Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Co., Revisited

As December draws to a close, a number of newly published articles look back on 2009's noteworthy restaurants. Jim Lahey's pizzeria, Co., appears in the bulk of these articles. In his article, Where To Eat in 2010, New York Magazine's Adam Platt divides his recommendations into categories. In the category Bull-Market Italian, Adam writes, "[u]ntil Keith McNally’s eagerly awaited Pulino’s Bar and Pizzeria opens down on the Bowery, Jim Lahey’s spare, pizza-geek mecca, Co., is my favorite place to go to experience the great New York gourmet pizza revolution in all its glory." In his article The Fabulous Freshman of '09, Sam Sifton of The New York Times writes of Co., "Jim Lahey, of Sullivan Street Bakery, got into the restaurant game this year with Co. (pronounced 'company'), a pizzeria. It's casual, fairly elegant in its way. The pizza's excellent."

In response to what is, in my view, an unwarranted inclusion of Co. in these articles, I am re-posting my March 23, 2009 post, "A Few Wise Words From Public Enemy":

Excited by the buzz generated from an endless number of positive reviews and by my affection for all things bread, I set out for lunch with a friend at Jim Lahey's new pizza restaurant, Co. After a fumbling waiter finally came over to acknowledge us, my friend chose the Boscaiola ($17) and I settled on the traditional Margherita ($13). The menu warns that Co.'s pies are not always round (nouveau or too bothersome?), but what it and the waitstaff neglect to tell you is that there is an unnecessary lag time between the arrival of each pie. Without explanation, the Margherita arrived at our cramped table a full 10 minutes after the Boscaiola. When we finally sampled both pies we concluded neither were overly impressive. Jim Lahey is a celebrated bread baker, so we expected the dough -at the very least- to be above par. Unfortunately the dough is nothing more than ordinary. It is commonplace for pizza in New York City to have thin, crispy crust. Co.'s pizza dough is thin, as expected, but the edges of our pies were overly charred and the underbellies lacked the crispness needed to balance the weight of the toppings. We paid our bill (rather exorbitant for 2 individual sub-par pizzas and shameful service) and resigned to the notion that Co.'s pizzas are edible (how many times have you met a pizza that isn't?), but definitely not buzz-worthy.

A tight circle prominently reigns as the culinary elite in New York City, so it shouldn't come as a surprise when mediocre restaurants with a public figure attached (enter investors Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Phil Suarez) continuously receive the highest accolades. While it is not surprising, it is disheartening. Overhyping a less than stellar restaurant does a major disservice to hungry, paying customers. So, as a warning to all those who are planning to eat at Co. sometime in the near future, I refer you to the poetry of Public Enemy- "Don't Believe The Hype."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sottocenere Al Tartufo

My two friends' parents have a Christmas party every year, and every year the food is outstanding. I inevitably end up eating something that I cannot believe I have lived this long without. Luckily, this year's obsession, sottocenere al tartufo - an Italian cheese studded with truffles, is easily obtainable so I am able to get my fix without going to great lengths.

Sottocenere translates to under ash while al tartufo means with truffles. The semi-soft cheese is made from cow's milk and contains tiny pieces of black truffles. It is aged in an ash rind (a tradition in the Venetian region) that has been rubbed with truffle oil and a mixture of spices such as coriander, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The result is a mild cheese with an earthy flavor and subtle hints of spice.

Sottocenere al tartufo with crispbread

At the Christmas party, caught feeding cheese to my sister

Friday, December 25, 2009

Grandma's Christmas Cookies

One of my favorite things about going home for the holidays is my Grandma's delicious pastry puff inspired cookie. I request this cookie every year, and every year she tells me she is not going to make it, then surprises me on Christmas with a special tin full of what she has re-named "Marie's Favorite Cookie". The bite sized cookie is made with a flaky crust and filled with a drop of almond paste and sweet strawberry jam (my favorite for this particular treat, but any flavor will work). In the spirit of the holidays, each cookie is finished with a light dusting of Christmas snow (confectioner's sugar).

Marie's Favorite Cookie (yield, approx. 2 dozen 2-inch cookies)
2 sticks salted butter
8 oz pkg cream cheese
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
2 tbsp almond paste, divided
2 tbsp seedless strawberry jam (or any other flavor), divided
Egg white from 1 egg
Confectioner's sugar to finish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix butter, cream cheese and flour together like a pie crust (these directions come straight from my Grandma- and when I asked her what exactly that meant, she so eloquently explained to me- just do what it says).
3. Roll the dough out on a floured surface and cut circles with a round cookie cutter (it can be any size, but she uses one with a 2-inch diameter).
4. Drop 1/4 tsp each jam and almond paste in the center of dough circle. Brush the edges with egg white and immediately top with another dough circle. Press the sides with a fork to seal.
5. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool.
6. Once cooled, top each cookie with a light dusting of confectioner's sugar.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

City Harvest For Christmas

Rather than fight through hordes of shoppers in search of the perfect last-minute holiday gifts for friends and family, I've decided to make use of City Harvest's holiday cards. Each year City Harvest collects over 25 million pounds of excess food from all segments of the food industry, including restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers, and farms. The food is then delivered to 600 community food programs throughout New York. The inside of each card contains a greeting such as "Warm Wishes For A Happy Holiday Season" or "Wishing You Health And Happiness In The New Year", and informs the recipient "[a] gift has been made to City Harvest in [their] honor to help feed New Yorkers during the holidays and all year long."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Original Sacher-Torte

The Weather Channel is directing New Yorkers to be prepared for the worst as a winter storm blankets the east coast with snow and ice. Manhattan is currently experiencing light snow and moderate winds. Should conditions deteriorate, I've armed myself with a little something to increase my chances of survival- an Original Sacher-Torte (every emergency kit should come with one of these).

In 1832, 16 year old Franz Sacher was faced with the task of creating a luxurious dessert for Prince Klemens von Metternich, Austrian politician and diplomat, and several of his high-ranking guests. Franz layered sweet apricot jam between, and on top of, two layers of spongey chocolate cake. He then covered the cake with a dense, rich dark chocolate. Franz's original recipe remains a closely guarded secret over 175 years later. The Original Sacher-Torte is made only in Vienna and Salzburg, and is available for shipment in 4 sizes (12cm, 16cm, 19cm, and 22cm) from Hotel Sacher's online shop.

The Original Sacher-Torte arrives in a wooden box engraved with the words "Das Original" and "Hotel Sacher Wien"

The "Hotel Sacher Wien" round seal is stamped on the torte and made of chocolate

The delectable cake should be kept between 16°C and 18°C

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Argo Tea

I am one of the few New Yorkers that cannot stand the taste of coffee. I have never, in my entire lifetime, had a cup of coffee. I am a dedicated tea drinker. Every year my husband (pardon my mistake...Santa) fills my Christmas stocking with new varieties of loose tea along with accessories fit for a tea connoisseur. Much to my delight, Christmas came early this year- in the form of Argo Tea, a Chicago based tea cafè.

As I was angrily walking back to my apartment after spending much too long in my local post office (I was forced to stand in an excessively long line upon being told all stamp vending machines have been deemed obsolete- something that will never make sense to me), I noticed the green Argo Tea sign on the bottom floor of the iconic Flatiron Building (949 Broadway- farewell Jo Malone). Previously found only in Chicago, Argo Tea is "passionate about bringing teas directly from growers around the world and blending them into unique and delicious signature beverages and teas." The menu includes the Chocolate Mint (steamed cocoa, mint and tea), the Earl Grey Vanilla Crème (sweet vanilla, steamed milk and earl grey tea) the Mojitea (Armenian mint tea, lime juice and cane sugar), and many other signature drinks along with black, green, herbal, red, white, and rare teas.

A preview of drinks to come

The café is "opening soon"- if the 10+ men furiously working inside are any indication of timing, one can only hope it will be sooner than later

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tía Pol

Tía Pol is a charming restaurant serving tapas inspired by the diverse cuisines of Spain. I had been looking forward to eating at Tía Pol for quite some time (I began to crave food from the Basque Country after watching Dhani Jones excel at jai alai then take down an impressive number of tapas during an episode of one of my favorite shows, Dhani Tackles The Globe), so I was extremely excited when my friend agreed to meet there for a late lunch this past weekend. We snagged a coveted spot at the bar and immediately spotted Oliver Platt ordering churros con chocolate two seats to our left- a sighting we took as a positive sign. Surely the brother of Adam Platt, highly respected restaurant critic for New York Magazine, only dines at establishments that have received Adam's seal of approval (I later read that Adam described Tía Pol as "possibly the best traditional Spanish restaurant in a town curiously devoid of such things.")? My friend and I shared several tapas, including the piquillos rellenos de ensaladilla rusa- sweet peppers filled with spanish potato salad topped with imported white tuna. This dish was so delicious that it inspired me to create my own version of a potato stuffed sweet pepper- which, unfortunately, was not nearly as memorable as Tía Pol's:

First, I charred the sweet pepper and wrapped it in a paper towel- a technique that makes it easier to remove the skin

Next, I cooked diced red bliss potatoes in cream with a bay leaf

While the potatoes were cooking, I sautéed diced sopressata with sweet onions, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes

Finally, I mixed the ingredients together, seasoned them, and stuffed the pepper

Friday, December 11, 2009

Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia and raised in Gothenberg, Sweden. He developed a passion for food at a young age (his defining memory is cooking Christmas dinner at 15 years old), learning to cook from his grandmother. After graduating from the culinary academy in Gothenberg he set off for Austria, Switzerland, and ultimately France. Twenty years ago Marcus left France to study and cook in America, a place his French mentor dubbed "the land of the burger." Based in NYC, Marcus discovered a vast array of new flavors and techniques, and utilized them in his cooking. Marcus' world-renowned culinary style has led him to become chef/owner of many successful restaurants (including Aquavit and Riingo in Manhattan), and to author several cookbooks. His third English-language cookbook, New American Table, was released October 25.

Earlier this week, Marcus demonstrated two flavorful dishes while he discussed the inspiration behind New American Table. According to Marcus, his cookbooks are inspired by diversity and his quest to bring the ingredients he has discovered during his travels to mainstream American cooking (i.e. the new American table is one with many cultures). He encouraged the attendees to determine what defines and inspires them and document their own food history- a narrative that he believes will become much bigger than one's self.

Explaining "teff"

Doro Wat- one of the most celebrated dishes in Ethiopia

Fried yellowtail poke with wasabi rouille- Hawaiian influenced

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New York Cares Winter Benefit

New York Cares, a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 by a group of socially conscious friends, held its Winter Benefit last night at the Edison Ballroom. New York Cares supports disadvantaged New Yorkers by creating suitable programs and recruiting volunteers for local nonprofit agencies, public schools, and numerous other deserving organizations. Each year, more than 48,000 volunteers participate in programs including: Citywide Days of Service, Corporate Volunteering, Disaster Preparedness, Youth Service Opportunities, and Holiday Coat and Gift Drives.

Last night's event featured cocktails, dinner (Appetizer: red beet, string bean and goat cheese salad; Entree: filet mignon with bordelaise sauce, roasted chicken breast with caramelized onions and white wine sauce, or miso glazed chilean sea bass; Dessert: molten chocolate cake with creme anglaise, or New York style cheesecake with strawberries) and a holiday auction. Restaurants such as Artisanal, Ristorante San Pietro, SHO Shaun Hergatt, Sparks Steak House, and Per Se generously donated items to the auction. Although the auction has closed, there is always time to make a tax-deductible donation.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Celebrating With Chocolate Cake

Today is my husband's birthday- an event that excites me much more than it does him. After relentless prodding, he agreed to a low-key, simple celebration yesterday evening. I cancelled the dinner reservations I made early last week (Marea, I will take advantage of your tasting menu and wine pairing someday soon...) and instead attempted to dazzle him with a homemade cake. I sandwiched sweet orange flavored cannoli cream between two layers of moist chocolate cake, and topped it with chocolate frosting and additional cannoli cream for maximum birthday goodness. After a rough start, I learned one essential lesson- everything can be fixed with a little bit of frosting.

I piped cannoli cream everywhere I could squeeze it- between the cake's layers, on top of the cake, and ultimately in my mouth

Cannoli Cream (yield, approx. 5 cups)
30 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest from 1 medium orange
1 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice (or more to taste)
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Mix all ingredients until combined.
2. Refrigerate.

This is when I realized I needed more frosting- it hides all mistakes (including my uneven layers)

The end result (covered with loads of milk chocolate frosting and cannoli cream) was delicious

My second piece


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dinner And A Movie With Phish

Last night I, and thousands of others, saw Phish play at a jam-packed Madison Square Garden. What relevance does this have on a website entitled It's All Fare? I've included it for two distinct food based reasons:

1. It's hard not to think of food when you hear the simple lyrics of Dinner And A Movie; and
2. I realized, as thousands of "phans" crowded the streets around Madison Square Garden looking to satiate their munchies, that food options for late-night concert-goers are extremely scarce. This city clearly isn't suffering from a shortage of hot dog vendors- where are they when you need them?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Sweet Italian Christmas With Gina DePalma

I recently attended A Sweet Italian Christmas With Chef Gina DePalma. Gina, the recipient of the 2009 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef and author of Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen, has been Executive Pastry Chef at Babbo since the restaurant's inception. During the informative event Gina demonstrated three of her favorite Christmas sweets- Crostoli, Castagnaccio, and Anginetti. The distinct flavors brought back memories of Christmas at my grandma's house- when my stomach was on the verge of exploding, my little Italian grandma would appear with a plate of freshly baked cookies uttering "mangia, mangia..."

Crostoli topped with honey and confectioner's sugar

Castagnaccio brushed with a chestnut honey syrup

Anginetti with festive sprinkles

Gina's recipe for delicious lemony Anginetti-
Anginetti (yield, 4 to 5 dozen)
For the cookies-
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3 large eggs, at room temp (according to Gina, room temp is always best when baking)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled (in lieu of vegetable oil and butter, home bakers may want to use 1/2 cup shortening- the use of which is illegal in NYC restaurants)
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp pure lemon extract
1/2 tsp pure anise flavor or extract (or 2 tsp anisette liqueur)
freshly grated zest of 1 lemon (this addition is a departure from traditional Italian Anginetti, but Gina likes the fresh flavor)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
For the icing-
3 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp pure lemon extract
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare 2 silicone molds with round, 1 inch diameter cups by spraying them lightly with nonstick cooking spray (the use of PAM is every pastry chef's guilty secret).
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the eggs with the sugar until light, then beat in the oil. Beat in the melted butter, milk, lemon zest, lemon juice and extracts (the mixture will appear curdled and will resemble cake batter rather than cookie dough).
4. Beat in the dry ingredients and form a thicker batter. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes (this step is very important and will allow the flour to become fully absorbed). Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip.
5. Pipe the batter into the molds, filling them halfway. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until they are puffed and just starting to turn brown at the edges (ensure the cookies don't get too dark).
6. Allow the cookies to cool and prepare the icing. Sift the confectioner's sugar into a large bowl. Whisk the milk, lemon juice and lemon extract until smooth and spreadable (add more milk and/or lemon extract to thin out if necessary).
7. Dip the soft bottoms of the Anginetti in the icing, then flip them over and sprinkle with multicolored sprinkles. Allow to dry on a piece of parchment paper. The cookies can be stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Hilltop Restaurant At Biras Creek Resort

The Hilltop Restaurant at the exclusive Biras Creek Resort has earned a reputation as Virgin Gorda's premiere restaurant. In addition to receiving accolades for its refined fare, the restaurant was the recipient of a 2009 Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator for its extensive wine list.

For the hefty sum of $85.00 plus a mandatory 18% service charge (guests at the resort enjoy an all-inclusive meal plan), appropriately attired diners may choose four courses from Chef Jermaine George's dinner menu. While the European and Caribbean inspired food is fresh, I find it surprising and somewhat alarming that none of the seafood is of local origin (yes, I've jumped aboard the "locavorism" train). Biras Creek Resort boasts of having magnificent views of three distinct bodies of water (the lagoon of the North Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean Bay) yet the Hilltop Restaurant fails to utilize any of these resources. Additionally, it is difficult to accept an $85.00 charge for four courses, excluding beverages, when one of those courses is a selection of perspiring cheeses, dried fruit and nuts from an unimpressive cheese table.

An evening view of the North Sound from the open air dining room

Crispy duck salad with mixed greens and orange vinaigrette

The artichoke and wild mushroom salad with balsamic vinaigrette was light on the artichokes

Overdone seared tuna with grilled zucchini, olives and tomatoes (the tuna was warm while the vegetables were cold)

Imported (the waitress did not know from where) grilled snapper with sautéed vegetables and crispy onions over a lemon butter sauce

Pan seared salmon with lifeless asparagus, couscous, and crispy onions over a broken citrus sauce

Over-sauced herb crusted pork tenderloin with bacon mashed potatoes, spinach and caramelized apples

An after dinner drink- house port

Continental and English cheeses from the cheese table- one of the four courses on the prix fixe menu

Refreshing raspberry, coconut and ginger sorbet

Rich chocolate mousse coated with chocolate ganache, served with vanilla ice cream and a delicious toasted sesame tuile

A French apple tart (craftily baked in the shape of a fish), served with caramel ice cream and caramel sauce, topped with fresh mint sprigs