Sunday, August 30, 2015

Things I'll Never Cook

Recently I've found myself wanting to make a souffle. When was the last time anyone anywhere made one of those? I feel like they are so hugely unfashionable they're due for a comeback. Anyway, I've made souffles before, and for all the reputation, they're not so difficult. I'm pretty fearless in the kitchen, if I do say so. Aside from beef-based dishes (I've been off bovine flesh since Mad Cow Disease), there's very little I can think of where I'd say "I'll never cook that." I've never made a lobster, but I certainly would. Ditto bunny rabbit.

But then again...

A relative of a friend of mine died recently, which led to an interesting series of Facebook posts titled "Shit My Aunt Saved." Among them was this gem of antique cookware:

She identified it as a fruit press, but I am pretty certain that it's actually a duck press, the key gadget/torture implement in making the most flamboyant and grossest of French dishes, canard à la rouennaise, literally translated as duck in blood sauce, but more often called 'pressed duck' in English. For pretty obvious reasons.

I'll direct you to the nice folks at D'Artagnan if you want to know more about the theory and practice of pressing a duck. But (a) I wonder if my friend's aunt ever actually DID make a pressed duck, because that's pretty badass.  And (b) holy jeez, that's a thing I'll never cook.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


One of the great things about my neighborhood is every time I start to think I'm tired of living here, the restaurant situation evolves and it's like food-wise at least, a new neighborhood comes to me.  The newest of the new crop is Macchina, a fancy pizza place that just opened at the corner of 105 and Broadway.

The decor is modern, with lots of brick, maybe a little retro/hipster/cliche, but it's got great windows that open up when the weather's nice. The service was great, and most importantly the pizza was very good. They've got the crust down (very Italian style, whatever they've got going on oven-wise, it gets fantastically hot).  This is a pizza bianca with thinly sliced potatoes, bacon, and gorgonzola. A great combination of flavors.

We also got the carrot 'agnolotti' which was tremendous--it's  great that people have recently discovered how to roast carrots to the point that they're almost like meat. Root veggies in that form are on the verge of being overplayed in NY restaurants at the moment, but that doesn't stop a well prepared carrot from being delicious, and here, in a pasta setting with amaretti, mint, hazelnuts, and brown butter...well, who needs the flesh of an animal?
Macchina has taken some hits in the early Yelp reviews for being overpriced for the neighborhood, and overpriced for pizza. I think the criticism is justified to an extent, but, hey, they post the prices publicly, if you opt to eat there, I don't think it's fair to get upset later about how much your pie cost.

My slightly larger problem with Macchina is that the menu, though good, is pretty limited. Four white pizzas and four red pizzas to choose from (plus some pastas and a few 'secondi'). I realize they're just getting started, but any corner pizza shop in the city can put together more combinations and permutations of ingredients than Macchina has.  Hopefully as they hit their stride the menu will get more diverse.

Still, I'm psyched to have them around, looking forward to trying more of their offerings.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fiori di Zucca Pizza at Marta

I had lunch with a friend this week at Marta, the inexplicably Italian, very trendy place that basically is the entire lobby of the swanky Martha Washington Hotel.  I love the space, it's very beautiful and sleek and modern, with floor-to-ceiling windows that open wide onto 29th Street on a beautiful summer afternoon.  Though if you're going to name a hotel the Martha Washington, it's an odd choice for a restaurant.  I checked, and she and George never left the country, I'm very doubtful she'd've known what a pizza was if one bit her.

Anyway,  friend R and I got the fritto misto (many fried veggies) and the butter lettuce salad, and the fiori di zucca pizza.  The starters were...fine, I guess?  Nothing to especially write home about, the veggies a little greasier than you'd want them to be, but tasty, and a nice change from the seafood that  normally comprises a fritto misto.

The pie was just beautiful.  Take a look:

Gorgeous, but, sadly, it was kind of boring.  I mean, squash blossoms at their best aren't that packed-with-flavor, and neither was the mozzarella, and the crust, while nice enough, didn't do much in the flavor department either.  Thank god for the anchovies.

I've been thinking about what I'd do to make it more interesting, without completely overwhelming the blossomy beauty of it.  A bit of the old truffle oil would be the crowd pleasing, too-easy solution.  But I think a more interesting cheese, like a fontina or taleggio, and some kind of fresh herb--like oregano or thyme maybe, is what this is calling out for.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Puff Pastry Class at ICE

On Saturday morning, my friend Rachel and I took a class at the Institute of Culinary Education, on "Fast Puff Pastry." I confess I suggested it kind of as a lark, because puff pastry is one of those things that's really better bought, frozen, rather than making it from scratch.  And it's not like I ever use the stuff, anyways.  And how fast can you really make it?

This was one of those great classes, because I went in with one mindset and I came out with quite another.  My eyes were opened!  Puff pastry is incredibly easy to make!  It's so fast!  And so versatile.  You can do anything with it.  I may never make bread again.

I didn't actually think to photograph the process of making it (dough!).  But if you saw how easy it was, well...some things are better left unkown.  To the left is my dough, after a well deserved rest in the fridge.

First, here's some farfalle (not the pasta, but rather spidery things that we did with cinnamon sugar):
A little rolling a little slicing a little chilling a little press-and-twist, some time in the oven and voila!

Rachel made a very nice tart shell, involving docking (with a docker!) the pastry (putting tons of holes in it), building little side walls, and pre-baking.

We went a little crazy with making things, frankly, but in the best possible way.  I'm totally inspired, and my next cocktail party will be laden with enough buttery, flaky canapes to kill a small hoofed animal.

A few more to leave you with:  Rachel's Apple Almond Tartlet, Paprika-Parmesan Palmiers, and Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Mille-Feuilles.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Whole-Wheat Pancakes REALLY From Scratch

Cooks Illustrated Magazine.  I love it dearly, have been a subscriber for well over a decade now.  But I'd be the first to admit that they publish ridiculously fussy recipes on a regular basis. For every life-changing "almost no-knead bread" recipe, there are three that are more along the lines of 48 hours of prep to make french fries.  And even the almost no-knead bread recipe decided you should knead it just a bit.

The latest case in point is the whole-wheat pancakes recipe in the last issue.  On the surface, it's pretty reasonable--the article talks about how bran and other stuff in whole-wheat flour breaks up gluten, making for a more forgiving pancake batter that you can beat the heck out of and still have good results.  But the punchline is that whole wheat flour also develops off-flavors far faster than white flour, since the bran and other stuff oxidizes pretty quickly.  Therefore, says Cooks, you should make your own flour, by finding wheat berries and blitzing them in a blender for 3 minutes, and then make the pancake batter from there.

"Right," thought I.  "That's insane.  Make your own flour...  Crazy Cooks Illustrated, I'll never do that."

So, today I did.  First off, I made a buttermilk substitute, since buttermilk is not something I use much at all.  (Add lemon juice to regular milk and let it sit a bit, it gets thick, slightly sour, and acidic).
Next, here are the wheat berries, looking pretty un-flour-like.  Organic hard winter wheat, from Whole Foods.  Cheap in their bulk foods section. 
But, sure enough, a thorough blitzing (3 minutes' worth) and it looked pretty flour-like. 
The rest of the batter gets made right in the blender, and is pretty straightforward, even easy--though I was a bit concerned during a lengthy blend of the flour and the buttermilk that the nice vortex that was supposed to form was more a solid glob, and the motor was starting to smell seriously overtaxed.

And here's the finished product in all it's pancake-y glory.  The thing that irritates me about Cook's Illustrated is not that they're fussy so much as they are so often correct in their fussiness.  These were delicious, and not all that much more work than ordinary pancakes would be.  And I can say I made flour this weekend.