Quick ‘n dirty saturday night dinner report: I had spent all saturday working on “Day 1″ of Mark Bittman’s cassoulet recipe as published in the New York Times a few weeks ago (available here, for you masochists and those with lots of time on their hands). Dinnertime rolled around and it was time to put away the duck carcass (broken down, fat rendered, carcass roasted and simmered as stock) and figure out what to make for dinner. On a whim, I had ordered a duo of softshell crabs from FreshDirect, never having cooked them before but determined to do so while they are in season. Now, I’ve read enough Asian cookbooks to know that it is FROWNED UPON to cook any crab that is not alive and kicking – however, it is early in the season for softshells, they are presumably coming from some place warmer (Florida?), so they are unlikely to show up in Queens still wriggling (God forbid they were shipped up here live and they began to harden en route, the first bite would be painful).
It also happened that I had a bunch of collard greens, also purchased on a whim earlier that day at the supermarket. So – here’s my quick and dirty saturday dinner recipe – perfect for whenever you’ve spent all day prepping for cassoulet and also happen to have softshell crabs and collards in the fridge:
Garlic Pepper Crabs
2 softshell crabs, cleaned (just Google how to clean them, you have to cut the eye stalks off, etc.)
2 tsp. cracked black pepper (use a coffee grinder, mortar & pestle or, failing that, a food processor)
1.5 tbsps. minced garlic
3/4 cup peanut oil
You will also need a pan that can fit both crabs, a candy thermometer, a slotted spoon or spatula, and a splatter screen or just a cover for the pan if no splatter screen
1) Put the oil in the pan, heat to 375 degrees. This will take awhile. In the meantime, open all doors and windows and turn on your ventilation fan if you have one (and I hope you do, for your sake).
2) When the oil is heated, toss in a pinch of garlic and half the pepper, stir vigorously for fifteen seconds.
3) Lower in the crabs GENTLY – put the splatter screen or cover over the pan as soon as possible. Crabs are notorious for popping and snapping in the pan, showering bystanders in 375 degree oil. Cook for 3 minutes then flip the crabs over carefully, wearing an oven mitt if possible.
*note: you should be maintaining the heat at 375 degrees as the crabs cook. The temperature will drop when you add them to the oil, so don’t be afraid to goose the heat until it climbs back up).
4) Fry the crabs on the other side for another 2-3 minutes.
5) Add the remaining garlic and pepper, stirring vigorously and flipping the crabs at least once (you could also add a pinch of hot pepper flakes if so inclined). After 30 seconds, remove the crabs onto paper towels. Scoop up the garlic and pepper bits in the oil with a skimmer or slotted spoon and spread them over the crabs.
6) Season crabs with some salt, serve.
If making with crabs, prepare these first as they can just sit in the pot keeping warm while you focus on the crabs.
1) Rinse the collard leaves and cut lengthwise into 1-2 inch strips. Trim any particularly fat stems with paring knife.
2) Pile all the leaves into a large saucepan and turn on medium heat.
3) At this point, you should add some fat. Traditionally, it would be some fatback, ham hock, bacon fat, etc. The healthy alternative is a teaspoon or two of olive oil, I guess, but Southerners will likely ridicule you if they witness this. Add a generous grinding of black pepper. Put the lid on and cook.
4) As the collards release water, they will steam themselves. Check them every 10 minutes or so and add a little water (or chicken stock, beef stock, whatever) if they look dry, and also be sure to stir them.
5) Keep this up for 30-45 minutes, until they are fully wilted and look like properly cooked collard greens. If you want to test them, try one of the bigger stems -if it is tender, you are in good shape. Then turn the heat to low.
6) When ready to serve, pull out the fatback or ham hock if such a thing is in there, add salt to taste and serve.
7) For a nice touch, you can drizzle a little cider vinegar over the top of each serving of greens (don’t overdo it), and/or sprinkle with some toasted walnuts. Whether or not these are traditional additions, I don’t really care.
If executed with care, and served with some white rice and your favorite wine, these will make a perfectly acceptable saturday night dinner.
One of the esteemed members of AOD will be hosting a Passover seder for the first time ever. Menu planning, food ordering/shopping and tidying up have all been part of this week’s post-work festivities. Obviously, a follow-up post documenting certain portions of said seder will be forthcoming.
In the meantime, those of you who are preparing for your own seders, Whole Foods (or at least the one recently visited in Tribeca) is giving away free lamb shank bones for roasting. Instead of having to cook up a lamb-based meal this week or otherwise scavenging for roasted lamb parts, just call ahead to your local Whole Foods and check to see if the meat department still giving out free bones. Anything to cut down the amount of work at this point has to be helpful, right?
There was a lot of (well-deserved) hype surrounding the opening of Giuseppina’s, the off-shoot of Lucali’s in Carroll Gardens. But there is another contender for delicious pizza in the South Slope/Greenwood Heights vicinity that’s been under the radar.
If you haven’t tried yet, check out Pauline and Sharon’s. While a different style pizza is offered making a direct comparison unfair, Pauline and Sharon’s does deliver which should count for some bonus points somewhere in the evaluation process (you can pick up your pies at Giuseppina’s if you don’t feel like dining in but no delivery).
The puttanesca pie is amazing. If that’s not enough salty goodness for you, add a Caesar salad which comes with house-made dressing chock full of anchovies. Word on the street is that the tacos are outstanding. Will have to give it a try soon.
Allegations O.D. can resist no longer and is jumping on The Hunger Games bandwagon. Consistent with its title, The Hunger Games devotes a great deal of time to discussing food. This is appropriate, since many of its characters are on the brink of starvation and feeding themselves is their highest priority. Constantly, its characters are hunting game, cooking game, foraging, baking or otherwise looking for or preparing or eating food.
*Full disclosure: I have not seen the movie, although I did read the book last weekend. You should assume further references in this post are referring to the book, as I have no idea how much of it made it into the movie.
So, we are pleased to feature a recipe excerpted from “The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook: From Lamb Stew to “Groosling.” This is recipe is the aforementioned lamb stew, known as “Katniss’s Favorite Lamb Stew With Dried Plums.” For those of you living under a rock for the last month, “Katniss” refers to Katniss Everdeen, the resourceful heroine of the story who spends her days in the downtrodden “District 12″ foraging and hunting squirrels and other game to feed her family. Through a series of circumstances,Katniss ends up as a contestant in The Hunger Games, which is sort of like “Survivor” except that the contestants’ only goal is to brutally murder every other contestant, sort of a reality show boiled down to its essence. At any rate, before the games begin, the contestants are all shuttled to “The Capitol,” which is where the 1% live in luxury, safe from the 99% starving in the other districts. There, the contestants live in opulence for several days, before they are taken to the game zone and start killing each other for the entertainment of the masses. One of the first dishes that Katniss is served in the Capitol is this lamb stew with dried plums (i.e., prunes). Having lived off squirrel meat and dandelions her whole life, Katniss devours it and eats it repeatedly during her brief stay in the Capitol. The prunes have the added benefit of keeping her very regular, which may or may not be a benefit in the kill zone. The book does not dwell on such details so I leave it to the reader to decide.
Katniss’s Favorite Lamb Stew With Dried Plums
Yield 8-10 servings
- 5 pounds lamb fillet, shoulder or leg, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large onion, chopped
- ½ cup water
- 4 cups beef stock
- 2 teaspoons white sugar
- 3 teaspoons brown sugar
- 3 cups diced carrots
- 1 cup diced zucchini
- 1½ cups diced celery
- 2 large onions, diced
- 3 potatoes, cubed
- 5 cups dried plums
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 3 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup ginger ale
- Place lamb, salt, pepper, and flour in a large mixing bowl. Toss to coat meat evenly.
- Heat olive oil in a large pan and brown the meat, working in batches if you have to.
- Remove lamb to a side plate. Pour off fat, leaving ¼ cup in the pan. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until the onion becomes golden. Deglaze frying pan with the ½ cup water, taking care to scrape the bottom of the pan to stir up all of the tasty bits of meat and onion. Cook to reduce liquid slightly, then remove from heat.
- Place the lamb and garlic-onion mixture in a large stockpot. Add beef stock and sugar, stirring until sugars are dissolved. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, and simmer for 1½ hours.
- Add the vegetables, dried plums, herbs, and ginger ale to the pot. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until meat and vegetables pierce easily with a fork.
At any rate, the recipe appears to be a straight forward and not overly fussy braised lamb recipe, with the added sweetness of the plums/prunes. I confess that I have not yet made it as I am involved in another large cooking project this weekend which I hope to post about later. My only notes are that you may want to add the plums/prunes earlier than the recipe says, to give them time to break down and contribute a nice texture and color to the braise. Also, I would suggest you might brown all the vegetables before you add the liquid, then add them in later if you worried about overcooking them. Finally, I am dubious about the addition of ginger ale at the end of the process, but I’m willing to try it. Also – this will make a lot of stew.
Apparently there is whole cottage industry of unofficial cookbooks based off various beloved series, e.g. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. I don’t remember much eating or cooking in Star Wars except for this scene:
Aunt Beru represent! So perhaps there is more exploring to be done in this area.
EAT YOUR F*#!KING BROCCOLI, JUSTICE SCALIA!!
5 JUSTICE SCALIA: Could you define the
6 market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so
7 you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is
8 in the market; therefore, you can make people buy
New York Magazine, ever on the prowl for a new urban trend or lifestyle to expose to its audience of affluent ex-Manhattanites, offers up a lifestyle piece this week on a “youth culture phenomenon” being perpetuated by what are best referred to as “Yuffies” (Young Urban Food-obsessives) (The term is mine, not the magazine’s, so please direct your disgust at me). Specifically, they profile a Ms. Diane Chang. As New York Magazine describes Ms. Chang and this “phenomenon”:
Diane Chang is a prime specimen of the new breed of restaurant-goer. The species is obsessive and omnivorous. Although they lean toward cheap ethnic food and revile pretension, they do not ultimately discriminate by price point or cuisine . . . . They abhor restaurant clichés (Carnegie Deli, Peter Luger) and studiously avoid chains (Olive Garden, McDonald’s) but are not above the occasional ironic trip to either. They consume food media—blogs, books, Top Chef and other “quality” TV shows but definitely not Food Network—like so many veal sweetbreads . . . . They talk about food and restaurants incessantly, and their social lives are organized around them. Some are serious home cooks who seek to duplicate the feats of their chef-heroes in their own kitchens; others barely use a stove. Above all, they are avowed culinary agnostics whose central motivation is simply to hunt down and enjoy the next most delicious meal, all the better if no one else has yet heard of it.
Ms. Chang seemingly defines herself by what she is not – she is not a hipster, not a foodie, not a yelper. “I just like what I like,” she says. Fair enough. The article seems mainly focused on how her tastes seem calculated to support a certain agenda – i.e, obscure, unfamiliar, unappreciated food is good, while mainstream, well-known food, even if widely appreciated, is lacking. A lunch at Momofuku Ko and dinner at Blue Hill are dismissed negatively, while Ms. Chang’s iPhone screensaver proudly displays a pig’s foot dish “from a tiny food stall in Taipei.”
Of course, Eater pounced, extracting ten damning lines from NY Mag’s “insufferable foodie story” and declaring that the article is “ostensibly about how people have turned dining out into an obnoxious status-symbol seeking hobby” and “eye-rollingly maddening.” The comments (both on Eater and the NY Mag article) were not kind either.
Now, it would be easy to pile on,and certainly Ms. Chang made some statements in the article that are hard for me to defend:
She says she disliked M.Wells, last year’s consensus “It” restaurant, partly because of “the fact that everybody loves it, and I just don’t want to believe the hype.”
If you say something like that you are selling yourself out right there, and you lose credibility. But Ms. Chang also speaks some truth. In regard to her quest for obscure dining experiences, she says: “It’s a badge of honor . . . Bragging rights.” As much as I might hate to admit it, its true – having gone to more than my share of obscure restaurants hidden away in Queens and elsewhere, IT’S FUN to be able to brag about it afterwards, boast that you went on this adventure that no one else did. Of course, you have to be honest about it – if the place sucks, you can’t brag to everyone about how good it is.
The truth is, Ms. Chang and I are not so different. I’m sure we’d have a lot to talk about if we ever met. Honestly, it sounds like she needs to get around Queens a bit more – Spicy & Tasty is sort of a noob’s Flushing Chinese (not a criticism of the restaurant,which I enjoy greatly), much like Sripraphai is a noob’s Queens Thai (again, no critique – they have taken lots of my money over the years). Likewise, I don’t know my ass from my elbow when it comes to eating in Brooklyn. But I can’t escape the feeling that Ms. Chang did not get a fair shake from this interview, or from Eater. As to their “Top Ten Lines” from the article, I have already discussed the ones that I don’t particularly agree with (e.g., M. Wells, Momofuku Ko). Others I am not so sure about.:
The author describes the “silence” among Ms. Chang’s lunch guests when he revealed his favorite restaurant was Eleven Madison Park, and writes cleverly that “on the food-as-indie-rock matrix, I have just accidentally confessed to loving the Dave Matthews Band.” But his whole issue seems to be entirely internal, there is no indication that his guests care one way or the other.
Second, Eater (via the author) seems to be trying to pin the (purported) opinion of a friend of Ms. Chang’s on her, excerpting the statement that:
Lately, Casey has been championing the theory that mediocre food is better than good, the equivalent of a jaded indie kid extolling the virtues of Barry Manilow.”
“Casey” is James Casey, a friend of hers and some sort of food writer.
Eater again goes after her for “not riding the subway,” quoting the article’s report of her taking a $38 cab ride to go to a Korean BBQ place in Flushing. Now, I’m not sure why anyone who knows better would take a cab to Flushing when it is about 15 minutes away on the 7 Express Train. However, read in context, it is clear that she had a budget to spend on food from NY Mag and the cab fare came out of her budget. Plus, as I mentioned before, it sounds like she is not very familiar with Queens. (Also, it sounds like she took the subway home anyway, I’m not sure $38 would get you there and back.)
Finally, she calls Park Slope “the worst food destination ever.” Now, I have no experience in this area but when I sent the article to J. Burger the first thing she said was “she’s right about Park Slope.” So there you have it.
Anyway, all this to say, the media may have been a bit hard on Ms. Chang. She obviously is very passionate about food and highly opinionated. The author of the article made his decisions about how he would describe their time together, and fashioned his story accordingly. When I first read this article I prepared to pile on but, as I said earlier, Ms. Chang and I are not so different. We obviously care enough about food enough to spend our time eating out, or planning to eat out, or cooking at home, or planning to cook at home, or writing elaborate blog posts when we could just be relaxing and watching Netflix. I can’t support everything she says in the article but neither do I think it quite makes her out to be the “status-symbol seeking” snob that some have labeled her. And I am probably guilty of exercising some of my “bragging rights” in a way that has annoyed people.
Her Tumblr page is quite unassuming, just a simple collection of photos of stuff she’s eaten with some commentary and a link to a “paired” song. Unlike this blog, there are no tirades about restaurants, or culinary trends, or news of the day.
UPDATE: Eater has posted Ms. Chang’s response to her coverage in New York Magazine (and subsequently on Eater). Without further comment on my part, it can be found here for readers interested in pursuing the subject further.
Many moons ago J. Burger posted on “The Last Meal,” where she discussed the meal choices of inmates on death row immediately prior to their execution. A recent feature at Eater asks a similar question, but rather “what would your last meal in New York be?” (assuming that you were moving elsewhere, not that you would soon be executed). I perused the responses with a jaded eye, quick to pounce – for we bloggers must always be vigilant for opportunities for snark.
Some responses were predictable:
Per Se, VIP menu
Le Bernadin or Momofuku.
Some responses were trying way too hard:
This totally depends on where I’m moving to. If I’m moving to Sidney, then I’d forgo hitting up Momofuku one last time. If I was going to Shanghai, Bora Bora, Las Vegas, Scottsdale or The Bahamas, I’d skip Jean Georges. If moving to northern California, I’d be able to resist hitting Per Se before I left. Miami or LA? No need to hit Scarpetta or any other Scott Conant restaurant. And assuming we are just concentrating on NYC (because otherwise my last meal would be at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, of course), it’d have to be something like Torrisi or Hearth or Prune or some other homey/chill place that really has a NYC vibe to it and of course great food and drinks.
Some were inadvertently(?) funny:
Why was my “Balthazar” response immediately rejected?
and then there were some others that intrigued me:
Katz’s – Pastrami on rye, stuffed derma, and knoblewurst. Nothing like Katz’s anywhere in the world. Last meal in NYC couldn’t be anywhere else, for me.
Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Katz’s or “New York-style delis” generally, but this one seems genuine and perceptive – honestly, you probably won’t find a pastrami on rye like this one outside of New York, so why not go for it? Plus it is a New York institution.
And there was this:
A smörgåsbord along the 7 train line.
Now, first of all, points for using the umlauts. For those of you who are not familiar with Queens, what this refers to is the act of “grazing” all the way down Roosevelt Avenue (over which the elevated 7 Train runs), starting in Corona or Elmhurst and working your way toward Manhattan, through Jackson Heights and Woodside and into Sunnyside and (for the truly dedicated) eventually into Long Island City, on the East River. This route contains street carts, kiosks, store fronts and full-service restaurants serving food from all nations of the world. You could walk this route ten times, eating in every neighborhood, and never go to the same place twice, nor experience even half of all the available options. By virtue of having lived in these neighborhoods for 7 years, I have eaten in many of these places, although I have never done “the crawl.” Overall, an interesting and non-traditional choice, if not somewhat strenuous.
So, I pondered what my “last meal in New York” would be. What I soon realized is that my last meal needed to have particular significance to me, it couldn’t merely reflect what I think would be the “best” meal in the city (i.e., Per Se – VIP menu). Although I have poked some fun at the response that tries too hard, there is a grain of truth in there – somewhere like Per Se really isn’t giving you anything you can’t get outside of New York (like, at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, for example). I appreciated Katz’s and the 7 Train food crawl, but neither were for me (the food crawl mostly because I doubt I am going to want to walk for miles down Roosevelt Avenue as part of my last New York meal. I will probably have spent the last week packing).
For me, it would have to be places I have been again and again, in various stages of my life, and enjoyed each time. My “go-to” places, if you will. I would not regret it at all if my last New York meal were at Corner Bistro, even if I had to wait in line. That line is where a beer tastes best. And, once rewarded with my table, I would devour a Bistro Burger, cooked rare,with fries and more beer. Brings back fond memories of late nights in Manhattan.
Another choice would be the curry noodle soup with vegetable dumplings from Mee Noodle Shop in Hell’s Kitchen (and various locations). Nothing more than a clean and efficient Chinese take-out shop, but when I used to work from home I ordered from them every day at lunchtime. They never messed up my order and they always got it to me in about 7 minutes. For my last dinner I would eat in, order some steamed pork buns to start and wash it all down with a few Tsing Taos.
My final choice would be Tournesol, a cute and traditional French bistro just across the river in Long Island City. My wife and I have been going here for romantic dinners since we moved to Queens seven years ago, and it is always charming and dependable for classic bistro dishes – a rich rib-sticking cassoulet in the winter, delicious bouillabaisse, steak frites, foie gras terrine and the like.
So, after some soul searching, these are my choices for my last New York meal, and I would be happy and satisfied by any of them. Maybe that day will never come, but then it never hurts to reflect on these things and, even if I never eat a meal in this city with knowledge that it will be my last, I have some understanding of what food experiences have been most important to me while living here.