Monday, December 7, 2015

Second Souffle Night--Just One This Time

December 6

This will be remembered as the year of two soufflé nights, for, inspired by the previous one, I had some friends over on 6 December for my first ever cheese soufflé.  Julia's recipe, naturally.  And once again it's hard to believe that something so simple can be so elegant and delicious.

Also roasted some new potatoes and made my favorite salad.  And my friend H. brought over some chocolate pots de creme for dessert, too.

Here's the view fresh out of the oven.  You get a good view of the height in this one.  In the moment I was thinking "God I hope I don't drop it."  Seeing the photo after, I think "God I need a haircut."  But that's a topic for a different, more sartorial, blog.

Anyway, one last "hooray for soufflé!"

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Night of Two Souffles

I've known my friend S. for decades--she was a few years behind me at Columbia.  For years know, we've reliably met up every year at Homecoming to watch the Lions lose to whoever they were playing, and catch up.  This year, she and her husband and I got to talking about food. They are totally into bread, and canned a bunch of tomatoes this summer, so we had quite a bit to talk about. And somewhat randomly the topic of souffles came up, and S. said she'd always wanted to make one, and I said I've been wanting to for ages.

And it just seemed to make sense that we'd get together for a Night of Souffle.  S. & R. were kind enough to invite me over to their place.  I brought the ingredients for a chocolate souffle (plus my souffle pan), and they put together a cheese one before I got there.
So, yes, two souffles in a single meal. Along with a salad and a nice sancerre.  And good company.

What a great meal!  I totally think more people should make souffles more often.  They are easier than you think, delicious, versatile, fairly light, and yet decadent and dramatic at the same time.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the chocolate one got a little over-blown in the oven and started to drip a bit, causing a minor smoke condition partway through cooking.  But it still turned out beautifully and tastily in the end.

Sometimes I cook things and think "well that was a great experience and I never want to do it again."  And sometimes I cook things and think "I can't wait to cook that again!"  This was definitely one of the latter occasions.  Looking forward to the next Souffle Evening.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ICE Pasta Class

Bright and early Sunday morning my friend R. and I took the second of our two planned 2015 cooking classes at ICE last weekend.  This time it was pasta from scratch, with Chef Gerri Sarnataro.

It was a good class, though the sort where everyone divided into teams and made at most 2 things, rather than everyone having the chance to do a little bit of everything, which helped make the Puff Pastry class so rewarding.

The other thing about pasta is there's really no trick to it.  one egg for every 100g of type 00 flour, maybe a little salt, and knead like crazy for 10 minutes--or a little longer if you're not a great kneader (I'm not). Still, there's a pleasing bit of kitchen magic that happens as flour and egg come together and alchemy (and gluten) turns a dusty mess into a smooth, pliable, user-friendly dough.  Here's the before picture (I forgot to take an after, but it really is like alchemy how something this unpromising becomes smooth, shiny, and totally pasta-able.

Ultimately the group made two raviolis, a tortellini, fettuccine and pappardelle, and six sauces to go with the assorted pastas. 

R. and I put ourselves on a ravioli team (butternut squash to be exact) since I wanted to have a chance to make some of those.  We also made browned butter with sage to go on the ravioli, kind of the classic thing to do. And we made a pea-and-crimini-mushroom cream sauce for some of the fettuccine.   Here are some of the raw materials.

And here's the squash, in progress, post roasting and pureeing.

I was a little concerned about the quality of the ravioli--they seemed very haphazard and irregular as we were folding and cutting away.  But they definitely looked nice all set on their pan.

The other sauces were an onion confit-based one that was terrific, a simple herb butter (for cheese ravioli), and two bologneses: one very meaty and one duck-based that actually started with a whole duck.  I kind of wish I'd gotten to participate on team duck pappardelle, as it's one of my favorites.

Still though, we all got to taste a little bit of everything.  I'd been expecting I'd have a ton of fresh pasta to take home with me after, but we pretty much ate everything we made.  I guess it's best made and eaten fresh, anyway.

I'm torn between "carb-o-riffic" and "carb-tastic" as the better adjective for the overall experience. I've owned a pasta maker for years now--my hope is that this inspires me to actually get it out and have people over sometime this winter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Waffle and Broad, Downtown LA

I spent a couple of days in downtown Los Angeles for work last week.  Not much exciting from a food perspective, but I went to check out the new Broad Museum.

 It's a truly striking building, by Diller Scofido + Renfro, with a great facade...
Which is relevant because the next morning I went for an early breakfast at Grand Central Market.  Rather than Eggslut (I hear great things but was put off by the name--I'm kinda sensitive to vulgarity before 9AM.) I went for a cappuccino at G&B Coffee

And was beyond pleased to discover that they could make fresh waffles, while-you-wait.  It was like eating the exterior of the museum!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mission Chinese Bagel

In a break from my usual food adventures, on Friday the 13th some friends and I went to hear Danny Bowien speak this evening at the 92nd Street Y.  He had some interesting things to say--about succeeding seemingly effortlessly, but then what happens after that, when it gets harder.  I've only been to Mission Chinese once, but would love to go again.

He opened by saying he had considered bringing Chinese food for the audience (it was a pretty intimate gathering--nowhere near the hordes who turned out for the Ottolenghi talk a few weeks prior). But instead he picked up Russ & Daughters bagels and cream cheese, and so as he talked he (along with some assistance) sliced, schmeared, and passed out bagels for everyone!

I don't eat bagels much these days--the carb-to-pleasure ratio is off for my personal tastes. But when Danny Bowien lugs bagels to the Upper East Side and makes one for you, gosh darn it, you eat the bagel. Also the talk really was around dinner time and I was hungry.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Cinnamon Rolls From Scratch

I'm pretty good at bread at this point but I rarely branch off into other types of yeasty baked goods.  But yesterday for brunch I adapted King Arthur Flour’s sticky bun recipe to make no-knead cinnamon rolls.  Sticky buns usually seem like overkill to me-- too much of a good thing.  But I love a good cinnamon roll.

Indeed, I have many happy memories of those Pillsbury in-an-exploding-tube things from my childhood...what did I know then? 

Anyway, this was a very easy recipe, they were delicious (especially paired with a little dry Prosecco), and I will definitely be making them again.

I topped them with a little improvised icing--the basic confectioner’s sugar/half and half mix, flavored using a gift from my pastry-chef sister, fiori di sicilia, a wonderful, but very potent, extract combining citrus and vanilla.  For something I made up on the spot, it really worked well!

Dinner at the Metropolitan Opera

A good meal anytime is a joy.  But a good meal when you weren't really necessarily expecting one is especially nice. This is relevant because a few weeks ago, I had dinner at the Met's glitzy Grand Tier Dining Room, a true New York capital-I Institution, and someplace I've wanted to eat for as long as I've been a cultural aficionado in this great city. 
But really, being where it is, I wasn't expecting much out of the Dining Room.  I mean, it's in the MET! People go there because it's part of a night at the opera, not because the food is any good. Also, consider the average age of a patron! Mushy pablum and geritol were about as much as I expected from the menu.

So I was pleasantly surprised, indeed, that the menu had some interesting things going on, and more than that, everything we ordered was really well executed, especially given that they are on a super-strict timetable to get patrons fed and in their seats in the auditorium in time for the curtain.


That said, I am compelled to point out the caviar options at the top of the menu, going up to the $135/30g Royal Belgian Osetra. We opted out of a caviar course.

To start, we got the octopus and the chicken liver mousse (with port gelee and fig marmalade..mmmm). I try to avoid eating octopus because I think they're cute and they are undeniably very smart. But they are also undeniably very delicious, so once in a while I give in.

This particular cephalopod was fantastic, a single tentacle, and whatever they did to it left it perfectly cooked and amazingly tender. A little romesco and some herby yogurt were nice complements. The mousse was super-rich--I was glad we were sharing because I think a whole serving would likely have proven lethal--to my ability to stay awake through Act I, if not to my actual life.

For the main, we shared again, going for the Branzino "from the plancha" accompanied by the wild mushroom+leek bread pudding and the corn risotto. The branzino was done to a T, tender and moist and not at all overcooked, and the squash and roasted romaine on the side were very nice as well. And the sauce, not pictured, was a treat. Super fresh salsa verde, bursting with herby flavor.

I love a savory bread pudding! It's like stuffing, but classier. And this one was quite pretty, to boot.

With that, we were off for the first part of Donizetti's "Anna Bolena." But we placed an order for dessert before our departure--  "Otello's Bitter End," the thematic dessert of the season. And, lo, when Bolena was spurned by Enrico Otto and intermission rolled around, we returned to our table to find dessert awaited us as surely as the executioner awaited Anne Boleyn. But much more sweetly.

This, unfortunately, was not a great success. Pistachio cake with "orange blossom water mousse," phyllo, and sesame creme. It's clear what they were trying to do with it-- Mediterranean/ Turkish flavors done in a Western/Italian mode, much like Cyprus or poor Otello himself, trapped between worlds. But in practice the phyllo was spiky and disruptive (maybe it represents Iago??), and the cake+mousse didn't quite come together--kind of a not-so-great cheesecake. Still, I give them credit for trying to tie something into the season's repertory.

In happier dessert news, there's a chocolate souffle on the menu!  I'm all about bringing souffle back (foreshadowing a future post) so was glad to see that.

Finally, all of the staff were just lovely. We felt very well taken care of, and when we had a bit of drama (the woman sitting next to us accidentally took my friend L's coat along with her own) it felt like the whole of the dining room were mobilized to recover it. And sure enough, when we returned for dessert, L's coat was safe and sound, right at our table. Drama averted.

So, consider this one a surprise and a delight. All credit to L., who suggested the Dining Room when she agreed to see the opera with me. After all these years of looking down from on high at patrons having supper there, now I know what it's like!

I'd gladly do it again, and highly recommend it as a way to make a night at the opera even more memorable.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Things I Ate in Norway: Ålesund and Geirangerfjord

We had three dinners in Ålesund, which is a little ironic since it was the smallest town we visited. But that's the way the itinerary worked out.

Our first night, we went to XL Diner, which specializes in Bacalao--cod of various forms being one of Norway's national dishes. Of course, this place specializes in salted dried cod, but then goes out of its way to prepare it in non-Norwegian ways. Because other countries do a better job of making it palatable and Norwegians are no fools?

Anyway, XL Diner has glorious views--Ålesund is all about the ocean. We looked out at islands and fjord and a great sunset as we enjoyed a batch of terrific mussels and our Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish-style bacalao. Not sure I'd go back for more, but it was interesting, and you can't beat the setting.

One last XL note, they had whale carpaccio on the menu, too, but the family agreed that we were just fine not tasting whale this trip.

The second night we went very low-key; we'd had a very long day trip by bus, boat, bus, boat, bus, and bus (if I remember my count correctly) to see some amazing fjord scenery.  So rather than make a reservation we rolled the dice and went to a place called Lyst on the pedestrianized art nouveau street, Kongens gate. Fried appetizers and salads all around and we were very content. I don't have pictures, but trust me, they make a tasty and pretty salad.

And for our third dinner we went to Anno, which was fancy, though we ate pretty lightly, so I can't give it as full a review as I might've liked to.

On the aforementioned Geirangerfjord adventure, we stopped in Hellesylt for a while before the ferry departure. I ducked into the small and unprepossessing Ocal's Pizzabar to get a coffee (and so that we could use the restroom without shame). The proprietor was super nice and surprisingly persuasive about the desirability of having a piece of apple cake.  And, hey, who can say no to apple cake in an insanely beautiful setting?

After the ferry ride up Geirangerfjord (which, really, if you get to go to Norway, do this trip.  Amazing scenery!) we ended up in Geiranger, which is sadly super touristy. But we found a place called Naustkroa, with a sign out front saying "Open Terrasse by the fjord!" And a minimum of exploring revealed that in fact the place DID have a little terrace right on the fjord, with a table exactly right for mom, J., and me. So we had pizza in a spectacular setting. One was pretty normal, veggie, but the other involved salmon and potatoes.  Fun!  Really, almost any food in that setting would have been great--it was just wonderful to sit out with a nosh and a beer and enjoy the scenery.
 And our last lunch, back in Ålesund, was a great find. We tried 2-3 different places, and struck out repeatedly, before J. mentioned seeing a cafe called Invit on Apotekegata, which I recalled from Tripadvisor and other places. It's part super-upscale design boutique, part espresso bar/cafe that serves food, too. And, while not very Norwegian (I think this is a trend with our Norway dining), this place also featured a hidden back...well, barge, really, moored at the end of the narrow waterway that divides the town. The food was of the fresh-and-organic variety, and they served wine. All very excellent! On the photo below, Invit's barge is on the water (duh) left of the red building, with the umbrellas on it.

And finally, before I wrap this long post, I have to say a word about the best coffee I had in Ålesund, which was at Raccoon Coffee, again on Kongens Gate. Got a very fine flat white, and a chocolate-covered almond meringue pastry called a Sarah Bernhardt. And a beluga whale sighting, to boot!

Things I Ate in Norway: Theatercafeen, Oslo

 Our second dinner in Norway was much more formal and fancy (and a little stuffier and less interesting) than Arakataka, but also quite enjoyable. We went to the fancy-schmancy Theatercafeen, which is not actually in a theater but is quite nearby the National Theater. It's the total white tablecloth deal, lots of nice woodwork and crystal--and excellent service.

I do love a place with authentically old fixtures, as opposed to the faux-old ones that are so trendy these days.

We shared a couple of appetizers:  A scallop ceviche, with lots of vegetables, and a reindeer carpaccio.  Figured we had to have reindeer at some point, though this wasn't especially "deer-y."  Not that I'm complaining about that, mind you.

I'm very proud of the carpaccio photo, though don't ask me how I managed to take it.

 And for my main I had a nice piece of halibut, which they served with white beans and chorizo and a salty, feta-like cheese, which might have been, in fact, feta.  Felt kind of commonplace--and not very Norwegian at all--but I can't argue with the execution.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Things I Ate in Norway: Arakataka, Oslo

Last time I posted I had decided I'd group my Norway food stories together by city. But I'm going to prove myself a liar here. The first dinner we had in Norway was definitely the prettiest meal of the trip, and one of the most interesting and tastiest, too. We went to a place called Arakataka, which the Chowhound crowd liked, and which was an easy walk from the hotel, in addition to not being crazy expensive.

The space was beautiful, spare and modern, and the menu was really fun--lots of small plates, so you could assemble your own multicourse menu. We followed their advice and had 2-3 things apiece, plus some Norwegian cheese for dessert.

First, bread.  Bread in Norway is fantastic!  Dark and multigrainy and very tasty. Good bread for long winter nights. The bread was served on a bed of toasted wheat berries--nice touch!
And the butter. Norwegian butter is also really good--but then so is all European butter. This was particularly interesting because it was goat, not cow. New to me but very tasty--in between butter and chevre. I really liked the dollop-with-wooden-spreader presentation.
For my starter I got the spaghetti with bleak roe, which was creamy and briny and wonderful.
Mom opted for the potato with lumpfish roe and ramson (which is a wild onion relative). It was like a super-sophisticated take on chips with onion dip.
We all got the same second: the cod with peas and mussels. Beautifully cooked, kind of fish & chips-like?
I opted for the duck with beetroot and celery for my main. A tiny piece of duck, but again perfectly executed.
Mom won in the looks department, with the jerusalem artichokes, sea lettuce and oysters. Very pretty presentation--very light (most of the shells are for show, there were only about 3 of them in the dish).
My sister J. was undoubtedly the bravest or most radical of us, getting the Peppercrab for her main, which was a lot of work! Delicious, not too spicy, but on the messy side for a nice restaurant.
I really loved this place--the menu was kind of perfect for the first day--easy to fine-tune to suit just how much you want to eat, and how adventuresome you're feeling. I'd highly recommend it for anyone in Oslo looking for good, seasonal, modern fare from a pretty creative kitchen.