Monday, September 17, 2007

Depression in Aisle 8

Yesterday I did something I haven't done in quite some time: I went to my local supermarket.

I live in a bad neighborhood. In order to preserve my unbroken record of living in New York, I have opted to live in a less than ideal locale, calmly coping with the drug dealers, the occasional shooting, the lackluster food delivery options, and the absence of many of the amenities the rest of my home borough rightly takes for granted. It was Sunday, we had been spending a lazy long weekend, punctuated by some frivolous eating out and dressing up (as documented earlier), and I just wanted something to eat. Right. Now.

That's what the local supermarket is for.

So, with a vague notion of something quick to heat and eat, I entered. I've lived in this apartment for four years and have made my way to the supermarket loads of times to stock up on garbage bags, sugar, parchment paper, light bulbs, etc., but I can't remember the last time I went in here for food. I do most of my shopping at the Whole Foods near my office and the Union Square Greenmarket. I am the girl on the subway laden with bags. By the way, please give me your seat when you see me - this stuff is heavy.

As I walked up and down the aisles, though, I felt myself grow more and more dissatisfied and vaguely ill. The man of the house had requested a hard sausage, and the options available to me were Oscar Meyer - meat of uncertain provenance (or uncertainly meat) stuffed to the gills with freshenators, colorizers, and starchatives (he is far less demanding than I (and often dismissive of my food fascism) and accepted the Hormel pre-sliced pepperoni like a champ, though I was pleased to see the majority of the package in the trash this morning.

The produce aisle looked like something out of a documentary on starving children in war zones - the fruits and vegetables donated by rich countries left to spoil on a tarmac somewhere while 14-year olds with uzis prevent people from taking it. There was no fresh bread to speak of, unless you count the spanish style rolls which are without taste or nutrients. There was no cheese save packaged cheese (forgive me I bought Polly-O String cheese as I know he likes it) - and I'll have more to say on that later. The frozen foods were plentiful, but not a single product worth looking twice at. Frivolously I read some packages noting that there were far more ingredients than strictly necessary or preferable, and that, more often than not, simple things were labeled as flavored i.e. chicken parmesan made with chicken flavor, macaroni and cheese with real cheese flavor. What is real cheese flavor?

I saw the Top Chef-hawked Bertoli frozen skillet meals and almost took one with me, but the idea of cooking it made me ill - there were just too many mystery inclusions. I did discover organic milk, but many of the cartons (of both organic and conventional) were either past or nearly past their expiration.

I ended up buying a frozen pizza and I did, in fact eat it. There was nothing wrong with its taste (bland vaguely tomato), but it didn't really taste like anything going down. It was so clearly designed to make me full without nourishing me. I took home a bag of Pepperidge Farm bagels which had a more natural feel to them than the Thomas's ones (which are a consistency no bread product should be - a very very disturbing squishiness), but couldn't really commit to eating one so I threw them in the freezer.

Had I wanted chips and soda, I would have had limitless choices. There were three separate chip displays including the new, and incredibly grotesque sounding, crab flavored Lays. There was an entire half aisle (in a four aisle supermarket) devoted to soda (though, in fairness, they did have some Izze).

I get a lot of grief at home for my shopping habits. The man of the house doesn't understand why we need to pay twelve dollars a pound for flank steak from the market and why I won't just buy an apple in the store in June. Since he does none of the shopping and is clearly pleased with what he eats in our home, these little disagreements crop up only on the rare occasions we go shopping together (when ample fun is made of me for convenience purchases like organic bouillon). And, to be perfectly honest, until yesterday, part of me felt as though my shopping habits had a fair amount to do with conscious choices and politics (though anyone who has eaten supermarket meat recently will back me up when I say that taste plays a major role in how I shop). Now, having seen that the poorest people are supplied with food that is bereft of nutrients and stuffed to the gills with white flour, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and methylethylwhatevrylmimicyrlfalserylcolorylickyryl - food that lets you know you've eaten but does nothing but stuff you with simple carbohydrates and, presumably, cancer, I realize that health is now trumping politics in my mind as I shop for our household. I don't ever want to go to that supermarket again for something that isn't a household cleanser or paper good. It made me not a little sick.

Now back to that cheese:

A 15oz. package of Polly-O Extra Long String Cheese set me back $5.99. Read that again to make sure you got it, please. Even at Whole Foods, which can be a little pricey, a pound of fresh mozzarella is, I believe, $5.99. It certainly was $4.99 at Fairway, and the bocconcini I bought at Citarella a couple of weeks ago was $7.99, and that's a prepared food. When I hear people lament that buying and eating good food is too expensive, I'm going to remember the mozzarella.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Bar Room at The Modern

One of the lovely indulgences of having good friends in town from far away places is that of the dinner out. Or dinners out. I was given free rein to choose restaurants and, once seated, to choose food.

Sadly, I didn't bring my camera Wednesday evening when we dined at Bread Bar (which was, as always, eminently satisfying), but I did not forget the camera last night as we four made our way to The Modern.

I have now eaten more than a handful of times in the Bar Room, yet never in the main dining room, and I'm going to hope that the people next door continue to eat the same kind of spectacular food I've eaten on every visit.

So permit me to bore you with a full retelling.

I'm a big fan of the mini baguettes and the butter (not pictured) was at the perfect spreading temperature. It is surprising how many restaurants do not make sure to bring room temperature butter to the table, and what a difference it makes.

When taking European friends out to dinner, I like to order, when suitable, an American wine they wouldn't have the opportunity to taste at home.

I chose an Emeritus Vineyards pinot noir (2005) which, while a trifle heavier than I might have wanted was both delicious and reasonably priced.

We ordered eight dishes spread across two courses, starting with:

Upside Down Tuna Tarte with fennel, Japanese cucumber, and aioli

I've had this dish before and liked it so much (and was dining with fish enthusiasts) that it simply had to be enjoyed again.

Arctic Char Tartare with basil and trout caviar

Another repeat well worth it. The fish was really so fresh and tasty.

Charred Octopus with chickpea-radish salad, salsa verde, and crispy capers

was the weakest of the dishes and I maintain that I have only ever eaten truly exceptional octopus at the Mario Batali restaurants - I don't know if they have some octopus voodoo, but it is always excellent. This was just ok.

Foie Gras Torchon with Muscat gelee and toasted country bread

The torchon was so wonderful that the gelee only detracted from the unadulterated pleasure, though it was quite tasty. We all simply agreed that we'd rather eat the foie on its own.

And now for the second course:

Roasted Long Island Duck Breast with peppercorn crusted apples and pistachio-truffle dipping sauce

The apples were crusted with pistachios as well and quite lovely. The duck was cooked perfectly though I was quite surprised that when we ordered this and the lamb dish the waitress queried us as to whether we wanted it medium, whereas I was under the impression that for both meats, medium rare was the standard.

Beer Braised Pork Belly with sauerkraut and ginger jus

I may have ordered this on two previous occasions (I know I ordered it on one) and just have enjoyed the heck out of it. Tonight was no different. The meat is really stupendous.

Tarte Flambee

It doesn't photograph well, but I'm glad I finally ordered it. It's a staple on the menu and my brother is always pissed when I tell him I didn't order it, so I did this time and not only was it delicious, but a huge hit at the table, as our guests had not eaten it before.

Spice Crusted Colorado Lamb Loin with shank and manchego cheese gratin and pomegranate reduction

The lamb was a little on the medium side of medium rare, but still wonderful, and the shank and manchego gratin was stupendous.

But of course we ordered dessert:

Pistachio Dark Chocolate Dome with pistachio ice cream and amaretto gelee

The amaretto gelee was really fun to play with reminding me why jello is so popular with children. The dome was a layer each of pistachio and chocolate cakes topped with a dense pistachio ice cream and covered in chocolate. Honestly, what could be bad?

Beignets with maple ice cream, caramel, and mango marmelade

These didn't photograph well, but they were fantastic dipped into the caramel sauce. The beignets were not greasy at all and had a terrific crisp which was eminently satisfying.

Hazelnut Dacquoise with milk chocolate chantilly

Like nutella for grownups, this beautiful presentation was actually, and unsurprisingly, far tastier than nutella with a delightful crunch. The chantilly was far more solid than simple whipping cream and better tasting for it (more of a light mousse).

I photographed our coffees as well as they were really quite pretty:

All in all, a terrific meal enjoyed by all. I have to hand it to Danny Meyer: there are a plethora of restaurants to choose from in New York and almost without fail, when I am responsible for taking people out, I gravitate towards one of his. They are convivial, professional, and always delicious, and I have yet to be disappointed.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Short week tagging

Out of the office two days this week, meaning I had less time to read other people's sites. There were, as always, quite a few standouts in what I did read, though.

Dark Chocolate Financiers - I too am a fan of Jean Paul Hevin, and as I do not have a cookbook from him, though, obviously, now I'll be looking for it, this is a lovely little introduction.

Real Corn Soup - It's true, the corn is nearing it's end, but I haven't used it much this summer, other than an occasional ear at dinner, so I might have this be corn's last hurrah for the year.

White Beans and Sausage
- Which, I guess, means cooler climes are upon us and I should just get used to the idea of several months of comfort food.

Spicy South Africa Braised Beef - Ditto. Plus, I've been thinking of braising all my meat and saving money on the pricier cuts.

Espresso Caramels
- I, myself, have been making caramel without a candy thermometer, but Heidi's look like they achieved a really good, really even consistency, so maybe I'll trot the old thermometer out.

Ricotta Cake with Meyer Lemon Curd
- And yes, soon the Meyer lemons will be arriving, and with them a weekend of zesting and juicing. Once I have more juice and zest than I could ever hope to use, this might be a nice destination.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Tale of Two Plums

A misnomer, actually, as there were far more than two plums:

The time had come to take a stand against the plum rebellion. Those innocent plums just seemed to multiply, declaring sovereignty in the precious free space of my fridge. Their disobedience could be suffered no longer.

And so:

they found themselves mercilessly quartered and then quartered again, thrust into a hot pot and covered in sugar and a substance known as pectin;

cooked until they no longer resembled themselves; the precious juices forced from their variegated flesh;

forced into strange glass vials and subjected to astonishing heat, their bacterial breeding ground obliterated.

At last, the indignities almost too much to endure, they found themselves trapped, amidst strange surroundings, unable to move or escape.

An ignoble end, perhaps, for the once mighty plum, and yet somehow far more honest than the tribulations suffered by some of their brethren who were viciously diluted with cream and frozen.


Friday, September 7, 2007

Working From Home - Friday Tagging

Beset by a migraine, I am in a dark room in my house instead of the bright office. This has not prevented me from doing the minute tasks that fill the ends of weeks, nor will it prevent me from the Friday tag wrap-up.

Pistachio Gelato - There's nothing like reading a post that forces you to scour the internet to then buy a product from a website in a language you don't understand, prompting you to ask a co-worker who then reads every word aloud to you. Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't counting the moments until my Bronte pistachio cream arrived. Thank you, David.

Lavender Creme Brulee - I don't know why I bookmarked this since I own the Dorie Greenspan book. Perhaps it was to remind myself to investigate it more.

Apricot Jam - The season is over here, but I stored some already halved apricots in the freezer for jam. I thought the photos were beautiful, though, and have to seriously reevaluate the light in my kitchen if I want to continue posting my own.

Honey Ricotta Napoleons - One of the reasons for wedging a chest freezer into a New York City apartment was so that things like veal stock and puff pastry could be made and kept. Sadly, I bought the freezer during summer when I had little desire to make either. With autumn approaching (drat), perhaps its time to utilize said freezer.

Tomato Paella - Ok, so it has no meat, which will require a little convincing for the man of the house (who, yes, I know, should shut up and be thankful someone cooks for him), but this does look tasty, and I do buy too many tomatoes every week.

Tiramisu Ice Cream - There has been mascarpone in my fridge for several weeks, as I was planning on making cheesecake. Perhaps I should give up the fight and turn it into yet more ice cream.

I am gong to try and jam my plums this weekend, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Matt, you're off the hook

Didn't see Matt this morning at 14th street, but I did see the Red Jacket Orchard's greengage plums - the very plums I had accusingly harangued poor Matt about for several weeks (Matt is the tall and, dare it be said, quite attractive CECNY employee at the Union Square market - my mom and I both have a bit of a crush). Now I have black plums and green plums, and nothing has been done with either yet. Perhaps after my French tutor this evening, I'll make jam (because everyone is in the mood for jam at 10:00pm).

I have some legacy photos from can this part 2 which I wanted to share (and also ask questions about):

Raspberry Jam (with, perhaps, a few too many seeds)

Roasted Peppers

So the question is about the peppers. I don't know if it's visible, but there's lots of white junk floating in the terrine. I'm assuming it's congealed fat, but if anyone knows differently, especially if what you know is that I will die if I eat the white stuff or anything that touched it, please do let me know.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Happy Birthday J

While office life drains me of much lifeforce, there are a couple of co-workers who go that extra mile to make my days bearable by being awesome. Upon learning that one of these people, darling J, was turning the ripe old age of 27 today, I decided it would be a terrific excuse to bake a cake. J had confided in me that she was a raspberry fan, and seeing as the freezer did already hold an astonishing number of said fruit, I tok it from there.

This was a new experience for me in that I dreamed up the cake on my own. The combination of ingredients is by no means revolutionary, but I wasn't relying on someone else's ideas - so that was, well, cool. I have, on previous occasions, made platings out of several different dessert ideas, and have long invented frozen dessert flavors, but this was my first cake composition.

I need to name it. But, you see, a good name doesn't present itself. The layers are as follows:

Chocolate Meringue
Dark Chocolate Mousse
Rich Chocolate Cake
Raspberry Mousse

I wanted to have some textural diversity so the two mousses were different, and the two separating layers were as well. It went crunchy, unctuous, dense, fluffy. Could I call it the Crunchy Unctuous Dense Fluffy Cake? Or CUDF Cake for short?

Step one: meringue.

Two egg whites
50 grams confectioner's sugar
1.5 tbsp. cocoa powder
45 grams sugar

Sift confectioner's sugar and cocoa together. Beat eggs until they hold soft peaks, gradually add sugar. When meringue is achieved, fold in cocoa mixture. Pipe. Let rest. Bake 2 hours in an ajar oven at 250 degrees. Let cool in turned off oven.

Step two: chocolate mousse

Adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme

170 grams bittersweet chocolate (Callebaut 70%)
60 grams whole milk
20 grams heavy cream
1 large egg yolk
4 large egg whites
1 tbsp. vanilla sugar

Melt the chocolate and let cool to body temperature. Combine the milk and cream and boil. Pour over chocolate and whisk to incorporate. Add the egg yolk and whisk it as well. Beat the whites until soft peaky and gradually fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. Refrigerate.

Step 3: Dense Chocolate Cake

Also adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme

250 grams bittersweet chocolate (Callebaut 70%)
230 grams sweet butter
20 grams lightly salted butter
180 grams sugar
4 large eggs
70 grams flour

Melt chocolate and let cool to body temperature. Beat butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, really incorporating each egg before adding the next. Add the chocolate and incorporate. Add the flour and incrporate briefly (no lumps or streaks). Pour into greased, parchment-papered, floured pan and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool a lot.

Step 4: raspberry mousse

200 grams raspberries
60 grams sugar
1 tbsp. glucose
2 tbsp. water
2 egg whites
240 ml heavy cream

Puree and strain raspberries. Make a simple syrup of the sugar, water and glucose - cook until soft ball stage. Beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks and start pouring syrup while mixer is running. When meringue is achieved, begin to fold in raspberry puree. Whip cream until firm and fold into raspberry meringue mixture. Refrigerate until firm.

Nota bene: I am not a huge fan of gelatin and wanted to make a fruit mousse without using it. This was both a great idea and a less good idea. The above recipe will give you an awesome airy mousse, but it needs to be eaten sooner rather than later. When I went to assemble the cake later, much of the puree had sunk to the bottom of the bowl and I had the skim the mousse off the top to get the bits that remained at the proper consistency.

Step 5: assembly

This is my least favorite step as I do not have what others could refer to as a light hand. The meringue had been baked in a cake ring (and really, if anyone can explain to me how to properly use a cake ring, I would name my firstborn after him or her (or something equally grandiose) because for the life of me, my batter, no matter what kind of batter, seeps out the bottom. I was under the, perhaps mistaken impression, that real bakers didn't mess around with pans, and instead used rings and silpat. I own rings and silpat and I end up with messes when I execute my baking using them - please, help would be a godsend), and so was the right size. Using an offset spatula, I added the chocolate mousse. I cut the cake vertically to get the thickness I wanted and then, literally, mushed it into the ring on top of the chocolate mousse. Finally, I offset spatula-ed the raspberry mousse on top and garnished with some berries.

I think the cake turned out to look fairly decent - I worry that it will be altogether too rich. However J was ecstatic when she saw it this morning abnd I only remonstrated with her briefly when she stuck her finger into the cake I spent a day making, reasoning that it was, after all, her cake now.