Saturday, March 31, 2007

Food Stress

On Tuesday, we had our Literary Salon (i.e., Book Club) at J's house. Now, our whole group is a fan of good food (and J is often the one leading the charge on ensuring dessert, so she's right there too), but some of us also love cooking and some of us don't - and J is in the latter category.

And so, as the date of the event approached, her anxiety level rose. She started stressing out over what we would order. Understanding the importance of food to this group, she stressed on whether people would be happy with delivery. Now, we all know that I'm a fussy eater, but I love this group and so I would be happy even without food (I guess to be perfectly honest I'd rather have no food than bad food), but I certainly didn't think it was worth her stressing out about (not that she would listen).

Anyway, the night arrived, and I wasn't sure what she had decided. I arrived - late (work is overrated) as J was finishing up a tour of the apartment. She had arranged a nice big table (actually hers and her neighbor's kitchen tables pushed together - NY is all about being resourceful!) in her dining area. She sat us down, put out two big bowls of dumplings and passed around a menu to order.

I was confused. Had she already ordered food? Was she going to order again? Where had the dumplings come from? Carelessly, she brushed the question away, she had made those, but they were "no big deal". Now, granted, I was hungry - but that wasn't the only reason that I ate 18 or so (but who's counting) of these most Excellent dumplings - I ate them because they were fabulous. Apparently they were beef and broccoli (a good start to anything) and she had made a dipping sauce with fresh ginger and garlic.

We did in fact order from Land Thai, a perfectly good Thai restaurant on the UWS and the food was good. But I could have survived quite happily just on the dumplings (I was honestly stuffed before the 'real' food arrived.). We had ordered a bunch of dishes and I tried bites of everything, but (honestly!) the high (food) point for me had already passed - but then, I'm a huge dumpling fan.

I hadn't even stopped to consider what she would offer for dessert, assuming that this would be something purchased. But here again, J surprised me. She had baked A's very favorite cupcakes to celebrate his birthday (2 weeks before, but then we can't schedule our Salon just to conform to A's birthday).

I personally saw him eat 3, though he may have gotten a fourth one in when I wasn't paying attention (and he took all of the 'extras' home). For someone who "doesn't know how to cook", J proved to be a perfect hostess because she concentrated on what she thought her guests would like. Cooking is just a way to entertain, but as J ably demonstrated, the best way to be a good hostess is to know what will make your guests happy (even if it's a cake mix out of a box).

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Answer

On my way to work this morning, I realized that I hadn't answered THE question in my last post. Last week's NY Times offered up the thought that maybe, just maybe, you don't need to cook only with a wine you would drink. I agonized over this knowing that a few days later I would be making Beef Bourguignon - which is one of the more wine intensive dishes that I ever cook. I went to the wine store without a firm decision on which way I would go (placing my meal in the hands of fate). The nice gentleman who helped me suggested that I could cook with a nice, cheaper California Pinot. One of the (few) definitive results in the Times had been the idea that less tannic wines cook better. And so I thought about the more typical, fruitier California wines - and finally, a decision: I bought the cheaper wine to cook with.

And it was fantastic! The recipe called for a cup, I used the whole bottle (why use water when you can use wine - especially wine you wouldn't otherwise drink). I can't believe that it could have been any better with a better wine (like those that we did drink).

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Little French Flavor At My House

I had my friends P and S over for dinner last night. It had taken us a while to find a date that worked for us, but it finally happened. I was running a little late (due to that rather extended Amy Ruth's lunch), but I managed to mostly be ready on time. And I did have a cheese plate ready to go to cover my lack of perfect timing.

For the cheese plate, I had chosen:
  • L'Edel de Celeron
  • 5 Year Aged Gouda
  • Manchego
  • Maytag Blue

I thought it worked well as a combination of flavors, textures, etc. (I did have a slight problem though in the my crackers were 'off', but it was sort-of like a corked wine where you aren't really sure, but luckily I had another box, which were fine, and we continued on with our evening.) We started with a 2005 Morgon, Sarl Marcel Lapierre which was nice.

A little later than planned, we sat down for our appetizer. I had made Epicurious' Twice-Baked Goat Cheese Souffle on a bed of Greens. I made a sherry vinegar vinagrette for the greens and put the cream mentioned in the recipe on the souffle. It tasted good, but I feel like I could have done a better job on the presentation. We moved on to a 2003 Cote Chalonnaise La Digoine, at that point which I really liked and that I thought worked well with the souffle.

For the main course, I went with Beef Bourguignon. I used the recipe from Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook (I don't want to copy his whole cookbook on this blog (I used his mussels with white wine last week), but highly (!) recommend it as a great cookbook). I will say that his recipe called for 4 onions, I cut up 3 large, but it really looked like too much, so I only used about 2 - I can't really imagine that he meant 4 large onions. I did follow his recommendation that a couple of spoonfuls of demi-glace would improve the dish; I don't know if that's what did it, but (with all modesty) it was fantastic - it was really rich, with a huge depth of flavor, the meat and the carrots were both incredibly tender. We all had seconds (the recipe says it serves 6, but with just 3 of us, we almost finished it all). I paired it with some Parpadelle Egg Noodles which worked well.

Our final wine was a 1997 Vincent Girardin Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru, which really was amazing - and worked well with the Beef.

I finished up with creme brulee (since I love it so much - and, if nothing else, I figured that the guys would have fun helping to torch the top). I used the recipe for this from Bourdain as well (I consider myself somewhat of a creme brulee expert and this is the best recipe that I've found for it - though I did just hear that the Balthazar cookbook might have one that could be competitive).

I paired the creme brulee with my last bottle of the 2001 Trentadue Vigonier Port - which just works so well with this type of creamy dessert.

Not Just for Breakfast Anymore (Amy Ruth's)

My friends M (of What's Left Behind ) and S were in town this weekend - and time with them always means food, good food. Given their willingness to go to anywhere for good food, I suggested that we head uptown (i.e., convenient to none of us) to Amy Ruth's (116th between Lenox and 7th - right near the 2/3 subway station). I had never been, but had heard great things about it.

When we got there, we were told that breakfast was no longer being served, I was a bit concerned as I had heard great things about the waffle and fried chicken option. It turns out that I needn't have worried, waffles are apparantly not just for breakfast anymore (the waffle section on the menu is as big as the breakfast section).

Once seated, I read over the menu, but now that I knew that waffles were back to being an option - I knew that I was getting the waffles and fried chicken. Every minute I was there, I was more convinced that this was a great place: there wasn't a line (though there was a big one on the way out), everyone gave us very warm welcomes and then - there on the menu - I saw what for me clinched that it was my kind of place "Only real maple syrup served", I was very happy - that's a rule that all places should have. As soon as we ordered, they brought us biscuits. They were fantastic!

Now interestingly enough, they weren't what I normally would have considered biscuits being more bready than flakey - but the flavor was incredible. I could have eaten a dozen, which luckily, they did not bring - because I still had my meal to go. And with the mac & cheese on the side (couldn't resist ordering it), I needed all the space I could get.

I am now including a gratuitous maple syrup photo, because proper respect for a restaurant that serves the real stuff demands at least that.

I was excited for the meal, but let's be honest, I figured that the waffle would be a mere vehicle for the fried chicken and maple syrup combination. Oh, to be wrong like this more often... This was easily the best waffle I have ever had. This was actually better than I would have thought waffles could taste. Most waffles (especially this Belgian-style kind) seem to be kind of cardboard-y. This had a soft moist interior that was absolutely delicious. I savored each bite - some with chicken and maple syrup, some just with the syrup (and butter, of course). It was heavenly.

And then I tried the mac & cheese - and to think I hadn't thought it could get better. If this wasn't the best mac & cheese I've ever had, it was darn close. I think that it had some sour cream or something in, it was rich and tangy. The only downside was that I really couldn't finish everything and I had the constant dilemma of whether I wanted to prioritze the waffle/chicken or the mac & cheese. As far as problems go, that's not a bad one to have though.

M and S both had waffles with fruit (apples and blueberries, respectively) and enjoyed theirs as well. They also tried the mac & cheese and supported my assertion that it was amazing. We spent some time talking after we had finished and never felt rushed. All in all, between the service and the food - I am a huge fan of this place.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Kitchen Myth?

Like so many others, I've lived by the "never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink" rule. Planning a meal for tomorrow that involves a significant amount of wine (details after the meal actually happens), I'm in a bit of a quandary. Do I continue behavior that has worked quite well for me in the past? Or do I (courtesy of the NY Times) stop living in my urban-myth-type world? Do I risk my friends' taste buds in the pursuit of truth? Or do I take the safe way out?

I haven't decided. I think it will come down to the wire.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Beef 'n Babes (StripHouse)

My friend H has an annual dinner she calls Beef 'n Babes. She gets a group of women together once a year for an all out steak dinner at a different steakhouse in town. It's one of my favorite meals all year. This year's was last Saturday. And so we braved the wintery weather and headed to East 13th between University and 5th.

I got really excited when I walked in because it's just such a cool place. The walls are lit with red and lined with photos. The room itself is long and thin with banquettes along all the walls. We ended up in a table at the center, but I would definitely want a banquette next time. And there will be a next time. Not only is the atmosphere great, the service was also fantastic.

When we finally got around to menus, we started with the wine. I went with a Bordeaux because I like them with my steaks. After some serious consideration, we chose the Chateau Bahans Haut Brion 2001. It was amazing. The rest of the ordering wasn't that tough - I knew going in that I'd be getting a steak.

After we dealt with the menus, they brought us a little soup as an amuse bouche. L was skeptical because when we went to Ureno we got a soup amuse there that smelled better than anything, but the flavor didn't measure up. But that didn't happen here - this one tasted as good as it smelled. It was a Celery Potato Puree with Parsley Oil. It was awesome!

I then had the Bibb Lettuce Salad, with onions, bacon, blue cheese. It was a very nice, light salad.

For my steak, I chose the Rib Eye. And got the Truffled Creamed Spinach to go with it, even though no one else wanted any (I just don't believe that you can skip creamed spinach if it's available - it seems like it should be impossible to do). We also got the fries, the mushrooms and the green beans to share, but while the others were great, I concentrated on the steak and spinach. And the steak was perfect. It was perfectly medium-rare. And the outside was full of flavor. It was awesome.

Despite being very full (very, very full), we got dessert. We shared and went with the Apple Strudel. The flavors were good, but there was a bit too much apple for me - the balance between the apple and the pastry (which was awesome) wasn't quite right. It was okay, but it didn't measure up to the rest of the meal.

I'm not planning to wait til next year to go back (besides, H tries to keep us adventurous, trying different places every year).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Just Drinks (Flatiron Lounge)

So tonight H, L and J had planned after dinner drinks with a bunch of friends. I was running late and worried that I would get there just to see them all leave. But, being social and loving my friends I made the trek down to 19th (between 5th and 6th) for what I assumed would be a quick drink as everyone got ready to leave. Three hours later I realized that I needn't have worried.

I ordered a Qupe Syrah. Now, this is one of my bar standby wines. It's not going to set your world on fire, but it's a good solid Syrah and often one on the 'by the glass' menu. I consider it a welcome sight on any such menu. And tonight it came through; it did not disappoint.

That said, the Flatiron Lounge is not a place to be drinking wine. It is a cocktail lounge, if at all possible, one should have a cocktail (and be very happy about it). Unfortunately for me, I wanted wine (there's no accounting for taste). Ignoring that, they definitely pass my cocktail bar 'sniff test' (i.e., check and see if they have Hendrick's Gin, if they do, they probably know what they're doing - I didn't say it was a complicated test). And that's not even commenting on the really great atmosphere/decor - it's a perfect cocktail lounge.

H ordered a Mule, which turned out to be an awesome choice. It was mint, ginger, muddled raspberries (most drinks are better if something is muddled) and rye wiskey (and I have the sneaking suspicion that there was something else - I'll have to check with H and confirm). But it was fantastic - not sickeningly sweet, but rather complex with a hint of sweetness.

D drank bourbon. On the rocks. A real drink. How much can you tell about someone by what they drink?

Saturday, March 17, 2007


So last night, I went to a wine tasting at C & L's. As one might expect, it was fabulous. It was primarily a Châteauneuf-du-Pape tasting (which is great, not just because it tastes good, but also because it's fun to say - really, try it: Châteauneuf-du-Pape). We also tried a few Cotes du Rhone as well as starting off with a couple of Condrieus (which I had never tried, but quite enjoyed (rare for me with whites) and look forward to drinking more of).

The problem is that I have no valuable information to report back on. I can say that the wines were fabulous (with the exception of '5', which I didn't particularly care for (though L really liked it, so I'm fairly confident it had some redeeming qualities)), but given the fact that the only thing I can remember is that it was '5', doesn't really tell anyone anything. I also quite enjoyed '6', '10' and 'B' (the last was a Cote du Rhone, the numbered ones were Châteauneuf-du-Papes) and that 'C' would have done very well with a nice, juicy, medium-rare Sirloin. The issue is that by the time we got around to unveiling the actual names, I had had enough good wine that trying to remember details of names was not exactly top of mind. As always, the devil is in the details.

I will add that watching people choose wines in an unstructured, blind tasting is interesting. There are a small group of folks who start with '1' and continue in order until they hit the end. A few of their counterparts start at the top (in this case '13') and work down. Then there are those who choose the nearest bottle at any given point, but make notes to ensure they're not doubling up. And finally the smallest group just choose randomly and hope that if they double up, it's on the ones that they most liked. I tried to convince folks that I was using the Fibonacci Sequence to choose, but my friends aren't idiots, so they didn't believe me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Girls Night In

L and I try to throw a dinner party every month or so. Last night was pretty much the usual crowd: the two of us plus H, C and J. I had a fairly busy day and so L volunteered to figure out what we'd make. We prepped on Monday night (our usual 2 night schedule), but somehow were a bit off on our timing and so dinner was a bit later than usual. Luckily, we had a cheese platter and fabulous conversation.

When we finally sat down, we started with the beet salad, as is often true, this was a last minute grab from epicurious - the only difference was that it was L, not me that went that route. She chose the Roasted Beet Salad with Beet Greens and Feta. It was amazing! I had been skeptical of the combination (I didn't know if I liked beet greens and wasn't sure what the capers were going to do), but the flavors really worked! It was the sweetness of the beets with thte salt of the feta and capers and the vinagrette was just light and perfect. The only change I would make would be that I would bake the beets in tin foil rather than in a pan of water (it took way too long - not the one hour that the recipe called for). Oh yeah, this wasn't quite enough feta - I stopped because the plate looked over-full, but we ended up using everything from the recipe.

Our main course was a chicken dish: Chicken Fricassee with Carrots, Mustard Greens and Avgolemono Sauce - keeping with the sort of vague Greek theme (the feta, etc.). The recipe called for mustard greens, but they didn't have any (tried multiple places), so L bought broccoli rabe. Now, it turns out that I usually hate broccoli rabe - and amazingly, so do 4 of the 5 people at the dinner (pretty much just L likes it), but somehow, it tasted good - better than good even. It was really nice! The dish itself had a nice lemony flavor with a really rich sauce, but kept from being overpowering by all the vegetables. It's definitely good, but a little time consuming - I liked it but unless I figure out a faster way to make it, I might be done with it for now.

And for dessert, I chose the Swiss Honey-Walnut Tart. I had wanted something with honey in it (again, going with the quasi-Greek thing) and this (despite the 'Swiss' thing), seemed like a good bet. When it got out of the oven, it looked really good!

It looked even better when we cut into it

And even better when I got it on a plate with whipped cream

It tasted strongly of walnuts and honey (no huge surprise). You definitely need to like those strong flavors (this was the honey from my brother's friend's farm, not the bland grocery store stuff), but the dish worked really for those who did.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Simplicity (Mussels and Linguine)

So, every month (or so), L and I like to do a big dinner. We initially tried to schedule these on a weekend, but could never get everyone's calendars to work. So we came up with the two night plan: we shop and prep the first night, finish, serve and eat the second. It's been a very successful plan so far.

We're having the dinner tomorrow and normally that would mean a plan made over the weekend. But, that didn't quite happen. And then my day was a bit out of control today. And so L just picked the dinner (details tomorrow, when we finish and eat it) - and offered to do the bulk of the shopping (and, really, that's not why we're friends). I bought some of the rarer items, as well as dessert items (L sometimes doesn't properly prioritize dessert - but I know J is coming, so I know that I have to).

We started these meals after we took a knife skills class. It was supposed to be a way to practice. And we do try to watch our form (L did a very good job on it tonight!). Lately, we've settled into a routine where she does the bulk of the prep, I help, but I also mix up something easy for the first night dinner. The only problem with L is that she's not as big of a meat eater as I am. So I was standing in the store facing the fish counter, trying not to notice the beautiful lamb just off to my right, when I saw them. $2.99 a pound. Beautiful. Black. Shiny. Mussels.

How hard (I asked myself) could it be to make mussels with a wine sauce. I had wine. I had onions. I had garlic. I had just gotten parsley (for tomorrow's dinner - not really a rare item, but they were out of it at the other grocery). How many other things could really be in a basic recipe. (I've never before shopped for a 'specific' recipe without having ever looked at it before). And best of all, I'd seen L order it in a restaurant, so I figured she had to like it. It was decided. I was the decider.

I arrived home to find L already elbow deep in chicken (again, for tomorrow). I explained what I planned. She didn't believe it. I pulled out my Anthony Bourdain cookbook (Les Halles - I love it, because, really, what other cookbook has "Just to show them who's their daddy" as part of a recipe -- that and the fact that everything I've ever made from it has been good) and figured he had to have the recipe. I flipped past Moules Normandes and Moules a la Portugaise and stopped on Moules Marinieres

Moules Marinieres
Adapted from Anthony Bourdain, Les Halles Cookbook
Serves 2 (his recipe is for 4 and is double everything, except the parsley)

2 ounces butter
1 small onion (he uses shallots, which I didn’t have)
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper
3 lbs of mussels
4 sprigs of flat parsley (he uses 4 also, but we like parsley and so went a bit heavy)
Lemon (this is our addition, we happened to have it, and it was a nice addition - squeeze on at the table)
1 pack of linguine
  1. Heat butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once melted, add onions. Put the pasta water on to boil.
  2. Cook til soft and beginning to brown (he says 2 minutes, I did it for significantly longer – but, again, mine were onions)
  3. Add wine and bring to a boil (“cranking up the heat all the way)
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. Dump the mussels into the pot and slap on the lid. Add the pasta to the boiling water (should be boiling just about now)
  6. Cook just until all the mussels are open all the way (he says 10 minutes, no more – I did it for 8)
  7. Shake the pot, keeping the lid firmly pressed on the top. Add the parsley. Shake again.
  8. You can toss in an additional knob of softened butter (and, of course, I did)
  9. Pour into warmed serving bowl
  10. Enjoy!

This was it. The recipe I had wanted. I had known it would be simple, but this was ridiculous. L expressed disbelief that I was making it. I headed for the fridge for a quality white. I chose the 2004 Navarro Sauvignon Blanc (with the rule that you have to cook with a wine you would drink, I had to go for that over the Chardonnays, because I would never really willingly drink a California Chardonnay). To start the recipe, I poured myself a glass. I decided then and there that I liked this recipe. It was short. It was sweet. And it started with a nice glass of wine.

While L continued to slave away at dinner for tomorrow, I managed to look busy, enjoy my wine and put together the single easiest dinner I have ever served a guest (never served a guest an Egg in the Hole, which is the only thing I can think of that would be in the running). In very short order (probably 25 minutes, including time for me to enjoy my wine), the dinner was ready. And it looked beautiful!

And it tasted even better. I have found a new standard recipe. I will be making this more often, because: 1. It is fantastic, 2. It is easy, and 3. It is impressive. The nice man at the market had insisted that while 1.6lbs of mussels looked like a lot, it wasn't. And so I had ended up with something very close to 3lbs (he threw in a couple on top of the final weight, which is just a great feeling). While L and I could potentially have been satisfied with the 1.6lbs. We felt compelled to not waste any of the 3 (I don't always insist on cleaning my plate, but with these, it really felt like a horrible crime). And so, I've enclosed a picture of my third helping. It's not as dramatic as the first, but it tasted just as good!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Casual Saturday (Le Bistro Steak)

Between the flu, surgery, a busy work schedule, etc. we weren't a particularly energetic group on Saturday night. But it had been a while since we had had dinner and so J, B, M, V and I ended up at a casual, relaxed meal at Le Bistro Steak (75th & 3rd). I'm always happy with steak and especially love it when I can walk there, so I was happy with the choice.

B took charge of the wine list and chose the Chateau de Clairefont '04. And then it happened, the test. B wasn't sure - was it corked? I tried it. It did taste off. I concurred - I think it's corked. So, the first test was for us, the diners - that's only the third time in my entire life that I've tried a corked bottle, and it's not as easy to tell as one would think. The second test is for the restaurant. How do they handle it? And they couldn't have handled it better. They were willing to change the bottle as soon as we raised the issue. They didn't insist on them trying it, they didn't insist that we get another of the same (though we did) - they just wanted to know what we wanted to do. I love it when I actually run across customer service - it seems to be becoming quite a scarce commodity. And the second bottle was good - even better once it opened up.

V pointed out the fried oysters on the menu. Somhow, I had missed them - the 'Crispy Oyster' name didn't quite pop in my head. I wasn't starving, so I suggested that we split an order - M & V were enthusiastic. I was enthusiastic when I got the plate because it looked good (I took the picture after a little reshuffling, it was a better plating than it appears here). And, it tasted even better. These were really good fried oysters! I really wasn't that hungry, but I could have eaten a whole bunch more. (And the salad it came with - very simple greens with simple dressing - was really nice. It was totally delicious.)

M and I decided to split the 16oz Dry Aged Sirloin, medium rare (it's not how I choose my friends, but it does help when it happens) and chose the (regular fat) mashed potatoes (V actually got the low fat, and while the regular fat were better (I did a little taste test), the low fat were decent (which surprised me as I'm not ususally a fan of low fat anything)). The steak itself was very nice (though not the best I've ever had - I am concerned that the Lobel's has spoiled me for all else).

We decided to order 3 desserts. But we were unable to agree on a third and so only ended up with 2. It ended up being plenty. The first was the Banana Cream Pie. It had a lot more fresh banana than usual. I really liked it as a slightly different way to do a pretty common dish, though some others said they would have preffered a more typical cream pie.

The second winner was the Chocolate Mousse. It was a nice deep, solid chocolate taste balanced with the light moussey-ness. I probably had more than my fair share of it, but it was definitely yummy and I love mousse.

Overall, a solid good meal - with great company.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Forget about ball-bearings, it's all timing.

Today at 10:30am, after a mere 3 hours of meetings, I had no interest in the Jose Cuervo chocolates that were passed around the room. However, by 4:30 (so that's 9 hours of meetings, and not close to the end), I was on the edge of my chair, hoping that the bottle (to clarify, it's still a bottle of chocolates, though I would likely have been just as excited about a bottle of tequila at that point) made it back around the room to me before it ran out.

There were three left. I took only one (after all, I tend to enjoy tequila only in margaritas - and I'm not a huge fan of chocolate with a liquer center - and there were still a bunch of people after me, waiting).

And it was good. Better than I expected. It did have a liquid center, but not overpowering. I don't know that I'm going to run out and get another bottle, but it was the right bite at the right time.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Satisfying! (Lamb Saag)

You know how sometimes you just get those cravings? You can't even explain it - you're just in the mood for something. Sunday night when I got off the airplane, there was nothing that I wanted more than Lamb Saag (for anyone who's not already an Indian food fan - it's basically a spinach curry with chunks of lamb). But it was already past dinner. And then on Monday I was too tired to cook something new, etc. So here it is Wednesday lunch - and I finally get it. I stopped in for groceries last night (before having chocolate chip cookies and milk for 'dinner') and got everything that I thought I would need.

I've never made Lamb Saag before, but I asked my brother for a recipe - and got general guidance. And so I bought spinach and lamb (I already had onions, garlic, ginger and quinoa (the quinoa is not traditional - but I've just been using it as my primary grain recently and figured it would work with this too)).

And so today as lunch time rolled around, I started cooking. I first put a little salt and pepper on the lamb cubes (the butcher cut them for me, I would recommend smaller ones that I have here - I bought lamb medallions as that was the only option that was easily cube-able)

Then, I sauteed the onions, garlic and ginger. And added salt, pepper and curry powder (could add garam masala, if you happen to have it). Now, one of the secrets is to use plenty of ghee (but I didn't have any, and didn't have time to make it, so I used plenty of olive oil - it made it a little less creamy - I might try butter next time, or I might actually do the ghee thing).

After the onion mixture is ready, you can dump in the spinach (I did it in 2 batches) and let that cook (I took some advice from Elise's recent spinach post (which I saw last night and which only made me more determined to have this dish - soon!) and used the lid (I normally just cook spinach by moving it around a lot) which worked quite well - no problem adapting with all the onion at the base). Once the spinach is wilted (that's the picture I forgot to take) I then used my hand mixer thing (it's like a food processor on a stick), but you could use a food processor or blender, to chop the spinach mixture up.

I then mixed that in with the lamb and served it on a bed of quinoa. Absolutely delicious! (Though I think I will continue to play with the recipe as there is a lot of potential for variation and I'm curious as to what it can become).

Lamb Saag
Serves two (generously)

10 oz fresh spinach (washed and dried, you can substitute frozen if that's all you have)
1 lb lamb cubes (I used medallions, but anything cube-able is probably fine)
3 small onions (I like onions, so this could be reduced)
6-10 cloves of garlic (all spice measurements here are approximate and can be varied based on preferences)
1 Tablespoon of fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons curry powder

  1. Sautee onions, garlic and ginger. When onions are clear, add curry, salt and pepper (to taste).
  2. Sear the lamb cubes in a hot pan so that you get that nice brown crust on the outside, but keep the inside pink (I like mine medium rare)
  3. Add the spinach (I did it in 2 batches, 5 oz each) to the onion mixture. Stir and cover with lid. After a minute or so, flip or stir the mixture. Continue until cooked. Add the second batch of spinach. Repeat.
  4. Puree the spinach and onion mixture.
  5. Mix in the lamb.
  6. Serve (I served on top of quinoa – 20 minutes to cook, start just before everything else) and Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

If Once is Good... (Coco Cubana)

Today I was up in Westchester (Mt. Kisco) and had lunch with my friend J. He gave me a range of restaurant options - and despite having Cuban on Saturday night, I realized that I was in the mood for it again. I don't necessarily encourage people to strive for repetition, but there are times when you want to try different versions of the same thing (it becomes about finding the variety within the sameness - seeing/tasting the differences). And so I ordered Ropa Vieja (again). This time it even came with the sweet plantains (perfect).

The presentation was very different than Saturday - no concentric circles of orange, brown and black. The taste was also different, but still good. This Ropa Vieja was a little sweet and spicy, whereas Saturday's was more of a vinegary taste. I think I liked the vinegar taste better - but, just a little. But this version was really yummy. I'm never going to turn down a dish with a nice depth of flavor as well as that heat. And the meat was tender. Overall, it was a good choice - and only fueled my desire to find better Cuban options in NY.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Refreshing (Pimm's Cups)

We got lucky with our weather this weekend in Palm Beach. From the doom and gloom predicted by the weather people, we ended up with 2 days in the mid-80s (a little cloudy/windy (which actually was refreshing)) and one in the mid-70s (got a bit chilly (again the wind/clouds), but nice). On days like this when you're outside, you're just going to get hot and sticky.

And there are few things more refreshing then than a Pimm's Cup. For anyone who hasn't had one, a Pimm's Cup is a very simple drink. The ones we had (recipe by watching) seemed to involve mixing an almost equal (or a slightly larger) amount of Pimm's with Sierra Mist (always wondered who actually drank that - but it works pretty well in the Pimm's Cup), twisting in a lime wedge and then garnishing with a cucumber (not the only reason that K loves Pimm's Cup, but I'm sure it helps). Other locations have minor variations on this recipe, but it is pretty easy (even easier when K's cousin C (or some of our other fabulous friends) were nice enough to hand deliver them to me as I lolled on a chair.)

I am a little stuck on how to describe the taste (though since I'm still sans photo - you can picture it as looking a bit like a fizzy ice tea - with a cucumber garnish). I get so upset when advertisers describe a drink as 'refreshing', but that's really what it is. It's light, a little fruity (citrus-y), not overly alcohol-y, and it's an eay way to make a lazy summer (or winter, in Florida) day seem just a little more relaxed and festive. Cheers.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Winning With the Old Standby (Cabana)

I had a little camera issue on my trip down to Palm Beach this weekend, so no photos. But the meal that I had at Cabana (118 S Clematis Street, West Palm Beach) was so good, I figured that I would just make people visualize. T & K (of Ultimate Wine Dinner fame) had chosen the restaurant - so I wasn't concerned, but I had no idea what to expect (especially since K couldn't remember the name and just kept saying random words starting with 'C').

It turned out to be Cuban food - something almost guaranteed to bring a smile to my face (especially with the disappointment of learning, a few weeks ago, that decent Cuban food hadn't really crossed the peninsula to Ft. Meyers - and so I had gone all the way to southern Florida without getting my Cuban fix). I looked over the menu with interest, but without real intent. I don't get to eat Cuban enough to order anything except Ropa Vieja. I love Ropa Vieja and so all I really did was find it on the menu, make sure that I could order a side of plantains and then find an appetizer (totally unnecessary as the portions were what one might term 'hearty'). Then I just had fun reading the menu - to see what else they had.

I went ahead with the plantain chips (with guacamole and a salsa) as my appetizer (something light, saving room for the Ropa Vieja). I liberally doused them with salt and found them as good as they ever are. I will say that the salsa was interesting - very finely processed and with a great deep, slightly smokey flavor. (And one that met even my need for something salty).

We paired our meal with pitchers of Sangria and Mohitos (I went with the Sangria) - there were about 20 of us, so the pitchers were a good call. K said that her first Mohito was one of the best that she had ever had. The sangria was good, but not great.

Then, the Ropa Vieja arrived. I'm almost glad that I didn't have a camera as there is no way that the picture would do justice to the flavor (it's not a dish that really wins on presentation - some of the other folks got much 'prettier' plates). Close your eyes and picture the following: A normal white dinner plate with an outer ring (about 1 inch wide) of black beans, inside that was a mound of yellow rice (only about the outer 1 inch was visible - so now you should be picturing concentric circles) and on top of the rice was a bunch of brown shredded meat (I can't describe it any other way - it really didn't look that interesting - just a big brown lump forming the center circle of the dish). Now, picture a small plate next to it with Maduros, deep fried plantains (basically (visually), brownish lumps of banana). Now, just know that this meal tasted infintely better than it looked.

I dug in, grabbing a forkful of rice and meat. It had a slight vinegar-y backdrop with a strong, rich flavor of meat over it. The rice was perfectly seasoned to help bring out the flavors of the meat. K asked for a bite (she had been torn and decided on something else as I had the Ropa Vieja) and so I told her to take as much as she wanted (I think she ended up with almost half of the meat (I dumped a whole bunch on her plate at one point as I was greatly concerned that if she didn't take it, I would eat it - and then one Wafer Thin Mint and it's all over) ).

And so, reveling in each bite, I took a bite of the Ropa Vieja and then a bite of the plantains. I continued to work my way through the combination - concentrating on draining every last bit of flavor and enjoyment out of the slightly bitter/acidic, but rich Ropa Vieja and the sweet plantains.

I can't imagine a meal that we could have had last night that I would have enjoyed more.