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.