Saturday, April 29, 2006

Just one more sip...

It’s been all wine tastings all the time around here – two in one week!

I know you don’t feel bad for me at all, as I'm over here sipping and slurping and nibbling on cheese and bread. One tasting at Artisanal involved ten wines and five cheeses - we learned about traditional and more innovative pairings of cheese and wine from none other than David Rosengarten, who's really quite funny and entertaining. The biggest surprise at the tasting was how much better all of the white wines tasted with cheese - the reds (other than one delicious rioja) pretty much overpowered all of them. I'm reserving my final judgment pending further study.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Ice Man

Today I met the Ice Man. Joe O’Donoghue of Ice Fantasies taught a class at my school and my head almost exploded. This man took a block of ice (divided into three pieces), a chainsaw, a drill, and chisel and created an angel fish swimming in seaweed, a martini glass and a horse head (along with many smaller serving pieces). In less that two hours.

It was absolutely amazing to watch him work. Here he is working on the first block…

He just pulled out the chainsaw, carved off chunks, drilled some bits…

And bingo – a fish…

The best part was that he was absolutely hilarious. He’s a born teacher. He talked about the relationship between peanut butter & jelly and the human psyche. He told a story about his friend who has a job drawing the eyes on mannequins. (You’d think it would be an easy job, until you see his imitation of a cockeyed mannequin admiring another mannequin’s shoes.) If you ever need an ice sculpture, call Joe – it’s worth it just to get the opportunity to meet with him in person.

Here he is again, working the chainsaw magic…

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Making your own chicken stock – is it worth it?

I’ve been roasting chickens lately because I’m testing out recipes for this semester’s final project (I’ll be putting up the recipes soon, once the testing is complete). As a result, my freezer looks like a chicken carcass burial ground – Ziploc baggies full of chicken parts and bones stuffed in every corner. The only solution - chicken stock.

One of the first things you learn in culinary school is how to make stock. Chicken and veal stock are the base of pretty much every sauce and tons of other recipes, so it’s a basic skill upon which most of our other knowledge is built. It’s easy to make stock at school – we have giant pots and huge sinks and massive strainers. But is it worth it to make chicken stock at home?

The basic recipe:

6 quarts cold water
8 lbs chicken bones and parts (take of as much skin as possible)
8 oz chopped onions
4 oz chopped carrots
4 oz chopped celery
1 sachet d’epices (tie up a bay leaf, some parsley stems, a few sprigs of thyme, some peppercorns and a garlic clove in a little piece of cheesecloth)

Cover chicken with water and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer four hours. Add mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery). Simmer another hour. Add sachet. Simmer another hour. Strain, chill and store. Throughout the simmering process, skim off any accumulated gunk that collects on the top of the stock.

My chicken stock:

I blanched the chicken first, to remove some fat and other unpleasantness. (I did this by washing the chicken, placing it in a pot with lots of cold water, bringing the water to a boil, then turning off the heat and removing and rinsing the chicken. It seems like a superfluous step, but it leads to a clearer stock and a lot less skimming.) I put the chicken in the pot and started the simmering.

After four hours, the liquid level dropped considerably.

I added way too much mirepoix, but it doesn’t really matter.

I like to tie the sachet to the side of the pot, like a little life preserver.

This is what you strain out.

It may look like edible chicken and vegetables, but all the goodness has been cooked out and now dwells in your stock. Resist the urge to nibble. It will taste like wet paper towels.

The final product should be clear(ish) and yummy smelling.

You should cool it down in an ice bath rather than just sticking it in the fridge, otherwise it will become a salmonella breeding ground overnight.

I normally buy chicken stock – it’s usually between $2.50 and $3.00 for a quart of fancy organic stock. I ended up with about 4 quarts of stock. (Actually 3.5, because I spilled about a half quart on my shoes while trying to strain and chill and whatnot. Dogs were sniffing my feet in the elevator.) Considering the cost of the chickens (minus the value obtained by eating the meat for dinner) and the mirepoix, I estimate that I spent about $5.00 on my homemade stock.

The verdict: Making your own stock isn’t a huge financial windfall, unless you own a restaurant and thus have an unlimited source of chicken carcasses and require gallons of stock every day. Then, I'm sure the $7.00 per gallon savings would add up quickly. Nevertheless, homemade stock makes your apartment smell great, takes very little effort, and is a great way to pass a rainy Saturday afternoon. There's also a strange feeling of satisfaction - like building your own shelves or something - that makes food just taste better when you use your homemade stock.

Please ignore this picture of raisins. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Hot Behind

In culinary school, “hot behind!” is short for “hey, I’m behind you with a pot of boiling water; one false move and I’ll scald your entire body.” We each probably say it 10 times a day in our school kitchen, and it’s become habit for me.

Yesterday, in Whole Foods, I discovered that it isn’t so much of a habit for everyone.

I hereby apologize to the startled woman in the fruit area who thought I was making encouraging comments about her physique – really I just had a huge handful of stuff. I didn’t know what to say, or how to explain, so I just ran away. I’m hoping she took it as a compliment.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Less Carrots in the Mongoose Mirepoix

Mirepoix: traditionally, a mixture of onions, celery and carrots (two parts onion for one part each celery and carrots) – typically used as a flavor base for stocks and soups.

Last night I dreamed that an angry little Swedish chef admonished me for putting far too many carrots in the mirepoix for our Mongoose stew. Apparently (according to the Swedish chef) you need only ½ as many carrots when you are preparing mongoose, because it is a fictional animal.

These are the kind of dreams you’ll have if you go to culinary school.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Although I had a nasty experience at the Spotted Pig, I couldn’t hold a grudge against the Batali Bastianich Empire – I had a reservation at Babbo. Getting a reservation at Babbo can be a huge pain, especially for a weekend evening at 8pm. Think back to your middle school days when you called the radio station over and over to win concert tickets. Sort of like that.

I was so excited for this meal – I knew it was my favorite food blogger’s favorite place in New York. I ate carefully throughout the day in preparation – I wanted to eat enough to ensure that my stomach didn’t shrink up, but not enough to fill me up. Lots of bulky low calorie foods like apples.

We agreed in advance to get the regular (rather than pasta) tasting menu for a relatively reasonable $70, and we couldn’t resist the wine pairing, for another $50. While I was waiting for my dining buddies, I noticed an older man at the end of the bar receiving VERY special treatment – surely someone famous but I have no idea who.

Here’s what we ate:

Sweet Pea “Sformato” with Duck Bresaola

This miniature flan tasted like sweet young peas and was served with clover sprouts. The wine, Sauvignon, Russiz Superiore 2004, was light and crisp and tasted like grapefruit.

Pappardelle with Chanterelles and Thyme

This buttery fresh pasta was served with an equally buttery Morellino di Scansano, “I Perazzi,” La Mozza 2004; the dish was huge but I couldn’t stop eating the clearly handmade pasta.

Duck Tortellini with “Sugo Finto”

The least memorable of all the main course tasting items – it was by no means bad, if I had ordered it alone I’d probably be raving, but compared to some of the other dishes it just didn’t stick in my memory as well.

Veal Loin with Peas and Prosciutto

The best dish of the night – the skin was crispy and stuffed with herbs. I can’t explain why this veal was so delicious; it was intensely flavorful. My stomach was completely full by this point, but I had to eat every morsel of this. (Wine: um, yummy. Undertones of deliciousness. More please.)

For dessert:

Coach Farm cheese (similar to Humboldt Fog with varied textures and luxurious creaminess) served with Pink Cranberry Mostarda

Meyer Lemon Semifreddo with Huckleberries (This must not have been memorable because I don’t remember it. Or maybe I was drunk.)

Bittersweet Chocolate Crema (It really was bitter, but so so smooth and delicious. My dining companion didn’t like it, so I ate his share.)

Warm Chestnut Honey Spice Cake with Chestnut Gelato – I’m not a cake eater, so I just had a nibble of gelato and went back for more of the bittersweet crema. The dining companions reported that it was scrumptious.

I didn’t take ANY photos because I was embarrassed – I know I need to get over that. I would ABSOLUTELY go back to Babbo – the price was high but not horrifying and the food was extraordinary. The service was well timed and very accommodating, although our server did seem to want for a sense of humor. The wines were perfectly chosen to match our meal, we weren’t rushed at all, and the portions were very generously sized for a tasting menu. I would prefer one less dessert and one more small savory dish, but my dessert loving dining companions were delighted. I can’t say enough good things about this meal – I will be back to Babbo as soon as possible. Next time I’ll try to get a few photos.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Urban Sun at Dinosaur BBQ

Thursday night brought the opportunity to enjoy two of my favorite things – delicious food and Urban Sun . Urban Sun features none other than R Raisinhater, my brilliantly talented brother, on the keyboard. Check out some of their songs right here, What’s Up (Coleslaw) is one of my favorites.

You may notice something missing from these tunes if you listen in. That’s my brother. He joined after they were recorded and I think he improves them one million percent. (No, I think I’m being perfectly objective. Why do you ask?) They’ll be playing this Tuesday, April 4, at the Knitting Factory at 8pm – I’ll be there dancing my fool head off.

Sadly, you all missed your chance to hear Urban Sun playing at Dinosaur BBQ on Thursday night. Ever since Mona posted about her visit I’ve been itching to go. B and I dined together, joined later by P Raisinhater, who helped us with some pitchers of their wonderful beer.

First, we had their wings (Garlic Chipotle Style, hot but not hottest). These were, no question, the best wings I’ve ever had in my life. They were huge - more like little T-Rex arms than chicken wings, and they were grilled. The sauce was thick and didn’t overpower the grilly flavor, and the dipping sauce had a little spice of its own.

For dinner, B had the Tres Hombres (brisket, ribs and pulled pork) with collard greens and fries.

I had the ribs and pulled pork platter with macaroni and cheese and an iceberg wedge. Everything was scrumptious. The ribs fell off the bone but had a crispy exterior, the pork was pulled into chunks, not little shredded bits, the sauces were fun to taste and compare, and the macaroni and cheese was divine. It managed to marry two macaroni and cheese attributes - home baked goodness and Velveeta style creaminess – that rarely come together. When they do, it is magical, and the mac ‘n cheese was a perfect combination for the spicy rich pork.

Dinosaur is definitely worth the trek uptown – it’s not hard to get there (just take the 1 train and either walk across 125th to 12th avenue and up one block to 131st (yes, one block, something funky happens with the streets) or take a cab. Beware, though, something about the location is extremely confusing for cab drivers. Tell your driver to go up to 125th, turn and head west on 125th until 12th Avenue (yes, I promise it does exist), then head north (left) ONE block.

Don’t forget Urban Sun at the Knitting Factory on Tuesday - this is your big chance to hang with the band before they become ultra superfamous and your only way to interact with them will be to fling your panties onstage at the Meadowlands.