Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Discovering the Egg

There are times when my husband comes home, and looks at me like I'm crazy. These times usually coincide with some crazy cooking project I've delved into. When the kitchen was so covered in flour from my fresh pasta experiments, when the entire apartment was filled with the heavy sent of barbecue sauce, I was the recipient of extremely concerned glances and the deeply worried "Honey?" Such was the scene this past weekend as our waste bin filled with egg shells. He got home, glanced at the cookbooks and magazines that covered every available surface, and knew something was up.

Easter looming, his 27 year old wife had decided to learn how to cook an egg.

I've dabbled before. In high school I would make scrambled eggs, before I finally admitted to myself that I don't really like a whisked and fluffy egg. I've fried eggs, made them Over Easy, and even tried to craft an Egg White Omelet, which hasn't been very successful thus far, more of a spattered but tasty egg white mess really. But on the whole I don't take on the shelled wonders very often, relegating them to ingredient rather then main dish status. Partly it's been because Will really, really hates eggs, so I would be the only one eating them. Partly it's been because, honest to god, I don't know how to cook them in the more sophisticated ways. Speaking to friends, I don't think I'm the only 20 something in America staring down an egg with a bit of bewilderment.

With Easter looming, however, surrounding by the imagery of the egg, I had to have them. I wanted to devour solid whites and runny yolks. I wanted them flavored and boiled and baked, combined with herbs, heated gently, I wanted to bite and slurp and revel in the eggy goodness. NY is a great place to find a variety of eggs, at one Whole Foods alone I have seen quail, ostrich, duck, and emu. As an egg novice, I decided to play it safe and stick to the basic chicken.

There were two big experiments that went into my egg weekend madness. The first was my quest for the perfect soy sauce egg, a quest I blame entirely on the blog Momofuku for 2 which talked about them so temptingly last week. As of this post, it has not gone well. The first trials have been delicious, but not pretty. The perfect boiling times have not been worked out yet, the perfect marinade is still being toyed with, and honestly? It turns out I don't know how to peel an egg. Egg. Shells. Everywhere. Apparently there's a way of getting around this by blowing out the egg. Ew. Stay tuned, I will keep you posted on my progress. If my husband doesn't kill me first.

The second experiment is something I have been mulling in my head for quite awhile. I wanted the sophisticated brunch treat that is the baked egg. I first read about this delicate dish in the January 2008 issue of Gourmet, with amazing food porn splayed across it's pages. In Chef Scott Peacock's recipe little individual servings splayed across an outdoor table, and I felt that one could not start a day in a more impressive and grown up way then by serving up these little beauties. The filling ingredients of spinach and ham were not things I had on hand this weekend, however. What I really needed was something that incorporated cheese. In a bit of impulse shopping over the past two weeks I have ended up with an Irish Cheddar, a Swiss, and a Gruyere all staring up at me in the fridge, begging to be incorporated into various dishes. The epidemic is so bad that, attending a wine and Spanish food tasting at Despana in my neighborhood this weekend, I had to beg Will to not allow me to walk out with any cheese. I mourn the Manchego I left behind.

My research turned out a baked dish with Gruyere, but it included herbs I did not have on hand and was made in a big dish with 10 eggs, not the individual servings I was looking for. Since my husband wasn't going to help me consume this, the individual serving was key.

Eggs with Cream, Gruyere, and Shallot
Makes 2 Individual Servings

- 1 Tablespoon and 1 Teaspoon Butter plus extra for greasing ramekins

- 1 Shallot, sliced
- 1 Clove of Garlic, Chopped
- 1/4 Cup Shredded Gruyere
- 3 Tablespoons Cream or Half and Half
- 2 Large Eggs
- 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
- Salt and Pepper
Equipment: 2 (6oz) Ramekins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the middle. Butter ramekins.

Saute shallots in butter until beginning to crisp, about 2-3 minutes in a small pan over medium heat. In the final minute add garlic and saute until fragrant. Remove and divide into ramekins. Stir in shredded cheese. Spoon 1 tablespoon of cream over each serving. Crack 1 egg into each ramekin. Spoon half a tablespoon of cream over each egg. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Dot each top with a scant 1/2 teaspoon of butter.

Put ramekins in a shallow baking pan and bake, rotating pan halfway through baking, until whites are just set but the yolks are still runny, 15 to 20 minutes. If you do this in a toaster oven, the time will be closer to 12-15 minutes.
The ingredients are completely based on what I had around, resulting in a perfect cheesy, veggie, herby combo. But really, you can add what you wish. Scallions instead of shallot, or add some mushroom. Fresh Rosemary would be a good substitute for the dried thyme, if you have it around. Heck if my thyme plant hadn't died, I would have preferred fresh.

I served this with a slice of toast on the side, and it was delectable, gooey and yet still sophisticated. It the best of two egg worlds really, the mix and match ability of an omelet, but the runny yolk of a fried egg. Baking gives it that fancy edge that just screams "I should have a mimosa in my hand right now." I'm really always looking for a way to work that phrase into a conversation. Really it's the second best part of brunch. You know, besides the eggs.

PS- Reminder that the Short and Saucy pan (just like mine) giveaway ends tomorrow at midnight Eastern Time! Run over to our 100th blog and leave a comment! And isn't it pretty?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Egg Drinks Redux

So Heather's on an egg kick. There's a lot of them about as of late. It makes me a little nervous because I'm not the biggest fan in the world. More specifically, I like them in a certain context. I like them as an ingredient in things--cakes, french toast. But there's something about the smell of a cooking egg that nauseates me.

But raw egg, which is arguably grosser, doesn't bother me at all. I thought with all the eggs in the house, I would try my hand at some more old timey egg cocktails. I realized after the last egg cocktail blog that I focused only on drinks that involve egg yolk. A huge oversight on my part. The white can add just as much to a spirited drink.

The Savoy Cocktail Book offers a lively recipe for something called The Elk's Own Cocktail.

Elk's Own Cocktail
From The Savoy Cocktail Book
-The White of 1 Egg
-1/2 Canadian Club Whisky
-1/2 Port Wine
-The Juice of 1/2 Lemon
-1 Teaspoonful Sugar
Shake well, strain into wineglass and add a slice of pineapple.

We found a slightly modified recipe on the internet that included Rye Whiskey (we didn't have Canadian Club,) simple syrup instead of sugar and actual measurements which help a lot, but the basic idea is the same. The end result is tart, sweet and savory. It's also not quite as heavy as the egg yolk drinks. And that froth is pretty nifty.

Also as a reminder, the giveaway contest is still going on. Get your entries in by this Friday to be entered. Read the last blog post for details.

Friday, March 26, 2010

One, Two, Skip a Few, Ninety-Nine...

One Hundred!!!!!

That's right after months of cooking, drink making, and photo taking we have reached blog #100!

In honor of the momentous occation, we are celebrating by giving back to you, our wonderful readers! It's an Epicurette giveaway!

All you have to do is leave a comment to this post, saying which food or drink blog we posted was your favorite. We'll write down everyone who comments on pieces of paper, and draw from a hat for our winner! Make sure you are signing in through an account to comment. If this is not possible, copy and paste the text of your comment into an email and send it to mailto:%20EpicuretteInNewYork@gmail.com so I know how to contact you if you win.

Apologies to our International readers (Epicurette in New York has been viewed in over 50 countries!) but due to shipping fees we are limiting this contest only to those in the United States and Canada. We'll try to come up with something more inclusive for the one year anniversary.

The prize? A brand new Calphalon "Short and Saucy" 2 and 1/2 quart pan, identical to my own. It's a great little pan, and comes with a recipe for artichoke dip,

The contest is open until midnight (Eastern Time) on April 1st, and the winner will be announced April 2nd. Enjoy the contest and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Salt-Baked Branzino or The Fish was Delish and it Made Quite a Dish

I'm a sucker for a good sale. Look in my closet and I can tell you which BCBG boots were discounted on Amazon, which Calvin Klein heels scanned for $20 less then marked at Bloomingdales, and which Kate Spade purse I purchased out of season for 50% off. Ask my husband who is comfortably resting on the Anthropologie bedspread I scored for half price, it's like a sport for me, and I pride myself in it. While I love getting a sale on things I already like (and have been known to stock up) a good sale can also pull me out of my comfort zone. It will entice me to try something I wasn't sure I would like, because it lessens the risk. That is how I ended up, last weekend, staring a dead fish in the face.

I have a very suburban, landlocked relationship to fish. The fish I've made in the past come in fillet form, perfectly clean, wrapped and ready to go. I've dabbled in sushi grade Tuna and spent one harrowing afternoon trying to hack the skin off a piece of Mahi Mahi, but the bulk of my non-shellfish seafood experience comes in the form of Catfish and Tilapia, nice, easy, and kinda boring. One Whole Foods sale flier later, however, and I decided to tackle whole Branzinos, otherwise known as Mediterranean Sea Bass. Well, I told myself I was going to learn to cook Italian, didn't I?

As part of my research I turned back to the Julia Child DVD I had rented last week, where she did an entire show about fish. Part of this show was to take the camera on location to a french fish market, where a skilled cooking professor demonstrated how to clean a fish in fancy ways. At one point they pulled all the organs out through the gills. On one fish they cut in such a way as to shove its own tail through its mouth (pictured, but I didn't do that.) It was kinda one of the grosser things I had ever seen. Really, all of the fish cleaning looked pretty gross. It was bloody, very bloody, and involved a lot of organ ripping. In shellfish, I am cold blooded about this sort of thing, but in a fish with fins, it was freaking me out. I was relieved to find that most nice fish mongers, including the ones at Whole Foods, will do this for you. Someday I will gather the courage to dissemble my own fish, and I promise to post a disgusting blog about it then. For the moment I just let the fish monger hit on me as he wielded a knife into my fish. Must be the designer boots.

There were a few themes that seemed to repeat as I researched these Euro fish. First, the principals of stuffing them with lemon and herbs. That was an easy idea, and economical as I was roasting a chicken this weekend as well, which involves the same ingredients. The second was the idea of packing it in salt. A lot of salt. Basically making a salt shell around the fish and baking it. I had never heard of this or seen it done, this is not a technique often used in home kitchens of suburbia where I grew up, but it definitely seemed interesting. The principal is to almost build a heat trap around the fish, so it can literally stew in its own juice, along with the lemon and herbs. The principal is not to make a crazy salty fish.

Once the thing is baked, the salt shell is cracked and brushed off the fish, and the skin peels off easily after that. Done right and you should only get mild salt flavoring, which seasons the fish nicely. The best tip I got in making sure this was done right was to cover the belly opening with tin foil, to keep the salt from seeping into the soft flesh. Apparently that can cause a gross amount of salty. Traditionally the entire fish is caked in salt, but the recipe I used called for laying them on parchment paper and only building the shell around the top half. I enjoyed this method, as it wasted less salt and was easier to control where all that salt was going. Has anyone ever tried the full encasing or perhaps made little fish snowmen? Tell me about it in the comments!
Salt-Baked Branzino for Two
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine (RIP)

-3 Cups Kosher Salt
-4 to 5 Large Egg Whites
-2 1lb whole branzino, cleaned with head and tails intact
-6 fresh parsley sprigs
-4 fresh rosemary sprigs
-2 garlic cloves, halved
-4 lemon slices, halved

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place salt in a medium bowl and add egg whites one at a time, stirring, until the mixture looks like wet sand (the number will vary)

Rinse fish and pat dry. (Check for any organs your fish monger might have missed. Ick.) Place fish on a parchment-line baking sheet and divide remaining ingredients between the cavities of fish. Cover the cavity with a strip of tinfoil.

Firmly pat half of salt evenly over each fish to cover, leaving only the head and end of the tail exposed.

Bake fish in the middle of oven until salt is just starting to turn golden at edges, 15 to 18 minutes. If your fish is heavier then 1 lb., adjust accordingly, giving it an extra 2 to 5 minutes depending on the size.

Crack salt away from fish and discard. Use brush to get off any stray salt that scatters onto the fish. Peel back skin and carefully lift fish from the bones.
That "carefully lift fish from the bones" part I'm still getting the hang of. Despite what I feel was a rather impressive extricating of the spine and ribs (are they called ribs on a fish?) we still managed to get some tiny thin bones on our tongues, so devour with caution. The actual fish part, though, was delicious! It was very moist and well seasoned by the lemon and herbs which gave it a rustic but complex flavor. I'm not sure I'd ever eaten a sea bass before now, but I am a convert. I demanded and received accolades. I insisted on being toasted for my frugal fish victory. And meanwhile we devoured every edible part of the once whole fish.

Now if I find a coupon for a whole octopus we could really find out what I'm capable of...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lemon Raspberry Martini

It's time for another Video Blog. The fruity sweetness of this drink makes it perfect for the warm weather we've been having this week. Admittedly it's kind of a girly drink but every now and again, that can be a good thing. Sometimes girly drinks can be the most refreshing...especially if you put a little umbrella in them. Enjoy.

If you're interested in infusing liquor with fresh fruit, check out this past entry on the subject.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bastardized Irish Soda Bread

I wasn't going to do Irish Soda Bread this year. Or ever really. It's one of those things that I tried like a million years ago, didn't like, and had decided, nope, not for me. It's dry, it's crumbly, it doesn't taste very good, I thought. Then March hit, and the American addiction to Irishness was out in full force. Recipes popped up for stews, potato dishes, and that blasted bread. When Smitten Kitchen succumbed a few days ago with Soda Bread Scones, I read the post with a bit of bemusement at the international addiction to bad bread. Then I saw a link to a previous post from a few years ago, for Deb's standby Irish Soda Bread.

It turns out in 2007 she had done a soda bread out of the NY Times that had turned out wonderfully. Following the trail to the original article, I realized why. This recipe does what American do best, take an idea from another country, and then manipulate it to the point that is completely unrecognizable to the original culture. We are especially good at this when it comes to the products of the Emerald Isle. We took their music and turned it into Tin Pan Alley, and then proceed to look at them strange when they don't know what "Tura Lura Lura" is. The Irish did not, I repeat, did not invent Corned Beef and Cabbage, we inflicted that horror show on ourselves. And despite all of the coconut flavored "Irish Potato" candy being sold in the Philadelphia area right now, you will find very few coconuts in Dublin. I checked. For the most part, I don't think our changes to the Irish culture have improved these things much. True Irish music is awesome, I'd rather listen to the Chieftains then that song about Tipperary. The Irish make Bacon and Cabbage, and I would WAY rather eat bacon the corned beef (sorry mom.) And you readers know what good candy Ireland really has.

The Soda Bread, however, is an area where I think improvements stand to be made. Traditional soda bread includes only flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. Ick. The recipe used by the New York Times, Smitten Kitchen, and now myself involves wonderful things like sugar (and lots of it,) butter, and raisins. As I put together my modified "Irish" bread, it occurred to me that with my complete German heritage but newly minted Irish last name, I'm a bit of an American knock-off of Irishness myself!

"Irish" Soda Bread
Adapted (barely) from the NY Times

-Butter for greasing pan plus 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
-3 cups all-purpose flour
-2/3 cup sugar
-1 tablespoon baking powder-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
-1 teaspoon baking soda1
-3/4 cups buttermilk
-2 eggs, well beaten
-1 1/2 cups raisins or currants
-1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch oven-proof skillet and line with parchment or waxed paper.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Do not overmix. Stir in the raisins or currants and caraway seeds.

Pour batter into skillet. Brush top with remaining butter. Bake until golden and firm to touch, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cool 10 minutes before slicing.
The American bastardization is more like cake, and I've been enjoying it all week with butter spread on it along with my coffee or tea in the morning. The NY Times recommends serving it with really good Irish cheddar and apple slices. However you eat it, you will find it nice and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, a bit sweet but definitely savory. And if nothing else, it will probably soak up a lot of alcohol, which will be helpful as you drink that oh so authentic green beer.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Shamrocks on the Rocks

St. Patrick's Day is coming up and rather than spend it talking about green beer, drunken singing and fistfights (all fun topics that may require separate posts) I thought it might be fun to talk about Irish whiskey.

Our first little tutorial on the subject was on our honeymoon in Ireland when we visited the Old Jameson Distillery. We've enjoyed Jameson previously, but didn't know a whole lot about what sets Irish whiskey apart from others. We were told that the big difference is the triple distillation. While many spirit makers distill their whiskies only once or twice, Irish whiskey makes triple sure that their liquor is free from impurities and extra smooth. From there, the aging in wood barrels gives it its signature color and flavor.

Cut to a few months later. We were in our local wine shop this past week when we noticed a bottle of Clontarf Irish Whiskey. For our honeymoon, we stayed at the lovely Clontarf castle and before our trip ended, we made it a point to pick up a sample pack and bring it home as a keepsake. The fact that we spotted it in a wine shop we trust at a good price so close to St. Patrick's Day was a sign--a prodigious sign.

We bought the bottle and took it home. We then got out the nice whiskey glasses and poured the whiskey over some ice with a splash of water--the best way to enjoy a nice whiskey in my opinion. It had a very woody flavor to it, probably from the bourbon barrels they age it in. It wasn't quite as clean and smooth as Jameson, but it had a nice complexity. It was at this moment that we realized that we had a small bottle of twelve year Jameson from our honeymoon just sitting on our shelf collecting dust. A little taste test was in order.

I poured a little of the twelve year Jameson over some ice and took a taste. It was a little darker and a little more woody than a standard bottle of Jameson, but the core characteristics of Jameson remained intact--very clean, very smooth, and with a hint of vanilla and honey. Thumbs up Jameson; you've done it again.

We will most likely be enjoying another glass of Clontarf Irish Whiskey on St. Patrick's Day. It may not be as classy as drinking a Budweiser out of a green shamrock-clad aluminum bottle, but it suits me just fine. Now all I need is someone to start a fistfight with. Preferably someone smaller than me. Sláinte.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mushroom Barley Soup

I'm not sure I'm ever going to get around to making Beef Bourguingnon. Last summer it was all the rage after the release of Julie and Julia, one of Julia Child's most famous dishes. But... it was July. Beef Bourguingnon is a heavy beef stew, one that requires leaving your oven on for four hours. In the insane heat of my un-airconditioned apartment, there was no way that was on the menu last summer. I told myself come winter I will make it. Somehow though, the winter slipped by me. I decided I must hurry up, so this last week I rented The French Chef off of Netflix, and watched the very first episode of Julia's famous show, watched her saute and chop and roast until she had a perfect dinner. It's a classic and I highly recommend you watch it.

I would have gotten down to work, but I don't know if you saw what the weather was like in NY this past weekend, but it was beautiful. Fifty degrees, sunny, birds chirping, and all I could think about were flowery dresses and Spring. Had it been rainy, hanging out in my apartment all afternoon as my dinner roasted would have been lovely, but it was sunny, and I could not remain indoors. Sorry readers, maybe some rainy chilly spring weekend I'll tackle this French comfort food, but this weekend I went to a coffee shop on the Upper East Side, read the paper and sipped an iced cappuccino.

I did however, still require dinner that night. Tucking my paper into my bag, I decided to try my luck shopping at Citrellia, a gourmet shop in the East 70's. It has that fancy food shop thing where everything is arranged really pretty, which makes you suspicious that they are overcharging you. Luckily, the things I bought where comparatively well priced compared to what I've paid in other places, so I got out of there with only one impulse purchase. Good for me.

With the nice weather (and the approach of swimsuit season) I wanted veggies, and if I couldn't make stew I would make soup. A few weeks ago I took a class in soups at the Brooklyn Kitchen, and didn't even come close to fainting this time. We made three soups in class, a Roasted Butternut Squash (too autumn) an Almond Gazapacho (way too summer) and a Mushroom Barley soup. Perfect. The root veggies of winter, with a hint of what's to come with a leek. The barley would give it a fuller texture, while providing amino acids and fiber. It was healthy, and full of flavor. The class was full of good tips, like how to properly clean leeks and mushrooms (let soak in cold water for a minute, then agitate. Sand falls right to the bottom) and that if you are running around with way too much to do in the kitchen while your veggies are sweating, and you just aren't going to get to them before they burn, throw in half a ladle of stock. You're going to add it later anyway and it buys you a bit of time.

Despite my not making Julia's dish this time around, I learned something from her show, and that was how to tell how fresh your mushrooms are, and if the stem is usable. If the flesh of the mushroom cap meets the stem underneath, it is a very fresh mushroom and you can incorporate the stem. If the flesh has separated and the gills are showing (the edge of the cap should still be curled under), you should probably remove the stem and throw it away. The cap is still usable, however. If the edge of the cap is flipping out, that is not a fresh mushroom.

Mushroom Barley Soup
Adapted from Chef Brendan McDermott

-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 tablespoon unsalted butter
-1 pound of hulled barley
-2 carrots, sliced
-1 leek, diced and cleaned
-2 stalks of celery, sliced
-4 cloves of garlic, diced
- 20 oz of mushrooms, sliced
-1/4 cup of white wine (optional)
-2 Quarts of Stock or Water (The class used veggie, I used beef, go with your gut here)
-Soy Sause to taste
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
-3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

In large stock pot heat oil until hot but not smoking. Add oil and butter. When bubbles subside, saute mushrooms in batches until tender (about 4 minutes per batch). Set aside.

Add carrots to the pot and sweat for 3 minutes. Add celery and garlic and sweat for 2 minutes. Add leeks and sweat for 1-2 minutes. If necessary, deglaze with white wine, and let reduce for 2 minutes.

Add barley and stir. Add the stock and the reserved mushrooms, with any liquid that might have accumulated. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, and herbs and soy sauce.
That's it! If my directions seem less then scientific, you should see the notes I was given in class. That 1 pound of hulled barley? It was given to me as 1# Barley. Thank god I thought to ask. The main idea here is that it's soup, you can do whatever you want with it. I didn't use 2 carrots, I used 1, because I don't really like carrots. This recipe is a great template to do basically whatever you want. I'm thinking about deglazing with red wine next time and then replacing a cup of stock with red wine. I may even incorporate meat at some point, cause I'm just that crazy.

One other fantastic thing about the arrival of spring. As I strolled around Citrellia, looking at its fancy food, I spotted it from across the room. One of those seasonal happy moments when your taste buds are about to know it's spring. I spotted Fleur de Maquis cheese. It is entirely possible this cheese is available all year long, but my affair with it is strictly a March and April fling. It is a sheep's milk cheese, hand made in France and rolled in rosemary, fennel seeds, juniper berries, and a few chilies. It is soft and slightly sweet, and the herbs make you think of lamb and asparagus and that first breeze of the year that carries the smell of grass on it. It makes you want to pop open a bottle of wine, cut some fresh bread, and wiggle your toes in that grass, all while wearing a pretty dress with flowers on it. Welcome spring. Sorry Julia.

Monday, March 8, 2010


In celebration of Heather's birthday, I took her out for a trendy date night. The main event of the evening was a restaurant called Locanda Verde in Tribeca. Last year, she clipped a review out of Time Out: New York and put it on my pillow. This was soon before the wedding and put on the back burner for a while. Once the wedding was over, back on my pillow it went. To Heather's credit, I'm not a guy who picks up on subtlety. Needless to say, it's a restaurant that Heather has wanted to try for quite some time now and apparently she is not alone. I tried to make reservations about a week and a half in advance and was unable. This is why I had to wait until this past Friday to do it. Oops. Better late than never I guess.

We almost never make it down to Tribeca, and with our reservations at 8:15, we had some time to kill. Heather, never being one to pass up an opportunity to try places in a neighborhood we're unfamiliar with, suggests we drop by a nearby establishment called Anotheroom. This is the third of three bars by the same owner, Craig Weiss, the others being The Room and The Otheroom. There are also locations in Florida and California called The Room and The Otheroom. I thought it would have been funnier to keep giving them different names to distinguish them like Yet Anotheroom or Anotheroom Still. Craig, if you're reading this, you can have those names for free.

One of the things I like when I walk into a bar is actual places to sit at said bar. Stools and such. It helps when you get to a place early enough. We were lucky to have seating because it's not a big place. There are only about eight stools total. They also have seating and small tables around the perimeter of the place. It's got kind of a dark and intimate feel to it with candles on the tables and bar. A beer is more attractive when it's backlit. Try it sometime.

When Heather told me about the place, I got it in my head that it was a wine bar. I'm not sure why; she may not have said it. But when we got there, I noticed it had quite a beer list. I get excited about big beer lists. In fact, it was bigger than the wine list. I asked Heather if she would feel left out if I had a beer instead of a glass of wine. She then told me that I was a grown man who can make his own decisions. Heather is nothing if not empowering.

I decided to go with a pint of Indian Brown Ale from Dogfish Head brewery. I've posted about Dogfish Head in the past and am fairly familiar with a few of their beers. I don't know how I missed this beer because it was delicious. It was dark, thick and almost a little smoky with a hint of coffee. It was so good, I had another one. Heather started out the evening with a malbec. It was good and everything you would want and expect from a malbec, but not a very generous pour. For her second round, Heather went with Blackthorn's Cider. It was okay, but we both agreed that it was a little watered down.

One thing to note about this establishment is that the restroom had a peculiar sliding door. It was kind of like going to the bathroom inside a storage elevator or a minivan. Who doesn't want to do that? I like Anotheroom and will probably go back. We would have stayed for a third round, but as you know, we had reservations. And I didn't want that listing on my pillow again...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Epicurette in Boston

I did not do a lot of cooking this week. No, it wasn't because I was tired, and no, it wasn't because I was snowed in and had no ingredients. I was on vacation! I kissed Will goodbye for a few days, my mother swung into town and together we hopped a Greyhound bound for Bean Town, we were headed North for Boston. The two of us hadn't seen one particular Boston resident, my incomparable Aunt Donna, for far too long and it was time to rectify that. Well that and eat as much as we possibly could.

I inherit my love of dining out from my mother, a woman who hasn't met an a la carte menu she didn't like. Despite this, there was a distinct lack of planning when it came to the whole "Where to eat" situation. She had gotten a few recommendations, I had tried to Google a bit, but really it was sort of a figure it out when we get there kinda thing. As the bus pulled in last Thursday, we knew we had a bit of problem. While we had dodged the snowstorms south of us (we literally pulled out of New York just as flakes had begun to fall) we had run smack into a heinous rain storm. Sheets of rain poured outside of the hotel. Couple that with exhaustion from a day of travel and the sense of adventure was sucked out of the evening. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how we ended up at the Legal Seafood directly across from our hotel.

It's not that I'm against chain restaurants, I'm not. Well, I am, a little. I'm a bit of a snob, alright? They do, however, tend to offer good appetizer comfort food platters, reliably boozy drinks, and a sense of standards. It's just, when I travel, I'm an adventurer. I don't like to take cabs, I want to figure out the transit system. I want to know where the cute shop and bar with the good vibe are hidden. And I only want to eat at places that I can't visit anywhere else. Being stuck in an El Niño system with my mother, however, was not the time to be stubborn about my adventuring standard. It was close, it was dry, and it served seafood and alcohol. I was not about to resist. Besides, Legal Seafood originated in Boston, so I figured it was good to get the touristy restaurant out of the way on the first night.

It was actually not a bad pick. Chilled to the bone we ordered soup, myself a clam chowder, my mom lobster bisque, and both came out hot, creamy, and soothing. Rain smacked the windows, but we were no longer concerned. That may have been aided by the cocktails we ordered upon sitting down. My mother got a concoction with cucumber and ginger that she still hasn't stopped talking about. We were warming up fast. Instead of full meals, my mother and I split the "Legal Experience", an appetizer sampler that runs about $30 and includes tuna sashimi, steamed wontons, shrimp cocktail and crab cakes. I've never been a fan of shrimp cocktail and I've had better wontons, but the crab cakes were meaty and the sashimi was light and and savory. Also our waitress was Dutch and adorable, so full marks.

The next night we met up with Aunt Donna, and headed out to dine. Aunt Donna has lived in Boston for 30 years, but the Back Bay/Theatre District area where we were staying was not her neighborhood of expertise. I understand this, if one was to ask me for a recommendation in Midtown East I would stare at them blankly and then put them on a subway going south. Armed with maps, guidebooks, and a coupon from a friend we stumbled upon Maggiano's. It was a crowded but nice Italian place, good cocktails, decent chianti, and what my mother swore was the best fried calamari she ever had. It was damn good, crispy and not greasy, and the round parts did not have the texture of rubber bands that is so common in calamari. They also did a great job on the muscles and we had a crispy and tasty flatbread. It is in fact, a chain, with 41 locations in 21 states. I hadn't been in one before, but there were telltale clues like when the word "Locations" pops up on the menu. Still, it was a very nice night out and I had tried a restaurant I had never eaten at before.

The final night I was determined to find a cute, local restaurant, something I would find only in Boston. We had spent the day touring the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a place I highly recommend because there are few museums more interesting then when a crazy and eccentric rich person decides to start a "collection." You get some great work but no order and usually a will that leaves future curators freaking out. Another great place in this category is any of the Henry Mercer buildings in Doylestown, PA. We also spent time at Trinity Church and then hiked, in the rain, back to the hotel. My mother and Aunt were ready to collapse. We decided happy hour was necessary, and somehow ended up at PF Changs. Yup. PF Changs. 133 locations PF Changs. I'm not saying the $4 appetizer specials were unappreciated. Nor am I saying that I did not enjoy my Asian Pear Mojito, that I may have ordered by staring witheringly at the waitress and imploring her for alcohol. It was just, PF Changs! I had spent four hours on a bus and ended up at PF Changs! We were, at most, two blocks from Chinatown.

Back at the hotel, I dug out the laptop. I searched Yelp, Opentable, Time Out Boston, and decided that the perfect place would be a bistro called The Butcher Shop. The menu looked gourmet, the prices didn't appear ridiculous, it seemed young and hip, and was only a twelve minute walk away. I called to inquire, and was told there would be an hour wait if we came. I withered, and the ladies decided they'd had enough of my antics. A quick question to the bell caption about where a good meal could be had in the neighborhood, and we were off to Flemings Prime Steakhouse. 64 locations. We weren't terribly hungry, the ladies had Caesar salads and I dug into some ahi tuna, and then we had some delectable deserts. Damn good wine list though, I had a Malbec from Pascual Toso off their "Red Wines of Interest" list that warmed me up and had me mellow.

It is not a total dining discovery loss however. One afternoon my mother and I had been wandering Charles Street in Beacon Hill, I had scored a vintage faux pearl necklace and was jazzed, but I was drooping. I needed sustenance, and caffeine. It was then we made our discovery, a perfect little french bakery called Cafe Vanille. It was a perfect discovery, plenty of seating, charming views of an adorable neighborhood, and oh my god the pastry case. There were tiny little cakes and pies, there were croissants, there were quiches and bechamels. One delectable ham and cheese croissant and we vowed to be lifelong customers, or, since we don't live there, weekend long customers. We hiked back the next morning for breakfast to show our enduring loyalty. Um, are you ready for this bit of news? It's a chain. A local chain! Only 3 locations, all in Massachusetts! Oh lord, I can't win.

Next time, I will do more research. Part of my problem going in was that I didn't understand how the Boston neighborhood system worked, so I had no idea how far the North End was from the West End, how to get to Cambridge, or what Downtown Crossing meant. Now I know. Now I'll be prepared. And dammit, if I have to show up at 5pm I am getting into the Butcher Shop. Because Orecchiette with Veal Shank, Black Trumpet Mushroms, and Celeriac sounds like a meal worth four hours on a Greyhound. Someday I'll let you know if I'm right.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Keep it Short and Stout

Note from the Editor: Due to schedule conflicts this spring, Will and I are switching days. This means you can get your weekly dose of beer and cocktail anecdotes on Monday, and your food stories and recipes on Wednesday. We hope this doesn't mess up your chi too badly.



As I was brewing my first beer, I knew that the next batch would be a stout. Heather, when giving me my beer brewing kit as a gift, was nice enough to include the ingredients for an IPA because she knew I really enjoyed that particular style. I wanted to return the favor and try my hand at a style that she enjoys.

Heather is not the biggest beer drinker in the world. That having been said, she certainly prefers some more than others. A general rule of thumb is--the darker, the better. She likes deep, flavorful and aromatic more than light, clean and ice cold. Guinness is one of her favorites, partly because of the taste and partly because she likes the smoothness of the nitrogen bubbles. They give a beer a distinct smoothness. Though I don't have the means to incorporate nitrogen into a beer, I can certainly look up a good recipe for a stout. I perused the internet for recipes, but wound up back at the website where I got my first one--Keystone Homebrew. I put together a shopping list and set out.

Heather was taking a soup class at the Brooklyn Kitchen two weeks ago and apparently on the day that a person takes a class, they get ten percent off of anything they buy. I'm in. We go to the store and check out the beer ingredients. On the table is a handful of xeroxed beer recipes. One of them included a sweet stout in which lactose is included. I learned during yeast class that a brewer puts lactose in his beer to make it sweet because it is too complex a sugar for the yeast to break down. Maybe one day I'll try it but the idea of a sweet beer is weird to me.

I was able to find my malt extract and comparable grains easily, but they didn't have the exact hops and yeast I was looking for. I spoke with a gentleman there by the name of Harry and he hooked me up with a different brand of yeast called White Labs Irish Ale Yeast. It comes in a glass vial rather than an expandable packet like Wyeast. I felt good about the vial. I'm sure that they are both fine methods for storing yeast but for some reason the packet seems gimmicky. The vial seems more scientific.

As for the hops, the recipe called for phoenix hops. I'm not an old hand at this sort of thing; I don't know the difference between one type of hops and another. Since they don't have phoenix, I ask what would be a good alternative. Harry whips out his iPhone and pulls up an app called "Get Hoppy." I guess what they say is true, there is an app for that. It gives the statistics for popular types of hops like flavor, acidity and substitutions. Unfortunately, phoenix is not listed in the app, so he runs to the internet and looks it up. It turns out it was bred as a replacement for challenger hops which they also didn't carry, so Harry set me up with U.S. perle hops. We'll see how it works out.

I thanked Harry and got a couple of other supplies--bottle caps, hydrometer tube, grolsch tops--checked out with my ten percent discount and headed over to Barcade to play some video games. When I got home I immediately bought the app for my iPod touch and played with it. I found out it also gives information on yeast. Ninety-nine cents is kind of a bargain.

A couple days before brew day, I decided I wanted to make a yeast starter. It gives the yeast a head start by letting the cells reproduce and shore up their numbers before the main event. I dissolved half a cup of malt extract into two cups of boiling water to make sort of a malt sugar syrup, cooled it, put it in a glass bottle (in this case a half gallon beer growler) and pitched the yeast right in. I wasn't around to see the bubbling (I do have a job,) but there was substantially more yeast settled at the bottom than I started with.

Brew day went a lot smoother this time around. The malt extract was a liquid this time around so I didn't have to wait as long for it to dissolve. There was a more substantial hot and cold break this time--which means that more of the unnecessary proteins solidified during the boiling and cooling of the wort and therefore won't end up in the finished product. And with my new hydrometer tube, I was able to measure and record the gravity of my beer. I'm curious why my kit came with a hydrometer and not a decent tube to put it in.

I also applied a thermometer to the outside of the fermenter so I can better regulate temperature. During the first couple days, when it was bubbling vigorously, I put it in the bathroom and opened the window all the way. All the activity gets the wort pretty warm. It's in my office right now so I can open the window if it's too warm and close them when it gets cool.

I'm excited to see how this one turns out. I'm a little older, a little wiser. I've got more equipment, certainly. When I started this endeavor I thought the next step would be lagering, but now I'm very curious about all-grain brewing as opposed to using malt extract. I'm told it gives a better character to a beer and offers more flexibility. But perhaps I'm getting to far ahead of myself for now. These are topics for future blogs.