the same way: heat cast iron skillet until very hot, apply spice rub, cook (1″) porkchops 4 minutes on each side without moving, let rest, serve. They come out perfectly juicy every time and the spice rub makes them very flavorful. Of course, if you don’t like things spicy, you can just salt and pepper them, but please, make sure you don’t overcook them. There is nothing more dissatisfying than dry, tough porkchops.

If you time this meal right, you can have everything ready to go in about an hour. First, you want to put the beets in the oven. Then, prep everything else (chop the onions and garlic, clean the beet greens, cook the farro, and make the spice rub for the porkchops). When the beets are almost ready, cook the beet greens. Once the beets are out of the oven, cook the porkchops. Peel and cube the beets while the porkchops rest. Toss everything together and serve. It may be a little elaborate for a weeknight dinner, but it’s not such a stretch, and the farro makes fantastic leftovers for lunch the next day (or brunch, with a poached egg on top).

farro

Recipe: Farro with Golden Beets & Beet Greens
Serves 4
1 bunch golden beets with greens* (you can certainly use red beets, but the golden ones are less messy and a bit sweeter which works nicely here). My bunch had 3 medium sized beets.
3/4 cup farro, rinsed
1 large onion, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp olive oil
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
balsamic vinegar, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Clean the beets thoroughly and remove the greens, setting aside (leave the peel on because it will slide right off once they are out of the oven). Wrap the beets in tinfoil and bake in the oven for about 1 hour, or until the beets are tender (easily pierced with a fork). Remove the peel (it should slide off easily using just your hands or you can use a pairing knife) and cut beets into half inch cubes.

Put a medium pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the farro. Figure you don’t need a pasta pot but a little 2 egg pot won’t work either. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, add the well-rinsed farro and cook for about 25 minutes, until it is tender but still toothsome. Drain and set aside.

When the beets have about 15 minutes left of cooking time, prepare your beet greens by cleaning them thoroughly (agitate in three changes of water and then dry). Remove large stems and rip them into manageable pieces (remember that they will wilt significantly when cooked, so they don’t need to be tiny).

Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet. Add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes, until it is nice and soft. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for about a minute more, until everything is very fragrant. Then add the beet greens and wilt them (you can put a lid on it to help them along).

Once everything is cooked through, add the farro and the cubed beets and stir over low heat for a minute, just till everything blends together. Transfer to a serving dish and let cool for a couple of minutes.

Once the farro has cooled just a little, add the crumbled goat cheese. Then drizzle with a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Serve alongside the blackened porkchops.

* If you can’t find beets with the greens on, you can substitute any greens you liked. Spinach would work fine here (although it is not assertive like beet greens, which are a bit bitter) and so would chard. Don’t omit the greens entirely though — they add depth to this dish.

porchops

Recipe: Blackened Porkchops
Serves 4
4 inch thick boneless porkchops
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp oil (I used olive oil but you can certainly use something more neutral, as long as it has a high smoke point)

To prepare the porkchops, trim off any excess fat and pat them dry. Mix all the ingredients for the dry rub together and season the porkchops liberally on both side with the rub.

Put a thick, heavy bottomed skillet (may I suggest cast iron?) over medium high heat and heat the sucker up until it is burning. Then add the oil and let that heat up until it is super duper hot. It shouldn’t be smoking, but almost.

Add the porkchops to the pan and cook without touching them for four minutes. Turn them over and cook for four more minutes (again, don’t touch them!). Remove them from the pan and let them rest of a couple of minutes so all of the juices don’t spill out of the pork the second you cut into them.

Serve alongside farro.

Image from Amazon.com

This grill!

You can look forward to many posts about outdoor feasts once it arrives. Very excited!

So hey, it’s been a while! Where have I been?

Well, for a while there, I got caught up in this awful job I had (working with kids? not all it’s cracked up to be) and I didn’t really have time to do anything but go to work, take out this little monster, eat something (usually quickly) and go to sleep. Then I started seeing someone and even more of my time disappeared. And then winter passed and now it’s spring and it looks like i haven’t updated since late fall. That’s not very good! But. No worries. I have since quit my job (and sort of found a new one that involves working from home on a contract basis) and I now find myself with lots and lots of free time and very few ways to fill it. Of course, I can always take the dogs for a walk or even go for a jog (imagine that!), but then the rest of the days… they are long! Which means, you’ll be hearing more from me over here (and over at Cam’s blog too — two plugs in one paragraph! crazy!).

high line

About two weeks ago, the weather in New York finally decided to break (but not without a little spell of days in the mid 30s as a last “fuck you” from mother nature). A week ago, on an overcast (but perfectly pleasant) day, Tarana and I decided to take a stroll along the High Line (I’d never been!) and grab some lunch. The High Line is beautiful and I recommend you check it out if you’re ever in New York City. I hear it is a mad house in the summer, but try and go on a day when the weather is little off and you won’t be sorry. The design elements are all really cool and it’s got lots of great views of the city. It’s a wonderful little oasis in the city (what a cliché, right? — but it’s true!). I hope we’ll get more parks like that around here.

After our stroll, we walked over to Chelsea Market for lunch. When I was looking up where to eat near the High Line, The Green Table caught my attention with its seasonal, green market driven menu and its affordable prices. Plus, I wanted to pick up a loaf of bread from Amy’s.

The Green Table did not disappoint. The little restaurant is in the back of the market and has a tiny dining room (maybe room for 15 to sit down?) with a couple of tables and a little bar counter. There were some tables outside the restaurant as well, with room for 6 or 8 more people, but during lunch time, the market is so busy that it’s probably more enjoyable to sit inside. The menu changes with the seasons and there are daily specials, from what I understand, although a few classics always remain on the list, including their famous pot pies (there is both a meaty and meatless option) and their grilled cheese (made with Amy’s sourdough). The menu reads like a roster of local farms and artisanal producers (which in my book is definitely a good thing). They have a couple of beers on draught (there was an Ommegang and a Red Hook) and some wines (both by the bottle and by the glass). Servers are friendly and the kitchen is semi-open so you can see your feast being prepared.

tarte flambee

eggs

I ordered the tarte flambée, which came with chevre, caramelized onions, and cured pork belly. Tarana had the baked eggs which came with a side of market greens (please excuse the awfully out of focus picture of the eggs… I’m still getting back into the swing of things around here!). Although the tarte flambée was billed as a starter, it was huge and very filling. The flavors were just right: sweetness from the onions, creaminess from the cheese, and some smokey salty goodness from the pork. Definitely a worthy lunch (although it would’ve been nice if they’d thrown a side salad into the deal). The baked eggs were farm fresh and perfectly cooked, with runny yolks and nice firm whites. The greens were delicious too — lightly dressed and very fresh tasting (sourcing things locally sure does pay off!). I also had a hibiscus lemonade to drink and that was lovely as well — not too sweet and a pretty pink color (never hurts). The desserts sounded good but we didn’t try them because we were stuffed. Lunch was well priced ($40 with tax and tip for 2 is a veritable bargain in this city).

Afterwards, we went into Ninth Street Espresso (conveniently located just across the way). I’ve never had their coffee before and I was very pleasantly surprised. My espresso in my machiato was perfectly pulled and they offer organic milk which is always a plus. Fortified and caffeinated, we journeyed on to the Greenmarket, passing City Bakery along the way. Tarana was picking up cookies for her mother and I swore I wouldn’t give in to the glorious temptation of a pretzel croissant, but then they brought a batch fresh out of the oven and I couldn’t resist (as full as I was from lunch). If you haven’t tried one of those things, you really haven’t lived. Stop reading this and go.

What are you waiting for? Really. Go.

The Green Table
Recommended
Located in Chelsea Market.
75 9th Avenue (entrance at 15 Street). A, C, E to 14th Street.
(212) 741-6623
Open 12 PM to 10 PM Monday through Saturday and 11 AM to 5 PM on Sunday. Make reservations if you’re going for dinner because the space is tiny (although I imagine dinner is nice here because the hustle and bustle of the market dies down by then).
Plates fall in the $10-$20 range. Beer and wine are available but there is no full bar. Our bill for lunch (with a hibiscus lemonade, 2 entrees, tax and tip) came out to roughly $40. A real bargain for all organic, locally sourced, seasonal food.

I’m back!

I have not been doing a very good job of updating lately, even though I have 4 or 5 posts that I just need to type up. Easy, right?

I could lie and say I’ve been super busy, but really, I’ve been super lazy. Then yesterday I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 7 and that burst of productivity has made me want to be productive here as well.

So. You can look forward to a bunch of restaurant reviews (Aldea, Five Points, and DBGB) and a recipe for a fantastic, easy, and super hearty fall vegetable soup.

Starting today. I promise.

mm mm

I have this problem. I love to buy produce at the store before I have any idea of what I’m going to do with it. I see an eggplant and I think, “Oh! I obviously need this. I haven’t cooked with it in a long time and I can make that eggplant salad that is just like crack from the New York Times. Surely I will find the time to make that this week!” And into my basket the eggplant goes. Then, a week or a week and a half later, there is still an eggplant sitting in my fridge, looking sad and lonely.

Luckily, my friend Claire is a vegetarian and she was coming over for dinner last night and I knew it was time to make the eggplant. Finally. Because who doesn’t like eggplant, right? Right? Right.

naany

I don’t have too much exciting stuff happening in my fridge right now, at least in the way of herbs and greens, so I knew I would be going the stew route instead of the salad route with this eggplant. I had a can of black beans in the pantry and some diced tomatoes so it was time for “chili.” Basically I sauteed the eggplant and some onions and garlic and threw in a bunch of spices and the beans and the tomatoes and let it simmer away. Served over brown rice, the result was a satisfying and delicious meal. It is also great scooped up with some naan. I will certainly make it again and I know that it’ll be good for lunch during the week.

The only thing I would do differently next time is add some greens in there too. I had some baby spinach in the fridge, but not really enough to bother with the amount of stew I was making. The greens would certainly pump up the nutritional value and thicken it up a bit, which is always great. Also, I didn’t have any plain yogurt or cilantro, but both would be very nice on top of this.

By the way, Camo enjoyed dinner too. When she was done playing with Claire and Rose, she curled up under the table and took a much needed Cam-nap. (Kind of like a catnap, but cuter.)

cam-nap

Recipe: Eggplant “Chili”
Serves 4 to 6

1 large eggplant, about 1.5 lbs, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 small or 1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 oz) can black beans
1 (28 oz can) diced tomatoes in their juices
3 or 4 cups spinach, optional
1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
2 tsp parika
olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste

rice or naan or the starch of your choice, for serving
plain yogurt, optional
cilantro, optional

Put cubed eggplant in a colander and sprinkle generously with salt. Set aside (in the sink or on a dish) for an hour. The salt will pull excess moisture out of the eggplant.

Once the eggplant has released its moisture, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large, heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven. Saute the eggplant for about 5 minutes, until it begins to soften. Remove the eggplant from the pan and set aside.

Put some more oil in the pan and cook the onion for about 5 minutes, until it softens. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for a couple more minutes.

Add the tomatoes and beans and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the spices. You can use more or less of whatever you happen to have on hand, but don’t leave out the cinnamon. It adds great depth to the dish. Cook for about 15 minutes.

If you are using the spinach, add it in now and cook for a few more minutes, until the spinach wilts and incorporates into the stew.

Taste for salt. The eggplant was salted, so it probably will not need much more. I added a little under a teaspoon, I would say.

Serve over rice or with bread and top with the yogurt and chopped cilantro.

view

Thomas Keller’s New York outpost of the Bouchon Bakery mini-chain has an inauspicious location: the lobby of a shopping mall. It is a large, pleasant shopping mall, with upscale shops and a Whole Foods in the basement, but it is still definitely a shopping mall. On the other hand, it is apparently a pooch friendly shopping mall (which I discovered today, when I saw lots of four-legged friends trotting around with their owners inside the shops and up and down the promenades, or whatever they’re called, throughout the mall) and the people watching is kind of fantastic. Today, for example, there was an event with the cast members of the FOX show Glee (which is fantastic, by the way) and the kids out to see their celebrity heroes mingled with the kind of people who can afford to go shopping on a Tuesday afternoon and it was pretty wonderful. The view is fantastic and as the sun began setting over the city, I almost forgot that I was in a mall.

But in any case, I wasn’t there for the atmosphere, I was there for lunch. I’ve eaten at Bouchon Bakery once before and I remembered it being delightful, but I don’t even remember now what I got. Admittedly, I had a moment of sticker shock this time around as I looked at the menu while I was waiting for Tarana, but the food is pretty much worth it, especially when you consider what you would pay if you treated yourself to a meal at Thomas Keller’s other Time Warner Center restaurant.

grilled cheese

I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, which came with tomato soup on some kind of delicious fluffy bread. The cheese was mixture of gruyère and fontina (which was wonderful) and the soup was perfectly creamy and pleasantly acidic, a lovely dip for the rich sandwich. The picture shows only half a sandwich (which I’ve bitten into), but rest assured that the portion does in fact feature a full sandwich (and it should, for $12.75). Tarana had a roasted beet salad which came with a sherry vinaigrette and some herb crusted goat cheese and it was really good. The goat cheese, in particular, was incredibly rich and creamy, and man oh man, I wish I hadn’t filled up on that sandwich because I would have finished all the goat cheese on the plate (Tarana is not a fan of the creamy cheeses, which is sad for her but very lucky for me).

mocha

I was thinking about getting some dessert because the desserts here are supposed to be fantastic, but I decided against it because everything on the menu was chocolatey except for an apple cobbler, and I have to admit that I am not a huge chocolate fan. Which probably won’t really compute when I tell you I got a mocha instead of dessert, but whatever. The chocolatey flavor is not overwhelming in coffee drinks. Plus there was some delightful cinnamon on this one. So there. As you see, the mocha in my picture is half-finished too (noticing a trend?), but it too comes all the way full and steaming when you order it.

The only real quibble I had with lunch today was some incredibly slow service. Our server was very nice, but a little chatty (which I don’t like, even though I know some people do) and it took forever to get soup, a sandwich, and a salad out. Yes, the sandwich was a grilled cheese, but how long does it take to make a grilled cheese, really? Not 20 minutes. We did get bread and butter while we were waiting which were both really delicious, so that helped matters. And our coffees took another 10. Which is fine, since we were there to chat and enjoy ourselves, but isn’t great if you’re in a bit of a rush, so keep that in mind. I will definitely be back for more, though. The food is pretty damn good.

Bouchon Bakery
Recommended
10 Columbus Circle (at 59th Street and 8th Avenue), Third Floor
(212) 823-9366
The cafe is open 7 days a week (11:30 AM to 9:00 PM Monday through Saturday and 11:30 AM to 7:00 PM on Sunday). The retail counter (for pastries and breads) is also open 7 days (8:00 AM to 9:00 PM Monday through Saturday and 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM on Sundays).
Soups are about $12, sandwiches range from $10 to $20, and salads run about $15. Pastries are in the $5 range and desserts are just under $10. Beer and wine are available, but no hard liquor. Lunch for two (a salad and a soup / sandwich combo plus two espresso drinks) cost just under $50 with tax and tip. So not exactly cheap, but a real bargain when you consider the $275 prix-fixe at Per Se upstairs (and the food really is great).

penne bolognese

mm mm

Halloween is over, which means it is almost Christmas (big jump, right?), which means winter is coming, which means it is time for cold weather foods! I cheated this year and got a head start a week ago with a kick ass beef stew (no frills, but plenty of flavor, with big chunks of carrots and potatoes and a bit of red wine to round out the flavors). Today, since I am not at work because of a badly aching sprained wrist, I decided to cook up something yummy and comforting. But, of course, because of my sprained wrist, I can’t do any real chopping. Hmm…

October’s Cook’s Illustrated was all about Italian foods done right, with recipes for meatballs and veal scaloppini and lots of other goodies, but the bolognese stood out to me because I’ve never actually made a bolognese from scratch and I love it. It is right up there with meatballs on my list of favorite Italian comfort foods. Since making it at home is such an involved process, I’ve never bothered, but today I had plenty of time and almost all of the ingredients that a traditional bolognese calls for, so I went with it. I looked at a bunch of other bolognese recipes too, because I figured there’s gotta be more than one way to skin a cat right? Right.

1.5 hrs
This is what the sauce will look like an hour and a half in. Looks pretty good, right?

The recipe I ended up going with is actually an amalgamation of a bunch of different recipes and it is incredibly easy, involving very little hands on time, just a lot of slow simmering and reducing. The ingredients are pretty much all things any well-stocked cook has on hand. And most importantly for me, this recipe involved no chopping. I started by browning three strips of thick cut bacon and then dicing them when they were cooked through but still soft. I saved the fat and browned some diced onions and garlic in it (onions done with the mandoline and garlic done with the press, which I know is really bad and blah blah blah, but whatever.) Almost every recipe I looked at called for a mirepoix (onions, celery, and carrots) but all I had was the onions. It still tastes amazing but I bet the sweetness from the carrots would be great too. I ended up adding a little olive oil because I had a lot of onions. Then I added a pound of ground beef (many recipes call for some combo of meats, but I had ground beef so I went with ground beef) and the diced bacon, and cooked the beef until it was just brown. Then I simmered the meat in milk and then in red wine (most recipes called for a dry white wine, but substituting the dry red worked fine) and finally I added some diced tomatoes and let it go on the lowest heat for about 3.5 hours. Which is a very very long time, but oh so worth it.

The sauce is all about the meat. Some recipes called for herbs but most didn’t and I omitted them, even though I had some rosemary and thyme on hand. I am glad I did because the beefy flavor really stands out. This sauce is rich and delicious and I could probably (definitely) eat it with a spoon, but I decided that would be kind of ridiculous so I cooked up some penne and grated some parmesan cheese over it and it was amazing. You should try it: for very little effort, you can have a meat sauce that is super flavorful and very impressive, certainly impressive enough to serve to friends or family. In fact, with a little garlic bread and a nice salad, this would be a fantastic meal for a dinner party. Mmmmm… garlic bread…

dinner

Recipe: Penne Bolognese
Serves 4-6
3 strips thick cut bacon
2 medium onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 lb ground beef (or you can use any mixture of beef, pork, and veal as you see fit)
1 cup milk
1 cup red wine
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes and their juices
olive oil, as needed
salt & pepper, to taste

1 box penne (or other pasta), cooked according to package directions
2 tbsp butter

freshly grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Preheat a heavy thick bottomed skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Cook the bacon until it is cooked through but still fairly soft. Remove the bacon from the pan but keep the fat. Dice the bacon.

Add the onions and garlic to the bacon grease and cook them up until they are soft and just starting to get brown, maybe 6 minutes. You may need to add some olive oil here if you don’t have too much bacon grease in the pan; I added about a tablespoon.

Add in the ground beef and the diced bacon. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the meat browns, breaking it up into small clumps, for 5-10 minutes.

Add the milk and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer until all the milk is evaporated, 10-15 minutes. The milk will give the meat lots of sweetness and will keep it from getting tough.

Next, add the wine and again, simmer until it is evaporated, 10-15 minutes.

Finally, add the diced tomatoes and their juices and bring the mixture to a simmer. When it begins to simmer, turn the heat down as low as it will go, so it is barely at a simmer (with a couple of bubbles coming up occasionally) and cook for 3-4 hours, until the liquid is almost fully evaporated and the mixture is wonderfully saucy. Season again with salt and pepper.

Add the butter to the cooked pasta and then mix it up with the meat sauce. (The butter will help the sauce adhere better, and lets face it, you’re not really counting calories when you’re making a rich sauce like this, right?)

Serve with plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Yum!

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