Wednesday, December 17, 2008

so pumped...

So tonight, one of the chefs at the restaurant where I work, and I will be eating at Per Se in NYC, with money earned entirely from foraging and selling wild mushrooms all year. Its my second time there, but I feel like its the first, I'm just as giddy and nervous!

9:45 Pm seems like an eternity away.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mi cena cumple

Well, I just hit the big 22 and feel old but not yet wise, which is sort of a strange place to be. I know, I know, I'm the baby of this blog and 22 is not old but maybe you geriatrics remember what it was like to suddenly, completely realize that you were no longer a teenager and expected to act accordingly? Plus now I'm done with monumental birthdays (16, 18, 21) until I'm 30!

But enough of all that: it's food I'm here to talk about, namely my birthday dinner. Warning: copious details to follow.

On Saturday night some friends and I hit up Olsen, a very trendy, very delicious Swedish restaurant here in BA. It has become famous for introducing the concept of American brunch to the city, but dinner did not disappoint. We started with a vodka-sampler-cum-smorgasboard that came with five shots of various vodkas (they're known for their extensive vodka list) and five little sandwiches. I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't ask what the vodkas were but I am fairly certain that at least one of them was homemade, and one of them included tabasco sauce. I'm cloudy on the sandwiches as well, though I can say for certain there was definitely gravlax, and one with caviar, one with maybe steak and lingonberries, one with slices of apple and what I think was gouda, and one with cream cheese and something else? The vodka went quickly to my head, but not so fast as to drown out the memory of my main course, which was truly phenom.

It was a small plate--welcome after a long succession of enormous, steak-centered, coma-inducing traditional Argentine meals--featuring a slab of smoked pork belly perched atop a pile of warm mashed potatoes and plated with a few crumbles of blue cheese, a swipe of lingonberry puree (I think? or maybe reduction?), and a teeny tiny salad of carrots and some sort of delicate green.

The pork was crispy-fatty-crunchy-tender and absolutely delicious, complemented perfectly by the smooth texture of the potatoes, the kick of the blue cheese, and the tart sweetness of the lingonberries. We also ordered two bottles (there were five of us) of the cheapest Malbec on the menu, which turned out to be great--I won't try to describe it as I know nothing about wine aside from what tastes good to me and what doesn't.

At exactly midnight I was presented with a mini molten chocolate cake, complete with candle and a rousing rendition of "Que los cumplan feliz," followed by two more desserts: a lemon custard topped with caramelized pistachios and a vodka creme-brulee, both accompanied by small scoops of raspberry sorbet, FOLLOWED by cocktails--mine was vodka with mint and passion fruit and SO good.

The only thing missing was some pickled herring! I didn't venture there because the friends I was with are not the most culinarily adventurous (I think I ate all the gravlax by myself), but luckily I have my grandfather: I don't know where he gets it from--somewhere in Bridgeport--but he eats herring every morning for breakfast and is always happy to share.

who's the new guy?


Thanks to Nick and Brie for the invite.

I'm Matt, and I have been cooking professionally for about 5 years now. Nick and I have nerded it up with food ever since we met many years ago, he was just smart enough not to get into the food industry! Truth is I love my line of work, and I love thinking, talking, and learning about food, so its great to have a new outlet like this blog. Plus i'm always curious what people with normal lives outside of professional kitchens eat on a daily basis.

I've been super inspired lately and cooking my ass off at home and at the restaurant where i work, so i have alot of meals i'd love to share and discuss on here, but first its food-related xmas wishlist time:

Wine glasses - as much as i want fancy riedel glasses, i just need some decent, large and thin red wine glasses. anybody know of a good source?

Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini. This book looks awesome. He was the chef at Cafe Boulud for some time, then opened A Voce, an upscale Italian restaurant in manhattan. Now hes unemployed, hoping to open another place in NYC soon. In the meantime, him and his wife wrote this book, about cooking simple Italian food in a tiny new york apartment. Ive been on a serious italian food kick lately so all of these recipes, especially the short ribs braciole, make me super hungry. I guess theres some pretty unreal kitchen stories too which is probably the real reason why i want this.

Balsamico. I mean like really old, really small bottle, really concentrated. I've never had a really exceptional one, save for the Villa Manadori, which is great. I've been cooking alot with saba lately, which i love, but i want that special bottle of the good stuff.

Razor Clams. I have never cooked with these, and can never seem to find them in markets. I think we can get them through city fish at the restaurant where i work, but i really want a shellfishing license so i can go out and get my own, now that i live so close to the shore. One of my favorite things to eat in NYC is the dish of razor clams at Casa Mono, Mario Batali's spanish tapas restaurant near Union Square. They are thrown, split and with the shell still attached, onto a hot flat top (they call it a plancha in spain) until they carmelize and firm up nicely, meanwhile the cook mixes a vinaigrette in a bowl, just lemon juice, tons of garlic, spanish olive oil, chopped parsley, and salt and pepper. The clams are just piled on a plate and the vinaigrette is poured over. Extremely simple, delicious and fun to eat.

Iberico Ham. Speaking of Spain, if anybody has ever had this type of ham, they'll understand why i want this so bad. The product of a very special breed of pig, raised in a very special way in the Extremadurra region of Spain, this dry cured ham is some of the best in the world. The best hams, called Bellota, are taken from black footed pigs who graze solely on acorns, their flesh and fat become perfumed by that nuttiness. It only became legal to sell in the United States last year or earlier this year i believe. Amazing flavor and texture, too bad its so goddamn expensive. Anyone want to go in on a whole ham?

Chitarra. A Chittara is an old fashioned device used for cutting pasta. It looks like a board with a bunch of guitar strings attached. The dough is rolled over the surface of the wires and is cut into the desired shape, usually spaghetti.

How about y'all?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Just Plain Terrible

Breakfast: Oatmeal (make it with milk, not water. tastes better that way).

Lunch: A diesel piece of yellow cake with vanilla frosting. Carrots.

Dinner: I tried to make red-wine braised beef, but it came out so gross. I'm talking, "let's-go-get-a-slice-of-pizza-instead"-type gross. To be fair (to myself?), the reduction was on point: the wine, aromatics, and beef juice reduced into a nice little sauce. But the beef...yuck! I was told that a chuck roast works well for this type of cooking (the connective tissue and fats break down nicely when cooked slowly in a liquid), but for whatever reason mine cooked to fast and was hella chewy. After I seared it, I put in the liquids etc., then covered it and stuck it in the oven at 300 degrees (probably even cooler in my old oven). Half an hour later it felt almost done cooking, which seems like way too quick for such a big piece of meat. What did I do wrong? Only thing I can think of is too much liquid, since I'm pretty sure <300 isn't too hot.

What am I missing?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

'Tis the Season

A lot's been going on, peeps! There's a new administration in town, the holidays are upon us, people are getting married, things are in the oven (ha!), and my friend Marisa just informed me that New Haven has its very own traveling cupcake truck - brilliant! Such excitement! On top of all that, I think I've convinced a certain someone that we should put up a Christmas tree!

The weekend before Thanksgiving was something of a baking frenzy compared to how things have been around here. We *finally* used the stash of fresh Cape Cod cranberries had been waiting ever so patiently in my refrigerator for their moment to come. And it did, in the form of a Meyer lemon and cranberry scone recipe from Smitten Kitchen. We basically followed the recipe except that I skimped a bit on the lemon zest and used a regular lemon instead of a Meyer lemon - and they were delicious! We cut them into scone shapes and baked half, then froze the other half for those days when you want to walk out the door with a fresh, hot baked good in your hand (wait, that's every day...)

Then we made these chocolate toffee cookies. MMMMMMMmmmmm. All I can say is, there is a LOT of chocolate in these guys. They are practically all chocolate. Which means that they are extremely rich and extremely scrumptious. The only change I would recommend is adding more toffee - yes, that's right: more toffee. I have been on a bit of a toffee kick lately, and it adds such a great twist to the cookie - a bit of crunch, a bit of nutty caramel with a hint of saltiness - that underscoring that flavor could only heighten the cookie experience, if you know what I'm saying. I highly recommend them.

The days before Thanksgiving were also noteworthy for the consumption of a delightfully easy and warming potato leek soup, a soothing and earthy butternut squash and mushroom soup from Judies, and lots of wine. Thanksgiving itself was a feast for another post, featuring a delectable turkey, braised onions, Mom's kicky horseradish cranberry sauce, seared green beans, stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, and more. Hopefully this week will mean a curry squash soup and a chocolate caramel cheesecake... and The Office! Stay tuned!