Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Being a fan of most things pickled I immediately ran out and bought a jar of Rick's Picks Smokra (Spicy Pickled Okra with Smoked Paprika) after seeing it featured in this month's Gourmet Magazine as a 'Good Living Obsession'. I can't recommend these spicy, pickled veggies enough! They're perfect with cocktails and would make a great hostess gift. You can find them at Whole Foods or order online.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tastes of Texas: Spotlight on Kolaches

I used to travel to Houston, Texas often and was lucky enough to be introduced to the kolache, a czech pastry stuffed with fruit, cheese or sausage, by my frequent host. Gourmet magazine has a feature on these delicious breakfast treats in its March issue. Definitely worth a read, and worth seeking out the biggest chain, Kolache Factory, if you live in or visit Texas. They also have outposts in Indianapolis, Denver, St. Louis, and Overland Park, KS. I cannot recommend the Jalapeno, Cheddar Cheese and Sausage version enough!

Nougatine's Winter Menu Special

Everything changed for the better this year when we switched our opera subscription from Thursdays to Fridays. Now I don't spend the third (or fourth) act dreading my impending lack of sleep. It has become not an obligation, but a looked-forward-to event. And the enjoyment is compounded when we do a pre-show dinner like the one we had at Nougatine a few weeks ago.

Nougatine, the casual dining room at Jean-Georges has extended their restaurant week $35 pre-fixe dinner indefinitely. It is a hefty four(!) course meal served 5:30-6:30 and 10-11.

I would recommend starting at the bar with a specialty (if pricey) cocktail. A truly spicy champagne cocktail got my tastebuds going, though a friend's whiskey drink with its perfect balance of sour and sweet made me envious.

I believe they're already switched up the menu but we had:

Butternut Squash Soup with Black Trumpet Mushrooms (velvety, earthy)
Slow Cooked Salmon with Julienne Vegetables and Basil Vinaigrette (bright, extremely -almost too vinegar-y)
Soy Glazed Beef Short Rib, Apple Pieces, Rosemary Crumbs (wow. amazing textures and depth)
Molten Chocolate Cake, Panna Cotta (generous portions of two solid desserts)

I left the meal surprisingly full and eager to return. Check it out if the recession allows you a slight splurge as it is a great deal from one of my favorite chefs.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mini Barcelona Guide

I recently sent an email to my sister-in-law with a few of my favorite places for food in Barcelona and realized it might be good to post. My absolute favorite drinking/eating tip is to order the delicious sparkling wine Cava everywhere. It's cheap, light and (bonus!) often comes out of a tap.

Biblioteca. Traditional food with a modern twist. We had a great dinner here which included a savory Catalonian meat pie. Reservations recommended.

Cal Pep. Traditional Tapas. Always packed. Get there 1/2 hr before opening to queue.

Pinotxo. Tapas stand in La Boqueria Market (which I also recommend visiting). It's a point and pick kind of place. Worth it to observe what others are ordering and copy whatever appeals to you. Great sugar-crusted pastries to start off your morning of sightseeing.

Mauri Pasteleria. Beautiful old pastry and candy shop. Very near La Boqueria

If you have anything to share that I missed, please post in comments.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coconut Milk Pudding

I love these creamy puddings made from pantry ingredients. Make them in the morning or night before you plan on serving them as they really do benefit from being chilled at least 8 hours.

Coconut Milk Pudding
1/4 plus 1/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 1/2 13.5 oz cans light coconut milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
sweetened shredded coconut to sprinkle on top

Using a whisk, combine first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, stir in extract. Strain through a sieve into a mixing bowl with a spout. Pour strained mixture into 6 ramekins. Chill in refrigerator until set (ideally 8 hours). Sprinkle with sweetened shredded coconut before serving.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Matzo Ball Soup

As I predicted (and because my husband got ill), I made ever-comforting matzo ball soup with my homemade chicken stock. This recipe is loved by guests we've had for Passover. The matzo balls are relatively light and have a great herb-y flavor.

Parsley-Sage Matzo Balls
Yield: About 36

4 large eggs
5 tablespoons stick margarine, melted
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 1/4 cups matzo meal
1/2 cup club soda

Whisk eggs in medium bowl until frothy. Whisk in melted margarine, salt, and pepper, then herbs. Gradually mix in matzo meal. Stir in club soda. Cover and chill batter until cold and firm, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Line baking sheet with plastic wrap. Using wet hands (or small ice cream scoop) and 1 heaping teaspoonful for each, shape batter into matzo balls. Arrange on prepared sheet.

Drop matzo balls into large pot of boiling salted water. Cover partially and reduce heat to medium. Simmer until matzo balls are tender, about 1 hour. Using slotted spoon, transfer matzo balls to clean baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt if needed.

While the matzo balls boil, heat up your chicken stock over low heat. When ready to serve, squeeze the juice of 1/2 to 1 whole lemon into the liquid. Place about 3 matzo balls into each bowl, cover with broth. Serve.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Habanero Alert!

Green habaneros have been spotted (and subsequently purchased and made into a sauce) at the Upper West Side Fairway! Available now for all your spiciest needs!

Recipe here. Just substitute green for orange!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chicken Stock

I roasted a chicken Thursday night and planned in advance to use the bones and, er, carcass to make chicken stock (still trying to use what I have, after all.) I had been storing odds and ends of veggies from the week's meals (a little celery here a little bok choy there) and confident from Mark Bittman's assurance that boiled water with some foodstuffs is much better than canned stock, set my pot a-boiling.

I used Martha's basic chicken stock recipe as a jumping off point. I'm still not sure what I'm going to use it for (it's sitting pretty in the freezer right now) but I'm sensing matzo ball soup in the near future...

Post-Roasted Chicken Stock

Bones, backbone and other leftover pieces from a 5-6 lb. roaster chicken
Any leftover herbs you have (thyme, dill, etc)
A few pieces of any raw veggies you have (celery, bok choy, carrots, etc)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 dried bay leaf
1 large (or two small) yellow onions, peeled and chunked
1 teaspoon peppercorns

Place chicken parts in a stockpot. Pour in enough water to cover by one inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim off any fat that rises to the top (if your chicken parts don't include skin -there will not be much)

Add remaining ingredients and reduce heat so that mixture is at a bare simmer. Cook, skimming if necessary for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Drain stock into a bowl using a collander, sieve or cheesecloth. Set to cool over an ice bath. Store in an airtight container (I like a 2 quart pitcher with top) in the refrigerator for 8 hours, fat will rise to the top and congeal. Skim fat. Keep stock in refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Recent Restaurant Notes: Grand Central Oyster Bar

My work often takes me to the historic Graybar Building, adjacent to Grand Central Station (also historic). While walking through the lower level food court, I realized I hadn't yet been to the *ahem* historic Grand Central Oyster Bar, which has been serving bipeds under its vaulted tile ceiling since 1913.

So I enticed my hubby to journey there a few Saturday afternoons ago for a briny snack. Keeping it simple, we ordered fried oysters appetizer and a raw oyster sampler. The fried oysters were delectable. Though the plate only contained four, each was large, plump and not too heavily breaded. The raw oyster sampler plate contained 4 different types with two clear winners: Kumamoto (the smallest hiding behind the cocktail sauce in the picture) and Totten Virginica (the largest, on the right). A quick chat with our waitress revealed that perhaps we just prefer West Coast Oysters. And she may be right -those two types were so far above the others in delivering a flavor burst. Though I'm not ready to write off our local East Coast shellfish quite yet. Perhaps after a few more trips and a few more platters.

Also, the Oyster Bar has a surprisingly enormous wine list -including lots of whites by the glass. I can endorse the Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc (sparkling) and the ZD Chardonnay. Yum.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pickled Red Onion Slices

Pickled red onions are a great, versatile condiment. Add them to a salad, sandwich, burger or steak. They add a vinegary zip and sweetness to any dish. Plus, they're quick and easy to make.

Pickled Red Onion
1 small red onion, thinly sliced vertically
2 teaspoons sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring vinegar, granulated sugar, and salt to a simmer in a small saucepan. Stir in onion and remove saucepan from heat. Let stand, stirring occasionally. Serve once cool or store in tupperware in the refrigerator.