Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Top 40. Okay, Make That 44.

Last week I wrote briefly about my latest trip to New York City, a week full of fabulous fun, friends and food. In that short week my husband and I trekked through the boroughs of Manhattan eating and drinking our way through the various neighborhoods, amassing an incredible 40 stops for sustenance.

As if my stomach wasn’t already straining to recover, Dirk kindly reminded me our vacation actually began 24 hours earlier as we ventured south towards LAX and included an additional 4 culinary detours, rounding our week out to an even 44. In 6 days. I’m no mathematician, but even I can do rudimentary division and conclude  the normal 3 square meals a day did not apply to our week long food orgy.

I’ve listed the proof below in case there are any non-believers, along with a brief food summary. Many of the meals we ate were either planned or on ‘the list’, but a few we stumbled upon (or more likely we tripped over our ever growing girth). Nearly all were an absolute delight.

Here I give you the The List, better known as the Bad Kitty Recon, day 1 through 6. All items were shared between Dirk and myself, unless otherwise noted:

Knish is Yiddish for Love.

Knish is Yiddish for Love.

LA – T-minus 12 hours to NYC

1. Canter’s – pastrami on rye, potato knish, pickles, diet cola, chocolate egg creme.
2. ¡Loteria! – chicharones tacos, queso fundido con chorizo, hibiscus tea.
3. Blue Plate Oysterette – 1/2 dozen oysters on the half shell, steamed mussels in red curry broth, clam chowder.

NY – Day 1

4. Amy’s Bakery – double cappuccino, croissant, pain au chocolat.
5. Cafe Duke – double espresso (jet logged).
6. Katz’s – pastrami on rye, potato knish, pickles, cream soda.
7. Schimmel Knishery – roasted garlic and potato knish.
8. Pommes Fritesmore potatoes, this time fried; served with mayonnaise, ketchup and satay sauce.
9. White Horse Tavern – pints of hefeweizen beer.
10. Blue Ribbon Sushi – 1st course sashimi, 2nd course nigiri sushi. Tuna, Sea Urchin, Mackerel, Toro and Scallops all made an appearance. Sake and Kirins x 2.
11. Blue Ribbon Bakery – steak tartare, pickled tongue, baguette, 1.5 bottles of fine red wine.
12. Barbatu – single malt scotches and ports. Don’t judge.

NY – Day 2

13. The Lobster Place – wake your ass up with oysters on the half shell, 2 each.
14. Amy’s Bakery – double cappuccinos, orange juice, croissant, pain au chocolat.
15. Spotted Pig – chicken liver pate crostini, watercress  & radish salad with parmesan, 2 glasses white wine.
16. Gray’s Papaya – the recession special; 2 hot dogs with sauerkraut and onions, papaya juice.
17. Gottino – lardo on baguette, heirloom tomato salad. Prosecco. Mama Mia!
18. Dublin – pints of hefeweizen.
19. Little Owl – Heirloom tomatoes and avocado, casaba melon with serrano. Snapper with seafood risotto, skillet braised baby squid with lardo croutons. Bottle of lovely, crisp french white wine.
20. Pastis – intended to have dessert. “Dessert” was steak tartare, frites and red wine. Oy, roll me home!

If there was a Gray's in Santa Barbara, I would need intervention.

If there was a Gray's in Santa Barbara, I would need intervention.

NY – Day 3

21. Amy’s Bakery – espresso, pain au chocolat, whole wheat biscuit.
22. Le Bernardin – 5 course chef’s tasting. Highlights included seared Spanish mackerel, soft shell crab, pan roasted monkfish. click here to see what is possibly one of the greatest restaurants around. Wine? Bien sûr!
23. Sweets Truck – chocolate mocha cupcake. Note: We did not eat this until late at night. In bed.
24. Market Place – More heirloom tomato salad! Hey, season is short people. Braised lamb gnocchi. Beers and red wine.
25. Bar Carrera – Tapas. Spanish olive trio, egg in a blanket (brioche with egg, jamon and manchego), boquerones fritos (fried white anchovies). Cava and cucumber sangrias? Si, si!
26. Pearl Oyster Bar – 1/2 dozen oysters, salt fried shrimp, clam chowda. Ice cold beers and white wine.

NY – Day 4

27. Tartine – I could not eat at this point. Dirk had a croissant. I had coffee.
28. Cupping Room – fresh fruit and yogurt, praise the angels! Coffee and OJ.
29. Standard Grill – 1/2 dozen oysters, golden roasted beets with hazelnuts, Pata Negra (Spanish Iberico ham), white wine. Back in the groove.
30. The Cookshop – Double lattes all around please.
31. The Homestead Steakhouse – Old school steak house since 1863. Grey Goose martini bigger than my head.
32. Crispo – roasted bone marrow ‘gratin’, sausage stuffed sage leaves, red wine.
33. 5 nth – Blueberry peach crisp, more wine. I think.

NY – Day 5

34. Pret a Manger –  fruit bowl, coffee.
35. Ecco – Antipasti of cured meats and cheeses, dover sole with roast potatoes, salad, white wine, espresso. The best cannoli. Ever.
36. Post House – Plate del Mar; oysters, shrimp, lobster, clams and crab. Filet mignon au poivre sauce. Champagne and red wine, too many to list.
37. Revel – cocktails.
38. Plunge (Gansevoort) – more cocktails. God help me.

Holy Cannoli!

Holy Cannoli!

NY – Day 6

39. Amy’s Bread (on Bleeker) – cappuccino, pain au chocolat. This became a bad habit. Back to muesli and fruit when I get home, for sure.
40. Katz’s – Dirk only. Pastrami on rye, split with Kley and JC. Kat was shopping with Karen and Julia. I drank a Coke Zero. Zero calories. Zero carbs. Zero guilt.
41. Gray’s Papaya – Again, the boys only. Another recession special, split 3 way.
42. Pastis – Croque Monsieur, oven roasted lobster, arugula salad, frites. Champagne for all!
43. Boat House – Edna Valley Chardonnay for the gals, Coronas for the guys. Hey, I can’t believe I remember the winery! Copious amounts of alcohol does not impair brain cells. For reals.
44. Campagnola – too many items to list. We never saw a menu in the 4 hours we dined. Barola a plenty. Check this out for more details. Somehow a bottle of Sambuca made it to the table. Trouble.

10 days later, my liver and waistline are on the road to recovery. What an unforgettable week. Next post I will delve further into the good, the bad and the best of our New York Gastro Week. Till then, I think I will be dining on a sliver of lettuce and half a pea tonight. Oh, and don’t forget the wine.

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The Big Apple. With Oysters and a Side of Pastrami.

So many restaurants. So little time.

So many restaurants. So little time.

As some of you may know, I recently visited New York City with my favorite traveling companion Dirk. It was a week of fun and food. A lot of food.

We were in the city for a short week and our list of ‘must eats’ was longer than feasible. Although we knew we wouldn’t be able to appease all our gastronomical desires we gave it our best shot. We made sure to document every food stop, day by day. Even I am a bit shocked by the final number. From Monday through Saturday, we ate at 35 spots.

Yes, it’s not a typo. 35. And 24 of those noshes were consumed the first 72 hours. I’m not proud. Okay, maybe just a little bit. I’m weird like that.

Thank the angels we walked extensively, day and night. We were staying in the Village, but we managed to see most of Manhattan. From the Upper West and East Sides, through Midtown, the Financial District, onto the Lower East Side, Tribeca, Chelsea, Soho and back, we fueled up along the way. With the exception of a few cab rides, most of our travels were met simply by putting one foot in front of the other.

Why so happy? Time to eat again!

Why so happy? Time to eat again!

We had a long list of places to visit (MoMa, Empire State Building, Wall Street, Statue of Liberty); but the majority of our days were spent people watching and eating, two of my favorite past times.

My husband even had his iPhone GPS tagged with all our favorite eateries. I know, we’re total food geeks. If there is food involved, we don’t muck about. I’ve said it before. Life is too short to eat crappy food. And if one is on vacation, it’s criminal. Really.

Bear in mind Dirk and I were very smart with our portions (for the most part). We shared everything, so we were able to maximize the variety of foods sampled without feeling like Oompa Loompas at the end of the week, although after 3 days and 24 meals, I will admit I began to feel the waistline of my pants straining. I began to ignore that very last top button of my jeans altogether.

We ate in a Michelin Star rated restaurant (3 stars to be exact), and we ate in dives. We ate it all, from head to tail. Raw, seared, charred, fried. A few dishes fell flat, but more often than not, the food didn’t fly.

It soared.

Well said.

Well said.

Suffice to say, this culinary trip deserves a few blog posts. Over the next couple of weeks I will share some of our favorite meals and restaurant experiences with you, including our mission to find the perfect pastrami sandwich, sublime sushi, pristine oysters and more. Who prevailed over all? West Coast or East Coast?

Some of our findings might surprise you. I know they surprised me.

Tomorrow I will post the ‘Six Days of Food’ list and the first of many highlight meals. My only regret was not having two weeks to spend in the city that never sleeps. Now I know why it’s NYC’s tag line. Food. Trumps. Sleep.

New York City? Just Like I Pictured it…

Sorry about the hiatus blog friends. I am leaving for New York City tomorrow. One of the greatest cities, IMHO. Heading out for a week of nothing but food, rest, and more food. I’ll be posting along the way.

Try not to hate. The food really won’t taste as good as it looks, I promise.

My loving husband will accompany me, kicking and screaming. Okay, not really.

Keep on eating people. Keep on eating.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

The heat wave continues its assault here in Santa Barbara. Despite a recent ocean breeze offering some relief, it’s still too hot to cook inside.

My kitchen has cooled off a bit, but I can’t imagine spending the next hour or more in its inferno. I have some steaks which I’ll throw on the grill tonight. I’ll toss together a salad and open some wine. Done. Grilled steaks are fine, but after years of working in bistros I know how a sauce partnered with a steak can transform the meal. A plain steak just seems, well.

Plain.

A great sauce requires a few basics. A pan. Some pan seared protein. Liquid to de-glaze the brown bits from the bottom of said pan. Additional ingredients such as stock, vegetables and herbs are needed. Butter makes it better. Cream? Bring it. But since I won’t be sautéing anything tonight, the pan is out of the equation. Now, I could in theory devise a sauce separate from the steak, but it’s just too much damn work. And let’s remember the heat factor people. Sauce is out.

Luckily I have plan B, insuring tonight’s meal won’t disappoint. A lean, grass fed sirloin has been getting cozy with a marinade of red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce, olive oil, garlic and ginger for a good part of the day. Over some hot coals I’ll sear the steak, grill some ciabatta on the side and top it all off with a generous spoon of Red Onion Marmalade.

This delicious condiment is a mainstay in my fridge and easy to prepare. All you need are a few ingredients and a bit of time. The jam cooks on the stove top, and while it takes a good hour to make it requires little supervision. You can make this any time of day while you do other things. This jam holds beautifully in the fridge for several months, the sugar and acids serving as natural preservatives.

The marmalade will serve you well with its multiple ‘personalities’. A perfect match to beef and pork, it’s also a wonderful addition to a grilled panini, as a topping to slather on flat bread or mixed into your favorite meat loaf or meatball recipe. It can turn an ordinary burger into an extraordinary meal. Ketchup? Doesn’t stand a chance. I’ve even used it as a topping for pizza. It works.

Tomorrow I will post the recipe; I encourage you to make it soon. Having a jar (or two) at the ready may not be life changing, but right now? I’m not in the kitchen. I’m enjoying a glass of wine outside, the grill is ready to fire up. The salad is chilling, and so am I.

Life changing? Perhaps.

Presto, Pesto!

The days of summer are winding down and it makes me a little sad. The glorious produce we enjoy locally alone makes it one of my favorite seasons. Now that we are into the second week of September (when did that happen?) I know it’s only a matter of time before summer is a fond memory.

Minimum ingredients, maximum flavor!

Minimum ingredients, maximum flavor!

I live on the Central Coast of California and while it’s still plenty warm here, there are subtle changes and hints of things to come. The light is becoming more intense in the sky and earth, the summer haze cleared by the fall breezes. Summer berries are not as sweet, on their way out until next June. Soon they will be replaced by apples and fall pears, perfect for a cinnamon crumble or crisp.

Even my humble garden is ready for a rest. A few tomatoes remain on their withered vines; some basil, thyme and rosemary have stuck around to keep them company. Tomorrow my tomatoes and basil will leave their soil beds and be enjoyed over the next few days.

My basil, one last triumphal bunch, will make a perfect batch of pesto. Pesto is not an epiphany in the culinary world, I know this. But its vibrant flavor and versatile ways make me a big fan.

Pulsing Pesto

Pulsing Pesto

I don’t recommend buying ready made pesto in stores. I find their ratio of oil and cheese overbearing, they are usually heavy handed with the garlic too, and the basil is almost an after thought. And honestly? I’m not a huge fan of pine nuts, the traditional nut used in ready made pestos.

I prefer walnuts but you could use pecans, almonds or even macadamia nuts. Olive oil is fine, walnut oil is lovely too. Even the basil itself can be replaced with a different herb, cilantro or parsley for example. A food processor will make quick time of the following recipe and will make enough for several meals.

The last batch of pesto I made was enjoyed in a ‘farewell to summer’ salad; a few splashes of balsamic and the pesto gave tremendous body and flavor to last of the summer tomatoes. I stirred a couple of tablespoons into some ready made mayonnaise and had first rate turkey pesto sandwiches for lunch. And a box of store bought cheese ravioli was a quick and delightful supper when I tossed them together with the last of the pesto, 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and some grated parmesan cheese.

I’m already thinking about the next batch of pesto I will make and the dishes I can create with them.

Whatever I come up with, I know it will allow me less time in the kitchen and more time to enjoy the last few days of summer. Perhaps with a glass of wine, I will watch the sky soften, a gentle autumn hue on the horizon.

Basil Walnut Pesto

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

Makes 1/2 cup – This recipe can be doubled if desired.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of basil leaves, about 3 cups
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted and cooled
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, about 1 ounce
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Combine basil, walnuts, lemon zest, salt and pepper in food processor and process to a coarse mixture. Add olive oil and cheese. Pulse to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Transfer mixture to a ramekin or bowl. To store, top with olive oil to cover (this will prevent the pesto from blackening). Store wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator, up to 1 week.

Pumpkin Toes

During my cooking career in commercial kitchens and restaurants I rarely had a lot of time off, let alone a day of pampering. The hours were long and arduous, the kitchen temps spiking 130 degrees or more during service was not uncommon and it was pretty much a ‘man’s world. Still is for the most part. My first 5 years in the ‘back of the house’ usually meant I was the lone girl cooking on the line amid a sea of sweating, cursing boys.

For those of you who know me understand that I for one, can curse and spit like a sailor. I fit right in. Keeping up with the guys proved difficult but I learned to hold my own; I could hoist 75 pound stock pots onto stovetops solo and empty 50 pound bags of dry goods into their respective food bins on my own. I even managed to retrieve the hard to reach ingredients perched high above the line despite my vertical challenge, by traversing the narrow countertops and scaling the kitchen shelves.

There is nothing glamorous about cooking in restaurants. Rachael Ray and  Giada De Laurentiis of Food Network TV with their perfectly styled coifs and designer clothes would last about 5 minutes behind a real line before they were toast. Unless your idea of fun is enduring physical injury, emotional battering and fits of fury, I recommend another job altogether.

Donning the required chef’s uniform of heavy oversized pants and jackets, some sort of hat wear and a floor length apron only added to the exhausting heat and physical assail to the body. Injuries were common. Screaming hot pans often make contact with hands and arms, cuts from knives and electric slicers were daily events and exploding oil burns have left me with scars that remain today. I even sport a rather unusual permanent reminder on my left ear, a result of 50 pounds of stainless steel hotel pans colliding with the left side of my skull as they fell from a compromised shelf.

We used to joke our skin was soft and supple from all the ‘duck fat facials’ we received daily. My beauty routine consisted of a late night shower and a quick brush of the teeth before collapsing into bed for a few blessed hours of slumber before rising and doing it all over again.

Fast forward to the present day. While I am still in my kitchen daily, I am no longer a slave to the heat and torture of days past. I even receive routine facials and pedicures from a beautiful local organic spa. I skip the manicures though. Years of shortly clipped nails, void of jewelry and polish are the only way my hands make sense to me.

This morning’s spa treatment was lovely and it reminded me how the culinary world can be a healing environment, an oasis of soothing scents, oils and creams derived from food items that not only feed the body, but the soul as well.

For starters, my face inhaled an almond and oatmeal mask, then calmed by lavender oil and soothed with a rose water and calendula creme. Onto the second course, my hands and feet got some soaking time in a warm bath of milk and oats then slathered with a blueberry scrub. For dessert, I was massaged with a coconut body salt, my skin glowing as I was whisked off (excuse the pun) for my pedicure.

Another glorious hour later of soaking, rubbing, filing and painting, my feet were soft as butter, my toes an autumn pumpkin hue. I was revived, relaxed and ready to tackle my day.

Which thankfully won’t include 12 hours anywhere near a kitchen line. Or an arsenal of hotel pans.

Ghee, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!

In our attempt to eat healthier foods, cut back on saturated fat and enjoy more fruits and vegetables, Dirk and I have made some significant changes in our everyday eating habits. One major change has been to reduce our consumption of the beloved food known as butter.

As a baker, pastry chef and chef de cuisine, my history with butter has been long and faithful. I have worked in restaurants where a case of Plugra was used daily. I think Anthony Bourdain, (one of my culinary heroes), estimated the average person dining out—especially in a French influenced bistro—will consume on average a half cup of butter during the coarse of their meal.

Readers? Meet Ghee. He rocks.

Readers? Meet Ghee. He rocks.

That’s right, a whole stick of butter in one sitting.

Based on my own work in French bistros, I can attest his estimate may actually be on the conservative side. No wonder all that damn food tastes so good.

And, up until a year ago my refrigerator’s inventory would include two different varieties of butter. One for sauces, usually a high quality European style (less water, higher fat content), and an unsalted version for baking or spreading on sandwiches and toast. We even had a butter ‘ramekin’ that was always at the ready, room temperature. If I had to guess, we probably went through at least 1 pound of butter per month, more if I was baking.

Things have changed. Now don’t get me wrong, I still have butter in my fridge. Actually most of it lives in the freezer, except for a tiny knob kept handy for cooking. I haven’t bought butter in 6 months, and there’s still more than a half pound in my freezer.

Until last weekend that is, when I came across a wonderful product called ghee. It’s a type of butter which has been clarified. Here are a few facts:

ghee |gē|nounclarified butter made from the milk of a buffalo or cow, used in Indian cooking.ORIGIN from Hindi ghī, from Sanskrit ghṛtá ‘sprinkled.’

This is India’s version of clarified butter, but it goes way beyond the kitchen in their culture. It is used in religious ceremonies, it aids in the absorption of medicinal herbs, offers healing properties and the spiritual aspect of ghee is recognized as well. Darn smart country. Darn smart.

This smelled amazing. Trust.

This smelled amazing. Trust.

Unlike regular butter, its milk solids have been removed so it has a higher burning temperature and is perfect for sautéing.

Its nutty flavor lends a rich nod to pan cooked foods, so you don’t need much. Simply add a tablespoon to a medium hot pan and sauté some delicate fish filets or chicken cutlets for a few minutes on each side. Toss with some snipped chives or parsley and plate.

If you’re feeling adventurous, pour in a splash of white wine or vermouth and let it cook for another second. You will have a gorgeous pan ‘jus’.

Dirk and I had some fresh trout filets to prepare the other night and they got the ghee treatment. The nutty essence of the ghee was a perfect pairing with the delicate fish, the garden herbs and wine lifted this dish that rivaled any bistro meal.

And I didn’t need a stick of butter to achieve those results. Healing properties indeed.