Sunday, September 30, 2007

A good Greek these days is hard to find...

I have just spent the last 90 minutes (whilst Everton have been demolishing Middlesbrough) composing what I considered to be a clever, witty, incisive review about a Kefi, an excellent Greek restaurant in the Upper West Side that the missus and I visited last night before going to see the Kaiser Chiefs around the corner. However, when trying to post it, my computer died and the usually reliable auto-save function...well, didn't.

So as I have said to my wife every day since we got married, instead of trying to recreate the magic let's just settle for a much shortened version with the same conclusion.

Kefi is at 222 West 79th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave (no reservations, cash only). Go, you'll like it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Crate & Who?

Normally, when I decide to buy stuff for the house, I head to Crate & Barrel, dig through their website & buy everything online. No More! I've recently discovered the Mecca of kitchen gadgetry! Ne, the Holy Grail of culinary contraptions! Drum roll ladies & gents.... The Bowery!

The 4 blocks or so between east 1st street & Delancey are chock-a-block with restaurant supply stores. Friendly? Not so much. Helpful? No way. Customer Service? Non-existent. Dirt cheap kitchen supplies? Fuck Yeah!

If you can bear to wade through the throngs of restaurant & hotel staff pouring over the many bargains to be had, you can really find some amazing gadgets at rock bottom prices.

My advice to you is to skip the Crate & Barrel/Bed Bath & Beyond/etc. trap & hit up the Bowery next time you want to beef up your kitchen drawers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Recipe: Lobster Bisque

Welcome to another exciting episode of Cooking with Uncle Boogie. This week, we're making Lobster Bisque. I haven't killed anything in a while, so I'll admit that I was excited about dispatching 2 helpless crustaceans (whom I lovingly named Bert & Ernie).

Here's what you'll need:

2 (1 1/2-pound) lobsters
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped celery, including leaves
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot
1 sprig thyme
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, plus extra, for garnish
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup cornstarch (try Wondra)

Fill large stockpot with water and bring to a boil. There should be enough water to cover lobsters completely when immersed. Place live lobsters in boiling water head first to minimize splashing. When water re-boils, turn down the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not overcook lobsters. Remove lobsters from the pot using tongs; save all the water in stockpot as this is now a flavorful stock to be re-used.

Place stock in a clean stockpot and put on low heat. Clean claws and tails of lobsters and reserve meat. After lobsters are cleaned, place shells in stockpot with 10 cups of stock.

Cut bodies in quarters and place in stockpot, making sure to include all roe and tomalley in pot. Add 1 cup tomato paste and simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Be careful not to have heat so high as to burn stock.

Pour entire contents of pot through sieve into clean stockpot; this should now be 8 cups of glorious red stock.

Place onions, celery, carrots, thyme, parsley and tumeric in a large saute pan, add 4 cups stock from original stock pot and put on high heat for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup tomato paste and black pepper.

Turn down heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Press entire contents of saute pan through sieve into stockpot of 8 cups previously made stock.
To finish Bisque, put pot on medium heat. Add heavy cream slowly, using whisk to blend. Add sherry. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes; bisque will thicken slightly. Mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup water and slowly add to bisque with whisk. Simmer on low heat for another 20 minutes.

If you prefer your bisque to be thicker, you may add more cornstarch, or perhaps, flour, but have found the bisque thickens nicely over low heat, and additional cornstarch or flour takes away from the wonderful flavor.

Place pieces of previous cleaned lobster meat in bowl and add 1 cup of bisque. Garnish with Creme Fraiche & chives.

Under the Sea!

Consider the lobster. Juicy, white-fleshed king of the sea full of a briny, sweet meat conveniently concentrated in the tails and claws. No cumbersome cracking and picking like with crabs. No, this is the real deal. Regarded once upon a time as the poor man’s meal the lobster has since evolved into the menu item you look at and wonder if now is the time to open the wallet and splurge. Fortunately, for us lucky clubbers, tonight lobster would be on the menu—not once, but twice. All we had to do was get the chef drunk.

Here’s what was in store:

-Lobster Bisque w/crème fraiche & chives.

-Broiled Shrimp with avocado & tomato salad.

-Lobster & Ricotta Ravioli in a light cream sauce.

-Caramel Pears Belle Helene.

The first course was the robust Lobster Bisque, served with a homemade crème fraiche. As soon as I entered the kitchen, I was eyeing Jason’s progress at the stove-top. The color of his bisque looked like a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico; a deep, rich, burnt sienna. We all expect great things from Jason but none of us were prepared for the incredible burst of flavor in that bisque. It was simply the best lobster bisque I have ever had the pleasure to eat. Jason mentioned putting this recipe online. If he ever gets around to it my advice is to precisely follow every step. As if the delectable, smooth broth wasn’t enough, like a Christmas gift hidden behind the couch, we were all deleted to discover sweet chunks of lobster resting at the bottom of our bowls. I would kill a hobo for more of this soup.

Next up was a garlic shrimp salad over an avocado and tomato salsa. I was worried about the rather bland looking tomatoes that Teddy was helping to cut (Heirloom tomato season is upon us, after all) but the aroma of garlic wafting through the apartment overtook any parts of my brain that might complain. The shrimp were perfectly cooked with just the right amount of give when you bit down. And as we made our way through these pink prawns the garlic oil seeped into the salad flavoring every bite.

For the lobster ravioli Jason took the preferred shortcut of using wonton wrappers instead of wasting hours by rolling his own pasta. A wise decision. Who wants to clean up a kitchen full of flour dust? The ravioli were cooked perfectly and not waterlogged in the least (a problem I’m told can occur when you don’t properly push all of the air out of your wonton wrapper). The delicate lobster and ricotta blend inside was a light lump of mouth-watering goodness. I wolfed mine down in half the time it took Teddy and Adam to finish theirs and then helped myself to a few of Jason’s since he eats like a bird. The cream sauce on top would have made any chef proud: Delicious in its simplicity.

Finally—the mystery dessert. What exactly is a Pears Belle Helene we wondered? And then it arrived. Orbs of brown, poached, peary delight surrounded by a homemade caramel and (store bought) vanilla ice-cream. As the ice cream melted it mixed with the caramel and pear flavor so well that the Helene in the title made me think of Helen (of Troy) because I would fight armies to taste that concoction again.

You know it’s a good meal when, by the end, we all spent so much time eating that we neglected our imbibing. A problem whose solution we easily remedied by crawling around the Lower East Side drinking sake bombs and booze for the next five hours. Good show!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Coney Island! Nathans & More!

I really don't hang out in Brooklyn much at all. I have the ocassional trip out to Park Slope to dine/drink with the boys, but that's about it. I finally decided that it was time to see Coney Island before the 'Evil Machine' tore it all down.

I've been there 3 times in the past 2 weeks to eat, drink & watch the Brooklyn Cyclones. I'm really angry at myself for not having gone long ago.

Coming off of the F train, Nathan's (on the corner of Surf & Stillwell Avenues) looms large. It was very,very foggy the 2nd time we went, giving an eerie feeling.

The Noble Hot Dog has a bad rap in the culinary world. People scoff at it & often make reference to the 'mystery meat' contained within. Nathan's dogs are meant to be some of the best, so I didn't mind waiting in the huge pre-game line, but the service there is atrocious. It took forever to be served, but trust me, it was worth the wait.

There's something uniquely satisfying about finally getting your dog(s) & setting up shop at one of the high tables & putting together all of your condiments. With so much history in this place you just know that the food is going to rock.

The chili dog I ordered was insane - I was in meat heaven (yet, I'm gonna get cheese on that bad boy next time). I've also had the Corn Dog & a regular dog topped in onions & peppers. Yum!

By our third visit, we pretty much had our routine down pat. Jump on the F, eat at Nathan's, then head to Ruby's. Boasting a laid back attitude, killer jukebox, views of the ocean & boardwalk & a 45 foot long bar, Ruby's Old Tyme Bar and Grill (1213 Riegelmann Boardwalk) is my type of bar. Perfect for some pre-game beers. It being the off-season, the place is pretty empty, which is fine by me. Google it & you can see pics of the place during the summer, packed to the gills!

The Brooklyn Cyclones games are a lot of fun. At $14 for the most expensive seat in the house, moderately priced beers & great cheeseburgers (don't eat at the park stalls, go to the outdoor BBQ by section 17), Keyspan Park is a baseball/beer/beef-lover's wet dream!

After the final game we stopped at the restaurant next to Nathan's for beer, dogs & Blue Points. Rock on! I really suggest that you go & hang out in Coney Island before it's completely destroyed by fascist developers.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Upstairs for some

Young Mick has been watching his waist his a bit. He has really taken a back seat recently and laid off everything that is really good for him - booze, animal fats, fun. It's been all gym, gym, gym, Smartwater and fruits. He's getting married, you see and wants to look his best.

I was dead pleased when he said he was going to do a 'special one-off' pre-wedding blow out. The menu looked grand. Heirloom tomato soup, pasta with Gorgonzola and rocket, pork loin with sage and pumpkin bread pudding, followed by fig clafoutis. I had to applaud Mike for an excellent seasonal menu.

On the night, he phoned me downstairs asking to borrow some martini glasses. Up the wooden hills then to Mike's place clutching a fistful of glass and some vodka as a gift.

I knew we were in for a boozy night, and I was amused when he presented us with our first drink of the evening, a bacon martini. Oh my Christ! Bacon?? He said he'd heard of them before and wanted to try his hand. I did admire his willingness to explore the edge. It was presented beautifully, shaken with some crisp lardons to get the flavour into the vodka and garnished with a ruler-straight length of rendered bacon fat, seasoned lovingly with some black pepper. I could hear Adam muttering under his breath, "I can't believe this is happening." I'm not sure what I made of the bacon flavour to be honest, but I liked the fact that there was a rectangle of pig in my glass and I could suck porcine essence from it whenever I wanted. The black pepper really did add an extra strange dimension which I rather liked. I guess these bacon-laced drinks are an acquired taste, and one which I will attempt to acquire over the forthcoming months. (I invented a new cocktail last Friday, but that's the subject of a forthcoming post, when I've mastered the recipe.)

Suitably lubricated, we sat down to eat. The soup came dressed with aromatic dill and while it was steaming in the bowl of my spoon, I inhaled deeply before my first mouthful. It was full of summer tomato flavour and very rich. To make matters even richer, he'd made some brilliant Gruyere grilled cheese sandwiches to pack a cheesy crunch between mouthfuls of soup. I don't rate grilled cheese sandwiches to be honest (I tend to see them made with American cheese) but the liberal use of melting Gruyere and a deft sprinkling of Parmesan really made these babies a cut above. Adam , Legion D'Or of Grilled Cheese, declared them magnificent.

Before I'd had chance to discuss the floral virtues of an excellent 'Crios' Torrontes from Argentina, Mike came whirring round the dining room again with our next plate. We were each granted a decent dollop of rotella pasta oozing with mouldy and metallic Gorgonzola and fresh peppery rocket. Mike had a very Italian upbringing and I had the feint feeling this was one straight from his family's recipe book. Old school Piedmont cookin' for sure. I couldn't get enough of it truthfully, even scraping up bits from the other lad's plates without even asking. I knew I had to save some room for the next two miracles.

My belly was in for some serious exercise.

With a few minutes between the last and next course, I was able to focus my mind and clean my palate with a fabulously ruby (Ruffino) Riserva Ducale, 2001. Bloody marvellous it was, all big bollocks and black cherry notes. With this in hand I wandered round the kitchen counter to chat to our chef. He was busy poking temperature probes into 2 thick forearm-sized pork loins, so I thought I'd leave the man alone to his devices. I think pork is a difficult meat to cook correctly, but Mike on the other hand, is a natural with the stuff. He just thrust it into the oven, set a timer, and got to grips with his pumpkin and sage pudding. The results were mightily moist and meaty, luscious dripping slivers of porky goodness strewn over a delightful savoury pudding. He'd forgotten his portion control measures too, and I was faced with a big bowl of it all, glistening with his reduced pork jus. I was a good man if I finished this lot off. Despite a full belly I was able to do Mike justice and practically licked the bowl clean. That pudding was the perfect accompaniment to the pork. Sage and pumpkin. Need I say more? I remember when I was a nipper in the UK and I ate and ate treacle sponge pudding with custard until I was sick. If I find something delicious, I can't stop. A bit like being in love? I wouldn't go that far, but it was intrepid pork and very memorable.

We were literally finished off with a cunningly made fig clafoutis. Chef Mike had the batter consistency just spot on, and in the oven it rose up through the nuggets of sun-filled fig to produce an evenly golden sugary surface, studded with fruit. I was ordered downstairs to collect some homemade strawberry ice cream, and the pudding was complete. You've got to have some fat to go with a dessert like that. My oh my, that was a great dessert.

Well done Mike, a much anticipated and passionate return to the fold, and a memorable evening in great company.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

No Prep, No Problem

Various cases of atypical circumstances made this past week's Thursday night an on-the-fly effort. Food poisoning, international travel and a number of unavailable last-minute substitutions dropped our Club numbers to a meek two. With this summer already providing fewer meal than we had hoped for, Teddy and I didn't want to waste the opportunity to gorge ourselves on home cooking. During the day, we threw together a menu and shopped for items that might not have necessarily been on a menu for the usual 3+ person group. We swapped some extravagant ingredients in for traditional dishes. Why the hell not, right? Here's the menu....

Pate with Green Peppercorns

Stuffed Hungarian Hot Peppers

Lobster Tempura
- Avocado Mousse, Sour Cream & Caviar

Braised Short Ribs
- Mushroom and Truffle Butter Risotto

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

The only short cut of the night was taken for the first course. Before stopping for wine, I thought I'd step into the local specialty shop to see if anything piqued my interest. With no previous time to prep and some actual work to do, we clearly needed something to eat while getting everything in place. I picked up a big block of pate and a crusty baguette. That hit the spot perfectly with a spicy glass of red.The peppers were dead easy from start to finish. Mild sausage meat, salty romano cheese, plain breadcrumbs and parsley were tossed together with an egg to bind it all. That mixture scooped in the half pepper only took about 12-15 minutes in the oven, complete with a nice and crusty top. The filling basically sat on top of the pepper and would definitely double as a good start for an Italian-style burger or sausage meatloaf.The lobster dish was not so easy to prepare. I've never seen an animal so full of life......especially after it's head had been removed from it's body. This bumpy little crustacean freaked the shit out of Teddy at every opportunity, which provided great comedic value for me. However, my laughter turned to twitchy expletives when the tail meat which was completely removed from the shell contracted at the slightest touch from a kitchen blade. I've never seen anything like it and will definitely think better against handling a lobster in this fashion again. Next time it's getting hucked in a pot of boiling water.......or getting a stake driven though it's heart......if I can locate it. The dish turned out great though, definitely worth all the trouble and horrific lobster nightmares I am sure to encounter in the near future. Nice crisped batter, sweet lobster meat and two creamy spreads to compliment those flavors and textures. No salt was necessary as the caviar bursted with salty flavor in every bite.The short ribs were well under way in the oven by the time I had arrived. This did wonders for the tenderness of the meat and the apartment's kiln-like temperatures. The sauce that the ribs sat in for hours was reduced down to nearly nothing and added a sweet, rich and tangy coating to the meat. At this point I was getting a touch full, but I couldn't help but selfishly shovel the creamy risotto in to my face. I could distinctly smell truffles on each mouthful before it even hit my lips. Maybe truffle butter is the way to go whenever butter is necessary? On toast in the morning, melted in a pan before frying an egg, how about a dollop of that on a broiled ribeye........yes, yes, and yes twice.Much like the sauce that covered the short ribs, I was too reduced to a thick puddle by the end of the last course. Tired. Full. Hot. But, one thing could turn around all of these cream. The sweet and tart strawberries kicked my salivary glands back into gear and woke me up for the long walk home.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Restaurant Saul

What can I say about Saul Bolton? The bloke's got it licked.

I'd heard that his restaurant on Smith Street's restaurant row had become a neighbourhood favourite and a few local residents had patronised it at least 4o times. Well that's pretty good PR I'd say. Looking for some goodly portions of delicious food on the Friday before Labor Day, the missus and I thought we'd get off the F train a couple of stops early and see what all the fuss is about. When I discovered that he's trained with some of NYC's greatest (David Bouley at Bouley, Eric Ripert at Le Bernadin) I got a little giddy with excitement. Generating faultless and grand dishes with those boys is bound to have an effect, and I'm glad to say Mr. Bolton had absorbed a lot of their technique and he didn't disappoint.

The surroundings are austere with plainly laid tables, no artwork on the walls, no frills, no fuss. I kind of like that, because a restaurant's decor can sometimes divert one's attention away from the plate and we were here to eat, not sit around in a plush room. We were primed and ready to scan the menu. There were some very tempting appetizer dishes on there too, including a foie gras with rhubarb, a duck confit with grits, sushi-grade hamachi. I opted for the seafood chowder, and the wife went straight for a warm Summer salad of an unknown-to-us grain 'frikh', HOTW mushrooms, fava beans, peas and a poached egg. We ordered and we were immediately given something to think about. Two small dishes were whipped out of the kitchen and onto our table, each with about a cup of intensely green liquid at the bottom. Our waiter said it was cucumber, mint and dill soup, (I believe). And that's exactly what it tasted like. It was chilled, refreshing and so far so good. Onto the starters! My shellfish chowder was a slick concoction of haddock, scallops and smoke lardons, all huddled together and keeping warm in a delicious broth, rich with butter and speckled with finely cut chives. The wife had a twinkle in her eye when her salad showed up, I must say it looked delicious. I couldn't resist the temptation to reach across and steal a mouthful. It had a great texture with some garlic 'chips' in there combining with the peas and barely-cooked egg.

The best was yet to come. The entrees were just as tempting as the appetizers (or entrees???) and I wanted to eat them all: Wild salmon, snapper and bass, steak, squab and rabbit tenderloin. I had spied a rabbit 'en crepinette' on their website's sample menu and I was hoping that was on, but in it's absence I plumped for squab. It turned out to be 'squab of the century'. I just don't know how he cooked the breasts so perfectly but was able to get some very decent colour and crunchiness to the skin. It was the legs that really got me all hot and bothered. They were embellished with a deep brown colour and crackly skin suggesting a very hot roast, and yet the meat beneath that crisp toothsome outer was soft and moistly yielding. I smacked my lips in delight at the gaminess (I must find out where he gets his pigeon) and hastily flagged down the waiter as one might flag down a speeding yellow cab when you're busting for a slash and need to get home, sharpish. "Tell me a secret my friend, how the hell do these legs remain so moist when they're so crispy on the outside?" Within seconds my man was gone, sporting a cheeky grin, and returned with my answer shortly after. "He makes a confit of pigeon leg first, then crisps them up under the grill." Well, of course he does! I was amazed by my own stupidity. The number of times I've reheated D'Artagnan duck confit under a hot grill, with the same results, and I still couldn't work it out. Perhaps the properties of Saul's excellent cellar was starting to have an effect. I was drinking a summery Rose rather too quickly.

Feeling rosy cheeked and full of well being, I was presented with the dessert menu which looked delicious too. I couldn't tell you exactly what was on it, but I do know we ended up with an astonishingly good lemon tart and a really stinky wedge of Valdeon, which we disposed of aided by two sturdy glasses of aged port. You can't have blue cheese without it, right? We were given garlic bread with the Valdeon, which disappointed. I'd have much rather had a club cracker or a nice Digestive biscuit, but it was a finely aged cheese and there was no mistaking it.

We weren’t hurried out or made to feel that we had to do one to make way for the next wave (we could see people were starting to form a line outside) and we were grateful for that. Cradling my new food baby in my arms, I managed to get up out of the chair, slip our excellent waiter a few bob and staggered into the cool night air for a smoke.

I can't wait to go back, not for the decor, not for the desserts but to sample each and every one of Saul's savoury offerings. I think the bloke's got real talent.

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