Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Thanksgiving is the only time I get to practice my turkey skills. For years, that meant that even as a culinary school graduate, with tons of bird-roasting practice, I ruined the holiday-bird.
One season, when I was working at a culinary school, a neighbor-church called and asked if we would be willing to cook all of the turkeys for that year's soup kitchen Thanksgiving. It wasn't a hard sell since we had tons of kitchen space and they orchestrated donation of the turkeys.
I did that for three years. 20ish fat turkeys (plus my one, heritage, anorexic-looking bird) stuffed, basted, turned, poked, and fully roasted with plenty of input from office food professionals and chef instructors. There, I discovered the magic of roasted turkey necks; a new holiday highlight.
Now, I make sure that no matter where I'm going to be for Thanksgiving, I order my own bird.
This year, we had mini Thanksgiving on Tuesday (if I don't have Mom's mashed potatoes at some point that week, my heart rebels), family Thanksgiving in North Carolina on Thursday, my favorite yearly turkey potpie on Sunday and Turkey Reubens on Monday.
It's a long lead-in. I know. I tend to get nostalgic about Thanksgiving, honoring the bird by using it in every way possible, bla bla bla.
In an old *sniff* Gourmet magazine, I found the recipe for reubens. I thought it was a perfect way to incorporate leftovers.
My attempts to make sauerkraut have historically failed. I will hope for better luck with this winter's cabbage. The dressing was good (mayo, ketchup, pickle relish, cider vinegar), but I kicked it up with spicy ketchup and some chili powder.
Sliced Emmental cheese, chunks of dark meat, dressing and sauerkraut on sliced rye bread all went into a pan of heated butter. Lots of butter.
It was immediately melted, gooey and tempting. A bottle of dry Alsatian Riesling to offset the bit of kick made it was a highly successful dinner.
Next time, I would spice it up even more, add another half slice of cheese and use easier-to-slice breast meat. But add it to the schedule! Turkey-roast, potpie (still my favorite), and reubens. The little bit that is left will get loved up and put into a quiche.
For the recipe....
Friday, November 4, 2011
Early this week, Grub Street led me to the Village Voice posting about seriously serious soup dumplings in Manhattan. My local place is great, and I’m lucky that it’s on my street (Radiance Tea). The dumplings are fresh, not oily, and always taste of comfort: a food-lover’s chicken noodle soup. But I have been noticing of late, as they cool, that the wrapper might be on the thick side.
The Village Voice post gave me hope for a new spot. They said that the soup dumplings were made with a care that is long forgotten in the popular soup dumpling. The wrapper is thin and precious, making you take all the more heed as you gingerly remove them from the steamer. When the bottom bursts, you want to cry because the soup, the soul satisfying soup is slipping down the basket slats.
The suggestion of crab meat was also of note. In Flushing, before the DOH closed the haven where I tried my first soup dumplings, slurping diners could choose between pork, or pork & crab. I don’t know why, but the tiny addition of crab adds a balance to the soup, to the meat, to the whole thing.
Off I went for 14 Elizabeth St. I parked my bike (not on the fence. There is a very firm sign about chaining bikes to the fence) and headed in. The staff was welcoming and the food came quickly.
Soup dumplings and scallion pancakes first. The scallion pancakes were ultra-thin and fried to crisp. There was just a touch of dough in the center.
The soup dumplings. Well, they were all I’d been dreaming of. My only concern was that they appeared immense sacks of soup. Instead of my usual hole in the top/side where I slurp soup and hope for the pain that comes with boiling goodness, I had to attack and drain from both sides. Not to worry, the meat was still a single mouthful and I came to regard these giant dumplings as a 2 for 1 deal on soup. I win!
The pan fried pork dumplings had a thicker wrapper than I’d anticipated, but instead of being gummy, they were comforting. There was an herbaceous vinegar-soy sauce to dip them in that I could easily fall in love with.
Finally, because I can’t resist when they are on the menu, rice cakes. We had beef fried rice cakes and if you read MeetAndEat often, you might remember that rice cakes are disk-like, rice-based noodles with a chewy texture. That first time, it took a minute to get over the shape/ingredient/texture surprise. I now adore them. The beef was nice wrapped up in a shred of the scallion pancake.
The ladies would not stop pouring tea. Endless tea. They let us sit comfortably digesting for as long as we liked after we had ceased to inhale food. Quick, friendly service, not super-cheap but reasonably priced and dreamlike soup dumplings made Shanghai Asian Cuisine one of my new favorite spots. Headed down, I was disgruntled at how far #14 is. From Houston to the very bottom People. Headed home, I was thinking “it’s not so very far, my bike and I can come down here all the time!”
Monday, October 24, 2011
New York, NY 10013-5104
Since the menu isn't on the website, Grubstreet and NY Mag gave it to us here.
When I saw that the newly-opened Pulqueria had started serving a fuller menu (fuller than the still fairly substantial bar menu), I told Jack that despite is many time constraints (3 grad classes and late hours at work), I was taking him on a date. He never says "no" to Mexican food and with my less-new found adoration of all things Mexican...well, off we went.
Pulque, you may remember, was one of my quests in Mexico. Once I started reading about the fermented, ever-changing product of the mague plant, I was constantly looking for more. In some ways, pulque has the mystique we've come to admire of absinthe. History shows far too many drunk, wandering Mexican natives. Or when pulquerias were seen in a temperance light, as the breeding place of sin and debauchery, the drink took on a sinful, negative connotation. For others, it's a peasant drink. Why would you go looking for that? Faithful readers will remember that I found it. My friend Scott and I drank plain pulque, and a couple of infusions in Chalula last January as well as in Tlaxcala on bbq day. It was viscus and sort of gross, but with a very herbal note and a short-lived, mellow buzz. Yes, I'm telling you about the buzz.
I can actually go on and on about pulque. I'm totally into it in terms of harvesting, historical significance, and how, as all of the components for fermentation are found within the drink, it continues to ferment day by day until is basically dies. The first few days, it has little character, very low alcohol, and is less vegetal. By the end of it's life (up to 2 weeks), pulque is funky beyond reason, somewhat high in alcohol and well, lets just say, you might want to try an infused one. There are a couple of companies that are selling canned or bottled pulque, which makes me wonder just how they are stopping the fermentation. It must be fairly sterile.
Ok. You want to know about the restaurant. I apologize.
After some difficulty finding the correct Chinatown basement, I let the door slam behind me into a dark bar space. My first drink had to be a pulque. Sandia Pulqe (fresh watermelon, pulque, mezcal, epazote, lime) It was pink, soft and subtle. My previous pulque-experiences made me wonder just how they get pulque from Mexico fast enough to allow for such a mellow flavor and non-viscus texture. Asking the bartender did not help, and to be honest, I sounded like a jerk asking. But a quick taste of the straight pulque helped. It had an enormous amount of rotten plant-matter funk. It was not a baby pulque. The flavor in the mixed drink had to be attributed to the added components. I'm being geeky again. Sorry.
Mole de Puebla (tequila infused with dried mole spices, agave, lime) was more of a margarita-cocktail. I enjoyed it.
I texted Jack from the bar. "You will never find this place." He responded, "challenge accepted." The address is right, the sign, not so much. But I knew that once he saw the random non-Chinese people walking around the block, he would know he was in the right neighborhood.
Once together, the bartender, who we loved, offered to make Jack a spicy-version of the Jicama Pulque (fresh jicama, pulque, tequila, agave, lime). He used habinero-infused tequila and Jack was happy to be in this Chinatown basement, away from work, school, or whatever.
At our table, we decided to try the restaurant's special Sikil Pak (pumpkin seed dip with housemade tortilla chips). It was meatier than either of us expected,with a bit of a kick. Mostly, I think we wished we'd been boring and had the guac. Good guac is unbeatable.
Pulqueria offers a tower of salsas descending from mild to flaming based on preparation and ingredients. Once you have it, you can use it to adjust the flavors of everything you order. I recommend it, just as your waiter will.
Esquites (grilled corn off the cob, epazote, chili, mayo, lime, queso fresco) were good, but as Jack put it, "there was a lot going on." For those who love an Elote, corn on the cob with mayo, cheese and chili dust, it reminded you of the street-food favorite without the mess. Jack was right though, once you remove the corn from the cob, the proportion of extras goes up. It was nice, but hand me some corn on a stick please.
Taco-time was of course, my favorite time. I love tacos with gussied-up ingredients.
Cochinita Pibil Tacos (annato seed, slow roasted pork, avocado, pickled onions). These were great. We each had one since our order was going to come out uneven. The pickled onions added a nice sweetness to the spice and meat.
Carnitas Tacos (pork confit, cilantro, onions) are always a favorite. Who doesn't love succulent pork on a small, well-made tortilla?
Arrachera Tacos (marinated skirt steak) were also great. The meat was well-cooked and reacted well to a bevy of salsas selected from our tower.
Lengua Taco (braised beef tongue, onion, cilantro, avocado salsa) was found on the special tacos menu. It was more expensive, but completely delicious. The two avocado salsas provided a smooth and controllable amount of kick.
Believe it or not, there was another course. Loony right? I just couldn't help myself because it is rare that Jack and I are out to dinner, just the two of us. Enchiladas Suizas (Creamy tomatillo sauce, chicken, Queso chihuahua) were freaking amazing! The slices of onion on top might have been too thick for me, but the creamy green tomatillo sauce, the string cheese-like melted goodness and the shredded chicken took me right back to one of my absolute favorite dishes from my Mexico trip last year. Hello awesome.
The Mole Poblano (peubla recipe, farm raised duck) was beautiful. Black bean paste, white rice, and thin slices of duck breast on top of a solid mole. The flavors went well together and apart. We immediately began mixing and matching with chips, salsas, gooey cheese and bean paste.
A shared glass of Gyanabana snow to finish and we rolled on out of the basement, into the streets and off towards home.
Ok. I'm going to continue on my pulque lesson a bit here. At the bottom of the drinks menu, there is the following blurb:
What is Pulque?
Pulque is older than tequila and stronger than beer. It is a celebrated alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant, which has been steeped in Mexican culture for centuries. Unlike tequila or Mezcal, which are distilled from agave, pulque is fermented, sometimes from up to six types of agave plants. The resulting beverage is somewhat cloudy and sweet.
In ancient Aztec times pulque was the highly esteemed drink of the elders, priests and warriors. It has been deemed "nectar of the lightning gods" due to the ceremonious way that pulque is harvested. The agave fields are oftentimes struck by lightning during the storm season, which causes the plant to naturally ferment and produce pulque.
You already know, from my previous posts and even my mini-rant today, that some of this is..well, not what I would have said if I was teaching someone about pulque. There are some silly bits in here, and some that could have been taken farther. Pulque was the drink of the elders, priests and warriors because, for the average person, drunkenness was punishable by isolation or death. Older people were prized for the wisdom and alcohol consumption was seen as an enhancement or just something allowed to an elder. When the colonizing powers showed up, they thought that drunkenness in the native populations needed to be dealt with harshly while culturally speaking, the Mexican people had been policing alcohol consumption far before they arrived and with sufficient force.
Agave nectar can be harvested without the lightning. Lightning sounds cool, but really, they chop off a few of the side leaves so that they can get in to the center, where the sap is. Then, with a scraping tool and a tube or bottle, they scrape away dead cells from the last round, and suck the sap out into the bottles.
For fermentation: one of the most fun things about pulque and mague is that the enzymes needed for fermentation already exist within the plant. Sometimes, producers will add a drop of full-fermented pulque as we do with starter yeasts in breadmaking, but if you suck out a bunch of mague sap, and leave it, it will ferment itself and do so pretty quickly.
I really liked Pulqueria. I would go back any day to sit at the bar, have a michelada or a cocktail and some Tacos Lenguas or those dazzling Enichladas Suizas.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Thursday, October 13, 2011
92 Stowe Street
Waterbury, VT 05676
Hen of the Wood is my absolute favorite mushroom. Do you have a favorite mushroom or am I alone in this? Anyway, during my externship, I used to roast tons of them with butter and sea salt. I have loved autumnal mushroom and pumpkin flavors ever since.
This trip to Vermont, I was able to make it to Waterbury and try one of Vermont's premier restaurants.
The restaurant is within a 19th century mill and shares the space with other local artisans. There were some spectacular looking seasonal dishes. The only downfall to eating by yourself is that you are limited in the food you can try. The Sweet Corn Fritters with honey would have been great to sample, as well as the Squash & Sweet Corn soup. I've also heard great things about their signature pork belly (something that I either missed in the dark, or was not on offer that evening).
I'm a sucker for fried oysters and have been missing my NOLA food, so I order the Crispy Oysters. They sat in a shallow puddle of aioli and squirted just the slightest bit of ocean with each bite. It was all I'd been in the mood for.
Another appetizer, the one that I could not possibly ignore, was the Local Hen of the Woods, Grilled Bread, Poached Farm Egg & House Bacon. It was meaty, well roasted and tasted of earth and forest. The egg had one of those telling orange yolks that spilled as a dressing when poked. Basically, it was awesome and I kind of wanted to have another one. Or to beg the chef to make me a hen of the wood menu some day. Some day.
My waitress was impressed when I cleaned my entree plate. Winding Brook Pork Loin, Buttered Rockville Market Farm Squash & Cider Braised Cabbage. There was a smooth mustard dressing on top. Each component stood well on its own, together, when eaten with a thin slice of pork, was a great dish. I'm a sucker for hertiage pork. There is something about a piece of pig-flavored pork (I know, pork should taste like pig but it doesn't always) that tends to make me grin. It's like local chicken that turns out ultra chicken-ey. And when the loin comes juicy, piggish, and covered with autumn flavors, it's a winning combination; a dish that I'm willing to finish even when I'm stuffed.
The pumpkin spice ice cream was good; heavy on the spice which was nice. The concord grape sorbet did not scream grape as I was counting on, but turned out to be a sorbet-version of preserves. It was sweet, tart, and a great palate cleanser.
I loved this restaurant. I would go back.