Sunday, July 15, 2007

I Take It All Back

In my youth while growing up on a steady diet of hotdogs (a ghastly yet delicious combination of "meats") and nachos (covered in synthetic "cheese"), any kind of seafood was never high on my list of favorite foods. I'm sure many other children were know who you are. To paraphrase a line from a comedian, "Fish is the only thing when not at it's freshest, smells like what it is". To further that statement, a trip to the old Fulton Fish Market on South Street will only confirm what 170 years of peddling water-dwelling animals can do to air quality. That smell will most likely not change, but my feelings about seafood have.

Additionally, I have heard others, myself included, say "I am not a big dessert person". I think it has a lot to do with my preference of savory over sweet dishes or the fact that I cram too much food into my face to fit another rich course in. Since the beginning and especially as of late, Club meals have taught me to turn down nothing, try everything, and to slow down and wait for dessert, because you might might miss something special. Here is what J Boogie whipped up this past week.

Split Pea Soup with Hamhocks
Duck Breast with Apricot Glaze
-Caramelized Apples
Whole Stuffed Sea Bass with Lemon Caper Sauce
- Garlic Mash and String Beans
Bananas Foster Ala Boogie

Some people are turned off by pea soup, perhaps a flashback to that pukey scene in The Exorcist. Usually smoothed out for texture reasons, Jason left a lot of the chunks in to create more of a pea stew. The slow cooked ham hocks added a ton of salty, meat flavor and a heartiness not present in a heavily blended pea soup.

Duck is one of my favorite animals.....not to admire in nature or anything, to eat. It has appeared in our Thursday Club meals probably more than any other meat, and I have absolutely no complaints about that. The sweet apricot glaze spooned over the medium-rare duck slices were simply what we needed to get us ready for the rest of the meal. Caramelized apples never disappoint either. Paired with any salty, crispy sliced meat, you can't lose.

When I saw the fish course on the menu, I had no idea that they would be in whole form. I though Jason would just stuff a fat fillet with herbs and get it under the broiler. It wasn't until I was going to throw some bottles of white in the fridge that I noticed 2 crystal clear eyes glaring at me from underneath a layer of plastic wrap. Maybe a mere hallucination, I thought one winked at me as if to say, "Hey. We're going to be delicious, get me in the oven". And that's exactly what was done. With fennel and fresh herbs bursting out the bottom of the fish, they were cooked, then flipped and cooked some more. We were able to pull the bones out in a singular, almost cartoonish fashion because the meat was so moist and tender. The lemon caper sauce added an extra fresh burst of citrus and brine to the flaky flesh. It was nice to get some fresh vegetables on the plate as well in the form of some al dente green beans.

Luckily I saved some room for dessert. Jason's personal spin on a classic used diced bananas instead of whole and some Calvados (apple brandy) and aged rum for the boozy part. He also skipped the flambe technique seen in so many restaurants, but it didn't bother me as a) it adds no flavor to the dish and b) it has been known to burn kitchens and apartments to the foundation.

However, I was still getting a bit antsy, emploring someone to pull the bananas off of the stove top because they looked done. A raised hand silenced my nonsensical babbling as the extra cooking time created an unbelievable chewy, syrupy crust around each scoop of the mixture. Hot gooey topping, cold vanilla ice cream.......done and done.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

An oily evening

We had a stand-in last week in the shape of Wendy. J-Boogie decided it was just too much effort to come all the way to 19th Street, Brooklyn for some grub. He had been burning the candles at both ends though, and melting the middle. He might be tad surprised at the entries on his credit card bill, which he’ll receive pretty soon. Good luck with that, Son.

Adams finally gave up on 'modern American meat' this week, and decided to go off-road in his culinary SUV and build some dishes with Asian inspiration. First stop China. Next stop Japan. Next stop Chino-America (in a Trader Vic's
stylee.) And then on to Thailand, with a one last stop at Japan before heading across the sub-Asian continent and stopping firmly in India:

  • Chinese “Breakfast” - Chili Toast with Chinese Sausage and Panko Fried Egg Yolk
  • Teriyaki and Ginger Chicken Wings
  • Crab Rangoons with Sweet and Hot Mustard
  • Grilled Squid Fried Rice
  • Sesame Crusted Yellow Fin Tuna
  • Radish Frozen Mango Popsicles

Panko fried egg yolk? This was a real test of his talents. There was some heated discussion about the best way to panko-fry a singular yolk. He wanted to maintain it's natural shape. All manner of crackpot ideas were put forth before he settled on the most failsafe method. Seperate the yolks from the albumen. 'Roll' the yolks in hot water to at least stablise the membrane surrounding it to allow for easy transfer in and out of flour, egg and panko. A delicate touch was needed, and he delivered. We sat down to a slice of bread smeared with a spicy chilli butter, the deliciously crunchy yolk nestled on top of that, garnished with a splendid pair of musky duck sausages from Chinatown. East meets West with a crash, and a triumph in my eyes. My favourite course of all, the duck and the spicy bread packed one hell of a meaty punch, but luckily I had plenty of barely cooked hen's yolk to soothe the bruises.Teriyaki chicken wings were a decent take on Japanese-American food. Take your average chicken wing. Fry the bugger as usual, leaving it fabulously juicy inside and with a crispy-skinned exterior. Don't add Anchor Bar wing sauce, no. Add a good piece of butter, some Teriyaki sauce and some finely sliced ginger. Toss. I liked the idea of the Teri-Ginger sauce and it does good things to bland fowl. A damn sight better than Buffalo wings, for sure. Ideal beer food, and no doubt a great accompaniment to any ‘sport’ party.

By this stage, bellies were suffering a little from the fat onslaught. It was difficult to get pissed actually, because the oil must have formed an impenetrable lining in my stomach that didn't allow a molecule of booze through. We had to shape up for the crab rangoons. First invented at Trader Vic’s (an American chain) I had experienced them at some Chinese place on 5th Ave, Park Slope and I thought they were brilliant. Definitely not Chinese, but worthy of a place on the menu. Adam mixed smooth cream cheese and studded it with hunks of ocean-fresh crab meat. (Well OK, tinned ‘imitation’ crab meat.) He shoved spoonfuls of the mixture into wonton wrappers, gave them a little twist, and guess what? Yes, that’s right, into more bubbling oil. Despite my urgent need t
o shy away from fried things, I had to eat. They were much better than the ones I had down the road on 5th Ave, and as hard as I tried, I could only queeze a few of the crunchy little devils into my fat-addled guts. My veins ached. I did have some slight concern that I was on the precipice of some major coronary event.

There was no let up. Next course? Fried rice, with fried squid. Oh, for fuck’s sake. My vision was starting to blur and I could feel a lipid tsunami taking over my body.

I wish I could say more but I can’t recall much of the next course. I know it was NOT fried. I vaguely remember, while I was stinking of fat, that it was not bad at all. Grant had to give me a lift with mine. I managed one slice of the stuff I think between bouts of nausea and serious internal malaise.

“Anybody for a mango popsicle?”
“You didn’t fry it?”

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sunday Roast

This Thursday Club malarkey has really started to change the way I think about food. I can’t seem to sit down for a meal now without trying (and usually failing through a complete lack of culinary knowledge) to dissect it and understand why it tastes good, bad or mediocre. I don’t think it is a bad thing but it is getting a bit annoying; something like a dermatologist picking holes in Maria Sharapova’s skin instead of stepping back and simply enjoying the bigger picture. The worst trait I seem to be picking up is judging every bit of food I shove in my fat face, be it dinner in a restaurant or a slice of toast the missus makes me, against the universal benchmark of “would I pay for that?”

The reason I start this entry with this rant is that I offered fairly late on Saturday to do a roast dinner for Thursday Club regulars Ted and Jason. Now if I was doing this 2 months ago then I wouldn’t have given it a second thought until popping out on Sunday late morning to do some last minute hungover ingredient gathering. But it isn’t 2 months ago (unless you first read this in September but that is too hard a situation for me to grasp right now) so I used my Saturday night to get out some recipe books and do some research. Admittedly this was helped by Mrs Mac being ill which halted any thoughts of partying and probably saved my guests from being fed some of my usual hungover slop. Hopefully you are beginning to understand the curse and blessing that is Thursday Club – I’m not sure I could give these guys a headache tablet without double-broiling it and serving it in it’s own juices…

Anyway, the purpose of the afternoon was to rescue Ted from his apartment which had been taken over by snakes with tits. Ted arrived right on time but smelling like a hobo and Jason arrived fashionably one hour late but minus the paparazzi. We cut the hangovers with your basic mozzarella, tomato and basil salad with some additional grilled, skinned, sliced peppers which I love doing as they are just so damn sweet. Served in our shaded garden on a hot summers day in New York accompanied with cool Brooklyn Brewery beer (like god himself would make) and crisp white wine and life is looking alright.

Then work starts on bringing the main act on. That’s what I love about a roast, the sweating with 5 minutes to go as every heat exuding surface is being used including holding up the gravy pan near the light fixture. It’s also pretty tough to fuck up and usually gives a decent result. My mum is a classic example here as she is the original deep fry everything gal but on Christmas day this astounding woman would give Ramsey a run for his money as it’s tough to argue with a plate containing 15 different food items produced on a prototype Barbie electric stove.

So we’re having beef and the boys as Balducci’s (yes, expensive but their staff are highly approachable and seem to know what they are on about) only had a chuck roast which I now know means the neck. Fat is a good friend of mine so I shoved some garlic slivers into the slab of beef and slow roasted it for nearly 4 hours in the end. Golden, fluffy, crunchy roast potatoes accompanied with roasted parsnips and carrots providing the vitamins. For me, the luminous green mushy peas (from a tin of course) made the meal authentic and I could have drunk the gravy made from the beef juices by the pint although that might be because I added a bit too much red wine.

Desert was a monster glob of Amaretto which fuelled an undeniably hammered tour of some of Greenwich Village’s dirtier drinking holes. A nice way to spend a Sunday although I think I might lay off the Duvels next time I woke up on Monday feeling like Iron Maiden were holding a concert in my cranium.

Thursday Club 06/28/07

The gang descended on Brooklyn to sample some of Teddy's skills. With enough wine to sink a ship, we were ready to roll.

- Brandade de morue (gratin of salt cod).
- Beetroot & apple salad w/horseradish cream.
- Walnut & mushroom ravioli. morels & black truffle butter.
- Duck confit, bing cherries & truffled duck liver sauce.
- Wine-poached pear with blackberry coulis, bleu d'auvergne shortbread.

The salt cod starter was simply delightful. Salty, creamy & topped with cheese, it was an excellent opening dish.

Now here's where I'm going to have fun. Ever since Teddy's scathing review of my Japanese-inspired meal a few weeks ago (Ok, I'll admit that it was a half-assed attempt) I've been looking for a chance at some payback. Teddy's 2nd course was actually pretty bad, which is rare for T-diddy, but hey, it happens, right?

Teddy redeemed himself with the ravioli. Flavorful, buttery, excellent.

The duck followed & boy was that a treat! The richness of the liver sauce when mixed with the sweetness of the cherries was pure heaven!

With barely an inch to spare in my gut, Teddy brought out the final course which was very light & really tasty. Nicely done Diddy!
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