Friday, April 29, 2011

Jon speaks

This entry is written by the urban chef himself, I hope you find it as delicious as I did!
We cooks are a particular bunch when it comes to our equipment.  Despite the fact that the vast majority of us make salaries that would have difficulty getting consideration on a mortgage for Barbie’s Dreamhouse, if you were to look in kitchen lockers or kitchen basements across the country, you would find knife bag after knife bag filled with sharpened, shined and polished bits of cutlery and curio, each worth more than a car payment.  There was a guy I worked with in Manhattan who used to cart his tools home every night in a locked wooden wine box, because “I don’t trust any o’ y’all motherfuckers.”  Get a few cooks together looking over an equipment catalog- Tim Allen’s moronic Home Improvement character all over again. “AR AR AR AR AR!” Only slightly prissier, as we are grunting over fish spatulas and melon ballers, as opposed to power tools. Never mind.  I am as guilty of this as any other of my ilk. Fact is, just the other day, a trip to the dollar store for cheap TP and paper towels, had me wandering around the store for over a half an hour contemplating the relative merits of an array of slotted spoons- each priced at $1.49.  I didn’t buy any, mind you, mostly because it appeared that they were made of aluminum foil, but I couldn’t help looking, ya dig?

So when I left my last job, it was with no small amount of dismay that I realized that I had left behind a pair of tongs and my #1 PRIMARY CHEF KNIFE. (This is capitalized, ‘cuz that is how we think of these things. As in; “My sister-in-law wants me to help her out in the kitchen- cutting and serving the crudités. But how the fuck does she expect me to be of any use without my #1 PRIMARY CHEF KNIFE?”) In actuality, tho’, I was missing my tongs more at the moment, and was afraid they had run off. After all, these tongs were the perfect length, had the correct amount of curvature at the tip, were non heat conductive, had no plastic grips, had that all important machined, leaf shaped head, excellent spring action, and were optimized for use with either the right or left hand, as well as being a very attractive piece of equipment. Besides, they were mine and I liked them.  I sent a e-mail to my former boss along the lines of Hey, So you seem to still have in your fucking restaurant my Winko brand 8 inch tongs, and my JA Henkles 6 inch #1 PRIMARY CHEF KNIFE and I would appreciate your remittance of these items Immediately.  Oh and send me my last check when you get around to it too, ok? Thaaank yooouuu!

Unfortunately, I had to go in to look for my stuff.  Annoying, ‘cuz, in my mind, the missing items should have been set apart immediately by the dishwashers on sight.  As in; “These obviously quality items could not possibly be part of the standard crap that the restaurant provides for its cooks to use.  They MUST be someone’s personal property!  In fact… Yes!  This looks to be someone’s #1 PRIMARY CHEF KNIFE!  I had better just set these items aside, in case someone comes looking.”  Except, you know, in Spanish. What?! The dishwashers speak Spanish.

The only good part of schlepping over to Carroll Gardens was the opportunity to stop by Fish Tails on Court and Bergen.  This little fish monger has awesome seafood, and impressively knowledgeable and skillful staff working there to help you with your purchases.  And the seafood only costs two arms and a leg!  So there is that.  Now don’t get me wrong, anyone who has met me knows of my willingness to proselytize for the Church of Food Bazaar, of which I am a member, but Fish Tales just has some great high-end product that you just can’t get at your neighborhood supermarket.  At least in Brooklyn.  On my way back to my crib, tongs, but not my knife in hand, (oh yeah, my money too)  I grabbed some beautiful halibut fillets. They yielded the following:

Halibut Neapolitan
(There is nothing Neapolitan, or even really Italian about this dish. It, like the pizza of the same name gets it’s nomenclature from its colors of the Italian Flag)

1 good size Halibut fillet, square cut into approximately 6 oz portions

1 container of Grape Tomatoes squashed, skins on, excess liquid discarded
6 cloves Garlic, smashed
1 small Shallot, cleaned and halved
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
¼ tsp Crushed Red Pepper
½ tsp Sugar
Small handful of Basil leaves, julienned

2 ½ oz Capers, liquid discarded
Juice of 2 Lemons
5 tbs Butter

Take tomatoes, garlic , shallot and place in a small heavy bottomed saucepan. Add crushed red pepper and black pepper , to taste. Cover with olive oil, and cook, on the lowest heat setting possible on your stove. The items in the saucepan should bubble VERY gently.  Turn on and off if necessary, to maintain low temp cooking. Once garlic is cooked through and brown, remove from heat and add basil to the pot to wilt in the oil. Remove from heat and let cool.  Once cooled, drain off excess oil (keep), remove garlic and shallot, mash to a pulp, then reintroduce pulp to the tomatoes, and integrate, breaking down the tomatoes, but leaving them with some texture. Re-season with a splash of the cooking oil, salt, pepper, and sugar. Add a drop of white wine for brightness as well, if necessary. Set aside- to be served a room temperature.

For sauce, puree capers and lemon juice in a blender. place puree in a sauté pan and, on gentle heat, add butter, whisking it in 1 tbsp at a time. Complete this task at the last minute. To be served hot.

For Fish, preheat oven to 425. Salt and pepper fish generously, dust with flour , and cook on high heat in sauté pan with generous dollops of butter. Sear one side, turn , and finish in the oven- about 5 minutes, depending on thickness. Fish should be firm, but not extremely so.

To plate: Confit goes on the plate, best with a ring mold.  Fish goes on top, sauce finishes the plate.

Serves two.
Warning: Jessica, did not like the temperature of the confit, although I loved it.  I made it tho', and I intended it to be that way, so I’m biased. So what. Meh. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter with the Soule’s

It was Lady’s immediate family (my father's brother's family) who were in town this weekend for Easter.  Most of you know my cousin Lady, she is the head designer for Tracy Reese and has one of those effortlessly fabulous apartments in Williamsburg on McCarren park that is chic, homey, and comfortable all at the same time.  Lady has the best sense of style of anyone I have ever met.  She’s a good friend and I’m glad she lives near by.  (Also, Lady’s birthday is Wednesday, April 27, Happy Birthday!!!)

Lady’s brother, Matt, his wife Seretta, and their two children Mikayla and Evie, plus their mom Jeannie were in town.  Lots of people and personalities—but this group is one of the most fun!  Everything is really relaxed, usually no schedule, just doing what feels good.  I love my cousins, they are so much fun, and we just have the ability to laugh and carry on.  I am thankful that we are all so close, we don’t get to see each other a lot, but when we get together, it's like I just saw them yesterday, no one misses a beat.  I almost forgot how much I love being with my family, and it reminds me that I don’t see them as much as I should. 

Around 2pm on Easter, I pile myself onto the L train and head to Williamsburg .  For some insane reason, I decide to wear a coat.  I don’t know, in my vortex of Bushwick it felt cooler, but when I get to Lady’s, I realize its like 80 degrees outside and just as hot in her apt!  Don’t get me wrong, happy for spring and the heat, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I get there and Lady’s mother (Jeannie) and Evie were the only two ones around.  Jeannie and I catch up and try and figure out how Lady’s oven works.  We can’t seem to get it above 100 degrees.  Then we realize it’s because the oven is not closed!  Eek! After that disaster is adverted, the whole crew gets home and we pull together a big Easter dinner.  Aunt Jeannie and Seretta proved themselves to be quite the kitchen masters! 

Easter Dinner:
Roast turkey
Ham with Maple Glaze
Mashed potatoes
Green beans with toast walnuts
Chicken gravy.

For dessert we had Key Lime pie from the pie place in Red Hook (best key lime pie EVER!) and a frutti di bosco torte.  Key Lime pie is my favorite, so for those of you who can’t make it to Red Hook, here it is for you to try in your own kitchen.

Total Time: 8 ½ hours
30 min baking, 8 hours chill
For crust
  • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For filling
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice (if using bottled, preferably Manhattan brand)
 For topping
  • 3/4 cup chilled heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until combined well, then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate.  Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.

Make filling and bake pie:
Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Add lime juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly).

Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Make topping:
Just before serving, beat cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Serve pie topped with cream.  Jon will do this by hand in a large, ice cold metal bowl with a metal whisk.  It takes him about 5-10 min, but I have to say it comes out more delicate and fluffy.  So if you want to give your biceps a work out, do it old school.

This Easter was full of old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, friends starting new beginnings, and family.  It really couldn’t get any better!  (Except for Monday morning, I was up WAY to late Sunday and was seriously dehydrated from the heat—I guess the wine I had too did not help either!)

I was struck by one thing in particular comment Matt made to me, he told me that this was Seretta’s first trip to the East Coast and my response to Matt was that I had never been the West coast.  It sounds surprising, but true for a lot of people.  I think it's easy to forget how big this country is and all the amazing things it has to offer.  Jon reminds me of this constantly, it’s no secret I have my love affair with Europe and have really spent all my travels there, and my knowledge of the American landscape is limited.  My goal now, is to get around the US a little more.  So, here is an alert the Soule’s living in Seattle, I’m a coming—it’ll be fun, exciting, and of course, delicious.

Seretta with turkey!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Prime Meats, Yummy Eats

I have been excited to go to Prime Meats ever since it opened about a year ago.  Then, when the New York Times gave it a 2-star review, my palate was even more intrigued.  But, when it first opened, Jon was working at Buttermilk Channel, a mere 3 blocks down Court Street and a NYT star shy.  A fierce (and rather amiable, we are talking about geeky hipster waiters here) began between these two restaurants, and Jon being the loyal guy he is, decided that we shouldn’t go… (or if we did, we would have to go seriously incognito, but only under the pretenses that we were scoping out the competition… not there to devour the yummy wiener schnitzel.)

Jon left Buttermilk Channel at the beginning of the New Year so our conscious was free to explore.  We finally made it to the restaurant last Saturday night.  Jon’s job was just up the block and we were meeting a friend for drinks after, and figured it would be the perfect time to try. 

7:00pm: I go into Prime Meats looking for the hostess.  I am fully expecting a wait as it is a very popular restaurant, they take no reservations, and it is Saturday night.  I’m about second in line, a bunch of us randomly stare around looking for the hostess, since the staff is all dressed in regular cloths, and half of the patrons are hipsters, its really hard to tell the staff from the patrons.  Finally, the hostess appears.  The girl quotes the first hipster a 1 ½ hour wait, he walks away.  Yay!  One less person in front of me.  Quotes me an hour and half wait, I’m fine, I had a snack, and plus we are meeting someone for drinks.  I give her my name and my cell phone number.  (One of the great things restaurants are doing these days is letting you leave and calling you when your table is ready, I love it!)

7:10pm: Across the street at Minibar (my favorite bar in Carroll Gardens) very small, dark, and has a midget (excuse me, little person) bartender (whose name I can never remember, but knows Jon, me and all the other Buttermilk Channel crew really well.)  We have a drink with Jon’s good friend Bruce, and his baby Henry (aka Hank).  Henry is so so sweet, just to wrap this up, I played with the baby and Jon and Bruce drank.

7:55pm: Telephone Rings!! Alas, it is Prime Meats!! See ya Bruce and Baby, time for chow.  

8:10pm: We walk back in to Prime Meats and she seats us right away.  I am instantly struck by how nice the setting is.  In Brooklyn restaurants have a tendency to be jammed in so tight that you are basically in your neighbors lap and you might as well share your first course with them (hey you get to sample more!).  The tables at Prime Meats were very nicely spaced out and the noise level wasn’t too loud.  I hate when I am sitting across from Jon and we have to shout (also, Jon’s hearing isn’t the best from working in loud kitchens).  I am instantly at ease.  I sit in a large wooden banquet, which is deep and supple.  Perfectly sized for me at 5’9”, I can lean all the way back and be comfortable, I don’t feel squished.  Normally banquets are so short I hate to sit there because I am so far forward.  Be warned, this banquet is for tall people, the other little short girls had to sit all the way at the edge and didn’t look as comfy as me… ha! (sorry, its hard to be tall sometimes).

8:20pm:  Jon orders a very fancy cocktail, a punch, with Gin, bitters, Campari, and a few other things and loves it.  I have a quartino (about a glass and a half) of Gruner Veltliner.  This Gruner Veltliner was crisp, tart, and medium bodied, and complex.  Sometimes Gruner’s are too light, this was not. 

Jon and I then get down to business, what to order.  Jon and I ordering is a complicated dance of give and take.  We want the right balance, to be able to sample lots of things, but also to be able to satisfy each of our individual cravings.  It’s a strategic game of strategery (hahaha, sorry, that just made me laugh.)  It’s a dance.

Farm salad with bacon dressing
Bone Marrow

Burger with Maytag blue cheese (rare)
Pork chops
Schnitzel with wild mushrooms

8:45: Appetizers Arrive.  Two big cow bones of delicious bone marrow are set in front of Jon and a salad of mixed greens, apple slices (julienne) and bacon are sat in front of me.  We dig in.  I instantly am not a fan of mine.  The bacon dressing was heavy and not enough acidity from the apples to cut through.  I eat a few more bites and leave it.  I “help” Jon eat his marrow (he is so sweet to share with me)!  The marrow is delicious and decadent, exactly the way it should be… the marrow made me feel alive!  Like releasing a limbic spasm of happiness… even though I didn’t kill the cow, I’m eating some of the best parts.

9:10 Entrée.  Definitely the better part of the meal.  Again, I’m happy with my choice of the bovine.  My hamburger was done perfectly and was juicy and rich in flavor.  It came with bib lettuce (my favorite for a hamburger) tomato (which Jon says is wrong because it’s not summer) and red onion.  The French Fries were thin, crispy, and salty.  The only bad thing was the jarred pickle on my plate, it tasted like they had fished it out from the bottom of a Vlasick pickle jar from 2006, not crisp, not pickly, it was bad.

Jon’s pork was very well done, nice, but honestly, not memorable.  That’s all I have to say.  The schnitzel was delicious, pasta cooked perfectly and the mushrooms were savory and moist.

All and all, I really enjoyed my meal.  What made it the best for me was the ambiance, I was so happy just sitting and sipping my wine.  It is a very adult place, and in Brooklyn, that can sometimes be hard to find.  It was comfortable and classy without being pretentious.  Yes, the waiters were all hipsterd out, but honestly, the clientele were mostly older or like Jon and me, just normal people from the neighborhood.  And the check wasn’t bad either, actually great for the food we had, $110 + tip.  I give it a solid one star, I will be returning.

I am happy today because it finally feels like spring and I know there is something delicious on the horizon!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Friday Night is Pizza Night

Friday pizza night brings nostalga of my suburban childhood Friday nights—only in my house, the pizza was delivered by Dominos (yes, we ate Dominos, happily, and don’t judge, you did too in the 90s!)

There are very few meals which we repeat at 432 Bleecker, but one of our favorites is our homemade pizza.  This recipe is probably our most collaborative—as the crust recipe is from my family and Jon came up with the rest!

Last Friday was a bit crazy.  After work, I went to the gym and then made a quick pit stop into Macy’s.  I am so proud of myself, I went in and out of the Macy’s in midtown in 20 min!  Normally Macy’s is like a black hole, I loose all sense of time and end up wandering around aimlessly holding armloads of cloths that I just can’t live without.  But, I am really trying to be good and budget conscious! (Jon even commented how good I have been lately—but then I blew it by buying $100 worth of hair care… my hair was seriously dry!).  But back to Friday.  We needed new pillows, we had washed ours the other day and they never fully dried.  Now, for all the women, this part will make absolute sense to you, I was looking for new soft down pillows and found the “hotel collection” which are normally $120/pillow on sale for $35.  I am ecstatic, naturally, I grab two and run up to the register and proudly tell the cashier how proud of myself I am scoring this major awesome deal!  She validated my feelings, making the shopping purchase even more fabulous. 

I make it home (on the L train with a big bag of pillows)—I was hitting hipsters left and right with those things, so satisfying.  Don’t worry, the pillows were encased in two layers of hard plastic—so no hipster dust… After I drop of my pillows I run to food bazaar and grab all the ingredients.  Finally, sigh, back home.  Now, all I need is for Jon to come home and do all the work so I can sit, relax, and watch a romantic comedy! (Netflix just got “Father of the Bride!” Score!) But, then my iPhone vibrates, its Jon, he is stuck at work… so I am going to have to do it all myself (gasp!). 

Jon gets home right as the pizza is coming out of the oven (9:00pm).  I am so excited to tell him all about my pillow purchase!  But, Jon does not understand the fantastic deal I just got.  He says “$35 per pillow… jeez… why didn’t you just buy the $10 ones.”  Because the $10 are like cardboard.  He scoffed then, but I see him sleeping like a baby every night on our new pillows.  That’s why I like buying things like that, Jon would never, but he deserves a little comfort in his life.  And this way, he’s happy thinking he’s the king of frugality, and I’m happy, because I get to buy nice stuff (only when it’s on sale). 

Jon & Jessica’s Pizza

Pizza Dough: 15 min Prep + 1 hour rise
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 t salt
1 cup water
1 T olive oil
1 T sugar or honey
1 T (or package) yeast

Put all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  In a 2 cup measuring cup, add 1 cup of water (warm) and yeast.  Add sugar or honey and stir.  You will know the yeast is activated if it starts to get foamy.  Add the olive oil to the foamy mixture.  Pour into dry ingredients.  With a wooden spoon stir until ingredients just start to come together.  Then, with flowed hands, work the dough into a ball.  (if you need to add more water, do so by the T full).  Once dough is in a ball, put onto the counter.  Spray a large bowl with olive oil (or put a bit in the bottom) put dough on top and cover with plastic wrap or a towel.  Set aside for 1 hour.  While it is rising make the pizza sauce and prepare toppings.

Pizza Sauce
1 16oz can of tomato puree (Italian variety)
4 cloves of garlic
2 shallots (med)
¼ cup of sugar
1 cup vinegar or wine
3 T Fresh Basil
1 TSalt
1 T Pepper
1 T Crushed Red pepper or more to taste
2T olive oil

¼ cup of prosciutto
1 package of mixed wild mushrooms
4 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (water packed)
¼ cup Parmigianino Reggiano cheese
*topping are really your call—put on what you like!

Preheat oven to 425.  Sautee garlic and shallots in the olive oil on high in a large pot until fragrant, approx 2 min, then add all if the tomato puree, sugar, and vinegar or wine.  Add salt.  Bring to a simmer and reduce.  After reduced and thicker, add the basil, pepper, and Crushed red pepper.  Turn to low and cover.

Saute mushroom with 1T butter.  Do not crowd mushrooms.  Add chopped tarragon at the end. 

Roll out pizza dough and place on a medium baking sheet.  (Circle or square, we just use a standard cookie sheet).  Spread sauce over the dough evenly (not too much).  Add prosciutto, mushrooms, and then cover with mozzarella cheese and reggiano cheese.  Brush sides of crust with garlic oil or truffle oil (if you have) or just plain olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt. 

Bake for 15-20min or until crust is a medium brown color.  Let sit for 5-10 min.  Slice and serve.  

Since Jon and I are lazy sometimes, we don't have a picture of the pizza.  But, I have included something just as delicious!

Friday, April 1, 2011

For the Love of Demi-Glace

Wednesday, Jon had a day off from work, and that means,  super special dinner!!! He made a fantastic meal, which as I later found out, took two days to do!  We had hanger steak and barley risotto (with spinach & mushrooms-- my favorite vegetable combination) and demi-glace.  The secret to excellent steak is that Jon puts our cast iron frying pan in the oven at 475 for 20 min, getting it so hot, that it creates that magical sear, about 2 min on a side, then finish in the oven to the temp you like. (we are rare meat eaters!)

Ohhh demi-glace how I love you.  Demi-glace is this amazing thick sauce that packs so much flavor, it’s like dripping a delicious cow all over your steak.  What I didn’t know, is how long and difficult demi-glace is to make, 2-days! 

Demi glace (as explained by Jon) takes 36 hours to make.  You start by making a beef stock in a large pot (or dutch oven) with beef bones (for a technical demi glace you are supposed to use veal bones-- but Jon cheated a bit) with a magnum of red wine, vegetables (carrots, onions, celery).  Simmer for 12 hours.  Then strain out the beef bones and vegtables.  Over medium heat, cook the reduced stock for 4-6 hours until thick and creamy (about 2 cups)  So freaking yummy!!!! What’s also cool is that it solidifies when not over heat, so in my fridge I have a little container of solid brown yumminess!  For ultimate storage, store in an ice cube tray, then you have easy access and single size servings of demi-glace.

Follow this link for technical instructions (Jon uses this method): Homemade Demi-Glace Recipe

To top it off, we finished with the finale of Top Chef Season 8!  Richard won, it was really not that much of a surprise… Mike (whom Gawker calls Pizza the Hut! Seriously, that makes me laugh every time) just wasn’t up to Richard’s level.  Although I am not a big fan of Richard myself, seriously, the guy always whips out the liquid nitrogen, he is a good chef.  Congrats Richard, no more cooking burgers for you!

So now that Jon is back to work until Tuesday, I will be eating sauteed spinach and mushrooms and veggie buffalo wings (don’t knock 'em until you try them.)  Jon on the other hand, will consist on a ham sandwich and chips, each day.  It’s every man for himself Thursday - Monday in the Soule / Wallace house.  Jon has his ham & I have my veggie wings.  Although, I will whip up something fancy for Sunday dinner…

And for all you pizza lovers out there, the next post will have Jon & Jessica's secret pizza crust recipe! Friday night pizza night baby... now that's delicious!