Friday, December 29, 2006

The day after Christmas Eve...

After a very late start indeed, we hoofed it over to Midtown again for Christmas Day celebrations. It had been arranged long ago that Lisa and I would cook some food for the 7 people who were to turn up on the day. We decided and planned a menu weeks ago, and today was the time for execution:
  • Lobster Thermidor
  • Kleftiko
  • Rabbit in cider with tarragon
  • Fruit-topped cheesecake

Execution was the first word I thought of when I awoke. With a raging hangover, my first task of the day was to disptach the crustacea. I bought the buggers one day in advance in the afternoon, assured that if I kept them covered with seaweed and sprinkled salty water on them, they'd remain in a 'deep slumber' until bathtime. I ventured to the back of the fridge. Fine specimens they were, all feisty and angry-looking when I woke them with a brief rustle of their plastic bag duvets. "Wakey wakey chaps - It's bathtime! "

One by one I plunged them into a huge pan with water at a rolling boil. 8-9 mins was about right. They all turned a magnificent bright mandarin colour after about 6 mins, meaning they weare approaching readiness. When they cooled down, we had to de-meat the carapace. Real sod of a job too - cracking, chopping, popping and winkling trying to keep the shells intact for the presentation. So sliced mushrooms are browned in butter, then egg yolks whisked with sherry and scalded cream are added to the pan, with a touch more cream, seasonings, paprika. This mixture was then stuffed back into the shells and browned under the grill. We ate them immediately!!! I don't like to review my own cooking, but it was pretty good. And so much better without cheese to spoil the lobster.

Lisa is Greek and since her childhood in Cyprus she has eaten this ancient dish. Kleftiko is an oven-baked lamb shoulder with potatoes, herbs and spices. This was prepared while I was attempting to sleep off the booze from the night before, so I can't tell what's in it or how it's mastered. I can tell you that I looked at it in the opt and it fell apart. Moist, tender, fabulously delicious. I can link you to a Lisa-approved traditional recipe. KLEFTIKO

The rabbit was a simple joint braise with mirepoix, cider for about and hour, the sauce finished with cream and tarragon, a cheeky dollop of French mustard.

It was bloody good though, and I really enjoy making a rabbit dish - It's easy to joint and take apart, but on this occasion I was also treated to a Karaoke rendition of "For Your Eyes Only". I'm convinced Mike aspires to become a lounge singer, like that guy from Peter Kay's 'Phoenix Nights'.

After we'd eaten three courses with about a pint of wine each, we were all in need of a brief rest. Dessert was to follow and Paul 'Beerman' Bannister had been to the bakers to locate fine fruit-topped cheesecakes and Black Forest gateaux.

In the UK, and I guess also in the US now, it's tradition to play chess or glue one's eyes to the telly for some James Bond action after the Christmas meal. I prompted for the latter and cosied-up to an excellent bottle of chilled 'Pol Roger' having been hard at work

for most of the day.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Le Miu

I'll admit that I've passed by Le Miu (107 Avenue A) several times & glanced in with a certain disdain at their fancy tables & 'shi-shi air', but my buddy Todd finally managed to drag me in there a few weeks ago & I had a blast.

So, I decided to go back yesterday with my brother (Sous Chef Stef) & a friend. As usual, the food was excellent. I ordered the Le Miu Sushi Platter & the eel & cucumber roll. I fancy myself as a bit of a sushi snob & I can tell you with all certainty that this is some of the best sushi that you will get in the city. The service was excellent, the restaurant is spacious, the plating alone makes your mouth water & the bartender on that particular night, Ranya (sic?) is as cool as a cucumber.

My brother kept on ranting & raving about the place, which serves up fantastic sushi at a very reasonable price. Looks like I won't be going to Takahachi any more. The fact that Le Miu is a stone's throw from my apartment makes me really angry for snubbing the place for so long... I highly recommend Le Miu for all of your East Village sushi needs...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Un Classique

I used to live in Turtle Bay (48th at 2nd) in Manhattan and depsite comprehensive restaurant choices, there was this little place that I and friends always used to frequent. Le Bateau Ivre (the drunken boat) is a dimly lit classic French wine bar on 51st b/w 2nd and 3rd. It has all of the atmosphere you would expect from a restaurant of it's ilk.

In the summer, people spill out onto the pavement to gather round tables and drink wine by the glass, adding to the murmur and conversational din of 51st street. In the winter, it's a cosy bistro serving traditional French classics like French onion soup, escargots with parsley butter, moules, caviar and raw plates, excellent foie gras, an ever popular assiette de charcuterie, grilled lobster, ridiculously good duck confit, and wondeful sides like gratin Dauphinois and haricots vert.

Following Christmas Eve tradition, my girl Serena, Lisa, Mike and I went to the Beekman Tower (1st Ave at 49th) to enjoy their rooftop bar where the pianist plays James Bond theme tunes upon request (much to Mike's delight) and our man from Afghanistan mixes up some excellent martinis. After drinking champagne and hazelnut, apple, and a JB style martinis, we were more than a bit pissed, and we braved the 2 blocks that separated us from hidden treasure.
I barely had time to light up and we were sat in our favourite seats by the window, drinking antique Bordeaux and enjoying the sounds of a raucous 'French Joyeaux Noel'. Our boy Garcon came over, all smiles and Brylcreem, and he took our order. Always wanting to re-test and re-acquaint, we ordered the foie gras, snails, French onion soup, and I think somebody got the country pate. I can only speak briefly of the splendour of my companion's dishes. The snails, cooked with aplomb, buttered liberally, sprinkled with fresh parsley, were delicious as always. The soup was a fabulous golden brown, richly flavoured with onion, and topped with toasted fresh baguette overcome with Gruyere cheese. My own dish, the foie gras (which I can rarely resist) came in 2 thick slabs, thinly veined and rimmed with silky goose fat. It was served with a Sauternes jelly and toast. I had to close my eyes and put my fingers in my ears for the first bite, I didn't want anything to detract from this mouthful. My tongue initially tasted the large flakes of Maldon sea salt, then came the foie gras, melting through the salt to envelope my tongue with earthy richness, then the crunch and body of the bread, followed by the palate cleansing jelly, which didn't last long but just long enough to add a little acidic sweetness to cut through some of the rich goose fat I was enjoying. A mouthful from Heaven. Zeus didn't eat this well I thought.

Next up was an achingly good rendition of duck confit (you can see I was seized by a poultry passion on this Christmas Eve) with LBI's sauteed potatoes. The duck was beautifully tender with a slight crispiness in the skin adding to the textural equation. A scant broth surrounded my potatoes (perfectly crisp golden brown mirepoix cubes of potato) and I ate like a famished man. My notable companions ate cote d'agnueau, a classic steak au poivre, and a highly calorific but butterly delicious gratin Dauphinois.

Dessert was out of the question. It's a good job we were on a bit of a mission to drink, because LBI does THE best wine by the glass menu in NYC. I think (in press articles) they say they have about 250 wines, I think the figure is maybe closer to 200. They had neglected to stock up on popular items and we needed some second choice action. Nonetheless, we tasted, ate and drank until the wee hours amidst some excellent service, savouring, slurping, and revelling until we were forced to retire to our homes to do it all over again the day after, at slightly less expense I should add.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Go Go Gadget Grinder!

I used to have a hand crank meat grinder (that my parents lovingly bought for me), but I found it to be a huge pain in the ass & I eventually upgraded to a Waring Pro electric meat grinder. Pulling this bad boy out of the box, I had goosebumps! Dan & Missy were having a Tex-Mex themed Xmas booze-athon so I chose to make some chili.

I bought a 3lbs sirloin top roast & prepared my grinder. I cut the meat into grinder-friendly sized chunks & put the medium-sized plate on the beast. The grinder is incredibly noisy & to be quite honest, I loved it! The meat was dispatched without much effort & I gave it a quick browning.

I removed the sirloin from the pot & sauteed some onions & garlic, I then added the meat back to the pot with my 'secret chili seasoning', red beans & tomato sauce. I had it on a low heat for about 3 hours; Yum!

The party went off without a hitch & there was plenty of food to be had. Dan made a VAT of insane rum cider & a pot of the spiciest meatballs I've ever had.

After drinking way too much booze & eating far too much food, we headed to Against The Grain (620 E. 6th St.) for some exotic beers & oyster shooters. Chris turned me onto the Porkslap which I found to be excellent. As usual, we headed to 7B & Closed it down...


So, along with the chili, I decided to make some Peanut Butter cookies for Dan & Missy's Xmas shindig.

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup peanut butter
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the sugars, butter and peanut butter. Beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Sift together the flour, the baking soda and the salt and add to the dough. Dough should be stiff enough to shape with your hands. Make 1-inch balls and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Gently press thumb into the balls to flatten the cookies slightly and make an indentation in the center of the cookie. Press 3 or 4 chocolate chips into the indentation.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Remove cookies from the oven and transfer to wire racks to cool.

But of course, I scoffed at the idea of making them so small. In the end, I ended up with a baking pan FULL to the brim with Peanut Butter Goodness. It ended up looking like a jigsaw puzzle, but after I separated the cookies - they turned out great...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Meat On A Stick!

To the untrained eye, it would seem that us Thursday Club lads have an unhealthy fixation with meat & to be quite honest I totally agree!

My local bar/mental health facility, 7B (108 Avuenue B; a.k.a. Vazac's, The Horseshoe, etc...) had their 2006 Xmas party yesterday & all of the regulars brought some nibbles. I hooked up some chicken & rock shrimp skewers which came out surprisingly well.

I marinated both the chicken & rock shrimp overnight in your typical seasonings; seasoning salt, pepper & onion & garlic salts. The chicken breast got a 30 minute dunking in lemon & salt before I gave them a right thrashing with a lead pipe. I heated my pan to the point where the oil was smoking hot & added the chicken. I seared those suckers pretty well & it took me 2 or 3 batches till the 3lbs of chicken was well & cooked.

I totally forgot to open my windows & by the end, it looked like there was a slow fog rolling through my living room. I half expected to hear the low rumbling of a tug boat's horn or see the Hound of the Baskervilles sniffing at my garbage can.

I melted half a stick of butter & added the rock shrimp with garlic & ginger. I was shocked by how much water the shrimp gave off - but in the end, they were very tender.

The skewering process took a lot longer than expected. I let the chicken cool & put them on 6" skewers. The same went for the rock shrimp.

I made 2 dipping sauces; A 'Dijon-aise' & a Thai peanut sauce. The Dijon-aise was just Dijon mustard, mayo, salt & pepper & a bit of extra virgin. It holds a special place in my heart as when I was growing up, if there was ever any steak or roast lying around the day after a meal, my Dad would fix me a plate of cold cuts with this very sauce.

It took me a while to figure out how I was going to transport the food without messing them up, but I managed to do it in style. I'm guessing that the skewers were a success as they didn't last but 20 minutes or so...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Meats R Us

So by now you probably know that Adams likes to eat meat. In almost everything. He eats bacon every day. He eats meat sandwiches for lunch 4 times out of 5. Having said that he is eating a meatless pizza for lunch today, which is very unusual. Perhaps for one of two reasons: Tonight is our company party night and we're off to Meat-Mecca Bar Americain. Or, that he fed us all so much meat last night, that even he feels that he's overdone it.

To start we ate a meat lollipop - freshly baked herb bread sticks (which were pretty good) each one wrapped in 4 or 5 slices of proscuitto at one end. This end, we were to dip into a mixture of honey and balsamic vinegar. It was very good. I think he made about 4 each, but I only ate 2 - I was determined to pace myself after the last visit to his kitchen. We washed that down with some good red.

Next up was a soup - Italian wedding soup. Now this is a big favourite of mine and Adams spun out a fine example. A tasty broth densely populated with orzo, spinach, chunks of carrot, and of course meat, in ball form. I gulped this down pretty quickly, it really was tasty. We then had a small rest while our stomachs digested the first kilo of protein, for the next two courses were carb-based meat vehicles.

The FIRST pasta course was good - pasta cooked in red wine, with cream and bacon, a sort of carbonara-Rosso. Mmm. Real good. I could taste the wine in the pasta, and the sweetness of the cream was balanced by the saltiness of the bacon. I tried no to eat too much of it, which was difficult, because I knew the last final course would have me on my back.

I had already phoned NY Methodist and booked a stretcher just in case, but I was fortunate on this evening and my stomach didn't split. It was fully stretched though after a steak-sized hunk of breaded veal and some pasta.

I felt like Cool Hand Luke after eating 50 eggs....totally distended, ready to burst. I needed a man at each side to hold me up and another to pour whisky into my mouth.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The almighty Kraken

You've all heard the stories about whole fleets of whaling ships taken down by the mythological Kraken - a tentacle-wielding Neptunian monster who swallows ships whole, and eats young sailors like mere bar nuts? No? Go read some books. Yes? Well you know what I had on my hands. I came face to face with own Kraken last week. God knows what he was doing in my kitchen, but I managed to tame the bastard with red wine, fish stock and some shallots.
I did originally intend him for the silly season, but my freezer went on the blink and I had no choice but to cook him a la moment. First, I needed a sharp sword to slice him up.

The nice chaps at Ocean Fresh (Park Slope) removed eyes, ink sac, beak and those nasty bits. They even put Kraken to a deep sleep in their massive freezer, the sharp growing ice crystals tenderising the succulent flesh. (I hear that putting a wine cork into your pot while cooking Kraken helps the process - either that or spend a few hours flailing the bugger against a rock, while Sirens sing to you). Next step is to sear and dehydrate. There does seems to be a lot of the Kraken before I lower him into a hot Dutch oven, then I hear hissing and a crackle and within a few seconds, the pot is filled with octo-juice and some vastly shrunken pieces of cephalopod. They must dissolve, I deduce. I maintained the high heat until the OJ had vanished and the Kraken turned an appetizing pink colour.

Next comes a slug of olive oil, a handful of roughly chopped shallots. 2 crushed garlic cloves, about a cup of red wine, some rather cheerful-looking fish stock (half cup), a cup of tomato sauce, or crushed tomatoes and some herbs, whatever you have (I had thyme, some bay leaves, a bit of parsley). I stewed for about an hour, maybe thirty minutes longer, I just kept testing.

I reckon it should have the al-dente quality of just-cooked pasta, but of course it's a very personal thing. I did deviate somewhat from the traditional Greek recipe, some cooks even add orange juice. Just keep it really simple....the Kraken has a delicate flavour which you'll need to preserve as best you can. We ate Kraken with some bread and a green salad. We enjoyed it hugely, and I was surprised at the missus to be honest. She's not normally one for scoffing strange creatures, but she couldn't get enough of this beasty. She didn't even stop eating to say "Thanks, Doll" or wipe the great swaithes of braising sauce from her face. Bless.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Yakiniku West

I had the chance to check out Yakiniku West (218 East 9th Street) tonight & had an excellent time. I've been to several Korean BBQ joints, so I was eager to see how their Japanese counterparts held up. It was a Saturday night, so we turned up, gave our name & decided to grab a drink at nearby Angel's Share (8 Stuyvesant Street). It was typically crowded in there, so we went back to Yakiniku & didn't have to wait long to be seated.

The decor was very authentic (although, I've never been to a 'Japanese Rural Steak House', which is what they style themselves as), first you had to take your shoes off & then we were whisked upstairs to our traditional sunken table, complete with a large hibachi grill.

Sapporo was the drink of the day & we started with miso soup & some rolls. I got the Eel, avocado & cucumber roll which I get whenever I can. The sushi was excellent, probably the best eel roll I've ever had outside of Japan. Missy got the Mexican Roll (who's filling eludes me at the moment) & that seemed to steal the show.

We ordered a steak set & the filet mignon. There's something really enjoyable about cooking your own food. The meal was excellent & ridiculously inexpensive given the portion sizes & the quality of the food. I highly recommend Yakiniku West.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thursday Club 12/07/06

Our 25th Thursday Club meal! Yikes! It seems only like yesterday that he approached Adam & me with the idea of 'importing' the Thursday Club to American shores...

I might sound like somewhat of a broken record, continually tooting Teddy's culinary horn, but this was, in my mind, a meal executed to perfection & the best Club to date.

Le Menu:
  1. Martini a la Teddus: In other words, whatever I feel like shaking at that moment.
  2. Potted wild Scottish salmon: Homemade pickled cucumber and toast.
  3. Muscovy duck breast stuffed with foie gras, apples and chestnuts, wrapped in smoked bacon, Celeriac puree and Calvados sauce.
  4. Sticky toffee and date pudding: whisky toffee sauce and crème fraiche.
  5. Aged English Stilton with Port.
I'll have to admit that I'm not much of a Martini fan, so I really can't discuss Teddy's opening drink, but I can tell you that it was a Hazelnut Martini.

The opening dish was nothing short of delicious & was complimented well by the bottle of white that we eagerly tore through.

Now here's where things get complicated. I'm having trouble putting into words exactly how good Teddy's duck dish was. Every bite was like an explosion of flavor in my mouth (hmm. Never thought I'd say that). I spent a good deal of this course just staring at my plate & shaking my head. This was the perfect dish. The duck was tender, flavorful, stuffed to the bursting point & accompanied with the Calvados sauce, Teddy might have seasoned the duck with crack, because all I wanted was more...

By this point, I was fuller than a fatted calf, but after seeing the effort Teddy made on the dessert & getting a whiff of the toffee slowly bubbling on the stove, I couldn't resist & I'm glad I didn't!

The cheese & port that followed ended a great night...

A few more preparation & finished product pics:

The Salmon & pickles. Yum!

Let the searing begin!

Browned to perfection!

The duck filling.

The toffee bubbling away - it was soon it's trademark brown color.
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