Monday, June 29, 2009

Fat Hippo Revisted!

My Dad recently celebrated his 77th birthday & we went to Fat Hippo (71 Clinton St. @ Rivington) for food & drinks. My brother, Stefan (Sous Chef Stef) had flown in a few days earlier to surprise my Dad. The menu has progressed from my last visit (click)

We started with the Burger Fondue which was really well received. A really fun whimsical play on fondue. The cheeses were delicious (unfortunately, I can't remember the names) & we really enjoyed this starter.

Earlier I had shown the group the picture of the monstrous sized Pork Chop that we had the last time we were at Fat Hippo for the soft opening party, so my Dad was really looking forward to ordering that. Unfortunately, they put a pork loin on the menu in it's place. Stefan got the steak which was delish. I opted for the Crab cake (my real motivation was the mac & cheese which is among the best in the city). The chicken was ordered as well as the seared tuna (highly recommended).

It was nice to try some of the dishes that I missed at the opening & everyone enjoyed the meal.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Clerkenwell (49 Clinton Street)

Grant & Kate were only in town for 1 day last week, so I shuffled down to Clerkenwell, a gastropub on Clinton St. between Rivington & Stanton. I'm somewhat skeptical of places that label themselves as 'gastropubs', so I was eager to taste the food here. We took over the entire bar area & downed pints of Stella & Strongbow, but as the night (& drink tab) progressed, we got hungry.

We started by sharing the pate which did not disappoint. Topped by a thick layer of butter & a side of caramelized onions, this dish got even better as the butter softened & melted.

I opted for the Toad in the Hole. Honestly, after spending 8 years in an English boarding school, I was expecting the same disgusting, dry fare, but I was pleasantly surprised. The dish was basically 'deconstructed', with Yorkshire pud replacing the normal flaky pastry & a delicious jus topped the sausages, onions & mash. The real star of the plate were the sausages which are made fresh in the kitchen. They were well spiced & delicious, a far cry from school lunches!

Adam got the fish & chips which he devoured, so I can only assume that they were good. The chips were thick cut, English style (as they should be). The plating of the dish was not what you'd really expect from a gastropub, but it did look good.

Clerkenwell is a stone's throw from my house, so odds are I will be returning. The food is good, our bartender was very friendly & we all had a good time. You can't really ask for much more than that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Shrimp Butler

I love to cook shrimp. I really don't mind peeling them, but it's the de-veining & butterflying that drives me insane. Repetitive, tedious & downright annoying. Luckily, some clever bugger has invented the Shrimp Butler. This ingenious machine does all the work for you & is reasonable priced at $35.

Although you need to be making shrimp by the bucketload for this thing to be worth the money, I think it's a pretty cool little gadget. They have a demo video on their website, check it out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I have a head for fashion....

I'm glad that certain things go full cycle under the dark and mysterious cloak of fashion. Flares came back. Or at least they did in Manchester, England, circa 1992. I like a nice flare, me. Pearls, not seen since 1950, are back in vogue too. No NYC ladies are without them. In my twisted and offset opinion, pearls (fake or real) give a woman an aloof whiff of class. Whether the lady in question has actually availed herself of a decent upbringing and education, or she's the kind of woman that says "Like," and "You know," while searching her pitiful vocabulary for something altogether more descriptive is beside the point. Pearls say something about a woman.

In the food arena, fads come and go too. We've seen monkfish liver come and go. Sweetbreads came and stayed, but will no doubt fall out of fashion soon enough. The new trend in NYC is pork. Not discount Valu-Pak plastic wrapped ten-a-penny pork, but well-bred pork. Pork from breeds nobody has heard of. And not just your average Jo Bloggs pork chop, bland loin, picnic ham or Boston butt. Now we hear about trotters, tails and ears from well-bred pigs. Cooks are starting to look beyond the boring fillet, the steak. The possibilities are endless when you engage the whole animal. I'm glad fashion has finally caught up with me. Inspired in part by Samuel Pegge's famous 1390 tome The Forme of Cury, and a handful of pork disciples in London and New York who are rolling their sleeves up and getting to grips with some very unusual cuts, I wanted to reinvigorate an old English favourite, the Bath Chap. This boned and stuffed pig's head was the height of fashion in 1890. I can't believe something so delicious fell from favour in the first place, but I'm so happy it finally came back into fashion over 100 years later.

Daunting as it is, dealing with a whole head, the recipe is simplicity itself. Like taking candy from babies....

First procure a decent looking piggy head, one with a long jowl, from a decent breed, and most certainly one that has a life of mischief and varied diets.

Bone out piggy head with sharp knife. This isn't as easy as it sounds. I found a great video on YouTube featuring a bloke with a big knife cutting into Porky. He's obviously a skilled and practiced hand. It took literally seconds, and he was no doubt distracted by BBC Radio blaring in the background, but he does make it look easy. The trick is to get as much meat off the bone and attached to the skin as possible, paying particular attention the the cheeks. That's the best shit, that is. My boning technique differed from Matey because I boned it out resulting in one piece of skin and not two, as he does in the video. Two pieces are traditional. Those who know me will testify that I like to fuck with tradition a bit.

Take out the tongue, and wash it thoroughly. There is no easy way to remove it, just cut where you think you should and remove it in one piece.

Now the tricky bit: Roll. Place the tongue in between the two cheek meaty bits, lying it on the underside of what would have been Porky's hooter. Roll as best you can, making sure you have string at the ready to tie. I like a nice snouty look to my Bath Chaps. Wrap in cheesecloth, and brine for 5 days.

Take Chap out and give him a good rinse. Still wrapped, poach in a mixture of pork stock (from the skull) white wine, the usual aromatics and some bay leaf and peppercorns fro about 1.5 hours. Remove, cool, and unwrap. Re-wrap in cling film tightly as you can, and press under weight in the fridge. leave overnight.


Cut inch-thick slices from the Chap, dip in seasoned flour each side, and fry in butter to a crisp and golden finish.

You will marvel at the crisp bacony exterior, and your knees will buckle when you savour the fat, moist and porky cheek and tongue meat at the Chap's core. I served my guests their Chaps with Colman's mustard (of course) and some caramelised apples.

Recipe: Split Pea Soup w/Ham Hocks

I've been cooking a lot recently, both in an effort to stay away from my local boozer & clear out my freezer, so here goes yet another recipe. I had this soup at my parent's house a few weeks ago & I was really eager to try it out for myself.


2 Ham Hocks
1 lbs Split Peas
1 Medium Onion
4 Cloves Garlic
1 Pack Frozen Peas & Carrots
3 Cups Chicken Stock
Spices: Bay Leaves, Thyme, Oregano, Pepper Flakes, etc.

Add ham hocks to small pot & fill with water (about 6 cups) & boil for 1-1.5 hours (the more, the merrier). Be sure to test for tenderness of the meat & skim off any 'scum' from the surface of the water & reserve boiling liquid. Rinse & pick through your peas, removing any impurities.

While your pork is boiling, dice onion & add to large stockpot with olive oil. Sweat for 5 minutes. Add diced (or pressed) garlic & cook for 2-3 more minutes. Add majority of the pack of carrots & peas, reserving some.

Then add rinsed split peas. Incorporate ingredients & add chicken stock (in this case made from the strained remainder from my Warm Potato & Chicken Salad) & liquid from boiling your ham hocks. Add spices (be careful about the use of salt, the pork stock will be somewhat salty) & bring to a boil & simmer gently, covered, for 90 minutes or until peas are soft..

Remove bay leaves & using an immersion blender, blend the soup. Add remaining peas & carrots for texture & color. Debone & chop ham hocks into bite sized pieces (particularly the skin, which may become chewy). Add the meat to the soup & simmer for a further 15 minutes. Serve with warm, crusty bread.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Recipe: Steamed Mussels w/Shallots & Chorizo

For some reason I really wanted to eat some mussels & I hate cooking/eating alone so I had invited a few friends over for an impromptu dinner party. In a bit of a rush, I braved the rain with a buddy & headed to Whole Foods on Houston where I picked up some chorizo & 7lbs of mussels (3 bags).

I washed & debearded the mussels as best I could as we chopped the chorizo, shallots (4), parsley & garlic (a full bulb). The chorizo went into the pans with a bit of butter & olive oil, leaving a delicious, red/yellow color in the pan. The parsley, shallots & garlic were added next, along with more butter. Once cooked through, I deglazed with a white wine that has been sitting on my wine rack for ages (I used the entire bottle).

Salt & pepper was put into the pots, the mixture was brought up to a boil & the mussels were added. I covered the pots & lowered to a simmer to let our delicious little bivalves steam away happily. Once they had fully opened, I served with warm bread & butter. Simple yet effective & really really good to eat. I particularly enjoying dunking my bread in the broth. One of these days I'll give making French Fries a shot.

I'm surprised that I don't cook mussels more often. They're dead easy to make & pretty darn inexpensive. I spent $30 on a meal for 6 (plus the bottle of plonk) & everyone left full. There were enough leftovers for me to make my Fried Beer Battered Mussels. I could have spent even less if I had gone to Chinatown for the mussels ($6 a bag at Wholefoods) & the chorizo was a bit overpriced, but I was pushed for time (read: Lazy). All in All, a good meal, I really enjoyed it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Recipe: Warm Potato & Chicken Salad

Sort of like Teddy's Fridge With Cupboard Sauce situation, I was sitting around today hungry & not wanting to leave the house as it looked like it was going to rain. I looked through what I had lying around & with suggestions from my Dad, came up with this great salad.

Basically, I filled up a small pot with water, added 2 chicken thighs (skin on) & some crushed (just with the side of my knife) cloves of garlic. Then came the fun part; I didn't have much in the way of fresh herbs, so I just opened my pantry & let my hands fly along the spice shelf. Salt & Pepper (obviously), garlic powder, oregano, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, plus some other stuff that's been gathering dust in there. I turned the heat up & let my two little babies simmer away (round about 40 minutes, give or take).

I had a smaller pot in which I boiled 4 red bliss potatoes cut mouth sized & skin on. When my potatoes were nearly done, I took the chicken out of the broth/stock & began work on the dressing; olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, the juice of half a lemon & mustard (both regular & grain). I'm glad I only added half a lemon as it was a bit tart. I ended up putting in just a dollop of honey to smooth it out.

The chicken was shredded roughly & put into a mixing bowl with the potatoes & some parsley. On went the dressing & some coarsely ground pepper. Mix & plate! I really enjoyed the salad, but I have a few things I'd love to add/change. It really could have used some red onion & secondly, I wish I added more chicken. The meat to starch ratio was a bit lopsided. There are infinite variations for this basic salad. Such as adding slow roasted grape tomatoes which I have bottled.

There's also a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! You're left with all of the liquid that you boiled the chicken in which by now is delicious & rich. I haven't strained it as yet because I don't know what I'll use it for.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Downright Comforting

Somehow I think Houman's reasoning behind his recent comfort food menu was less because of the unseasonably cool Spring temperatures and more a chance to showcase the firepower of his sparkling new dual tier, 4-burner, salamander-packing stove. Not to disappoint my mind's picture of this contraption, from the minute I stepped into the apartment, all burners were whopped up to high with pots gleefully bubbling away.

The smell that filled the room (and entire building) was enough to get me drooling. Here's what we had in store:

1. Rustic brandade
2. Teddy's boudin noir with caramelized apples and onions on celeriac puree
3. Porterhouse, sauteed kale, pancetta
4. Guinness braised short ribs with rosemary-maple glaze
5. Melon with basil-lime granita and cornmeal cookie

Our starter, the rustic brandade, was the classic salt cod and potato combo with an added twist. A deep fried fritter (same as the brandade recipe with added herbs and chives) was placed on top and the whole thing was covered in a pungent garlic aioli.

The garlicky waft and the sight of a perfectly browned croquette on top of a chunky bed of starch was pretty to admire, but lasted mere seconds as we all tore in and made quick work of it. The salt cod added a great fish taste without overpowering the dish with salt and the smooth/crispy texture worked wonderfully.

The second course included a familiar ingredient, as Teddy's homemade blood sausage made a cameo appearance to the delight of all of us. I would have munched away happily on nothing more than the sausage and a smear of tangy mustard, but it came plated beautifully with maple-drizzled onion and apples, and a smooth puree of celeriac. As if that wasn't enough, a veal stock based gravy was spooned around the plate. A fabulous dish overall - the rich spiced sausage, a tart celeriac, and sweet onions and apples to tie everything together. Relatively simple, but loaded with flavor and a definite crowd pleaser.

The porterhouse steak course (strangely not the main course) was as amazing to watch being prepared as it was to eat. First of all, the uncooked piece of steak itself was beautiful with a labyrinth of marbled fat running throughout.

It started out on the stove top in a smoking hot pan, then was flipped and moved to the oven which tops out at around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. More than enough to add a nice char to a steak without over cooking the glistening pink center. It was quite a show, at one point Teddy and JC were on all fours peering through the oven's tinted window just to get a glimpse of the bubbling, browning porterhouse. The seasoning was simple, ("salt, pepper, and butter is all you need is you need for a steak, man" to quote tonight's chef) and the results were sublime.

As good as any restaurant that I have been to. I guess the secret is slicing off a bit of the sun and stuffing it inside of your oven.....nice if you can get it. The side dish was nothing to scoff at either, with some nice braised kale and pancetta. A tiny bit of maple syrup found it's way inside also (not a big surprise considering our Canadian host) which added a nice sweetness to the salty accompaniment. The steak was center stage though, and rightfully so.

Short ribs have been done before, at one point in back-to-back-to-back weeks which threatened to change our name from Thursday to Short Rib Club. They are delicious though and when done correctly, few things can top it. Houman's take had the ribs braised in Guinness and finished with a maple rosemary glaze.

The meat was fall apart tender and the glaze added a nice sticky coating to the meat that took on the dark color of it's braising liquid. No knives needed for this course as the meat shredded off of the bone (which I used as a shovel-like utensil just to drive home the meat-tastic nature of this meal). The combo of the meat and creamy mash was amazing and the realistic portion, uncommon for us at times, left us pining for more.....which there was.

Luckily for us the dessert was a cooling and light one, honeydew melon balls with a lime-basil granita. Never using basil in desserts, the combo was foreign to me, but really opened my eyes to using herbs in cooperation with sweet dishes. Unfortunately the heat of the kitchen had turned the granita a bit soupy near the end, but fortunately Teddy our in-house mixologist had the smarts to throw it into a cocktail shaker and stretch the dessert further by making it into the nicest lime-basil based drink I've ever tasted.

It was truly a night of excellent classics dishes. Even though they had a familiar ring, the subtle twists made them unique and a welcomed change from the ordinary comfort foods we were used to. And the stove was damn impressive.....

Friday, June 05, 2009

Crouching Tiger, Peking Duck?

'Feast' your eyes on the trailer for Kung Fu Chefs. The name pretty much explains it all. Complete with kung fu action, Iron Chef references (not sure about the bid cage though), some insane pig butchery skills & atrocious music, this looks pretty awesome! Hungry anyone?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Man Camp 2009!

This is probably one of my favorite times of the year. Having just returned from a gluttonous camping trip, I get to recount all of the food I ate & fun I had. Despite the rain, hail & general bad weather, this year didn't disappoint.

Day 1; Thursday.

2 cars with 6 eager campers arrived at the grounds in the early afternoon rain & proceeded to get our tents & sleeping quarters set up. Having been drinking for pretty much the entire day & soaking in the rain by nightfall, we realized how much we missed our resident cook, John (he was arriving on Friday).

We had managed to make a fire & were listening to the Lakers/Nuggets game on a car stereo as we cooked up some bratwursts on a small Weber grill. No condiments, just a brat & a bun. I'm pretty sure we looked like Neanderthals!

Day 2; Friday.

Our misery was compounded as we waited for John to show up, no breakfast for us! More people did arrive though & in time Scott had the jockey box set up & cold Coors Light was flowing.

There were other luxury items in the camp that I had missed from my absence the year before. There were now 2 large tents, one for the kitchen & another for the house band; The Texas Creek Massacre. In the band tent was booze on a rope (see the 1st picture), which did well to keep us warm as night.

The kitchen tent had several massive coolers, a serving/buffet table, a fully stocked pantry & a new 3 ring gas cooker with griddle that John had picked up, along with a very ingenious folding bench system that provided all of the room needed for him to prepare the meals that I'll be talking about soon enough. Outside of the tent was a large deep fryer & a coal BBQ for grilling.

Before we knew what hit us, John & crew were fast at work with an early dinner. Chicken Fried Steak, Gravy, Tater Tots & Jalapeno Poppers w/BBQ Sauce (both deep fried). Delicious! Finally, a proper meal!

John had some TCM Blueberry Cobbler baking in a iron pot, so we were treated to a dessert as well. Full, we retired to the band tent to hear some music & do more boozing.

Day 3; Saturday.

Finally, we were treated to our first breakfast. John didn't spare the horses. I think that every year our new 14" TCM burritos are getting more & more insane...

Meats (chorizo & bacon), vegetables (onions & peppers) & eggs were sizzling on the griddle, green chili on the hob while tater tots & spam got a dip in 350 degree oil. Josh had also made some cornmeal mush.

This is basically cornmeal that is boiled till cooked, packed into a convenient shape to firm, then fried. In this case in a skillet. Topped with cheese, hot sauce & other additions, it made one hell of a start to the day!

George was nice enough to hook up some Bloody Mary's as well. I'm not normally a fan, but these were great. Really strong, with pickles & pickle juice added & beef jerky stirrers!

Josh began to prepare his signature pulled pork shoulder. 1 was done with a rub, the other simply with salt & pepper. 7lbs of pork when it was all said & done!

It was getting around to dinner time, so 24 8oz Sirloin Steaks were seasoned & sizzling away on the charcoal grill.

Tater tots (yes again, we had loads of them!) & beer battered Vidalia onion rings were dunked into the deep fryer. The tots were topped with a little cheese for added flavor.

As you can see, dinner could have fed a ravenous animal! Not pictured, was a peach cobbler that John made much in the same way as the previous nights blueberry dessert. As usual, the night ended with most of us in the band tent. By this time, we had graduated onto our second handle of Jack Daniel's whiskey (3rd & final handle consumed).

Day 4; Sunday.

The previous night was a bit heavy & most of us woke up with raging hangovers. Breakfast was insane again, just way over the top! Corned beef hash, bacon, breakfast sausages, eggs, melted cheese, peppers, Josh's green chili & more.

Some rolled their breakfast up. Others (myself included) opted for the 'plate-method'!

Around lunch time, 2 batches of wings were put into the deep fryer; 1 hot & the other with a whiskey BBQ sauce. The band played their hit single; 'The Wings Are Ready' while people piled into the kitchen tent.

Ted began to work on his monstrous bacon roll and soon that was in the smoker & the pulled pork, was well, being 'pulled'. No use of utensils here, Josh & Lem went caveman & did it all by hand.

Served on a bun, with BBQ sauce, smoky baked beans & coleslaw, I really enjoyed the final dinner of the trip.

Day 5; Monday.

The last day was pretty simple. Hangover recovery. A breakfast of Pancakes, leftover Pulled Pork, Breakfast Sausages & generous helpings of maple syrup. After that we cleaned up the camp, took the tents down & anything that didn't go 'BOOM!' went into the fire for destruction.

We skipped our usual stop at The Coyote Cantina in Buena Vista, so our trip ended there. A great time was had by all, so rest assured that I'll be going to Man Camp again next year.
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