Thursday, February 16, 2006

I Adore a Challenge

I don’t like it when food is described as “challenging.” It makes me envision burnt bread that’s incredibly difficult to swallow due to the multiple razor blades jutting out. I was a little nervous that most reviews for WD-50 mentioned that the food was “challenging.”

My valentine accompanied me to WD-50 last night, and we proceeded to have the best meal that I have had in New York. Better than Fiamma Osteria, better than Craft, even better than Esca (I really loved Esca). I realize that many of my entries have been glowing recently, but I have had unbelievable culinary good luck for the past month. I promise to make up for it, I’ll post about my recent bread-baking-failure soon.

Back to WD-50. Wylie Dufresne (my current culinary hero) put together a special Valentine’s Day tasting menu with optional wine pairing. The tasting menu was pretty darn pricey, but we figured it was a special occasion and we deserved to splurge. It was worth it.

Course 1: Salmon threads, warm cream cheese, capers, pumpernickel
This was basically a deconstructed bagel w/ lox and cream cheese. The pumpernickel was a bagel chip, sticking out of a rectangular cube of warm (perhaps seared) cream cheese. The salmon threads were indeed threads topped with a sprinkling of capers. I could stick one in a needle and do some tasty embroidery. The entire presentation presented familiar flavors using new textures, and treading on the tightrope between familiarity and the alien was a delicious exercise.

Course 2: Oyster, morcilla, green apple, kimchee
I’ve never been a huge oyster fan. I don’t enjoy the idea of slurping anything from its home. However, this oyster was pressed as thin as paper, creating a perfect square on the plate, retaining the gelatinous texture, but forcing you to eat it in a new way. The pressed oyster was topped with green apple, morcilla (blood sausage), and kimchee. The neatest thing about this course was the way the flavors developed and appeared when you ate everything together. First, you experience the tart sweetness of the apple, then the smokiness of the sausage, finished by an almost pickle-like flavor. The flavors never overlap and combine, but rather they appear in different acts, much like the dinner gum from Willy Wonka with the different courses. All through the bite, the oyster flavor acts as a backdrop, always present but never overwhelming. This dish was neat.

Course 3: Roasted foie gras, hibiscus, preserved lemon granola, mustard greens
This dish was also topped with powdered foie gras. This dish was just straight up tasty. The sweet hibiscus sauce was so good with the foie gras, and the lemon granola added the perfect tart crunch.

Course 4: Bay scallops, smoked eel, black radish, mint
Perhaps the most straightforward dish of the bunch. I don’t particularly like the texture of scallops, but these were buttery and soft. It wasn’t particularly innovative, but it was just very, very good cooking.

Course 5: Sirloin, bell pepper tart, water spinach, whipped horseradish
Okay, first off, this wasn’t whipped horseradish… it was foam! The crack chef wasn’t totally cracked out after all. While the foam was a little gimmicky, the bell pepper tart was out of this world. It was my valentine’s favorite part of the meal. The sirloin was perfectly rare and the spinach was just plain good. Very good, but filling.

At this point in the meal, I was beginning to feel quite full. The tasting portions are small, but they add up. But enough whining. On to dessert! This portion of the feast is courtesy of pastry chef Sam Mason.

Course 6: Cocoa caviar, beet, bitter orange
Once, again, foam! The beet was pureed into a foam. The cocoa caviar was just as it sounds: caviar made of chocolate. It had the same texture and satisfying pop that caviar has, but it was made of chocolate. The cocoa and orange went together swimmingly. That being said, this was my least favorite dish. My valentine loved it, but I was getting hard to impress. I guess that’s the downside to a tasting menu.

Course 7: gelled grapefruit, black sesame ice cream, tarragon meringue
The grapefruit gel was slightly warm, which was a wonderful juxtaposition to the cold, sweet ice cream. This dish had probably the most foreign flavor to me, but it was a flavor I instantly fell in love with. Delicious. Oh, and Wylie? You can call it a meringue all you want. I know foam when I see it.

Course 8: rose cotton candy
Okay, this wasn’t really a course. But it was a tasty aperitif that the waiter brought with the check. I love cotton candy. It was sweet and familiar, but with the subtle flavor of rosewater.

So, if I had to sum up my meal at WD-50 in one word, I’d probably have to say “challenging.” Challenging in the way that each bite made you reevaluate what you knew about flavors and textures. Challenging in the way that you actually thought about what was in your mouth. Challenging in the way that I couldn’t find the bathroom downstairs. However, it was the most rewarding meal that I’ve had in a long time.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Best non-Thanksgiving Meal from my Jersey Kitchen

I've recently begun a subscription to Cook's Illustrated, a magazine from the America's Test Kitchen folks on PBS. The magazine has tons of detailed explanations and each recipe is the result of many experiments. They screw things up so you don't have to. Such detail means that each magazine only has a handful of recipes, but one in particular caught my eye. Seeing as we were due for a blizzard up here in the New York area, I decided to spend a few hours in the kitchen, creating the Skillet Chicken Pot Pie from Cook's Illustrated.

Holy crap. This is the best thing to ever come out of my kitchen (not counting Thanksgiving), and I've been in this apartment for about 2 1/2 years. I ain't exaggerating here, folks. This is it. This was the best pot pie that I've ever had, including any that I've had at fancy-schmancy restaurants.

However, it is exceedingly time-intensive. First you have to pan-sear the chicken, then roast it with the vegetables, then create the sauce deglazing the pan with broth and cream, and assemble with a homemade crust. Doing all the steps using the same oven-proof skillet speeds things up a bit, but it still takes roughly 2-3 hours. But it's worth it. It's so, so worth it. I can't emphasize enough how worth it this dish is. This is the dish you bust out when you want to impress someone. In my case, the impressee was a farmboy from Iowa, so this was perfect. He was impressed. He already had leftovers for lunch, and he's petitioning for more leftovers for dinner.

The inside is the simple combination of roast chicken, carrots, celery, onions (white and pearl), with the gravy sauce (drippings, broth, and a bit of cream). The crust was unbelievably flaky, thanks to ice cold butter and my trusty cuisinart.

I can't even come up with anything witty to say. The simplicity and complexity of the taste blew me away. Yum.

Maple-Walnut Spice Cookies

C is for Cookie was my favorite song growing up. I am a massive Jim Henson fanatic, and I always related to Cookie Monster more than any other muppet. Well, besides the Swedish Chef. We have kindred souls.

I have a monstrous sweet tooth. Monstrous, I say. So, as many people know, cookies are a necessity at my apartment. I was a little chocolated out from the Steeler Black and Gold cookies, so I leafed through my December 2005 issue of Cooking Light (the holiday cookie edition), and choose the yummy looking Maple-Walnut Spice Cookies!

The cookies themselves used brown sugar and maple syrup as sweeteners, so they ended up tasting like molasses were involved. The cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves along with the insane amount of flour created a sort of cakey gingersnap. The frosting was mostly milk, powdered sugar, and maple syup, and it ended up being a runny icing rather than a frosting. It was still good, and the crushed toasted walnuts had no problem sticking to the top.

I'm not sure if I would bake these again. They certainly got good reviews from the other cookie monster in the apartment, but the crumbly dough was kind of a pain to work with. However, after the effort, they were light, not too sweet, and lovely with some spiced tea. Mmm.

Hamliton Ale House

Last Sunday was a, well, a lazy sunday (no magnolia cupcakes, unfortunately). The kind of day where you want a nice brunch, but you don't want to get on a PATH train or subway to do so. What's a Jersey City gal to do? Hamilton Ale House!

I ususally only go to the Hamilton Ale House for their food, which is surprisingly good for a pub and very reasonably priced. The neighborhoody vibe and casual atmosphere make for the perfect brunch setting. Don't get me wrong, they have a decent beer selection and a perfectly well-stocked bar, but it's just not my scene for drinking. For french toast, it is DEFINITELY my scene.

Behold, Tahitian Vanilla and Grand Marinier French Toast topped with roasted pears. The toast itself wasn't too eggy, and it retained just the right amount of liquid to give it a punch. It was juicy (but not soggy) on the outside, and soft and tender on the inside. The pears complemented the slight orange taste of the Grand Marnier. It had just the right amount of sweetness and tartness that adding syrup would be blasphemy. And the coffee wasn't too shabby.

My partner in crime, Q Anonymous, had Pumpkin Pancakes with Candied Walnuts. His lack of conversation hinted that it too was very, very good. So, if you're in the neighborhood (off the Pavonia PATH train stop), give Hamilton Ale House a try.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Mmmm...Tasty Literature...

Vosges chocolate is personally one of my favorite chocolate-mongers. They specialize in creating unusual and tasty flavor combinations, like chocolate with Indian curry, or their absinthe flavored truffle. This Valentine’s Day, they offer their Gatsby collection.

I feel like receiving these chocolates is a little like getting a box of dead roses. It's a rather cynical gesture of amorous affection. Sure, on the surface, The Great Gatsby seems to be an epic story about this great lost love, but its actual commentary on the opulence and shallowness of the upper class is rather dark. Gatsby was an idealistic moron who never truly loved Daisy. He loved what she represented, and he changed himself through crime to become worthy of this ho who ran off with another dude. Not exactly an epic romance.

However, the chocolates themselves are apt, if not a bit boring for Vosges. The Gatsby chocolates are a fusion of dark chocolate, rich and at the same time pure, with brut champagne. The Daisy truffles are a combination of white chocolate (which isn’t even technically chocolate due to its lack of chocolate liquor) and pink champagne- creating a truffle that seems extravagant, but has the connotation of being false and a bit tacky.

It seems like I’m being unnecessarily harsh on Vosges. If my experience with Vosges is any indicator, the truffles are probably incredibly tasty. If I ever happen to try them (hint, hint to all my strapping young suitors out there), I’ll slap up an update.

Available at

A Little Behind on the Times

A good friend of mine had quite a night last weekend. It basically involved him losing his keys, and going from party to party in hopes of finding food or a nice couch to crash on. One of these parties turned out to be a “crack den” as he puts it. He met one gentleman who is apparently a very good chef, and he told him that the inside scoop for 2006 is that foam is the hip new trend. You heard it hear first folks: foam.

Oh wait, that was the hip, new trend in 1999. Um. Maybe I shouldn’t get my food trend information from crack dens.

I Want Candy...

For anyone who’s still looking for a gift, nothing says I love you like a candy jock strap. Nothing.

Available at

Friday, February 03, 2006

Whip it!

Kidzbop is pretty amazing. For those of you who doubt, I challenge you to google their music video of Kelly Clarkson's
"Since U Been Gone." As much of a sucker as I am for kids badly singing contemporary hits, I'm even more of a fan of kids badly singing the hits of Devo.

So you can imagine my reaction when I found this:


Disney has read my mind once again. Hop on over to the site, click on videos, and watch their video for "Whip it." It's food-related. I promise.

Pour Some Sugar on Me!

Speaking of candy… am I the only one TOTALLY creeped out by the recent M-azing candy bar commercial? If you haven’t seen it, go to their site, and click on M-azing TV. I understand that the candy is a delicious fusion of M&Ms and a chocolate bar, but ack! I feel so dirty when I see it! I’d be much happier innocently thinking that my candy bar was brought to me by the stork.

Chocolate on Chocolate Action

At least they’re using candy-coated protection.

mmm... Cajeta...

This candy bar was introduced in 2004, but I am rather behind in my candy news. Hershey teamed up with Latin pop sensation Thalia Sodi (best known to me as the only Mrs. Tommy Mottola to have her own Kmart clothes line- take that Mariah!) to create a line of candy called “La Dulceria Thalia.” The candy bar that intrigues me so is this:

The bar is named “Cajeta Elegancia,” because in Mexico, cajeta is like nougat, a core ingredient in the bar. However, in other Spanish-speaking countries like Argentina, “cajeta” has a more nether meaning. It’s common slang for a woman’s lower anatomy. Her “box” if you will.

Look! It made Money Magazine’s top 101 list of dumbest moments in business!

dumb dumb dumb

In an attempt to elevate the discourse on this blog, I am abstaining from making a snide remark about this nomenclatorial blunder.

By the way, according to Hershey, Thalia’s “Cajeta” is kosher.

Hershey's Kosher Info

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Posthumous Ramblings (or rather Post: Humorous Ramblings!)

Okay, admittedly, this entry has nothing to do with food. There was an awful news item today. Apparently, smugglers from Columbia used puppies as drug mules, surgically implanting packets of liquid heroin inside their cute, furry little bodies. The puppies were then used to transport the drugs to New York, and, naturally, many puppies did not survive the journey. I don’t know about you, but this is the most vile, repugnant thing I’ve heard in days.

Then I saw this paper on the way to work today:

Bravo, New York Post. Your headline-crafting genius cannot be denied. I have a sincere appreciation for puns, and a greater admiration for finding humor in the direst of situations. My hat’s off to you, Post. You win this round.

My Spaghetti Western starring Mario Batali

I had a craptastic day at work yesterday. You know how sometimes you get so angry at a family member or your S.O. and you scream “I hate you,” knowing fully well that you can take it back in a few hours? You just need that cathartic release of anger. You should be able to quit your job and take it back. I wanted to quit soooooo badly yesterday, but then when I thought of the reality of cleaning out my desk, it just seemed like too much effort. So, I decided to remain at my job out of sheer desk-cleaning laziness.

A terrible day calls for serious comfort food. Comfort food is universal in its effect, yet totally individual. Everybody has their own comfort food. Some like the rib-sticking effect of fried chicken and waffles, while others like the heavy creaminess of mashed potatoes. Usually, comfort food is dense, bringing the consumer to a blissful food coma. It can be associated with a memory, or it can just be plain yummy.

My usual go-to comfort food is thai curry, but lacking coconut milk and the energy to buy some, I searched for an equally comforting food. Hmmm. I had ground turkey. I had pasta. Spaghetti and meatballs! Perfect in its familiarity and simplicity.

Reader: But surely such an average, everyday meal doesn’t deserve its own post!
Me: Say what? You best not be doubting my blogging editorial skills!
Reader: Dude, you make that meal like once a month. Bo-o-o-ring.
Me: Okay, fine. I’ll make it different. I’ll, um, I’ll make my own sauce.
Reader: But I thought you said you were feeling crappy and lazy.
Me: You’re right. Luckily, I have this sauce recipe from Mario Batali that looks stupid-easy.
Reader: Stupid-easy?
Me: Yup. That’s what I said. Um, right after I got off yo mama. Yeah.
Reader: Wow, you’re lame. And this imaginary conversation has gone on for way too long.

So, tonight’s meal: Whole wheat spaghetti with turkey meatballs in Mario Batali’s Basic Tomato Sauce

Yumminess Here
Okay, since I never follow any recipe to the letter, I changed the sauce a bit. I didn’t have any thyme, so I added a pinch of sage and some basil. I also don’t have a grater, so I chopped my carrot finely rather than shredding it. Despite these setbacks, the sauce was amazing. So simple, yet so comforting. Just like my imaginary italian grandma used to make (played by Tony Danza. Or Judi Dench). I also discovered the joy of crushing tomatoes. Screw anger management or kickboxing. Crushing tomatoes is where it’s at.

Easy comfort food. So much better than a box of instant mac and cheese.