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Oh Give Me A Home…

24 Jul

Where the buffalo roam. And the carrots are all gilded and sweeeeeet!

Okay, sorry, no more singing. I realize this is my entry for the monthly wine and food pairing event Combinations and not a spaghetti western. But seriously folks, I have a new addiction. Bison.

Since finally jumping in and trying some of the goods from Elk Trail Bison Farm (Saturday’s at the Union Square Green Market), it’s basically all I can think about. The buffalo are, as they should be, free to roam. They’re raised down in Pennsylvania on a purely grass-fed diet. Check out the site, they’re really cute (unless you don’t like knowing that the meat you eat was cute at one time, if that’s the case, don’t check out the site).

Grass-fed bison, and even beef, is much much better for you. It’s leaner, has less cholesterol, more trace minerals and lots of omega fatty acids. Plus, it cooks faster (which is great in this heat) and tastes better.

I wanted a steak that would cook really quickly, so the nice guy at the stand sold me a “butcher steak”. He said it was part of the shoulder, but a little research shows me that it was probably actually a hanger steak or in French, onglet. The two steaks cost about $8 and didn’t shrink up at all. So go on, give bison a try!

To serve, I was thinking traditional steak house fare. Mushrooms. Potatoes. Green beans. But then we saw these baby carrots. Tri-colore no less! And I knew by the look in the boy’s eyes that we had a winner. He also spotted some rocambole (or hard-neck) garlic at a random stand I’ve never seen before, and I can honestly say… Best. Garlic. EVER!

And just because I’ve been on a roll with doing things a little over the top, I threw in some squash blossoms. You know, just because I could…

I steamed the carrots ever so briefly in water and olive oil with garlic and sage. While they were getting a wee bit soft I made a glaze of sherry vinegar, honey and lavender flowers (just a few). While the carrots were glazing, I cooked the bison.

The guy says that since buffalo meat is so very lean, the only way to cook it is lower and slower. I grilled these (sadly inside and on a pan) over medium-low first on one side until the blood rose to the top, then flipped and cooked until just medium rare by touch. I let them sit and rest until the carrots were done and then served the whole thing up!

The dinner was absolutely delicious, healthy and light. And since it was slightly cooler and red meat was involved, I just HAD to have a red wine…. I am getting kinda tired of whites and roses. I miss my reds…

So I broke down and pulled out a bottle I’ve been saving for eons, a 2004 Domaine Rimbert Les Travers de Marceau from Langeudoc. In my house, this is affectionately called “bunny wine” for the odd angly rabbit on the label holding a bunch of grapes. The 2003 Le Mas au Schiste is actually my favorite wine in the entire world, but the Travers is lovely too. It has more fruit, especially dried red fruit than that 2003 which is all about green chilies and roses. If you see anything from this vineyard ever, grab it. Truly delightful!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Gilded Glazed Carrots.

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My Technicolor Weekend

5 Jul

When the NYSE throws a four day weekend your way, it behooves oneself to enjoy it thoroughly! (Yes, I do realise that the weekend was supposed to be about patriotism and revolution and stuff, but, if the exchange’s board members hadn’t decided to close early on Monday, I would have been at my desk and quite cranky).

So, did we enjoy ourselves? Oh yes! Walks were taken despite the horrific heat and humidity. Football was watched. Shopping was done. Relatives were entertained. And of course, food was consumed.

Backyard Barbecue In Brooklyn.

Bison sausages. Jalapeno sauerkraut. Goodies from the new Fairway. Little neck clams. Delicious dill & fennel slaw. Cheese (natch). Grilled baby carrots and a savory cherry salad (recipe below). It was a feast fit for a hungry clan, not just the four of us, but through our valiant efforts I feel we came out victorious over the delectable dishes. And I think we made another bevanda (or whatever you want to call it) convert, too.

Sunday’s Simple Salad.

I woke up on Sunday craving tacos. Not just any tacos, my very favorite tacos in the whole world. But alas, they are gone. They used to reside on 5th Ave. in Brooklyn between 10th & 11th streets at the back of a wedding cake shop, but, no longer. I am very sad. So, to cheer myself up I romped through Target and cruised the Tompkin’s Square Green Market. Happily squashes are back in force as are funny, tender little root vegetables. Ain’t summer grand? Despite the heat the squash needed to be grilled. My grill pan made the apartment hot and a little smokey, but the results were undeniably, deliciously perfect. This is a must-try recipe (find it below the jump).

Hosting Made Simple.

Thankfully, my second trip to Brooklyn for a remembered culinary craving went better than the previous days. The Vietnamese joint was right where I remembered it in Bay Ridge and the fried squid with garlic sauce was just as insanely good. And then, just to make the day even better, we went out for tacos! The boys sister #2 was in town for a visit. We needed to feed her, but the apartment is waaaay too small for four people to eat in, so, we settled upon serving dessert at home only, and not just any dessert, ricotta gelato from a local favorite, il Laboratori del Gelato! The things I learned from this experience are: Mercadito should have more offerings with huitlacoche on their menu, rosé doesn’t pair very well with cheese ice cream, and four people is the absolute MAX my apartment should ever hold!

Chillin’ On The Fourth

With grilling out of the way, entertaining out of the way and serious recipe crafting out of the way, there was nothing left to do on the Fourth but relax. We had an invitation to head over to Red Hook for a party, but, after three straight days of traveling to the County of Kings, it was time to keep it local and low key. Cheese from our new favorite cheese joint and a very low key take on one of my favorite dishes in the whole world: choucroute. I took some of the jalapeno sauerkraut, placed it in a pot and put some of the leftover bison keilbasa on top, put the lid on, set the flame to super low and let it all steam and blend for about 30 minutes. It was delicious, easy as pie and all American (well, except for the bottle of South African rosé… oops!) After dinner we ambled down Houston, found a decent place to watch the fireworks, oohed, aahed, then headed home to contemplate the end of a very good weekend.

I hope it was excellent for all of you too!

Head below the jump for some very simple summer salads.

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Bistec de Casa Abuela

30 Jun

As a kid I thought it was perfectly normal to eat tofu with chop sticks, roll galumpkies with my grandmother, steal corn from the field behind the house, apples from the orchard down the road and pick asparagus from my mom’s garden (who would also threaten to turn my pet bunny into hassenpfeffer every time he pooed in the house, (which was fair, he was a stringy old hare) but don’t worry, it never happened, Bandit lived on to torture my dog for many happy years).

But let’s be honest, we didn’t eat the good stuff everyday, there were plenty of meals featuring hot dogs and mac & cheese and stuff purchased from the Schwan’s man. But even mundane meals usually had a special touch. Mac & cheese was always served with stewed tomatoes. It was years before I found this was not a universal. Our spaghetti sauce was made by my mom and I from home grown tomatoes.

One of my favorite things to help my mom with though was making homemade tortillas. She would knead the masa and then I would take a little ball and moooooosh it between the two sides of the cast iron tortilla press. I loved this process not only because it was fun but also because it meant there was going to be one helluvan awesome dinner that night. Maybe enchiladas, or mole, or, oh my god, could it be? Posole!

Head below the jump for a bit more random ramblings and the recipe for Bistec de Casa Abuela.
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Big Apple BBQ Gets u-g-l-y Ugly

12 Jun

I love barbecue, I mean, really, who doesn't? And in the past, I've loved Danny Meyer's porcine party, the Big Apple BBQ weekend. Despite the 'cue queues, I've always felt satisfied and happy after scarfing down brisket, sausages, and even last year, pig snouts. But this year, things didn't go so well.

Last year I got to Madison Square Park early, like 10.30, found my favorite pitmaster (Michael Rodriguez of The Salt Lick BBQ) got in his line and had my brisket and sausages within 5 minutes of the opening bell at noon (I even kinda got on tv!) I then jumped in another line while eating my delectable 'cue and had a second round, this time of pulled pork, before 1pm.

This year though I couldn't follow through on this perfect plan. I came down with a sinus infection last Sunday night and suffered all week, unable to take a day off from work for various crappy reasons, so on Saturday morning, I was knackered. It took two World Cup matches to levitate me from the couch and motivate my feet towards 23rd Street.

I got to the park and scoped out the lines. Salt Lick was way too long, even Dinosaur was a bit long, so I settled on Brisket and Sausage (are we sensing a theme here?) from Southside Market & BBQ. Being alone and iPod-less I was forced to listen to the conversations of the two tools behind me. Sample? Sure:

Tweedletool 1: So, I consider myself a total barbecue epicure.

Tweedletool 2: Really? What's your favorite place in New York then?

Tweedletool 1: ummmm… I'd say Brother Jimmy's.

*new scene*

Tweedletool 1: You know what's surprising about this event?

Tweedletool 2: What's that?

Tweedletool 1: That there's so many people outside New York that are SO into barbecue!

Sigh, yeah, for 45 minutes I had to listen to these two tools that would probably take offense if I called them frat boys, because, actually, they prefer the word fraternity and we graduated from Columbia three years ago (I'm just guessing at that fact).

Finally, I was about about to make the turn onto the last leg of the line where you pay for the food and then pick it up. At this turn was a man that, when I and my friends were about the same age as the Tweedletools would have called an SOS/TIG*, aka, a yuppie. He grabbed my arm when I ended up next to him and shoved $50 at my face. "Please, will you buy 2 portions for my buddy and me? You can keep the change."

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?? Hello, Eater? Yeah, hi, um, yeah, just wanted to let you know that you were correct about corruption in Madison Square Park. You just had the venue wrong…

Anyway, back to our story. With jaw agape, I turned to the guy and said something to the effect of "Are you f*cking kidding me??" SOS/TIG "What, is $50 not enough, here, have another twenty." Me "Seriously dude, go f*cking stand on line like the rest of us."

I am proud to say that he tried this on about 4 or 5 other people and, to a man and woman, my fellow New Yorkers all told him to go shove it. He ended up slinking off into the throngs with his tail between his legs to be replaced quickly by a younger version of himself. Man, sometimes I hate these hedgefund guys…

Back to the food: I got my brisket and Elgin sausage and headed for another line to wait and eat simultaneously. The brisket was fatty and gummy and barely edible. The sausage was really very, very yummy, but the best part? Seriously, it was the luscious slice of potato bread soaked in barbecue sauce and hot sauce onto which I dumped the cole slaw. Seriously, heaven.

The line I ended up in was very exciting to me. It was Mitchell's BBQ from North Carolina, and they were doing the whole hog. And I mean the WHOLE hog. They had smoker after smoker lined up next to their serving tent each with a full grown pig cooking away later to be chopped up and served on bread with some vinegar based barbecue sauce and mustard cole slaw. Or, at least, that's what I'm told they were serving because, well, I never got any.

Yeah, this is where it gets ugly.

I stood in line happily chomping away and playing with my new cellphone. Finally, I got to a place in a line where I could watch the proceedings. It was fascinating! They would pull a whole hog off the smoker, pull out all the big bones, put the ribs in a plastic bin and hand that to a girl who methodically pulled the meat off and handed it off for sandwich making.

As soon as the pitmasters got all the big bones out of the hog, they'd start shredding the meat by hand, looking for little bones and connective tissue (I'm assuming) and then eventually passing it over to another table where big cleavers chopped the meat into smokey porcine love. Or at least, that's what I imagine it tasted like (because I never got any).

At last, I was there, after an hour and half of waiting, I paid, and I was next on line. I was watching the woman pitmaster pulling apart the fresh hog they had just pulled off a smoker. I was watching the "VIPs" on the other side of the tent (those that paid tons of extra money for their "Bubba FastPasses") being served sandwich after sandwich. My mouth was watering, my eyes were fixed on the mistress of the hog. I was concocting a strategy (bbq sauce on the meat and then the slaw on the meat, a dash more sauce on the top of the bun, smoosh it all together and chow down) when to my horrified eyes, the woman pushed all the hog meat into a bin, topped it with the pig's skin, turned around flailed her arms in the no more signal and shouted out "The pig was bad, grubs over."

Noooooooooooooooo! I was so close! There was one person in front of me! This caused chaos on the line, but even more so on the VIP line. As Gothamist pointed out, the lemonade "spiked" with Skyy Citron vodka was flowing freely, and the guy at the head of the VIP line had definitely consumed his share of it. He started harassing the girl handing out the meat, he started pulling ribs out of the plastic bin and handing them to people to chew on and then throw at people on the line and behind the counter, he and his friends started grabbing whatever they could, coleslaw, sauce, etc, playing with it and tossing it around and then they started pouring some of said lemondade concotion on the table (I think if they could have pissed on the table they would have). They began yelling. This finally got the attention of the pitmaster, Mr. Mitchell (who is a very large man). He came over and said a few words to our new favorite idiot of the day and he kind of calmed down, that is until the subject of getting his money back got into his head which set him off again. Oy vey. Luckily by this time I had been given my money back and I was able to finally leave the hell hole known as Madison Square Park.

I felt so cheated having wasted almost two hours by this point standing on line and getting nothing for it. I don't know how they can fix this event, but it definitely needs fixing. I know they want to keep this as an event for the people, but the lines are so long that people get really cranky. Maybe there needs to be timed tickets (like they do for big museum exhibitions). Maybe they need to jack the price up, or make it one price, not $7 per dish. I don't know, but I really hope they bring in some logistics people before next year because I've lost my fervor.

*an SOS/TIG is something that my friends and I called yuppies back when we were too ignorant to know that we were heading straight towards yuppie-hood ourselves. A TIG is a Tucked In Guy, a nod to the art of tucking in one's pink polo shirt. An SOS is a Sweater Over Shoulders. This was generally used for women only, especially those that artfully tied their Ralph Lauren cardigans over their Lilly Pulitzer shells, but every now and then, you see an SOS guy. It's rare, but it happens. However, even rarer than an SOS guy is a TIG/SOS. It's kind of like spotting Nessie.

Split & Čevapčići

16 May

Hi all! Yep, I'm back! Totally jetlagged and a little cranky but truly a better person for having gone away for a bit!

I'm glad everyone liked the guest bloggers, wiley little devils ain't they?

I've been hemming and hawing about how to blog our little adventure and decided, well, isn't it just best to start at the beginning?

We arrived (after approximately 19 hours of travel) in the old town of Split, the city that sprung up out of the emperor Diocletian's retirement home. This is one old and beautiful city! The most amazing thing about not just Split, but all of Croatia that I never got from looking at the guide books is how seriously hilly and mountainous it is! The coast is backed up against absolutely ginormous mountains that both affect the weather and create absolutely breathtaking vistas whilst traveling by ferry (and breathtaking in an entirely different way whilst traveling by bus or car!)

But anyway, I digress. Our first move, logically, was to go wandering and exploring. Somehow, we climbed at least halfway up the Marjan, a 123 meter hill on the west side of town. The view, with a huge thunderstorm moving in, was amazing. We actually climbed the sucker the next day, which led, of course, to a very pressing need to EAT!

Wandering about town I spotted a place with lots of school kids hanging out and stuffing their faces, always a good sign! So, we peeked in and we realised that the place was selling one thing, and one thing only, a little sausage we had discovered the evening before at dinner, Čevapčići.

(The first two Cs in this word have little Vs over top of them, č, indicating a "ch" noise and the final c an acute sign over-top, ć, indicating a kinda lispy c noise; CHEV-ap-chee-chi).

Anyway, Čevapčići are little sausage-thingies made of either pork or beef (or a combo), lightly spiced and shaped into little logs (they have no casings and are actually almost a little bit like a kebab). They are DELICIOUS! and when served as Croatian "fast food" they are served with the most beautiful, soft, luxurious bread, an insanely tasty and addictive pepper relish and raw onions.

We came to find out later that the place we went, Kantun Paulina, is far and away one of the most famous Čevapčići places in Split (and Croatia too I believe!). It's been in business for decades and looks like it will be there for many, many more. So the next time you're in Split, ask a local for directions to Paulina's (make sure to say Havala!). You can thank me later…



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