Thursday, May 29, 2008

Support those who hustle for food!

If you think Farmer’s Markets are for the privileged, out of the way or don’t want to incorporate Fiddlehead Ferns into your salads, help sustain the local food economy in other ways. The above pics were taken on the 4th ave industrial stretch of Park Slope. Although I don’t know where these Mangos and Pineapples were sourced, they were ripening in the blazing Brooklyn sun and smelled sweetly pungent. Good enough for me…

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Grocery

It has been over 6 years since I first went to The Grocery, a restaurant many claim to be the best in Brooklyn and which has taken top rankings over other Market Specific / New American staples such as Rose Water, Applewood, Saul and The Garden Café. I rarely hear it mentioned in my inner circle and wonder if that is ’s because of its own confidence ($) or just because us Park Slopers have our hands full in this culinary category. It has an air acutely associated with fine dining establishments which typify Manhattan. Indeed this was the first thing I noticed upon entering. A simple 30 seats occupy a boxy room with no art or aesthetic distractions while quite murmurs replace the usual palatable playlist. And although the six servers were seemingly trained to be attentive and to anticipate the evenings flow, I found their eagerness intimidating for the restaurants size. Basically, it didn't feel like Brooklyn.

I was relieved when head chef / owner Sharon Pachter consulted our wine choices. She was relaxed yet proud and I sensed she could feel my passion for food. She recommended a 2005 Italian Nabbiola which gave the meal flight and depth. I was amazed by how she was calmly attentive to the room and even answered the phone in her comfy sweats; the pretension I first encountered was swallowed with my first sip of wine.

The menu is sincere if not redundant in its offerings. I could have guessed the selection of entrees (Pork Loin, Lamb, Duck Breast, a whole Fish and Seared Scallops) accompanied by atypical grains (Kasha, Farro) and rested atop seasonal purees or accented with the fruits of spring. A whole stuffed Trout, although perfectly cooked, was weighed down by its Cornbread and Ramp stuffing and lacked citrus. The highlights included a Duck Breast perfectly sweetened by accompanying braised red cabbage and dried apricots which fanned stunningly on the plate, while the Lamb chops were cleverly lightened by a gently executed cucumber yoghurt sauce.

The appetizers were bolder in concept, some of which worked beautifully such as a perfectly grilled Calamari salad with bright sliced long peppers, roasted and pickled Cauliflower and Cannelli beans. Others, such as the yam-like roasted Carrot blintz lost its individuality when paired with Dates, Orange and Walnuts. The Fried Artichoke salad was lightly battered, but confused by too many overpowering flavors (Lemon Aioli, Parmesan) and cluttered plating.

As a young foodie, I feel obligated to support and like “Market Specific” food and realize its reason d’etre. However, as a Park Slope Food Coop member and someone who carefully sources ingredients in my own kitchen, is it wrong to expect more at this price point? The emphasis on local ingredients shouldn’t replace the wonderment one can have by choosing to dine out.

The Forrest City

Memorial Day brought me back to Cleveland Ohio, my mother’s hometown and a place I have visited annually throughout my life. I returned with new eyes, anxious to taste and admire the City in a way I had not before. In order to best understand the local agriculture, my uncle and I headed out early to the North Union Farmer’s market; a destination that would both inform our family BBQ and connect me to likeminded folks. The friendly farmers were proud of their crops and thankful for my passionate inquisition. Get acquainted!

After the Farmer's market we headed to The West Side Market to indulge in local favorites and the many ethnic cuisines which call Cleveland home. Here are the highlights...

Vanilla Bean Lemonade

Pizza Bagels

Hungarian Bratwurst Sausage

The family BBQ consisted of a salad of Black Walnuts, local Blue Cheese and Greens from the market, grilled Chicken, a controversially large Burger stacked high with Smoked Bacon and sautéed Lion's Mane Mushrooms, grilled Zucchini and roasted Red Peppers.

The mushrooms were pillowy and soft and lacked any noticeable stem. Once sautéed they took on an almost seafood like consistency similar to a scallop. When in doubt, go glimmering golden brown!

A trip to Cleveland isn’t complete without a proper diner experience. Enter Corky & Lenny’s, a bustling haven for Jewish comfort food. Although a breakfast occasion, I couldn’t resist a cup of Matzo Ball Soup and a Corned Beef Sandwich on rye.

Thanks to my beautiful extended family for the hospitality, advice and good eats!

Food Magnets

I recently stumbled on a stand selling these food magnets and was surprised by the variety of choice. Mango's, Eggplant, multiple Grapes, Lettuce, Avocado, Watermelon, Turnips, Shrimp, Snow Peas...the list goes on!

I loved how bright and bold they were and immediately began scrambling for my favorites.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Herb Bouquet

I have never been great at giving gifts. The tangible too often falls short in translation. I often wish I could hand someone a sunset I once viewed so that the memory could encompass the gradients of their life. I can rarely afford Cashmere or Apple products nor do I really know jewelry. Giving CD’s always felt like work and I have yet to become the crafty man I imagine I will soon be from all the Homes & Gardens and Wallpaper’s which have indulged my spare time. My default is usually food; a home cooked meal or a dinner out that doesn’t make others in attendance wince too hard at the always too expensive collective bill.

A few months back I began a strange ritual of bagging sliced fruit and herbs to go to dinner parties and events. The idea was simple, play bartender from the sidelines. For no additional cost I can prance around the room and perfume everyone’s cocktail. A sprig of Rosemary, Grapefruit segments, torn Basil leaves etc. With such little effort Life is sweet and fragrant!

So here I was, yet again with no gift, nor a clue as I inched towards my friends Birthday. I had recalled giving her a simple bouquet of flowers a few years back that she claimed lasted a whole month. I didn’t want to repeat that gift; I wanted to transcend it. The herb bouquet was born. More perishable yes, but with equal love!

I gathered Mint, Basil, Rosemary, Thyme, Dill, multicolored Swish Chard, Rhubarb and a vibrant Rose for good measure and set off to the Park Florist, my trusted flower haven. The result was the edible house party center piece you see above.

…and in the morning, it was back to nature! Best not to ask...

We feast!

Every time I turn around another holiday always seems to creep up on me leading to endless emails making arrangements, menu planning, presents and cheeriness despite the mood or the weather. The good news is my family is remarkably relaxed, good natured and to my liking (ok, loving), love to eat!

For Mother’s Day we did just that. The above spread is collaboration between myself, my radiant sister and bro n’ law and consisted of the following…

Pork Ribs: Cooked slowly in the oven for 10+hrs; first in a dry rub, then slathered in my homemade BBQ Sauce.

Market salad: Asparagus, Fava Beans, String Beans and Sugar Snap Peas with a lemon and mint dressing, finished with Parmesan shavings.

Tarragon Chicken grilled “under a brick” dusted with Paprika for color

Grilled Shrimp Skewers with lime wedges, because Shrimp is a fixture of every family meal (thanks for de-veining Dad!).

Mashed Purple Potato salad with Red Peppers and Chives, tossed in a light Mustard vinaigrette.

Knock Off's

Here is a comparative snapshot of 5 of my favorite Italian recipes and the knock off's I have made since returning. Try to guess which is which...

Ribollita: A peasant stew from Tuscany

Day old minestrone brought back to life with hardened bread in a Vegetable broth. At the Restaurant I worked in Tuscany it was made two ways; baked with layers of Pecorino and Bread till golden and bubbly or blended into the consistency of the perfect Risotto. This is a great alternative to Polenta or Pasta!

Spaghetti Bolognese from Bologna

This traditional Bolognese is defined by its density and acidity. It is made with considerably more Tomato Paste than one would expect and simmers for a full afternoon. A single Bay Leaf perfumes the dish and its oil is the sauce.
Eggplant Parmesan: Rosa’s Recipe from Roma

Of all the Parmesan’s I ate throughout Italy (there were many!), none were as delectable as Rosa’s. These individual portioned treats are as soft as a pillow; bursting with fresh Mozzarella. The trick is to deep fry the eggplant and to use a thick tomato sauce to bind the layers.

Chicken and Butter: A Florentine favorite from Sostanza

A dish served bubbling hot and sizzling. I often veer away from Butter fearing its addition to be too omnipresent and heavy, cancelling other flavors and giving a coagulative outer layer. I prefer to use Butter as an actual ingredient. I have never tasted Chicken so juicy and tender.

Pasta Al Forno: Baked Zitti Napolitano

A scandalous assemblage of mini Meatballs, hard boiled Eggs, Sopressata, Mozzarella, Tomato Sauce & Parmesan.