Chef’s Night Off – More Rainy Days in NYC

From the missed post, you would think that yesterday was Chef’s Day Off… No, just needed the whole day to recouperate from Saturday night (I’m not as young as I used to be)!

Photo by Greggfly (see link)
Photo by Greggfly (see link)

Saturday night was the launch party for Justin Timberlake’s new 901 Tequila. Junior Merino of The Liquid Chef was mixing the cocktails and nibbles were provided by former Top Chef contestants, including my friend Lee Anne Wong. Judging from the hangover I had yesterday, I guess I had too many of Junior’s creations and not enough of Lee Anne’s. Between that and all the rain, my weekend’s wanderings were limited to a marathon run of Andrew Zimmerman on The Travel Channel and a couple rounds of the park with my favorite doggy companion!

With all the wet, cold weather we’ve been having, I’ve been daydreaming more and more about places like this…

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Been There, Read That: Garlic Scapes

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Last year around this time I read an article in the New York Times Dining & Wine section about the many forms of garlic now available in the local farmers’ markets. In “A Good Appetite: A Garlic Festival Without a Single Clove,” Melissa Clark writes of one of my favorite spring  flavor enhancers, green garlic, and something that was totally new to me – garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are the small bud and stems of the flower the garlic plant produces before the (more familiar) bulb is produced. The scapes are pruned from the plants in order to direct the plant’s energy into producing the bulb instead of a flower.

Last year, I did not make it to the market in time to sample garlic scapes, so this year, when I saw them I jumped at the chance to take some home (even though I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to cook them right away). After feeling terribly guilty for leaving them in the fridge for a few days, my curiosity was finally sated.

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I cut the scapes into two-inch pieces and cooked them in boiling salted water, then shocked them in an ice bath (the a l’anglaise method – have to throw that in since I am an instructor at the French Culinary Institute). I then dressed the cooked scapes with fresh lemon, chili-infused olive oil, sea salt and pepper, then tossed them with chopped olives.

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They were delicious! I was surprised at how delicately flavored they were. I was expecting a strong (but hopefully pleasant) aroma of garlic, as with green garlic. However, what I got was a flavor reminiscent of artichokes – a touch of sweetness like green hay, followed by a very subtle green garlic flavor. Hopefully there will be more at the market this weekend and I will cook them the same day to see if I missed out on anything from not enjoying them immediately. They are so easy to cook and make for a unique replacement for green beans or other more traditional vegetables.

Try them for yourself before the season ends and you miss out!

End of a Journey

Blog Class 2

Last night was the last of eight classes of the first ever ground-breaking session of Food Blogging with Steven Shaw (aka the Fat Man from EGullet) at the International Culinary Center. It was a great pleasure to take part in the inaugural class, laying the ground work for what I hope will be a long-running, successful program. This was, in itself, a journey. When the class began I hadn’t written more than a less-than-consistent monthly column (that I still love and write – See the Eat and Tell link in the next column). But, where one journey ends, another begins. I’ve spent eight weeks building this blog and dedicating time to it daily, now I will take it to the next level (whatever that happens to be!).

First, I want to thank Steven for his tireless efforts and dedication to the success of each and every student in the room, no matter their degree of expertise, knowledge, or motivation. You gave each of us all the respect and personal attention a student could hope for while maintaining a fun, dynamic environment in which to learn. I know we will stay in touch!

Second, I want to acknowledge and thank all of my classmates. You all made the past 8 weeks fun, exciting, challenging, and time I will miss greatly. I hope we will stay in touch… I will definitely be following your blogs as time goes on. I wish you all the best of luck! Good job!!

Here is a list of blogs written by my classmates:

http://athirstyspirit.com/  

 http://www.foodbelow14.com/ 

 http://hungrysofia.com/ 

  http://adimino.wordpress.com/ 

  http://historiccookery.com/

 http://edibleswag.wordpress.com/  

http://eurojerseygirl.com/ 

 http://eatthispoem.com/                                                   

 http://houndstoothny.com/                                              

 http://mindysrecipefordisaster.wordpress.com/

Tuesday’s Top 5: Wanderlust

Instead of writing about places I have been, today I’m considering places I would like to go. This list is constantly changing depending on things I read, my friends’ wanderings, or foods I want to taste in person. For this particular post, I’m only considering places I’ve never been because my top 5 could easily be taken up by places I’ve already visited and would love to return to (maybe that will be next week).

These are in no particular order…

1. Thailand. In my ideal scenario, I would not be limited to only one or two places, I would have plenty of time to travel the whole country (and then some…). The Thai people I’ve met and befriended over the years are some of the kindest, most generous and proud people I know. It would be an honor to learn more about their culture and to experience the beauty of their homeland. Thai cuisine is one of my absolute favorites with its perfect balance of sour, sweet, spicy, cold, hot… mmmm! While there, I want to study the foodways and learn how to cook “real” Thai food and observe first hand the design ingenuity of the Thai street food vendors. (Great Read:Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia)

2. Singapore. Just the hawker stalls (more street food!) alone are enough to draw me to this country. I’ve studied and written about the foodways of Singapore for school, now I want to experience it in real time. This multicultural cuisine represents the foodways of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures mingling in a way that was unlikely through any other medium. The Singapore Tourism Board has all but constructed a national reputation on their unique cuisine alone!

3. Spain. I want to experience everything from traditional tapas to El Bulli, from the beaches to the Gaudis of Barcelona. I want to visit Spain’s varied wine regions, eat paella, ponder the work of Dali, and just people watch from any random cafe. Where (and when) do I begin?

4. Sicily. The home of my ancestors. The world of The Leopard (The Leopard: A Novel), Anna Tasca Lanza (The Heart of Sicily: Recipes and Reminiscences of Regaleali A Country Estate), and Nero d’Avola (one of my favorite big red wines). Scorching heat, captivating sea vistas, almond desserts… I can’t believe I haven’t been here yet! This may have to be next.

5. Australia. I’d start in South Australia. Adelaide in particular. I graduated from the University of Adelaide, and have never been there… would love to visit, especially during the upcoming Symposium of Australian Gastronomy. Australia is huge, far away, and absolutely fascinating to me. I’d need at least a few weeks to do and see enough to make it feel worthwhile. There’s too much fresh and unique food (especially seafood), wine, and interesting people to rush through a visit – best if I can stay a while. Now, to find a way!

In Real Time – Sunday in the Parks

My original plan for today was to hit several local food festivals today then go to a friend’s new house for a barbecue. However, between feeling under the weather and a dog-sitting commitment, I found that maybe I bit off more than I could chew (not literally, for once!).

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If you were in NYC today, I hope you had the opportunity to enjoy at least one of the many food festivals: the Brooklyn Beer Festival, the Paella Parade, the Philippine Independence Day Festival, the International Immigrants Foundation Fest, the regular weekend festivities on Mulberry Street, or any of the other street fairs and celebrations happening around town. If you didn’t make it to one of the organized events, I hope you still got to enjoy the luscious warm sunny day with some tasty treats!

My friend and I were headed to the Paella Parade because it was the closest and because it was held at the new South Street Seaport Water Taxi Beach, but it was $25 per person to get in and it was sold out! We opted for the next closest venue – Madison Square Park (home of Shake Shack!) for the Philippine Independence Day Festival. Seems to be some kind of theme lately – unintentional I assure you, but a happy coincidence considering my love for the food!

The pungent smell of vinegar carried by the smoke from barbecuing pork wafted across the park as we approached. The bandstand area was nearly empty, but the food stalls were packed! We could barely get close to the tables to place an order and when we did, the lack of signs made it nearly impossible to the untrained eye to tell the difference between the wide variety of stewed meats, noodle dishes, lumpia, fish balls, and various grilled treats. Didn’t matter, we just pointed and tasted whatever everyone else was eating.

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I tried the crispy pata (fried pig trotter) here and found that I like the flavor of mine better (thanks to one of my students for the secret ingredients!) but this trotter was much meatier than the ones I was working with – goes to show you, you need to start with the best ingredients. We also had budbud (cassava cooked in banana leaf – so tasty!), empanadas (nothing close to the ones I’ve come to love in the Philippines), banana fritters (ditto), banana and jackfruit lumpia, savory lumpia (both fresh and fried), and pork belly on a stick (love food on a stick, especially pig!).

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From there, we opted to walk off all the pork products by walking from Chelsea down to Tribeca through Union Square, the East Village, and Soho. By the time we got to the East Village, the need for something sweet hit just as we were approaching Momofuku Ssam, and coincidentally, Momofuku Milk Bar. You cannot pass there without getting an ice cream, that would be tragic! Today’s assortment of flavors was based on favorite childhood candy: red licorice, sour gummies, chocolate mint (Junior Mints?), and fireballs (my choice). We tasted the red licorice, it was absolutely true to its name but not something I would want a whole cup of, so I went with the fireball… pure fireball flavor, including the burn, delivered in the form of creamy (and ever so slightly salty) soft-serve. Other flavor themes I’ve had the pleasure to try: old-fashioned donuts and kid cereals… this place will not disappoint!

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Good thing we still had such a long walk ahead of us. The remainder of the walk was relatively uneventful, and the remainder of this evening has involved plenty of water, cold medicine, and the sounds of me coughing… time for my chamomile tea!

Been There, Read That – This Little Piggy…

Two of the most notable things I’ve read this week in the world of food writing have either been specifically about pig-products or featured them prominently.

Anyone who read the NY Times food section this week – or any of the food-press related blogs for that matter – probably read Harold McGee’s “Bringing Flavor Back to the Ham” in his Curious Cook column. First of all, being a huge fan of anything pig, I was sure to appreciate this article no matter what; and having tasted the array of country hams on offer at Momofuku Ssam Bar, I am well aware of the sensual pleasures found in a thin slice of a well-crafted ham.

What really sticks with me about this article is McGee’s writing. I aspire to write like him. Who else but Harold McGee can draw you in with a sensually vivid opening line like this:

“Have you ever placed a vanishingly thin morsel of rosy meat on your tongue and had it fill your mouth with deepest porkiness, or the aroma of tropical fruits, or caramel, or chocolate? Or all of the above?”

Then lead you so willingly through an equally sensual description of the science and history behind the ham making process in the American south? MFK Fisher (see: The gastronomical me), one of my all-time favorite authors, could make a dried out tangerine segment sound like the most sensual of treats, but could she write of catalyzing enzymes, amino acids, and odorless fats coming together in “aromatic fragments” with a “density of flavor and texture”? Not like Harold McGee!

The second notable pork-centric thing I read this week was on The Amateur Gourmet, a lively blog written by Adam Roberts (who recently visited our blogging class). He wrote of his recent meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a farm-to-table restaurant brought to us by Dan Barber (FCI Alum) and James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef of 2009. Roberts takes the reader on well-photographed reminiscence of his experience from farm to table including a visit to the nursing piglets on the farm. He also included an “after” picture of sorts – BHSB’s famed “face bacon” made from pig cheeks. Thanks Adam for promoting being comfortable with where your food comes from!

For more good reading on all things pork, I recommend my favorite pork cookbook: Pork and Sons

From My Travels – Memories of a Trip to San Francisco

Since I missed Chef’s Night Off last night, I’m taking a little bit of a break tonight… I wrote this for Eat and Tell a while back… you can tell by the writing style – a little sassier than lately!

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“Eat, drink, and be fat and drunk!” This is the saying on a magnet that has been on my refrigerator since the 80’s; it is also the battle cry of a group of girlfriends – including yours truly – who love to live life to its fullest.

One of these dear friends is getting married soon. We are grateful to her for providing the perfect excuse to gather in our old stomping grounds, food and wine heaven, the Napa Valley, for a “grown up” bachelorette party. The plan consisted of two of our favorite activities, eating too much and drinking too much of the best Napa has to offer (or at least our personal favorites).

The itinerary went roughly like this:

Friday: Winery number 1: Quintessa – a beautiful sanctuary where nature and great architecture come together to make exceptional wine. The staff, especially our guide Kelly, is gracious and charming, the 2002 vintage is ripe and velvety, and the nibbles that came with it (aged Gouda, “Humboldt Fog,” and membrillo) were yummy – just wish there was more wine in that glass!

Lunch: The Wine Spectator at Greystone Restaurant – great patio with a fantastic view, lots of pink wines to choose from, a new lunch menu with a “world cuisine” flair – lots of popping flavors in small plate form and a burger stuffed with foie gras (decadent!).

Winery number 2: Pine Ridge Winery – I worked here for several years, it remains a personal favorite, now even more so since they’ve added a PINK wine (we LOVE pink wine). This is also a great place for a wine country cooking class with the winery’s current chef, Eric .

Day one continues with a couple of bottles of wine at the home of fabulous friends where I raided their personal citrus grove to smuggle some California gold (Meyer lemons) back to NYC.

Dinner: Foothill Café – We decided to go “local” for dinner… this little gem is hidden away in an old strip shopping center in a residential neighborhood, just the way we like it when we want to walk in with 5 people at 8:00 on a Friday with no reservations and cravings for really good food. Duck, prime rib, BBQ ribs, tuna – all excellent, and what do they do with the veggies to make them so perfect yet simple?

Saturday, Day 2: A little shopping in the Laurel area of Oakland for obscure Asian and Latino food items gets the blood pumping. Once we’re up and moving, we’re ready to take on San Francisco for the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan Town. If you’re in this area, don’t miss Ichiban Kan (the Japanese dollar store) at 22 Peace Plaza… if for no other reason than to buy a little gadget that cuts hot dogs into little octopi! 
Dinner: Kokkari – Greek food has typically been relegated to the realm of mom and pop-style diner/comfort food; here, it assumes its rightful place in the kingdom of “cuisine.” EVERYTHING (and we tried over 10 dishes) was to die for! Even Greek wine, particularly the whites, won my heart. (A review I wrote of Kokkari after a couple meals there)

Sunday: Though still reeling from the past two days, the battle cry could still be heard on the last day of our adventure. Fortunately, we stocked up on supplies for another stellar breakfast at home – challa French toast with more fresh fruit and Niman Ranch BACON (did I mention our obsession with pork products?).

Winery 1: Joseph Phelps – make your appointment well in advance (we recommend requesting the insanely fabulous princess from New York). For this extended tasting (3 hours on the terrace overlooking hills and vines). Good friends, a great view on a beautiful day, and Phelps Insignia… there is very little else one needs to prove that life is sweet.

All other plans for winery visits and shopping (for chocolate at Woodhouse and olive oil at the little place on Charter Oak) were waylaid for a decadent afternoon in the vineyard-side yard of old friends with their family’s (French!) wine – Domaine des Girasols, a rich smoky, spicy, Cotes du Rhone Villages – so good and so hard to find (let me know if you’re interested!).

Winery 2: Cardinale. OK, maybe there’s time for one more short visit, especially since the sweetest, most charming, and adorable young man was rumored to be pouring (lucky us, he was!). Big, bold, high-scoring California cabs, luxurious surroundings, and a stunning view of my former home.

Dinner: Bistro Jeanty. A visit to Napa would be incomplete without at meal here. The quintessential bistro menu – everything is great, especially the simple things like tomato soup (under a veil of buttery puff pastry). After our first few courses, we were still able to add on our second round of braised short ribs (hence, running them out of their special for the evening!).  It took me three days to fully recover and I’m still full!

Chef’s Night Off – Learning the Foods of the Philippines

As promised – my version of how the class went yesterday… This is definitely going to be a longer post than most Mondays, but worth it.

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Though I was expecting 12-15 participants, we ended up with 7 (including my brother-in-law and myself), but that did not stop us from completing nine unfamiliar recipes and finishing nearly every bite (by the time we packed “to go” containers)!

I was joined by Hayley, an instructor in our Italian program, who was eager to help with all things culinary – she is frequently my partner in crime on my wanderings – an adventurous soul if I ever met one! My wonderful brother-in-law Benjie who helped me plan the beautiful menu, and supplied the research materials, his cousin Raqui, Luisa – a family friend who is always up for a food adventure with me, Ana Sofia a fellow blogger who writes one of my absolute favorite blogs, Hungry Sofia (see link section)and my beloved blogging instructor Steven Shaw (aka the Fat Man for all you eGullet fans out there – click that link for his fabulous posts about this class complete with much better photos!) .

Considering that 3 of the 7 participants were natives, the pressure was on to get my stories straight and my flavors as close to authentic as possible. In the end, I was graded a 10 out of 10 for effort and a 7 out of 10 for authenticity… good grades considering they’re pretty tough critics!

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As I mentioned yesterday, we got a bit of a late start and did a bit of grazing along the way. Though we visited many markets and street vendors, here’s a few of my personal favorites.

  1.  Sun Vin Grocery, 75 Mulberry Street, near Bayard: This seemingly brand new store has an extensive supply of foods from the Philippines including all the frozen products (ube, cassava, coconut in various forms, and calamansi juice concentrate).
  2. Hong Kong Market, 68 Elizabeth Street, enter on Hester: This is my “go to” place for all things Asian. The fresh produce is limited but the fish market is beyond compare. The live fish selection is huge and includes turtles and large frogs as well. They will clean and gut the fish for you if you like. Same with their butcher shop. This Asian mega-store has a relatively large selection of foods from the Philippines. They also have a lower level with every houseware and gadget you might need.
  3. Tan Tin Hung Supermarket, 121 Bowery, near Grand: Right next door to the Century Café that I’ve written about in two previous posts. Great produce and a full line of brightly colored and creatively packaged prepared foods – One of these days I’m just going to taste my way through their “deli” case to see what these foods are all about.

The final menu looked like this:

  • Fish Sinigang (sour tamarind soup with grouper)
  • Kilawin (ceviche of golden pompano)
  • “Bangus” style trout
  • Crispy Pata (crispy fried pig trotters)
  • Chicken and Pork Rib Adobo
  • Rice
  • Water Spinach Adobong (adobo-style water spinach)
  • Palitaw (glutinous rice cakes with coconut & sesame)
  • Casava Bibinka (cake baked in banana leaves)
  • Ube Ice Cream (sweet purple yam ice cream)

 

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Here’s one recipe. For more, I refer you to the book I wrote about in a previous post – “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” it’s a beautiful book and most of the recipes we used were inspired by the ones in that book.

Next time, I’ll open the class up to the public – when that happens, you’ll be the first to know!

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PALITAW (PALITAO) – Glutinous Rice Cakes

Adapted from the Food of the Philippines: Authentic Recipes from the Pearl of the Orient

Ingredients

 1 cup sweet rice flour (“Mochiko”)

3 cups water

3 cups grated fresh coconut

2 cups toasted sesame seeds

2 cups turbinado sugar

Procedure

1. Combine the rice flour and water to make a smooth dough. This can be made earlier in the day and wrapped in plastic, left at room temperature.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath (half water half ice).

3. Roll the dough into 1 ½ inch balls then press them into patties. Drop into boiling water.

4. When the patties float, they are done. Transfer to ice water to cool. Drain.

5. Arrange three plates. One of sugar and sesame seeds combined, one of coconut, and one for the finished product.

6. While the rice patties are still moist, coat with sugar mixture, then immediately with coconut.