Wednesday, November 12, 2008

We'll Start With Lunch

Jeff, who had just finished his very first shopping session as a new member at the Park Slope Food Co-op (congratulations, Jeff!), walked into my smoky kitchen, lifted the top off my resting sauté pan, and asked "What are you doing with these little cabbages?"

"You mean my Brussels sprouts?" I shouted from the other room.

When I came back into the kitchen, Jeff was staring at his shoes. "Connie?" His head was still down. "Can I tell you something?" He stared at my shoes. "I always thought Brussels sprouts were those little clearish white things in Pad Thai". His voice was smaller than it had ever been.

But this is not his fault! Brussels sprouts, like anchovies and prunes and countless other misunderstood foodstuffs, have fallen tragically victim to an unshakable bad reputation started by the unknowing and whining children of helpless 50's housewives who didn't know any better than to boil the sprouts in water until they were limp and brown and mushy and stinky and then drench them with salt, put them on a plate with ground beef and ketchup and call it dinner.

Now, the cruciferous vegetable only show up on the dinner table when the whole extended family gets together for Thanksgiving and your middle-aged, polyester-wearing uncle Stan throws a tizzy-fit if the Brussels sprout casserole baked with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, like Momma used to make, is no where to be found. Yuck.

It's true that when cooked too long, the sulfur compounds in the Brussels sprouts are released and leave your kitchen smelling quite unpleasant.

What a shame. When cooked correctly, Brussels sprouts have an incredible nutty flavor and a satisfying initial crunch that makes way for an almost creamy, tender inside that make them one of my absolute favorite winter vegetables.

I enjoyed them so much for dinner last night that I made them exactly the same way for lunch today!

Here's how to make Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Shallots and Apple

Ingredients (2 servings):

2 double handfuls of fresh and local Brussels sprouts, stems removed, cut in half
1 Shallot
1/2 Apple, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsp Pork Lard*
1 Tbsp Butter


1. Prepare an ice bath for your Brussels sprouts and set aside. Bring a heavy stock pot of water to a rolling boil. Once boiling, blanch the Brussels sprouts for 1-2 minutes, or until very bright green. Transfer to ice bath and strain.

2. In a large saute pan, melt the lard and butter on medium heat. Add the shallot and apple & sautee until both are soft and caramel colored (about 10 minutes). Turn heat up to high for about 45 seconds to allow shallots to get a little crispy and the apples to get brown on the edges.

3. Turn heat off and transfer apples and shallots from the pan to a plate or bowl. Leave the lard and butter in the pan. Return pan the high heat and place the Brussels sprouts flat side down in the pan. Using tongs to check, sear until they are caramel colored and even a little charred. Flip them over and do the same for the rounded side.

4. Turn off heat and return apples & shallots to the pan. Toss together. Salt & pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Allow all blindly accepted preconceptions to melt away.

*A note about Pork Lard: It's really a shame that the health food industry and agro-moguls like Monstanto and ConAngra did such a stellar job of scaring Americans into thinking that cancer and diabetes causing partially hydrogenated oils, like soy bean oil and margarine, were "better for you" than real, non-factory made foods (Plenty more on this later).

Pork Lard only sounds scary. In real life, Prometheus lost his freaking LIVER so that humans could begin cooking with pork lard. It's terrific! Its high burning point (about 390 degrees) and sweet, meaty flavor make it ideal for sauteeing. And for those of you counting about calories, 1 tbsp has 120 calories, exactly the same amount as Olive Oil.

I buy my lard already rendered from Flying Pigs Farm at the Prospect Park Farmer's Market on Saturdays.

Back At The (American) Table

I left the country for a long time. At last I have returned, and in full force. In the upcoming weeks I intend to recount some of the more noteworthy meals I've eaten lately and make linear sense of the conclusions I've come to and the new questions I've asked about America's very fatal and multifaceted eating disorder. One step at a time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Back - For (a few) seconds?

All I do is eat. And think about eating and think about buying groceries and think about trying harder to not eat so much and not to spend so much money on groceries. Sometimes my obsession with eating is healthy and interesting and other times it's the same-old, hum-drum, lifted straight from an Oprah magazine sob-story piece about fat women who spoon White Chocolate Macademia Nut Raspberry Haagen-Dazs straight from the tub when they're feeling sad.

My biggest trouble with food these days seems to be my simultaneous obsession with claiming that I want to be a food writer and my extreme refusal to sit down, focus, and write any coherent thoughts on the matter. Now that I'm down to my very last day of unemployment and am feeling tremendously guilty for not having spent my free-time winning a James Beard award, I figured I'd give it yet again another shot.

I have this new boyfriend who has done everything to distract me from my flimsy efforts to move food away from the center of my existence. The first night we spent together, I, half blurred by booze and half in post-coital disarray, told him about the time I slaughtered a goat. He was impressed, we talked about steaks, we made out a little more, and we went to sleep, unaware of the high-calorie meals that awaited us in the future. Since then, we've been ransacking the folks at Elk Trails at the Union Square Greenmarket for grass-fed bison steaks and marrow bones, getting Niman Ranch pork cheek and belly delivered by the box-full, talking about, dreaming about, planning, cooking, and spending money on meat.

I've had some pretty impressive meals lately and it'd be a shame to go on without sharing them. This week, then, I'll make hard efforts to recount my favorites.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Peter Luger's

Being a studious and thorough diner, I made sure I did my share of research before showing up to my 10:45 pm Saturday reservation at Peter Luger's. I knew before, of course, that it was established in 1887, had been voted New York's best steak house for 24 years running, and took only Peter Luger's Official Credit Cards, cash, and gift certificate. I knew also not to ask for a menu, to order the porterhouse with the potato and spinach sides, and that brining in your own wine was strictly prohibited. I also knew that thousands of past diners consider the Peter Luger porterhouse to be one of the best steaks in the entire world.

What I didn't know was:


I'm going to make this short and sweet, since I've been prolonging posting this for decades now. It's a real good thing that my company was so good because the steak just wasn't. Porterhouse is pretty tough to begin with because it has so many different density/textures of meat on the same cut. Unless someone is being very careful to hold the tenderloin off the grill while the strip keeps cooking, I find the tenderloin gets the hell cooked out of it before the strip loin gets cooked enough for the fat to render. Our steak was all sorts of chewy, well-done in some places and too bloody in others, and kinda bland. That's that.

Moving on, people fucking rave about these side dishes. Here's what they taste like:

Hospital food.

The spinach was overcooked, mushy and tasted acidic, which in spinach world means rotten. The potatoes were underseasoned, diner home fries at best. And their famous sauce brought high-fructose corn syrup and ketchup to mind.

I was happy to hear that my date and I were on the same page re: tastiness. We agreed that a good ol' fashion ice cream sundae would at least leave a good taste in our mouths before we took off. Alas, our waiter was pretty angry we were keeping him at work, and his tossing our sundae onto our table with a snarl and growl (what Peter Luger's calls "character) made the ice cream less sweet and more tummy-ache inducing.

Oh well.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cooking with Vermin

Hi Friends,

Being a good, progressive and earth-minded eater (and being stuck in this hell-hole on a sunny morning) requires actively questioning the categorization of the animal kingdom into animals to be eaten (chickens, cows, pigs etc), animals to put rhinestone collars on (dogs, cats, ferrets), and animals to reference when making crude and insensitive jokes about the diets of Appalachian Mountain People (woodchucks, beavers, kangaroo rats, squirrels) etc, etc.

This week, the folks at Gourmet gave a nod to Americana and embraced, kitsch-ily, the small game-o-centric recipes that they once loved:

But, what's with this? They admit to not re-testing the recipes before presenting them in this article? I know what a beaver looks like, dudes...But what does "Roast Beaver Michigan" looks like! Shame on them.

My favorite is the creamed woodchuck. This time of year, I like to substitute the roasted yams for parsnips- to add an unexpected layer of bite that contrasts the sweetness of the cream and the stank of the 'chuck.
Gourmet reminds us: be careful to remove the kernels under the forelegs and in the small of the back. What Gourmet doesn't tell you is that those kernels under the forelegs are scent glands that if cooked with the rest of the animal will leave the whole thing tasting like mayo, egg-yolk, and lobster-gut soup leftover from a hot Phoenix picnic.

But if you're really wondering what to do with the raccoon carcasses falling from your trees into your kiddie pool (Kyra- this might only apply to you) then Ruth Reichel and her staff of tongue-in-cheek phonies can't help you much. Go to the professionals:

The woodchuck patties in tomato sauce is a year-round favorite. Can't find decent tomatoes in March? You don't need to! The "tomato" flavor of the recipe comes from catsup and Worcestershire, American kitchen staples that transcend seasons.

Really, my Trio of Rabbit (Loin, Rack and Braised Leg) with Baby Vegetables,
Roasted Garlic, Natural Jus at La Folie (dry and bland, last time I had it) makes it onto a $90 Passot tasting menu but men won't make-out with me at bars when I admit to having once eaten squirrel that I killed and roasted myself! Come on Keller, Boulud! If ya'll are gonna buy into this whole seasonal and local thing: we're in America- where's the woodchuck?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Oh, and FYI re: SnAKS

The restaurant at Saks Fifth Ave. is the like a new, 20th century version of HELL!

Alright, Alright

So I get that I'm not very good at doing this whole blog thing cuz I start telling stories and then get really distracted and end up not really finishing them at all and instead just kinda trailing off...but right now my excuse is totally legit as there is a thunderstorm outside that just BLEW MY SCREEN WINDOW OUT OF THE FRAME AND INTO MY ROOM! So I had to avert a crisis and once it was averted didn't really feel like crafting a pretty conclusion about my stomach full of sea scallops and yada yada yada. And it's 2:47 am! How do people do this? I hope no one reads this. Are you reading this? If you're my mom or Kyra I think it's okay...

Monday, April 7, 2008

Los Angeles, I'm Yours: The Little Door

On the way to Burbank last Thursday I was sick and tired and achey in a dirty, white, long-sleeved gym shirt and dirty underwear. On the plane I had drooled on the older woman next to me but when I finally woke up, after almost 4 1/2 hours of uninterrupted mile high slumber, she hardly seemed to mind. Not at all. Instead she thought it was just the cutest thing how I managed to sleep so soundly and made sure to recreate the honkish noise I had apparently given the stewardess when she wouldn't stop shoving the snack tray into my shoulder. She didn't even care that during my snooze I had flailed my arm and knocked her Diet Coke onto both of our laps. I could have been embarrassed when I woke up but when I looked out the window and down onto the backside of a smoggy, electric skyline, I turned to my fly partner and instead of sorries, smiled sleepily and said "We've made it".

Taking my grandma to the grocery store and getting bean dip at Los Toros with Bridget would have been plenty to erase the memory of my Thursday morning appointment at the oral surgeon's, but apparently I lead a blessed life. Soaking the backs of my milky white calves in sand and sun after a bike ride on the beach with Mom I got a text message from a far away friend who had been jonesing so seriously for some top-notch Los Angeles glitz, glam, and fine dining that he bought a ticket on a whim and would touch down by 6pm.

10 minutes later I was high-tailing my cut-off and bikini top clad self South on the Venice Boardwalk. By 5:30 I had scored a sexy, steel grey number at TJ Maxx for $15 bucks (!!). By 6:15 I was gliding Grandma's Buick Le Sabre into Terminal 1's passenger loading zone.

By 9pm we were standing in front of the castle style entrance of The Little Door, busy 3rd St making beautiful machine noises behind us. Seconds later we were taking small steps into an atrium dripping with pink roses, ivy, thousands of sulky candles, and a sea of tan, happy, and attractive LA diners.

Our hostess was very sloshed and not so much paying attention to her job, but because she was also very French and had a cute little gap between her two front top teeth, and because having a glass of Champagne at the bar didn't sound all that miserable we didn't complain much. Instead we toasted with Louis de Sacy Grand Cru Brut and eyed the room flirtatiously, knowing that we looked at least 12x more attractive than usual with the aide of pale candlelight and a marine layer of angel's portion painting the air.

The table we were lead to by our beaming, balding (prematurely), and bow-tied waiter was cramped but cozy in the corner of the "Winter Garden" room. We started the meal with a goat cheese tart which was tasty but quickly forgotten when my seared foie gras in a maple demi-glaze served with a thick cut brioche French toast was served. The foie was seared perfectly- the edges crispy and still very hot, salted with quality sea salt. The intense maple flavor of the sauce sunk into the liver just softly enough that the first sweet taste of syrup slowly gave way to the subtler, gamey sweetness of the duck. Even my vegetarian dining partner couldn't help himself.

I didn't try the vegetarian's massive pile of four cheese, homemade pasta (which seemed painfully uninspired and collegiate, though undoubtedly delicious...) but my seared day boat scallops with saffron sauce were good enough. I don't remember seeing or eating the braised leeks the menu told me about but the little, pastry-bag squeezed dollops of beet puree were a surprising compliment to the scallop, both rendered unexpected creaminess with distinct, pleasant tastes of earth and ocean.

We drank our very soft, very round, very enjoyable 2004 Trefethen Merlot (Napa) too quickly and by the time we left the restaurant we were happily buzzed, in love with Los Angeles, and ready for the perfect margarita and El Carmen, next-door.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Tight Skinned, Well-Oiled Insides

My mom has a bad habit of repeating stories she’s told a hundred times before. She retells them with excitement, as if her tongue were making each word, "and"s and "the"s included, for the first time. If the story is short and I let her get through the whole thing, she awaits my response with a toothy, open mouth. After June 1999, eating hot dogs with my mom ensured a well-practiced diatribe. The first bite barely hits the back of her throat before she opens her chilli-filled mouth to sputter “Nothing will ever come close to those hot dogs in Vail”.

Vail, Colorado- June, 1999:

I was thirteen on a family road trip to South Dakota, between and back again, packed tightly in a white '96 Suburban (my parents feel guilty enough about owning it and I would prefer if you withheld your judgments of them as heart-less Mother Earth haters). Re-crafting this memory, I toyed with different descriptions of the store-front, of the man or woman who sold it to us, of what I was wearing when it happened, but aside from my outfit (Levi’s, button up shirt, turquoise horse-head lariat) I don’t really remember any of that. I vaguely remember what we did before. I know because I’ve seen pictures that we road on a Gondola to the top of a mountain and I’ve pieced together that we hiked our way down. I don’t remember much of anything else between the last bit of the best hot dog of my life and the next three weeks of American adventure. But I remember every inch of the meal in my hand.

The bun was warm through the wax paper that held it and I felt the stubble of semolina flour against my palm. The girth of the hot dog said it meant business. The skin was tight and hard to bite through. It broke almost with a crunch but the filling was soft and full and the oils were still hot. The 100% veal dog was seasoned with caraway, sage, and white pepper and topped with spicy, grainy brown mustard and alfalfa sprouts that had been gently tossed in olive oil and salt. We went back the next day for dinner, only to turn our messy heads ground-ward on seeing the "Closed on Sundays" sign.

If I were to write a semi-autobiographic bildungsroman about a troubled 16 year old Valley girl, the Cupids Hot Dogs on Lindley and Nordhoff would be its major meta-fictive symbol. The original on Lankershim has been serving these gems for 63 years; if only I'm lucky enough to be eating them in 2071. I grew up eating Cupid's with the whole family on summer nights after long surf days, but the hot dog took on a new level of importance senior year of high school, eating two or three at a time in my boyfriend's mother's Astrovan stopping only for Dr. Pepper or a chili-filled French kiss. Some nights we'd eat hot dogs cruising in the Astrovan, eyes peeled for a dark street to park the car and make-out. When we had worked up an appetite again we would return for seconds. We ate Cupid's hot dogs and made out like it was all we could do. Once when I was 17 he told me that he would take hundreds of Cupid's hot dogs into a field and with them spell out the words "Will you marry me". I fell even more deeply in love. At 17 I was real easy to please.

The dog: the softest bun around, slightly sweet, extra tight skin, all beef, a little salty. "Everything" means chopped white onions, tangy yellow mustard, and perfect bean-less chili. The white paper wrapped around them did little to keep your hands from oil.

In descending order, we also have: Mexican Bacon Dogs for $1.50 in Downtown Los Angeles' textile/fashion district. The fat dog is wrapped in bacon, pressed onto the grill and topped grilled onions and red peppers. I like these with mayonaise and a bottle of Mexican Coca Cola (real sugar).

Nathan's at the Original Nathan's in Coney Island. I've lived in New York for not even a year and I've had about eleven hot dogs at the Original Nathan's. I like it with grilled onions and lots of ketchup with an extra-extra large $4 Killian's Red. The win over Papaya Dog only because of its proximity to soft-serve pistachio ice cream from Denny's Ice Cream Stand and the Wonder Wheel...the happiest place on earth. Also, if you really want to, you can buy an order of 2 dozen frog legs for like $13.50.

Grey's Papaya/Papaya King/Papaya Dog: Maybe I haven't had enough of these sober to be able to tell the difference but holy HELL that's a good hot dog for a damn good price. Their corn dogs are sweet with honey and never soggy. The last I had was in December on a Tuesday night at 3:30 am with a good friend. Walking steps behind him on the stairs down to the F train I tried to hold my hot dog in one hand and my fries in the other instead of the railing. He didn't notice me having trouble in my high heels until I slipped on black ice, skidded down the concrete, contorting my body mid-fall to save my hot dog. I did, but only at the cost of a large and bloody bump at the back of my head.

It's getting late and this is getting long. Speaking of long, tied for 4th are Dodger Dogs and free, bar hot dogs kept on those concession rotisseries and served on Wonder Buns. I'd take either or both right now.

A conclusion to come, but I think it can wait.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cyclones, Comedy, Cocktails and Carbombs

Some mornings you don't notice yourself fall asleep at 7:45. Before you know it it's 8:37 and you're awake already and the sunlight has moved only inches up your shoulders. Your head hurts and your eyes are crusted together and every inch of your skin, the parts between your toes and behind your ears and your knee caps aches and burns and itches and smells.

By 8:42 this morning I was walking toward Greenwood Cemetery, coffee in hand, with unlikely company deep in sleepy, wordless conversation . The past seven days have been a dizzying cloud way too much booze, too many hot dogs, and not enough sleep. I'm exhausted and satiated, my eyes are glassy, my head hurts.

Sunday: We celebrated Easter a week early because my parents were worried about me being lonely on such an important holiday. Easter brunch at Tasting Room in SOHO with Dad. French-pressed coffee and French Toast filled with homemade ricotta. Dad tried hard to order vegan but they brought him a big bowl of yogurt instead of oatmeal. They brought him the right order eventually but the oatmeal turned out to be a big bowl of butter. Mass at Old St. Patrick's. There was more congregation than there were Bodies of Christ so I only got a nibble of Jesus. Maybe a full serving would have prevented the debauchery that was to follow my first mass since Pope Benedict.

That night I drank with my dad and Jack Morgan at Milk & Honey. Lavender Fizzes, Rosewater Gimlets, Fernet, Fernet, Fernet.

Come Wednesday I was pouty and sleepy as I pulled my warms sweats down and my cold jeans up at 11pm to meet with Veronica and her friends R and R at Le Souk, a Marrakeshi hookah lounge, bar, dance club, restaurant with belly dancers and cheap pitcher drinks galore. R managed to fill my glass with fruity sangria despite my fervent protest. It went from there.

The next four days straight brought mimosas at 10 am, Coronas at 11 am, Bordeaux at 3, 4, 5, 6, on and on and on til falafel and shwarma at 6:45 am.
Thursday we got lost in Central Park, walking with mouths open and eyes wide through signs of a new season. Grass is on the hills. Daffodils, cherry blossoms, sunshine. After dinner with an old friend I met Veronica and clanat the Comedy Cellar where cocktails and racial humor were followed up with 4.5 more hours of consumption on the LES.

Friday was for dresses and high heels. Lychee martinis, Jumbo lump crab cakes, Blue Point oysters and icy cold cava at Park in the meat packing were the perfect amuse buche to vodka and Red Bulls and salsa dancing at Son Cubano.

My very best friend Bridge, in town for just two days, kept me from nap-taking. Two minutes after she stepped out of the cab we were Coney Island bound. I combated the hangover I could feel approaching quickly with a preemptive strike of corn dogs and chili cheese fries from Nathan's. We met R and Veronica on the street corner, guzzled some $2.00 Coors before screaming our faces off on the Wonder Wheel, Cyclone, and Spook-o-Rama (aka Hell on Earth). The sun was only starting to set, the sky blushing, the sun cast halos on our faces. We walked bare foot on the cold, glass and covered sand, packed tight and damp, holding hands with our toes in the Atlantic. Our hands were cold holding cups of Bud Lite.

Dinner with Nick, Jackson, Jackson's date, Bridget, and J-Dubs at Belcourt was cucumber cocktails, Kumamatos and Wellfleets, sweetbreads with poached pear compote and marjoram aioli, and very rare, plummy purple, hangar steak topped with bone marrow. Dancing. Tempers. Exhaustion. Tears. Complete satisfaction.

The harder the drug, the harder the come down. Now, pass me the aspirin.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hibernation is almost as hard to believe in as Catholicism, but maybe they both really happen?

My skin looks like a lizard's. My hair is dry and dead and frizzy and dull. I've developed spotty red rashes up and down my wrists and arms and my skin is translucent and bluish like an old, veiny man. I likely am deficient in vitamins C & D and am developing a pot belly and flabby back fat from day long sessions of inactivity and my nostrils are caked in wind blisters. I am much nicer to look at in California.

The television in the elevator says New York City will have a high today of 60 degrees. It doesn't feel like 60 degrees yet but when it does I think maybe I'll be able to write more, too. I think the thing is, since the environment (and my job) is causing so much wear and tear on my body, and because I've been feeling pretty negative for a good run, writing this all down just isn't rewarding. It's punishing.

I'm going to California next Wednesday. I wish it were Wednesday right now. I've played host to guest after guest after guest, and as much as I love them all, a girl needs a second to sleep in her own bed and listen to her own music and follow her own schedule.

Sad things happened this week. But good things happened too:

I went to Kitchen Bar with my incredible roommates for Polly's birthday. We feasted on spare ribs and grilled figs and mango margaritas. We watched American Idol on our big blue couch and our big wide-screen television, I got a taste of what "relaxing" means.

My mom came to visit at the beginning of the month. At the Bar Room at MOMA's restaurant, we met a wonderful man who used to be in the Metropolitan Opera whose mother was a communist and whose chess partner was Pavorati. Eating oysters in Grand Central we talked for hours with a woman named Karen who shared stories of her jet pilot grandfather and her quarter-back brother's recent engagement. We saw plays and drank cocktails and ate too much.

My dad came, too. We rode bikes to Red Hook, listened to enough live music to blow our faces off, chowed down on late-night, post-boozing falafel, had Turkish/Armenian (take your pick) coffee with the Russians at Brighton Beach, rode the Wonder Wheel on the opening weekend, and shared our share of secrets.

In between, though, I've drank too much, been too cold, felt too lonely, thought about home, neglected to pay any of my outstanding medical bills, eaten horribly, missed my parents, not cooked a damn thing, felt anxious and guilty and tired of this city and it's weather and it's dirt and it's crowds and waiting 20 minutes to get onto the escalator to go to my horrible office.

I could end this with some trope about New York and it's magic, but I won't.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Getting Back At It

I've been made to feel guilty by one too many people. Also, I'm starting to feel a little all talk and no walk...or all bark and no bite...or all bang and no buck. So I'm going to start writing on this thing, even if I'm ashamed and even if I get bored before I even start typing and even if I talk a lot of bullshit about blogs and the people who write them. But really, the things I do instead of blogging aren't really much cooler or more legitimate or more worth my time. But right now I'm going to watch some Goddard and eat more frozen yogurt with Jack Morgan.