Tuesday, December 30, 2008
There were 22 people at my Christmas dinner, and I am related to all but 2 of them. The seating arrangement was a complicated matter, and needless to say I sat at the children's table (and was the youngest one there at that).
I did not cook or clean anything.
All of this talk about possibility is really just high minded illusions though. I very much like routine and similarity. Usually I'll go on breakfast kicks that last eight or so months where I eat the same damn thing every morning. I think my favorite one was fried egg over salsa over toast topped with cheese (x2). mmmmmm--I shudder just thinking about it. The bread was this really nice alfalfa sprout grain bread from TJs that crisped in the perfect way when you toasted it. The eggs were fried in olive oil. But enough! Those times have past. I no longer live in a basement without heat alone on Long Island. I now live in what was, at least, the finance capital of the world shortly after the biggest economic implosion of my lifetime. So far I've seen effects of this implosion but haven't felt them. There are more vacant storefronts than I'm used to, and I'm frequently reading news things telling me how much less money will be spent on services within Manhattan now that the major value-added industry is about as verile as those barely living fish you see in the Chinatown markets off canal street that are just sitting outon the side in the fishy smelling air. So, when I realized that my days of a 2 cheese omlett and potato breakfast were numbered I thought the impending fiscal doom ought to play a role in my decision.
I'd always had an aversion to slimy-mushy-warm breakfasts, but the cheese grits I had at RTR gave me the will to try s'more. I love the smiling old quaker man on the cylo of instant oats that are only $5 for like 3-4 weeks of breakfasts, so I took the plunge and decided to go with oatmeal. I'm acutally pretty happy with the decision. It's really fun to cook (though cleaning the pot afterwards is a pain). When the bubbles start to come up it looks like you're staring at some weird geo-thermic field in a place where the terrain is almost swampy. It took me about 3 tries to get the consistency where I like it, but now I can regularly and without burning the oats ensure that my meal is firm enough that I don't feel like an old person who is eating something only because I'm too lazy to put in my tentures and it's the only thing my toothless mouth can handle have no more teeth. (I know, I know, that's a pretty runny ony sentence) I learned somewhat quickly that, while great with grits, cheese and oatmeal is not a good combination. However! if I slice a banana lengthwise and then cut each half into very small pieces it's pretty delicious. I love banas, but usually they go bad if I get a bunch because eating an entire banana a day never feels right. Now the bunch is gone just as they start to get little black/brown spot. Also, I find that getting one really long thing that isn't rigid at all and slicing it early every morning is gratifying in it's own way. Finally, I've got a favorite bowl that I haven't been using as much as I'd like, so it's been really nice to get re-acquainted with it.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Above description directly from the Marconi's Italian menu at
Friday, December 26, 2008
As they were closing up (it was almost 4:00 PM on christmas) the owner came out and started making hilarious jokes, many at the expense of the patrons of his place who were indecisive about what they wanted to order. I don't want it to seem like he's an ass, though, they were all very caring and good natured (e.g. "look lady, the only challah bread that's better than ours is God's okay?). He more or less immediatly made me want to be a regular. Props to anyone who can make me want to be a regular at their overpriced joint in 5 min. or less. Also, there is a huge banner in the background that says "Pizza made with
Anyway, if you ever want to spend $3+ on a bagel, I wouldn't recommend any other place i've been to more. If you want Challah bread and God is out of town go there, and if you don't want to make latkes (Z made some AMAZING ones the other night holy crap!) buy them here.
Merry Christmas SPF! I hope all are well.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
First off, start your water boiling. By the time it finishes boiling your pasta sauce will be ready. You'll need two cans of diced tomatoes that look like normal can sizes -- you know the things that beans come in. I try to get whatever kind doesn't have non-tomato things in it but if you're not an insane hypochondriac get the del-monte kind that is flavored. Okay, so get between one and three cloves of garlic, cut the gross flaky crap off of them, and throw them into the bottom of a blender. Now pour the two cans in. Then add a lot of crushed red hot pepper flakes, or a few if you don't like them. Now a bunch of orgegano and, here is the most important part, a LOT of olive oil. You basically want your sauce to be orange and not red. This is how it will be delicious.
Blend all of these together. Taste. Add whatever it is lacking.
Now get a huge ass pan. Pour the contents of the blender into the pan. Add chopped onion and pepper. If you're feeling cheesey add some ricotta. Let your pasta heart run wild, but when you've added everything let your pasta pan start to simmer. As you are doing this look over at your pasta water and notice that it has just started to get to a nice rolling boil. Think to yourself "damn, this really is just as fast as that jar pasta bullshit" as you add the noodles to the water.
Now here's a little something that makes pasta taste more like you are at a restaurant and less like you are a chump without the money to get grain that costs more than 97 cents a pound: when the pasta is just a little bit undercooked strain it and pour it into the pan with the simmering sauce. It'll keep cooking but rather than absorbing water it'll absorb the sauce. Also, get a kind of noodle that you haven't tried before. There's this one that starts with a P that Martha Stewart likes (I think because you can't slurp it and she probably hates noodle slurpers) that is like a really long tube, or a kind that starts with an R that is like a little play-doh star shaped thing.
I forgot to take a picture, guys, but I'm writing as I'm eating and it's delicious!
Monday, December 22, 2008
I arrived about two or three hours before anyone else, because I'm really good at being a guest, and because rumor had it that there would be brunch for us earlies. YAY. The brunch menu consisted of home fries, scrambled eggs, onion bagels with cream cheese, and bloodies (or screwdrivers, for those with less refined tastes). This was all fantastic, and perfect preparation for what was in store.
As more guests trickled in, the food supply increased at an overwhelming rate. mwr brought orange chocolate chip cookies, which were just like chocolate cookies (awesome), with a bonus. QoC also served a cookie dish, but her butter logs jams were a totally different while equally delicious cookie beast.
After we were suitably filled up on dessert, k & mwr jumped into the sweet potato panang preparation. This was probably the most aromatically pleasant part of WF, not counting k & p's fabulous selection of Yankee Candles.
While the SPP was busy turning into something delicious, we snacked on my spinach-artichoke dip with pita chips, which turned out pretty good, right? I hadn't made it before but was intent on finding a recipe that did not involve mayonaise, so I'm happy with that.
The other appetizer of the dunch menu was k's tempeh hot wings. The SPF gang assembled in the kitchen to bring these to life together, coating them with copious breadcrumbs and very hot sauce. These were little too spicy for me, since I am a pussy, but otherwise a hit.
Finally, we ate the sweet potato panang (job well done, kids), played games, sang songs, and accepted the fact that winter has come to suck away whatever souls and sanity we have been able to cling to through the warmer months in the city.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
It has hung in the kitchen of every apartment I've lived in, a constant reminder of a) artichokes and b) my innate artistic ability. Once, it also served as a home to a large family roaches, which I learned as I took it down to pack while moving out and then proceeded to drop before screaming, fleeing the apartment, and refusing to go back in for a very long time. My artichoke picture has seen me through countless kitchen adventures, just as SPF is sure to do.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Still, I think I ought to explain the death of the love. It certainly did not go gentle into that good night. I was making it at home with the canned stuff by the same people that make the panang paste that has been used in two sweet potato curries since the start of SPF (good lord!). We couldn't do chicken so I got some tofu. After several attempts now I have a tremendous ammount of respect for places and people that can do their tofu right. I am just miserable at it. No matter how long I fry it the result is the same: too soft and falling-aparty. In any case, I did the usual garlic, ginger, tofu, curry paste, fry fry fry, potatoe, milk, potato, milk, potato, milk, onion, peppers, fry, fry, fry, and then, I have no idea what came over me, i decided it would be good if it was a massaman paneer. This was a mistake, though not quite an abortion. (To be perfectly honest, I kind of liked it, but I can tell you for certain I was wrong to. Do not try this at home, or anywhere else, ever.) I quickly chopped up some mozzarella and threw the cubes in after it was done frying. I didn't stir them in hopes that they wouldn't melt. That failed. It became awfullly melty and made scooping the curry onto the plate difficult. There will be no pictures of this monstrosity. Still, it was enough like Massaman for me to know that it's time on center stage of my thai menu had passed.
Any candidates for new favorite thai dish?
Second, and most important, is the food selection. Walking anywhere is a really huge pain, and delivery gets really expensive (but is often necessary). I still haven't found anything to die for, but here are some of my favorite options:
1) Bottino: During the summer/fall, Bottino was really excellent. Their Tomato/Arugula salad is the closest I've come to loving any food in Chelsea. Unfortunately, when tomato/arugula season was over, I was unable to find anything of comparable quality on the menu. The vegetable lasagna was absolutely disgusting, and I ended up throwing away half of it. I haven't tried any of their sandwiches, so that might be my last stop before completely writing this place off until my salad is back in season.
2) Pepe Giallo: Passable Italian food with pretty quick delivery. They have a good lunch special: a salad or soup with an entree (four choices) for $8.95. The best thing I've had so far is the Fusilli with Chopped Tomatoes and Arugula. I really don't think I'd ever go here for dinner, though.
3) The Indian place on 9th avenue where all the cabbies hang out: $3 for a "half" portion of veggies and rice. $6 for an enormous plate of them. This place is awesome, even if you do have to watch them microwave your food.
4) Chelsea Thai: HIT OR MISS. I think this place used to be more of a grocery store, but now focuses on delivery, take-out, and eat-in service. I've had some really great things from here, and I've had some really terrible things. Their vegetarian panang curry is great (although their tofu leaves something to be desired), whereas their vegetarian summer rolls are really strange. The skin for the rolls tastes sort of like toothpaste, and the dipping sauce (some sort of hoisin hybrid) is just really not good. Their standard salad is pretty good and comes with a warm peanut dressing, while their vegetarian pad thai was much too greasy and required multiple packets of soy and hot sauce.
5) Diners: There are a lot of diners in this area, and they will all deliver you a veggie burger and fries when you maybe over-imbibed the night before and feel like you might die if you don't have a veggie burger and fries. None of them are really that great, but I recommend them over Better Burger. That place sucks, even if James van der Beek was spotted there once.
6) 'wichcraft: The trustiest, most dependable place yet. Yes, the sandwiches are overpriced. No, I don't have cable so I've never seen Top Chef. Neither of these things matter. There is a really good soup and sandwich special, and some really good sides like grilled butternut squash and a potato salad with mustard vinaigrette.
Things I have yet to find in West Chelsea: good sushi, passable Mexican, great salads.
My friend L always says she's a seasonal eater and drinker; cider in the fall, hot chocolate (with peppermint schnapps) in the winter, you know the drill. As it turns out, I also seem to have unknowingly subscribed to this philosophy. Winter to me means curling up with Dean & Deluca Earl Grey tea and my favorite cold-weather meal, soup.
So without further ado, my most favorite soup recipe of all time which, incidentally, freezes quite well. Trust me, you'll want more later!
-1 lb. hamburger (ground round or ground sirloin)
-1/2 tsp. salt
-OPTIONAL: 1/2 cup diced gren pepper, 1/2 cup chopped onion
-4 cups tomato juice (whole can of V8 does nicely)
-2 cans low-fat cream of celery soup
1 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups grated carrot
-1/2 tsp. garlic salt
-1/4 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. pepper
1. Brown hamburger (discard drippings).
2. Add salt.
3. Add vegetables if desired. Cover and simmer on low heat until vegetables are tender (about 10 minutes).
4. In large saucepan, combine remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Serve over sliced swiss cheese or any cheese you prefer (my pick is always Colby Jack. YUM!).
In the midst of all my babbling about restaurants and banana amazingness and sweet potato fries, I rarely consider the fact that food is more than just something I simply enjoy. I actually need food to SURVIVE. I love food so much that I sometimes forget that it's actually kind of important in terms of keeping myself alive. It seems so bizarre to me, the concept that something I've always been so enchanted with is actually a basic necessity that I physically COULDN'T give up, even if I wanted to. I can't quit this hobby like I quit piano (six years of lessons and I could barely play a note); I'm probably going to need to stick with this one for life.
I had three hours to think about this concept yesterday as I labored lovingly over countless vegetables during my three-hour time slot volunteering with God's Love We Deliver in SoHo (www.godslovewedeliver.org). Contrary to popular belief (and much to my own relief), GLWD is NOT a religious organization. The purpose of the organization is simply to deliver nutritious meals to clients living with life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis. The service is provided free of charge twice a day on weekdays. Every weekday of the year, according to the director. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Early next year, the director told us, they're expecting to serve their one millionth meal.
I volunteered with GLWD through my company as a corporate event, so several of my colleagues worked the same shift. We had signed up for meal preparation, and we arrived at 9 a.m., groggy but enthusiastic and ready to tackle those veggies with gusto. After a short orientation video and instructions regarding sanitation (how often to change our gloves and aprons, when to put on our attractive hair caps, etc.), we were led down to the kitchen to wash up and report to our stations for our 9 a.m. to noon shift.
The director had clearly noticed my excitement when he mentioned that there was a baking station, so in an apparent effort to teach me a lesson he sent my boss and one of my co-workers off to bake cakes. My boss knew I would be distressed about this and tried to drift toward the vegetable chopping station instead, but our director wasn't having it, which was actually kind of hilarious. "No no, dear, YOU'RE at the baking station," he exclaimed, guiding my boss gently to the baking area. Okay, man, I dig it. Veggie choppin' it is!
My first job was peeling onions and slicing them in half with a huge blade. I had always thought the tales about onions making people cry were exaggerations, but after several minutes my eyes were definitely stinging and had begun to water. Fortunately, a few changes of my powdery gloves seemed to solve the problem and the task went pretty quickly due to the large number of volunteers.
Next, we labeled some of the frozen meals, already packaged and frozen in their silvery containers. We wiped the frost from each lid and applied a label with the name of the product (lemon catfish) and cooking instructions. Our director had told us that Friday was Fish Day (as opposed to Chicken Day on Monday, Pork Day on Tuesday, Vegetarian Day on Wednesday, and something I can't recall on Thursdays), so I knew the meals would probably be going out the next day. I imagined that maybe tomorrow would be someone's first day receiving a meal, and it would be one I had labeled. Or perhaps next week someone would receive the meal featuring the onions I had hacked and shucked. I felt like I had created, or at least helped create, something that would be very important.
We loaded trays and trays back into the moving metal racks, then wiped down our area and returned to our vegetable station for fun with carrots.
At this point, I really went to town. We were peeling the carrots with a nifty two-way peeler the likes of which I'd never seen before (a good approximation: http://www.amazon.com/Hoffritz-HF85041-Stainless-Steel-Vegetable-Peeler/dp/B00004RHNN/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1229699919&sr=1-5). It looked almost like a razor, and it was much easier to grip. I soon became the fastest peeler in the land, and I felt pretty smug when one of the chefs told another volunteer to be sure to peel away all the skin because it would turn black when cooked, which sounded really unappetizing. I was definitely not leaving any skin, that much was certain!
As ribbons of carrot skin sprang faster and faster from the sharp edges of my peeler, however, my mind started to wander (always a dangerous occurence) and I realized that none of this was about me at all. I needed to peel these carrots correctly, not leaving any skin, because someone would be eating this as their meal. They couldn't send blackened carrots back to the kitchen with a stern message to an inept chef. I was creating the meal they were eating because they couldn't afford to procure their own food, or didn't have the strength to meet their friends at a cozy, warm restaurant decorated with Christmas lights as snow beat the windows. Peeling furiously, I thought about these people for whom the food I was making was their sustenance, and they would eat it without complaint. They would never have the opportunity to be indignant about undercooked potatoes or refuse pasta that was accidentally garnished with a single shimmering hair. Food wasn't their hobby; food was their lifeline.
I'm constantly surprised by the new dimensions and depths I discover about my relationship with food. I learn to cook new things and make new combinations. I recognize flavors. Different restaurants have a different quality and a different way of appealing to me, of creating a certain mood, of making me want to be there, to eat there. Certain dishes will always remind me of certain events or people (Ashley and her Wal-Mart cinnamon buns, all those brunches with L at Neptune Diner, Peach Noodle Kugel and all the amazing potlucks in my cozy college apartment, Andy forcing me to eat nutella while we panicked about finals, Janiene and me lingering at Salaam over Chicken B'Steeya and Coconut Chicken Curry). There are so many aspects to appreciating food, and GLWD reminded me that it's also important to recognize it at its most basic level. Beyond something that brings you closer to friends or creates new experiences and memories, food is something everyone shares. We all need it, we all consume it.
Yesterday, I gave the gift of one of my favorite things in the world, a good meal, to someone who appreciates food, REALLY appreciates food, more than I ever have or ever will. And that is a truly amazing feeling.
And just so this isn't a COMPLETE downer...please look for a cheery post about delicious cupcakes with pastel frosting coming soon.
Picture from: www.freewilliamsburg.com
So New York is known for a number of things but value for food and drink is not one of them--especially not if you moved up here from cheap ass Florida (am I right?). Every once in a while, though, you stumble across a bargain that makes you do a double take. One of my first and still one of the best as far I'm concerned is the free pizza with a beer deal they have at Alligator Lounge and the Charlton. Last night I only had 5 dollars on me and there was no free ATM conveniently on the way to the Stoop (my bank started charginging!). This was a major problem because not only did I want to eat something but I wanted to drink beer too. Happily, when I got out of the subway I saw that martini drinking crustacean on the overhang beckoning. I prefer the Charleston to the Alligator Lounge not only because I find their aquatic mascot to be a bit more refined but the crust is typically a little crisper, at least on the outter edge. It is, of course, not the best pizza around but when it comes free with your beer whose complaining?
Thursday, December 18, 2008
SS is a cozy diner dabbled with cowprint and with cute phrases littered throughout their expansive menu. As we were seated today I saw several steaming little pots of french onion soup (that I'm intent on trying, along with about 20 other things), a plate heaping with homefries atop of which sat a pancake and two eggs, and of coures a number of greasy burgers. I ordered a philly chease-steak (I don't generally eat beef but i've been all over it lately for some reason) which, to be honest was not so great, but the uncle momo (panini, chicken, cheese, pesto, and deliciousness)I had last week was juicy and wonderful. We split an order of cheese fries. The fries were actually better than those at pomme frites (though, to be clear they have no delicious sauces) and they have a sweet potato option which, no comment necessary. Casey won this time with her "toastie", a delicious panini with tomato, basi, incredible looking mozzarella dripping with some amazing oil. Basically, it's just a really nice place that makes you feel good to be a regular. And now over to Casey!
Now, I'm not really clear on the joint posting protocol, but I'm Casey now. The thing about Silver Spur's is like, where did this place come from? I must have passed it a hundred times without being aware of its marvelous existence. The age-old "where should we go to lunch" question has now officially been answered. Shamefully, we've yet to try the sweet potato fries. Luckily, we are sweet potato friends. There is plenty a Thursday lunch date to be had between these cow-clad walls.
Because this is a place to regulars, without having to be regular. Ohhhhhh.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
5. Cup o' Joes: Let me be clear - these are not good bagels. Usually low on selection, they also leave something to be desired in the freshness department and the cream cheese is not so lovingly applied. But it is right by my apartment, on Driggs Ave in Greenpoint (across from the darling Mcgolrick Park), the guys who run it are super cool and it just has a nice vibe. Happy place to be and to bagel.
4. Brooklyn Ale House: Okay, this is obviously not a bagel place. But they have bagel brunch, and there are usually a lot of dogs, and the bloody marys are sensational. As if brunch, bloodys, and dogs arent enough, the bagel spread is sweeeet. If you get there by noonish there is usually a good selection, with all different kinds of cream cheese and onions and cukes and tomatoes and sea salt and all things that make a bagel delicious but I usually dont put on a bagel because it is not spread so lavishly before me. I'm pretty sure they get the goods from Bagelsmith, so props to both of these W'burg establishments!
3. Bagelstore: Also known as "Metbag," we'll say because it is on Metropolitan, these are just good bagels. Big space, great selection, cute staff. There is often a lot of confusion between ordering and paying and receiving your order, but if you manage to get through all of that without getting mildy pissed off or milding pissing someone off, it's a worthwile experience.
2. Bagel Bob's: Close enough to work that I can run there on my break, this has proven to be a welcome addition to my bagel routine. Often a lot of NYU kids; but let's face it, NYU kids know their bagels.
1. Murray's: Murray's is just the best. They don't toast their bagels. They refuse. Because they don't need to. Always fresh, always hearty, always perfect. This is the most filling bagel I can imagine. My favorite part, though, is that the everything bagel has everything on BOTH SIDES. This is very important to me, and I am more often than not disappointed in this regard. Thank you Murray, for understanding.
So that's that! I'm always open to bagelggestions, so let me know if you've got any hot bagel tips for me.
I had almost reached the point of gnawing on leather purse straps at Coach to quell my hunger when my faith in Midtown East's restaurants was restored by my lunchtime experience at Tao (42 E. 58th St.) on December 17. I think my life has been changed forever, and some of my long-held beliefs about my own food habits were challenged over the course of two hours.
If you've ever been anywhere in Midtown, you know that $25 will get you approximately one and a half cocktails or the leg of one of the giant stuffed animals in the window of F.A.O. Schwartz. At Tao, however, $25 is money well spent on their prix fixe lunch menu, which comes to a random $24.07. For that price, diners choose from a list of appetizers, a list of entrees, and three possible desserts.
To celebrate the upcoming holidays, two co-workers and I trudged through the gross streets with our boss for an early afternoon lunch. The place had been bought out for a private party beginning at 2 p.m., so we chose an earlier time slot for our reservation. Yes, that's right, lunch reservations. When we entered the restaurant and battled our way through the hordes of people waiting for a table at 12:30 p.m., I immediately understood why.
The space is cavernous, with a large stone Buddha gazing placidly across the main room. At his feet is a waterfall and a pool filled with large, live fish, and directly in front of it is a table with a glass top above a basin full of red rose petals. Mood lighting and exposed brick walls added to the atmosphere, and we speculated that the vast restaurant now dotted with tables was once a theater, or perhaps a church.
We were immediately led upstairs, and the second floor was a balcony of sorts that only covered half the space of the first floor. We had a beautiful view of the Buddha waterfall from above, and were seated next to a huge full bar. When my boss ordered champagne for the table, I knew this would be much better than I could even have imagined.
I was right. At first I was annoyed with the extraordinarily slow service (this isn't brunch, after all) but decided to cut the place a bit of slack considering its huge size. The staff was gracious and helpful, pouring our champagne for us each time we required a refill and even agreeing to box up my messy dessert...but we'll get to that later.
My boss and one of our colleagues each chose Bamboo Steamed Vegetable Dumplings as an appetizer, while my other co-worker and I went for the Peking Duck Spring Rolls with Hoisin Sauce. (Note: According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoisin_sauce) Hoisin Sauce is generally made with water, sugar, soybeans, white distilled vinegar, rice, salt, wheat flour, garlic, red chili peppers, and sometimes sweet potatoes. To me, it tasted like BBQ sauce done RIGHT). The pastry shell was flaky but didn't fall apart, and the guts of the roll didn't ooze out when I held it in the death grip of my chopsticks. The duck was savory and delicious, and everything was the perfect temperature (I usually find things are too cold rather than too hot, but perhaps that's just me).
I ventured a taste of the sauce served with it (I didn't catch what it was, exactly) but it wasn't very extraordinary. A tiny taste of the other accompanying condiment, spicy mustard, revealed that it was both very good and very spicy, to the point that tears came to my eyes. This after a teeny lick from ONE PRONG of my fork. I don't think I've ever felt that spicy hotness all up in my nose before, but this time I definitely did!
I'm ashamed to admit that I wolfed down all three spring rolls, but I'm even more embarrassed to say that I'm not very familiar with pad thai. Horrifying, I know, but I usually end up ordering something really random at Thai and Asian restaurants (SEE: Railroad Fried Rice at Klong on St. Mark's Place) and I remember next to nothing about any pad thai experiences I may have had in the past. Today, however, is a day I will remember for a very long time.
Served in a blue and white china bowl with slim base that allowed it to stand a good six inches above the table, topped with sprouts and a leafy green garnish, was heaven in food form: chicken pad thai. I wound the paper-thin noodles expertly around my chopsticks as though I wasn't the most awkward person in the world when it comes to foreign utensils. That pad thai and I were made to be together. Tao didn't skimp on the large pieces of white-meat chicken, and every few bites I would get the delicious, unexpected surprise of a peanut or sprout.
I knew dessert was coming, so I asked them to wrap my pad thai for later and (not that this makes or breaks a restaurant) they presented it to me in one of those nice, reusable plastic cases with a lid AND a paper shopping bag with woven handles. This place was classy indeed.
Now, to the best dessert of my life.
I could take an entire post just to talk about this dessert, but I digress. My co-worker B seemed somehow upset that she and I had ordered the same appetizer and meal, so when it came time for dessert I graciously requested Banana Bread Pudding rather than ordering the same thing she chose, Zen Parfait (which included layers of my one true love, chocolate). I wasn't really into the Banana Bread Pudding, so I was pleasantly surprised when it came out with a rather elegant presentation. The pudding, which didn't really have a pudding consistency, was bright banana-yellow and topped with what I later discerned to be crumbled shortbread cookies and black seeds a bit too long and narrow to be poppy seeds (the identity of these seeds remains a mystery for now). Two pieces of fried banana wrapped in dough roughly the size, shape, consistency and appearance of miniature corndogs rested on top.
I actually asked my co-workers if they would be embarrassed if i took a picture, and their response was to laugh uncomfortably. Such is my dedication to SPF that I later wielded my camera phone when they weren't paying attention. Hopefully I'll be able to figure out how to upload that soon so you can all share in my joy.
It's important to mention at this point that I actually hate both pudding and things that are flavored to taste like bananas. I like actual bananas, but for some reason things that are pretending to be bananas freak me out. Like my father, I also don't enjoy "slimy" foods that are sweet, like pudding and jello, and have no real substance behind the sliminess. I was skeptical at best of the pudding, but like a trooper I raised the spoon to my lips.
Taste. Explosion. Banana, but not fake banana. Real banana, with that hint of shortbread and something like coconut or vanilla. I'm not really sure. I was blinded by love. I dug deeper. Layered inside were hunks of pound cake and chunks of banana. The consistency wasn't as creamy as pudding, but it wasn't quite solid either. It was amazing. My stomach was bursting from pad thai and spring rolls, but I couldn't stop shoveling it in.
I turned my attention to the fried bananas. I broke one open the doughy exterior easily with my spoon, savoring the fried-but-not-greasy shell and the still-warm piece of banana within. Mixed with the pudding, the bananas convinced me I was finally convinced that life could not get any better. The best part was that it wasn't served in a dinky pudding cup. This was a heaping, cereal-sized bowl. Did I mention $24.07 prix fixe? And yes, I asked them to pack it up for me in another reusable plastic container (how economical!). More than half of that bowl is currently waiting for me to claim in our refrigerator at work, and I'm counting the seconds until I can once again treat my taste buds to banana goodness.
So basically, when all was said and done, I put in $30 for my meal, which I have the fortune of eating in two sittings. I don't know about you, but I'm one of those people who does a Cost Per Wear Analysis of clothes (the list price of the item divided by the number of times I expect to wear it is the actual price...it's very bad for my bank account). I apply a similar philosophy to food. If I get two meals out of it, I get to divide the price by two. So the moral of this story is: go to Tao for $15 and have amazing banana explosion in your mouth.
Too many MMMMMs to even bother with...
Sneaky phone photograph hopefully coming soon!
Update: The aforementioned photograph is below:
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Last night, mwr, Casey, and I went to Relish, a pretty conspicuous diner/restaurant in Williamsburg that I have always been confused by (there are always a lot of motorcycles outside?). QueenOfCuisine has been talking this place up for a while now, and I really wanted to know if it is as good as she said…
First thing’s first: the atmosphere. Mwr ruined it for me a little by texting “I already love this place!” as soon as he got inside, but it was still really great. Really laid back, really dark, and not really laid out so that anyone is in your junk and you feel uncomfortable. We were promptly served our drinks, and the waiter checked back an appropriate amount of times when we (mwr) couldn’t decide what we (mwr) wanted.
Now the Food: Queen told me about an incident where she had the best veggie burger ever at Relish, so that’s what I had. I had a bit of a problem with the caper mayonnaise since I really don’t like the idea of mayonnaise at all. I think deep down I knew that I should have trusted the chef, but instead I was a fool. I asked them to hold the caper mayonnaise. As soon as I received my burger, I knew how wrong I had been.
It was not like so many other burgers; it was served on lightly toasted whole wheat bread. This fact alone makes it much more accommodating to things like mayonnaise or mustard, and not so much ketchup. Something about daintily spreading ketchup around on toasted bread with a knife felt completely wrong. I was ashamed. I really feel like I need to go back to Relish as soon as possible and have the veggie burger with the caper mayonnaise. How it’s supposed to be… how it was meant it to be.
But back to the veggie burger. It came out sliced in half, each half pierced with a olive-laden toothpick. I do not like olives, but it was a very nice touch. The burger itself was very good; they make it in-house and you can definitely tell. It tasted fresh and savory… a real taste explosion. It came topped with lettuce, tomato, and red onion, all fresh and crisp. All wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever had a veggie burger from a diner that wasn’t greasy or lacking in some way, until Relish. MMMMMmmmm.
For my side dish I was given the very difficult dilemma of: side salad, onion rings, or French fries? I got the onion rings, which were enormous and much less greasy/fatal than others. Unfortunately, I could barely eat half of them, and I was too stuffed to even think about whether or not they tasted good. I’m pretty sure they did though.
I will report back once I’ve revisited Relish and had the veggie burger WITH the caper mayonnaise. But tonight, we’re taking an SPF field trip to Quantum Leap (the restaurant, not one of my favorite shows ever), and just looking at the menu makes me want to drool all over the place.
P.S. - Sorry about no pictures... it was too dark!
Let's all reap the benefits of my research:
[edit. Even after writing this I thought I could keep myself to one post. That was foolish. As I wrote the post started growing unwieldy and so I have imposed a harsh constraint on my coffee posts: One topic per post. In this post I only talk about what location has the best drinks. I’ll get into what makes good coffee and a good coffee drinking environment later.]
A bit on my bais: Too much dairy does not agree with me. For this reason I won’t be rating late’s, au laits, or anything else that's dairylicious. I’ll stick to the basics: 'regular', espresso and, macchiato (which, lets face it, has all the virtues of any of its larger, milkier counterparts but in more adorably-sized packaging). I’ve been around the coffee block, made trips to strange places in Manhattan that I had no business visiting just to try coffee that "they say" is rather good. All this had lead me to the conclusion that those living in north Brooklyn are the envy of my coffee drinking soul. They get the best in both categories.
The best macchiato you’ll find in this city is at Oslo in Brooklyn. Save the trip of Cafe Sabarsky for when you want to impress visitors with how often you get to pretend that you're rich when you live in NYC. Although Oslo is not always consistent (This is largely not their fault. The city for some reason won’t give them the permit to roast their own beans and so sometimes they get a batch that isn’t up to their standard), but even on their worst day they’re better than most of the swill in this city. Anyway, their off days are few and far enough between that there isn't any more negative fluctuation than there is in anything in life right? Regardless of how fanciful their beans are, the ratio of froth to milk to coffee in this drink gives it an amazing texture that’ll knock your socks off and replace them with warm fuzzy slippers that make you feel like you’re in some fire-lit living room wearing a Cosby sweater and perhaps sitting on a rug made from some large exotic animal that you've probably never seen alive. The taste also compliments the cofee perfectly so the bitterness of the coffee is softened by still present. My best and worst days both are made better whenever I stop by for a viit. I will also rave about the staff and service of both locations at some other point.
For the right-minded purists out there, though, the best espresso to be had is at Grumpy in either Manhattan or Greenpoint. I prefer the GP Grumpy for a million reasons, but they belong in another post. Basically, this place knows how to pull a triple ristretto shot right. TR put simply is basically 3 shorts worth of ground beans with about 2 shots worth of liquid forced through them in some fancy way that involves having expensive machines and fancy levels and all that good stuff. The result: a far more intense and complex flavor (i.e. you can talk about notes, hints, and wafts as if you were drinking wine or scotch with snobs but very clearly know what you're talking about). It's a little thicker than normal espresso too, so as you drink it you get a hint of that "I'm drinking the diet coke syrup straight from the fountain untainted by the bubbly water" guilty-pleasure feeling. Futhermore, the harsh bitter is all but swallowed up by the sweet and spicy flavors that normally seem like they're burnt out of the over-priced espresso you get after dinner at any fancypants restaurant in the city. Holy crap I am wishing I were there right now just thinking about it.
Finally, for those who want a beverage that'll warm them for longer than the 2 minutes it takes them to drink the regular coffee. I say regular because the things used to make it well don't drip. If you haven't heard of the clover it's this fancy 15k coffee making robot that is pretty awesome, though to my mind it's overpriced. Still, it is better than the normal stuff so if we're strictly talking best here this is the way to go. When you drink the stuff the flavors, though they are fainter than they are in any good espresso drink, change as the drink cools. It's pretty neat! Anyway, Starbucks bought the company that makes them so you'll have to go to Starbucks to try them (and the beans at starbucks are usually bunt to all hell so the machine is totally wasted there!) EXCEPT!!! in North Brooklyn (well, a few other places have them too ;) ). You have your choice of the previously mentioned Grumpy and the more Bedford- El Beit. I like El Beit a lot, so I'm glad I got to mention them. Still, I have to say that the staff at Grumpy seem to be better trained and you get better coffee for your money there.
Honorable mention: I know I said I wasn't going to discuss milky drinks but the green tea late at Supercore on lower bedford is damn tasty. I can’t drink the whole thing because of my milky problems, but it’s got matcha in it, has a thick frothy texture, and is super rich and delicious. I haven't tried many of these so perhaps this is standard or even sub-par but my mouth persuades me to order this more often than my stomach would like.
As far as I can tell the mystique around Gimmie! Coffee is smoke and mirrors of the same caliber that just ruined wall street. I went to the Brooklyn location and had an iced coffee, a macchiato, and a regular brew once and I could find nothing special about any of them. Some might say I should give them another shot. I would if they were particularly convenient for me, but as it is I’m going out of my way to get good coffee when I go to north Brooklyn so why waste a trip? Now, this is not to say that they aren’t adequate. They’re not terrible or anything, but there’s an absurd amount of hype that goes with this name and I don’t understand why that’s the case.
Monday, December 15, 2008
That said, RTR is wonderful. They do fancy without pretense. You go there and you see the ridiculous wall and the delicious menu with somewhat different foods, but you don't think "damn I should have worn nicer clothing". Well, I don't, but I tend not to feel that way in Wburg where everything is ridiculous. I feel that way when I actually think "I don't own anything nicer, there is no way I could ever dress appropriately for this place, I am a charlatan." I hadn't been for a long time and it was nice to be back.
So first the wait. I have a new found respect for Lodge. Their waiting area is wonderful. RTR, I guess in order to be profitable, or to feed as many as possible, has the entire floor covered in 2 tops, so no one can really wait comfortably for a table. Happily Oslo is a half block away and has the best macchiato I've ever had so I was happy. (a breakdown of where I drink coffee and what I get at each place is most. def. in the works). We get seated by our smiling, friendly, and competent (or at least competent seeming, which is like 85% of competence anyway) hostess.
Our silent waiter came over and I got the same faux rock shandy that Kendall described below and it was great. I really like being able to get something other than a screw-driver or bloody marry for brunch sometimes, so well done! I also ordered this dish that had 4 things on it: a tiny silver cup with apple butter, 2 large and thick slices of fennel-raisin toast (with cornmeal on the edges ... and srsly, there is not enough cornmeal in the north), a tiny souffle cup with grits and white grated soft white cheddar on top and another with 2 baked eggs topped with the perfect amount of cheddar.
It was a lovely, well balanced, and good sized without being too filling meal. The toast was probably my favorite part. It was sweet (but not too), warm, and just amazing. The grits were tasteful, which is I guess the best thing I can say about grits if it even makes sense to say. The eggs, well, I love eggs. I like 'em baked. I should say for the sake of full disclosure that the yolk were cooked all the way through so that they were yellow and not golden, but this didn't detract from the meal at all. We weren't rushed out even though it was WBpeak brunch hour, but we were well taken care of which is really nice.
Of course all of this would have been wasted if the company hadn't been so good, but the jokes and stories were flowing freely (no doubt facilitated by the great dining experience).
Thanks for reading my venting!
(image from freewilliamsburg.com)
yesterday, in the spirit of overcoming the winter blues, mwr and i decided to venture to williamsburg for lunch (or as people in newyorkcity inexplicably call it, "brunch"). while there are definitely places that i've been meaning to try and haven't (relish, egg, etc.), yesterday was more of a familiar-restaurant kind of day. it was a roebling tea room kind of day.
walking in was a little upsetting, because i've never seen the place so crowded. the wait was about 20 minutes, so instead of standing inside, we went across the street to get mwr a macchiato from oslo. the girl managing the wait list was really on top of things and it wasn't long after we returned that we were seated in at a lovely table near the window.
now, RTR is kind of a weird place. maybe it's the walls covered in equestrian (i guess?) wallpaper, or the too-cool-for-you waitstaff, or the fact that the bar is in the middle of the restaurant, or the fact that they call the bathrooms WCs even though this isn't europe. but it also has a lot of crazy ass comfort food, lazy dim lighting, and a unique drink list.
i pretty much always order the salads here. i always want the drunk beans (sour cream, polenta, cheese, salsa roja & egg..mmmmmmmmmmmm), but i've never had them because the salads sound so great. yesterday i had the "arugula etc.", which was a nice pile of arugula, pears, walnuts, SOME REALLY SUPER GORGONZOLA, and a thin coating of some sort of honey dressing. it was really nice, and exactly what i needed so that i didn't get too full right before making sweet potato panang curry.
i also imbibed a bit... i had a mimosa, which wasn't anything special, and a rock shandy, which was something special. i can't really remember everything that was in it... but i think was vodka, lime juice, and bitters. oh god it was good. i really want to try to make it since it's so simple, but it was pretty reasonably priced at $7 (or maybe $6, i'm not sure).
i left feeling lazy, unproductive, and ready to hunker, which is really how all sunday lunches should go.
Yes, my sister and I missed our opportunity to cheer wildly when they called our table at Sarabeth's Central Park South (40 Central Park South), but we understood the impulse. It wasn't about surviving a long wait (we waited only about 10 minutes when we were told 25), it was about knowing what was waiting for us, the syrup-smothered, buttery light at the end of the tunnel. And that's definitely worth hootin' and hollerin' on occasion.
I had been to another of the many Sarabeth's locations, Sarabeth's East (1295 Madison Avenue at 92nd St.) with my friend A during the summer, and when my sister came to visit it was flashbacks of the Apple-Cinnamon French Toast that prompted me to return. We arrived at about 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday hoping for brunch, and the relatively short waiting time buoyed our hopes for a delicious midday meal.
We weren't disapopinted. Despite the small waiting area, there was a bar immediately inside the door where patrons could wait and delicately sip mimosas, as well as zebra-covered pieces of furniture that appeared to be a hybrid of couches and restaurant booths. Although the waiting area crowded the first section of the dining room a bit too much for our tastes, we were led back through the narrow, mazelike restaurant to about the midway point, which was satisfactory in that it was far from the crowds. My sister was jostled a few times in her chair by harried waiters (while I rested comfortably on the booth side), but it was a relatively painless seating arrangement.
As you can see below, I ventured away from my comfort zone and declined to order the delicious Apple-Cinnamon French Toast with bananas or the Three-Pepper Home Fried Potatoes, which I'd devoured during my visit to Sarabeth's East. Instead, I opted for a pumpkin waffle sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and raisins and finished with a heaping dollop of sour cream. Honey was delivered on the side, but I had to request maple syrup seperately. I also ordered Pork and Apricot Sausage as a side, which was a bit too pricey for my taste ($7), but I figure you only live once. When the side order is almost as expensive as the meal, however, you begin to wonder what you've gotten yourself into...
My sister requested the Green and White Omelette, which was scrambled and featured cream cheese and scallions. It needed minimal seasoning and was also on par with our extremely pleasant experience. Her choice of side was a muffin, so I can't delve too deeply into that. A muffin is a muffin is a muffin, for the most part. Still, it looks delicious, doesn't it?
Note: I apologize for the quality of these pictures, and the half-eatenness of the meals. My digital camera is awful, and also I was starving when my food arrived. I didn't have the presence of mind to take photographs until a bit later on.
The staff was quick and attentive, although we did feel a bit rushed toward the end. My sister claims her first coffee refill was slow to come, as was the maple syrup I requested, but it is certainly busy and it is certainly a tourist trap (especially considering the location and the huge amounts of press they receive), so all is forgiven.
I think there's no doubt here that the breakfast was absolutely delicious and very filling, and it really was a lot for what we paid (neither my sister or I could finish our meals). The only complaint would be the price of the side dishes, which to me is a bit excessive. Still, it's possible to eat at Sarabeth's on a budget, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a great brunch spot. Next time: dinner.
Mmm rating: MMMM out of MMMMM
Below are photos of my Pecan Butter Balls (taken with the world's oldest, most disgusting digital camera), the all-time best Christmas cookies EVER:
My friend L's Peanut Butter Blossoms, also amazing:
Oh, and since the holidays are a time for sharing and caring...
PECAN BUTTER BALLS
-2 cups sifted flour
-1/4 cup sugar
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1 cup butter
-2 tsp. vanilla
-2 cups chopped pecans
1. Sift flour, sugar, and salt together. Work in butter and vanilla. (NOTE: I usually cut in a cup or a cup and a half of soft butter, then add the vanilla, then melt the remaining butter and add it for better consistency).
2. Add pecans, mix thoroughly.
3. Press mixture into small balls (you can fit more on the sheet this way, which is pretty exciting considering the long cooking time).
4. Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Dip in powdered sugar while still hot.
Makes about 30 cookies.
Don't even get me started on the MMMM rating here...when it comes to baked goods, you know I'm good for it. Keep an eye out for the Butterjams that may make an appearance at Winter Fest...
Sunday, December 14, 2008
just the sweet potatoes and onions,
before it was really cooked and mushy.
after cooking for a while,
lookin pretty with the pineapples!
totally undeniably delicious.
needless to say, we did not order from there.
p.s. mwr and i are recreating sweet potato panang tonight! i'm very excited!
Saturday, December 13, 2008
They don't really seem to be pushing the whole restaurant thing, as the table situation isn't really optimal for dining and also no one else was really doing that. The bar is pretty much the prominent thing when you walk in, and it's nice, because wine bottles are just pretty. The decor is tasteful: refined but casual, with low lighting and plenty of candles. Perfect for a romantic dinner between Kendall and me.
And dinner we ate. Some bread came first, which is always exciting, but it wasn't anything special as far as bread is concerned. I got the Cabernet and K got the Pinot Noir; 7 dollars and 6 dollars, respectively (because I am just that much more classy).
And then there was brie. Though it is a bit of a shame that we both ordered the same thing, I can rest easy knowing that my dear friend got to enjoy this plate of pure delicious that is the Brie Presse as much as I did. It was so effing good. Melted brie, sliced green apple, and arugula on a baguette is a glorious idea, it turns out. The brie is, you know, salty and creamy and perfect, and then all of a sudden you get a crisp bite of oh so sweet green apple on top of it and all is right in your mouth. The arugula was just kind of a textural bonus that also added some bitter to the mix, unobtrusively hugging the sammy.
I really wish I was eating this right now.
It was 11 dollars, which is entirely reasonable, as is the rest of the menu. They have soup and cheese and tapas and salads, and also actual entrees! But the most expensive thing is only 15 bucks. Oh and there is also a 12 dollar brunch that includes a mimosa. Not bad (although I can't imagine being so tantalizingly close to Lodge brunch).
MMMMMMuch recommended; check it out!
Generally I don’t like eating things that have been shipped from halfway across the world to get to me, even if they are in cans. However, galangalanga isn’t easy to find so when I discovered that the Thai grocer across the street from Awesome Thai (a post on AT is sure to be forthcoming. In fact, I propose that we get all the SPF together for a trip there soon) sold cans of curry paste I decided I’d give ‘em a shot. The writing on these cans is all Thai so despite it’s elegance I wasn’t able to discern a recipe. That ended up not being a bad thing, as is most often the case when I just do what my nose and stomach tell me to.
Now, I like brown rice a lot, mainly for the texture. When I eat it I like to pretend that I’m eating a lot of tiny balloons that pop and release a delicious warm mush when I crush them with my teeth. Regular white rice is like just eating the balloon filling in some weird mush that has not been individually packaged just for my dining pleasure. I think this is a pretty good analogy because it would take a long time to individually stuff balloons with warm ricy-goodness and it takes a long time to cook the brown rice. Make sure you start cooking this shit at the beginning of your meal. It’ll stay warm as long as the pot has the top on it and if you don’t give your little balloon packers enough time then the balloons the give you to eat will be disgusting because they’re really pissed at their working conditions.
So, while the rice is cooking I diced a huge chunk of ginger—a lot more than I usually use. I added 3 (pretty good sized) diced cloves of garlic to this. Then I cut up 1 medium onion and 2 shallots julienne style and I sautéed all of these things in a pan with a small amount of olive oil (just enough to barely coat the pan, I didn’t want an olive-y curry).
As they were doing their thing and making my kitchen smell delicious I peeled and chopped 2 medium sized sweet potatoes. It’s pretty easy to know what size to chop these things into, just make it the size that upon entering your mouth mixed with sauce and rice will force your body to make a deep rumbling MMMMM sound that would be embarrassing were you not eating this in the company of only those people you allow into your home.
So I threw the potatoes in as I was chopping them, and when I got the first one in I had my lovely assistant add the can of panang curry paste and stir so that everything was coated. At this point you couldn’t even tell there had been any oil on the plate in the first place and it seemed like I was just frying delicious roots in a dry-ish curry paste. I think this is probably a good thing because I read in a few places when trying to learn how to cook Indian food that sautéing the spices dry first does a lot more to ‘release their inner flavor’. If it doesn’t do that it’ll release their inner smell and your nose will trick you enough that it doesn’t matter.
While all of this sizzling was going down I choped 2 big-ish peppers: one red and one yellow. I did a thicker slice than julienne would have wanted and then made rectangles out of the strips. I threw half of each in at this point and the other half at the very end after all of the milk had gone in (so that they'd be a little turgid as I was eating).
After all the potatoes were in I stirred everything for a while to try and ensure that there was an even coat of paste on everything and that each bit had spent its moment warming itself on the pan bottom. Then I opened a can (400ml) of coconut milk, threw out all of the weird caked crap at the top, poured in just a little, and stirred lovingly with a wooden ladel as if I were making a risotto. I ended up doing this for the rest of the coconut milk phase and I have no idea if it helped the dish, but it was fun.
I should say here that I find the trickiest part about Thai cooking to be the coconut milk. I like the flavor, I like it an awful lot, but ONLY when properly mixed with delicious Thai spices. If there is too much and I have a very sweet curry I get unbelievably sad because I know what the dish could have been. I’ve done this with Massaman curry too many times. Since the dish already has some yammy sweetness to it I did not want to over do it.
About halfway through the milk business I also poured in some fish oil. I have no idea how much I used, somewhere between half a teaspoon and 2 tablespoons. That probably isn’t very helpful but it probably shouldn’t be right? Everyone has a different tongue that wants a different amount of fish oil on it, so you shouldn’t just put as much fish oil as I did in yours.
Then I let the whole thing cook over a medium-low heat for a while, stirring very occasionally. I was hoping to eliminate as much sweet potato rigidity as I could. When I couldn’t bare waiting any longer I dished the whole thing up and ate. I used a plate rather than a bowl because it wasn’t super soupy, but when it is I really like to just dump the rice into the curry-bowl and eat it that way.
There aren’t words for how good it was. I can only say that I was extremely upset when I was full that I couldn’t be eating more, that I ate seconds twice throughout the evening, that I had it for breakfast and for lunch the next day, and that as I write this now, two days later, I still wish I were eating it. My stomach longs for it at night (it has enough spice to warm the tummy through these cold almost-winter new york nights). I could go on. I was particularly happy with how the peppers turned out. None of them were crisp, but they gave a nice textural variety to the ricy-potatoe goodness that was going on with them.
So, basically this was a triumph. As Z put it “you outdid yourself this time Mr. Roess”. I rate this an MMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! .
Friday, December 12, 2008
All I wanted to do was make it home in the cold rain, put on my pajamas, and pass out until morning. But a nagging part of me also wanted to make sweet potato and pinto bean chili, because it sounded delicious. So in the spirit of conquering winter lethargy one day at a time, I decided to make the chili! I'm not sure whether or not I followed a recipe, but I did read four or five on VegWeb before making this.
The chopping involved in making the chili was kind of annoying, since I was trying to do it while watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. There was a lot that needed to be diced, and cutting sweet potatoes blows. But I persevered!
First I diced up a green pepper and a red onion and threw them in the pot with some olive oil. After that I put some chili powder, cumin, oregano, and cayenne pepper in. I wanted to make it really hot so that the sweet potato cubes would be like little life savers that your tongue wriggles through and swims to safety. Then I threw in the sweet potato, some College Inn brand vegetable broth, a can of pinto beans (drained/rinsed), and some canned diced tomatoes. I probably should have thought about which vegetables I should put in and when, but I didn't really do that. Because I didn't do that, the sweet potatoes took a lonnnggg time to get tender which meant that the onions were soggy. But it was okay. Because there were tender sweet potatoes. Mmmmmmmmm. To finish it off, I put in some fresh cilantro, stirred it in, and then ate a lot of chili.
All in all, I don't think I'd make it again. It's a little too time-consuming for what comes out, but maybe it would be okay if two or more people were making it. Also, next time I think I'd use the crock pot and let it go overnight so that the sweet potato flavor would escape its little cubey bodies some more.
For homemade chili, I'm going to go with an MMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm and a drink. Let's conquer winter y'all!
Here is a quick little recipe for a nice asparagus dipping sauce (I keep it in my cell phone because you never know):
1 tb Dijon mustard
4 tb red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
.5 tsp salt
.5 tsp pepper
.5 cup olive oil
Toss it all together, and whisk away. Steam the A for 5-10 minutes and it's ready for dippage. The sauce stores pretty well in the fridge for a couple days too, as long as you stir it up before serving it.
According to good old Wiki, comfort food is often characterized as "inexpensive, uncomplicated, and easy to prepare. Many people turn to comfort food for familiarity, emotional security, or as a special reward." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comfort_food)
Personally, I'm of the opinion that comfort food is anything that creates a layer of fat between me and the nasty, brutish, Hobbes-style world. Yesterday certainly fit that category, with cold rain whipping and thrashing at me and my broken, pathetic umbrella. I was already in a bad mood and I was already in Queens (which could put anyone in a bad mood), and I couldn't think of anything I needed more than my own personal comfort food, the kind only an all-night diner specializing in everything from pancakes to pasta can provide.
So, we headed to the Bel-Aire Diner in Long Island City, Queens (31-91 21ST St. at Broadway). An attempt to find a copy of the menu online proved fruitless, probably because there is simply too much to cram onto one Web page (it barely fits on one beat-up leather-bound menu with many pages). Trust me when I tell you that the place has anything you could ever want, especially when your stomach is rumbling and storm clouds are rolling overhead (literally and figuratively).
The first and most important thing to note is that the building itself makes it fairly obvious what kind of delightful cliche you're in for. Standing alone in the corner of a shopping center parking lot on Broadway, the entire exterior is paneled in chrome, with large windows to create the typical diner-style fishbowl effect. The concrete ramp leading to the entrance a few feet above the ground feels like a stairway to heaven.
The wood-paneled inside is just as traditional as the outside. Fresh fish sneer from a pit full of ice just inside the door, and the place is sprawling, with booths upon booths (all upholstered in wonderful, hideous plastic fabric, alternating between stripes of florals and solids). and a long counter piled high with wrapped baked goods. The swinging kitchen doors are just beyond it, where men in white aprons dash around yelling frantically to one another. Of course, there are also mints at the register just inside, and the added bonus of shortbread cookies half-covered in plastic wrap.
The perk of this diner (something that my favorite Queens diner, Neptune Diner at 31-05 Astoria Blvd., fails to recognize as important) is that they will seat you before the rest of your party has arrived. I waited for my friend L in a comfy booth, annoyed at the rain falling outside the aquarium windows. When she arrived, they brought the standard mix of beets in one bowl and chickpeas with onions in another. Apparently this is traditional diner fare, and while I generally prefer a hunk of bread as a starter, the chickpeas and beets are always delicious enough to prompt me to take a few heaping spoonfuls as I peruse the menu.
I have to agree with the Wiki on the point that comfort food needs to feel familiar. Diner food, and comfort food, generally hold no surprises. In these scenarios, it's always a no-frills kind of meal, where you know exactly what you're getting before you even read the description. I've never met a burger I didn't like, so when I need to be comforted by gobs of greasy grub, it's always where my eyes go first. Has anyone ever been comforted by a salad? If you plan to crunch away your blues with carrot sticks and lettuce, Bel-Aire (and certainly any other diner) is probably not for you.
A burger with mozzarella for me, complemented by my most frequent and favorite side order: sweet potato fries. Much like sweet potato friends, sweet potato fries just make a person feel good about life. My friend L ordered a breaded fish sandwich and requested exactly two of my fries rather than ordering her own side. It was heart-wrenching, but after a few beats of silent panic I agreed to share a few.
It's pretty hard to ruin a hamburger, but it's equally difficult to make a good one. A child of the Midwest, I thought Burger King was just about as good as it got for the first 18 years of my life. Needless to say, one can only describe my state of mind during this period of my life as "juvenile" and "ignorant." If they're feeling charitable. Thanks to places like Manhattan's Paul's Place (131 2nd Ave., where my friend N claims he once got a "bad batch," although I'm not sure I believe it) and Bel-Aire, I now understand what a real burger tastes like.
Bel-Aire burgers are big. And by big I mean BIG. Not the kind of big where they serve it on a teeny plate to make you THINK it's big. The kind of big where it's on a plate fit for royalty, and you're the king or queen. Springy lettuce, tomatoes, two onion rings for garnish, and the blessed sweet potato fries. My appreciation for life begins to return.
There isn't much to say about a burger that you haven't heard before, but this particular one was meaty, thick, delicious, and cooked just as I'd requested (medium well-done). The bun wasn't soggy, which is often a dealbreaker for a hamburger connoisseur such as myself. Because diner food is so inexpensive, the quality is sometimes sacrificed. Not so at the reliable Bel-Aire, which I've visited many times since moving to the neighborhood over a year ago.
As for the sweet potato fries...fewer things in life are better (even if they needed a bit of salt, as most fries tend to need). Although Manhattan's Curly's Vegetarian Lunch (328 E. 14th St.) easily has some of the best SPFs in the city (with Manhattan's Silver Spurs at 771 Broadway also receiving an honorable mention), the SPFs at this diner have always satisfied me immensely. I had to keep slapping L's hand away, if that gives you any indication of how good they were (and how possessive I am of my SPFs). The waitress mentioned she'd never had this particular variation of fried goodness, and I looked at her like she's sprouted another head, or perhaps at least a few hairy facial warts. If she hadn't been so jolly I would have expected that she might spit in our sundae.
Ah, the sundae, another comfort food staple. I'm not generally a lover of ice cream, unless it's Ben and Jerry's Cinnamon Buns (I know, I know, it's sinful), but when L suggested sharing a sundae, it sounded like the perfect choice for a freezing, rainy day at a diner in the middle of Queens. When our waitress claimed that she makes "a mean banana split," the decision was made for us.
One scoop of vanilla ice cream flanked by a scoop of chocolate and another of strawberry. The next layer was nuts, probably cashews, although we were eating too quickly to find out. Chocolate sauce. Whipped cream. Three cherries (which L let me eat because she hates maraschinos...crazy woman). It was a gigantic, sugary hug, and every second of it was familiar, comforting, and amazing.
We sat chatting for almost an hour afterward, occasionally scooping up delicious, melty, choco-straw-nilla ice cream swirled with chocolate sauce goo and whipped cream. Our plates were collected at intervals by smiling busboys, and we weren't rushed to leave or hustled out the door. The waitress finally came over and asked us sweetly if we could do her a favor and let her take our check to the counter because she needed to cash out. We could stay as long as we wanted, she assured us, whisking the check away for us with a smile.
At this point, it's time to stop for a minute and talk about our waitress. She was pretty enthusiastic from the get-go, really pushing the traditional family-style diner love on us. We hadn't even spoken yet and she was already calling me "sweetheart" and "darling." Lady, I know you're trying to make the place seem welcoming, but you don't know me at all. I might be a heinous, non-tipping bitch. Give it a minute and find out before you assume that I'm such a lovely person.
Okay, I'll grudgingly admit that I love the kitsch of perky diner waitresses and busboys. She was great, and as she returned our bill she thanked us again and told us that next time our sundae would be on her. As L exclaimed, "we are SO coming back here." Yes, we are.
The Mmm rating: About a MMMM out of MMMMM in the diner food category. You have to take diner food for what it is. It's no Spigolo (1561 2nd Ave in Manhattan, one of my favorites), but sometimes a caloric embrace is just what you need.