Monthly Archives: March 2011

chorizo sprouts

For years now, I’ve thought that brussel sprouts are one of the more under rated vegetables out there. I don’t like the really large ones. They’re the best when they’re small. A simple roasting with a garnish of shaved parmesan is my usual go-to. Steamed and then topped with some lawry’s is great too. And of course, sauted with some bacon lardons is simply magnificent. Then, Sarah told me that, when she had gone out to dinner with a friend for dinner at Mercadito, they had brussel sprouts with chorizo.

The grocery store that we usually go to has slowly been accumulating a large variety of chorizos over the past few weeks. By my count, they now have four different chorizos to choose from spread accross two locations in the store. Some are by the bacon and pork. The rest are by the eggs.
The kind I bought was made with pork. There was a beef option, but that just didn’t sound quite as indulgent as pork chorizo does. I picked up all of the different packages to get a sense of how they each felt. Having never bought chorizo before, I expected that they would feel like a hard pepperoni. But instead, they felt like squishy.
When I got home, I decided I would slice up chunks of the chorizo and saute it up. I would render the fat and then saute the brussel sprouts. But, when I looked at the package, one of the warnings was to remove the casing before eating. I thougth this was weird. The only other time I was warned to remove a casing before eating, it was a strange milk-white brat like sausage at Chriskindlemarket last year.
The warning was a useful one. The casing felt like plastic and probably was. I sliced the chorizo open and it was like I was touching water-logged wood pulp mixed with red dye. It was appalingly strange. I put it into a warm pan and started frying it. Slowly, the gross, pulpy slurry turned into a mouth-watering crumble of savory meatiness. My initial concerns were allayed.
Once the meat started to brown, I added some frozen baby sprouts until the sprouts were cooked through. I served this alongside some tilapia filets that I breaded and baked. I also heated up some leftover couscous from the night before. The sprouts and chorizo, mixed with the couscous was a pleasant surprise. The flavors, once mixed, all played quite nicely. Even Sarah, who generally tends to avoid mixing her side dishes, eagerly swirled these two sides into a wonderful melange of veggies and starch that cut the richness of the chorizo with remarkable balance.

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roasted garlic chicken with veggie couscous

Chicken is filthy. You have to worry about cross-contamination, salmonella, e-coli, and food poisoning. After you touch it, you have to wash your hands. Anything that touches raw chicken has to be instantly sequestered and then power-washed with specific particularity. The only other thing in my daily life that I have to be that careful about is feces. And I don’t ever want to eat feces. So a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I would stop cooking chicken, at least for a while. But then, last week, I was watching an episode of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef where Anne Burrell was making roasted garlic chicken. It looked so irresistibly good, I broke my chicken boycott.

Garlic Chicken with Veggie Couscous Recipe
Anne Burrell’s original recipe calls for baking the chicken and couscous together with white wine and chicken stock in a big ol casserole. I didn’t have chicken stock on hand, so I modified the recipe to cook the chicken and the coucous separately.
Garlic Marinade:

  1. Roast the garlic: I set the oven to 375. And then I took two garlic bulbs and put them in my mini casserole dish. I didn’t put oil in them or anything. And I didn’t peel them. I just put them in there and shut the door for about 30 minutes.
  2. Mash the garlic: After about 30 minutes, I set the garlic bulbs on a cutting board to cool. After about 5 minutes, they were cool to the touch. I then cut the tops off and squeezed them into my tiny food processor. It was like popping an enormous, stinky zit. The roasted garlic was squishy and nuclear hot. I was quite enthusiastic about the results. I had never roasted a bulb of garlic before.
  3. Add some herbs, spices: Anne Burrell’s recipe called for all sorts of things like saffron. I don’t have saffron, so I skipped it. Then, I eyeballed some thyme, pepper, and a ton of pepper.
  4. Add some acid: I squeezed in half a lemon.
  5. Add some fat: I poured in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. 
  6. Whiz: I closed the lid on the food processor and blended it all up until it got smooth with chunks.
Roasted Chicken:

  1. Brown the chicken: While the garlic was roasting, I put four chicken thighs in a pan that I had heated up with some duck fat. The duck fat isn’t required, but I happened to have it on hand since I roasted a duck last week.
  2. Top the chicken: I then set the chicken into my mini casserole and poured the garlic marinade on top. Anne Burrell’s original recipe requires you to make the marinade and put it on the raw chicken for at least an hour. I just don’t have that kind of time. I cooked the chicken first and then put on the marinade.
  3. Bake the chicken: 375 for 30 minutes.
  1. Chop up veggies: While the chicken was browning, I chopped up some celery stalks, onion, and one yellow squash.
  2. Deglaze the pan: I took the chicken out of the pan and set it aside. I then drained off the excess fat from the pan and threw in the onions and celery. After about a minute, I then poured in a couple glugs of white wine to help scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan.
  3. Make the couscous: I use instant from a box.
  4. Add the yellow squash: After the celery and onions got soft and had absorbed some of the wine, I added the yellow squash.
  5. Mix: once the couscous was done and the yellow squash was cooked through, I mixed the two. Then, once the chicken was done, I took the drippings and added them to the couscous mix.

Overall, I was quite pleased with how the dish turned out. I was most surprised by the couscous. I usually don’t mix vegetables into my couscous, probably because I had always hated it when my mom would add beans to the rice we ate with dinner. But this was marvelous. Plus, the drippings from the chicken seemed to be super concentrated with lemon flavor. This really made the couscous an interesting surprise to eat.

The chicken was good. Not dance-in-your-seat-at-the-dinner-table good. But really good, nonetheless. It was surprisingly moist and juicy. I have never had a deep fried turkey, but I imagine that the chicken I made would be just like that. I think that the garlic marinade served as some sort of garlicky, oily protective layer that kept all the moisture in. 
But, as good as it was, I felt like it was missing maybe it was because I skipped the saffron, which gave my dish a much different color than the one from TV. I think next time, I will add paprika to the garlic paste. But I still think that chicken is filthy. 

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>Osteria al Doge


Our last night in New York coincided with my mother-in-law’s birthday. To celebrate, we were going to go to dinner and a show. The show was going to be Jersey Boys. For dinner, we wanted something relatively close to the theater. But it had to be nice, and I wanted to avoid anything too tourist trap-y. I selected Osteria al Doge.

At first, I was a little concerned about the place. The maitre d’s station is placed literally against the front door. And the area of the coat check is literally within an arm’s reach. But, my concerns were quickly allayed.
We were quickly seated at a table with ample space. The room was dim but warmly lit. The ambience was inviting. Our waitress at this Venetian restaurant had what I think was a slight Eastern European accent. The Central American men who filled out water glasses did so in a silent and compulsive manner that was much appreciated, as I think we were all pretty much dehydrated by that point.
We started out with a bottle of Prosecco. I figured that something Italian was appropriate, as we were in an Italian restaurant. And since it was my mother-in-law’s birthday, why not have something with bubbles? 
To go with our prosecco, I ordered some bruschetta. Our waitress was helpful enough to let me know that the bruschetta only came with three pieces. So, we got two orders. When it came out, it was overflowing with chopped tomato on warm and toasty bread. It was wonderfully oily and full of basil. 
The bread that they gave us at the table was nice too. There were three kinds, a soft italian bread, a crusty bread, and a foccacia. It was hard not to fill up before our main courses came.
My father-in-law had ordered a pork chop. It was slathered in a creamy mustard sauce and served with a vegetable I can’t remember. The only thing that sticks out in my memory is that it was the thickest pork chop I had ever seen. It was quite magnificent. He talked about it even into the next day. 
My mother-in-law had a salmon ravioli. She usually chooses a seafood option whenever I go out to eat with her. 
Sarah had chosen a braised lamb shank for her meal. For this, I was proud of her. It came with mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. She was only able to eat about half of it. I ate the rest. It was good and filled with lambiness. I wish I could have taken the bone home for my dog.
For my dinner, I chose the mezzaluna filled with goat cheese and eggplant. The sauce was a tomato cream sauce. It was a little too sweet for me and reminded me of chef boyardee. But tomato cream sauce always reminds me of canned kid’s food. Fortunately, the filling was delicious. The egglant was full-bodied and served as a nice counterpart to the goat cheese. It really rounded out the dish to make the flavors mellow in a good way. I ate about half of it and gave the rest to Sarah, who I knew would appreciate it more than I did.
Overall, the meal was exactly what I was hoping for. I have never been to Venice and don’t really know what Venetian food actually is, but what everyone liked what they had to eat. It was a great place to have dinner before a Broadway show. And it was a great meal finale for our trip to New York.

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Hot Dog Cart

In the time we were in New York, I think I ate hot dogs on three separate occasions. Once on the ferry between the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. And two other times from hot dog carts. In my mind, there are few things as wonderful.

Whenever I come back to New York, I always look for the blue and yellow Sabrett’s hot dog umbrella. Papaya dogs are good and fine. Grey’s Papaya is good too. But there’s nothing quite like the Sabrett’s. the casing is just right, the seasonings are savory, and length of the dog is always longer than the bun. This all makes for balance. The ratio of meat to the sweetness of the hot dog bun is perfect.

And, when you get it from a hot dog cart, there are always three things that they do that I just can’t get anywhere else – particularly not Chicago. One, they will put ketchup on the hot dog without giving me any grief. Two, spicy mustard is the only mustard option. Third, no matter how busy they get, they meticulously stick to the rule that ketchup and mustard go on the hot dog before sauerkraut. This is important because it makes the hot dog easier to eat.

There is a rhythm and melody to a hot dog cart vendor. They use the tongs not just for picking up food, but for opening and closing the lids to the various compartments of the cart. The sound of the aluminum tong against the opening and closing of aluminum cart lids makes for a repetitive clang that is literally music to my ears. Whenever I hear it, I salivate.

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>starbucks breakfast


The skipping of meals that my wife seems to insist on while traveling was beginning to take its toll. By the morning of our last full day in New York, my father-in-law requested that we eat breakfast, a meal that we had been normally skipping. I was happy to hear this.

We tried to go to Foodparc, which was next to our hotel, Hotel Eventi. I had seen it in our comings and goings, and the signs in the windows made it seem like breakfast there would be good. It was one of those fancy new places replete with white formica and a euroslick ambition.

Unfortunately, once we got there, we couldn’t figure out how to order. There were signs directing us to use touch screens that weren’t actually touch screens. People were standing in lines at counters with no people at them. And people standing behind counters were taking no orders from customers. It was confusing. So we left and went to starbucks the next block over.

Once there, we got into the starbucks line. Even though it was about 9:00, the line at that starbucks was long and full of people about to head into work. This was only further proof supporting my hypothesis that the City that Never Sleeps gets in to work later than we do here in the midwest. 
We each ordered the same sandwich, a bacon egg and gouda sandwich on ciabatta. I think it was only about the second time I’ve ever eaten a breakfast sandwich at Starbucks. And I think it was the first time my father-in-law had ciabatta.
Overall, the sandwich was ok. When I do eat a breakfast sandwich, I generally prefer something more substantial than what Starbucks offers. But, this was good. It tasted almost homemade, which is weird if you think about how much effort and planning it takes to make this sandwich at a place that has no stove.
I don’t know that I would ever seek out the starbucks breakfast sandwich. But it did hit the spot at the time. We had a long day of touristing ahead of us. This wasn’t a bad start.

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Kum Gang San Manhattan

Being that my in-laws had never been able to make it out to the New York or New Jersey area before, my parents wanted to take them out to dinner. This could have been problematic, from a diplomatic perspective. My parents profess to enjoy all cuisines, but they in fact will only eat food if it is Korean. When they go out for sushi, they go to a Korean sushi chef. When they have Chinese food, they go to a Korean-owner Chinese restaurant. And so forth. Although, they do like spaghetti.

The last time the four parents sat down for a meal, it was at a Korean BBQ in Chicago. This time, my mom suggested Korean BBQ. She wanted to go to Zen Zen, a place that my mom swears is in Ridgewood (or Ridgefield?), New Jersey. But, since this was my in-laws’ first time in New York, time was at a premium, and I didn’t want to have to trek all the way out to New Jersey. The second place she suggested was Kum Gang San. But, for the same reason I didn’t want to go to New Jersey, I didn’t want to go all the way to Flushing, even though that is one of my favorite Korean restaurants. Fortunately, Kum Gang San has a Manhattan location, which I had no idea. And it happened to be within a few blocks of our hotel.

When we sat down, we had to walk up several flights of stairs to get to the main restaurant. For some reason, this seems to be a theme in Korean restaurants. Poong Lim, the restaurant where my sister had her rehearsal dinner, is the same way. On the way up at Kum Gang San Manhattan, there was a woman in a hambok and she was playing a cover of Moon River on a traditional korean stringed, guitar-like instrument.

Once seated, we were greeted with the ubuquitous paper placemat. I don’t know why, but regardless of how fancy a Korean restaurant you go to, you always get a paper placemat. On this one, they try to explain all of Korean cuisine by pointing out the difference between Gook (soup) and Cheegae (stew), as if that was all there was to Korean cuisine.

We were quickly brought borree cha (barley tea), which is hot but served in what would be an ice water glass at a diner. I never liked borree cha growing up. Mostly, this is because of that summer I spent in Korea where, no matter how hot or humid it ever got, the most refreshing drink I could ever get was this steaming beverage.

But my wife likes it.

I had spent much of the day before this dinner going over the dishes that I thought would work with my in-laws. And the first thing my mom did was try to go off-script. That, I suppose, it what Korean moms do. But I was able to rein her in, and we got some in-law friendly foods ordered. And that’s when the ban chan (small dish side plates) came out.

At this dinner, we got kimchee (traditional spicy pickled cabbage dish), shredded seaweed, tofu, bean sprouts, and something that was either radishes or potatoes. When I tried the kimchee, it made my mouth pucker. And I explained that, as kimchee pickles, the flavor cures from a light cabbage-y flavor to a sour/spicy pickle. This kimchee was well-cured. I don’t think my in-laws ate any of it.

The first appetizer that we ordered was tempura shrimp and tempura veggies. It was crisp, over-battered, and oily, like all good Korean tempura. Also according to the Korean tempura standard, the shrimp was huge and arrow straight, which always confuses me.

We also ordered some sushi for my mother-in-law, who was looking forward to trying some in the city. The waitress came back with 4 pieces of flounder, 1 piece of tuna, and 1 piece of salmon. She seemed to enjoy it, even despite having considerable difficulty eating it with chopsticks. At that point, I went into a brief dissertation about how sushi was originally eaten as peasant food and with one’s fingers. Which, if you think about it, really is the most sensible way to eat sushi.

We also had pa (onion) juhn (pancake) as an appetizer. Although I am sure the pajuhn at Kum Gang Sahn was technically perfect, I found it unremarkable. Whenever I get pa juhn, or any kind of juhn for that matter, I am always disappointed. I like for my juhn to be really crispy. But I don’t think anyone makes it that way except for my mom when she overcooks it on accident.

For our main course, we had kalbi. At Kum Gang Sahn, you can get kalbi (marinated beef short ribs) or you can get speh shul kalbi (special marinated beef short ribs). As far as I can tell from the waiter’s explanation, the only difference between regular kalbi and special kalbi was that special kalbi had no bones or connective tissue to deal with. But, when I tasted the special kalbi, I am fairly sure that you are also getting a superior grade of beef.

The special kalbi gets cooked at the table. Along with the kalbi is some sliced mushrooms and some onions. A waitress came by and cooked it all for us, which may be something that this restaurant provides or may be a function of the fact that we had non-koreans at our table.

When you eat the kalbi, you can eat it just regular, as if you were at a bennihana. Or, you can eat it the korean way. You take a kaen nip, which is a large lettuce leaf (red leaf lettuce, in this case), that you wrap around the beef. you can also put in some shredded green onions and goh choo jang (korean red pepper paste). This evening, I ate it both ways. It was really good, so I wanted to eat more of it faster and without adornment. But, I also did eat some wrapped in lettuce because that’s how my not-Korean wife eats it and I can’t have her showing me up.

By the time we were done with the meal, we were all quite full. My mom then went off script and ordered dessert, which at a Korean restaurant is typically no more than a binary decision. Yes, I want dessert. or No, I don’t want dessert. Here, the dessert consisted of one of two kinds of sorbet. One was raspberry, which was good. the other was yellow and of an indiscernible flavor origin. Almond, maybe. Either way, it was gross.

In all, the dinner seemed to go remarkably well. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed their meals and had gotten enough to eat. Conversation between the two sets of parents flowed naturally and throughout the dinner. My mom was able to avoid her usual Korean mom custom of eating quietly and without saying much. And even our dads, who each have hearing problems, were able to converse amongst themselves and with everyone else at the table. I felt like it was the first time that our parents were really able to communicate. And I really cherish that. I thought it went so well that I think all of our future meals between these parents will have to be at that restaurant and at that booth.

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>carnegie deli


On Sunday, I had split off from my wife and her parents so that I could go to church with my dad. He was announcing his retirement from being a pastor. I wasn’t planning on being there on the day of this announcement, but after a last minute schedule change, I was able to go.

When I circled back with the group, I had found that, when my wife was the tour guide for the day, she and her parents did not eat breakfast, did not eat lunch, and had only a back of chips to hold them over until dinner. For this to happen in a city with this much culinary possibility, I thought, was a travesty. Thus, after a tour of the NBC Studio and after taking in the view from the Top of the Rockefeller building, I took my wife and in-laws to the Carnegie Deli.  

In all the times I had been to Manhattan, I had somehow managed to never eat at this historic place. So, when I went in, I thought it would be like Manny’s Deli in Chicago. After all, each is a traditional deli, each serves food by the shovelful, each is steeped in history, and they each serve similar food. But instead of going down the line, cafeteria-style, like at Manny’s, you get seated at the Carnegie Deli. And when you sit down, you get a plate of pickels – half sweet, half dill.

Given that the place is known for its sandwiches, I was astonished to see how long the menu was. It was like looking through a menu at the Cheesecake Factory. There were pages upon pages of traditional deli/diner staples. But I was there for a sandwich. And again, knowing that I was going to put the four of us through a food marathon, I suggested that my in-laws split a sandwich and my wife and I split a sandwich. A normal corned beef sandwich comes with about a pound of meat. My in-laws opted for the Woody Allen, which was corned beef plus pastrami. It was massive and came tipping over. Even between the two of them, my in-laws couldn’t finish the sandwich.

Sarah and I split a rueben. Because we both love ruebens. And when ours came out, it, too, was enormous. Unlike the Woody Allen, which comes split into two pieces and more naturally lends itself to sharing, the rueben required a little bit of dissection to split onto a second plate. I gingerly began lifting up the thick layer of swiss cheese that was melted on top of the immense mound of meat. I was able to see that this open face rueben was laid upon three slices of bread.

Not seeing any easy way to split apart the sandwich, I just began cutting. Gingerly, I then made the transfer to a second plate. And, like some sort of manna from heaven, the half that I slid onto my plate seemed just as big as the original rueben. It was the sandwich with no end. I mean, the picture of me with the sandwich is only half the sandwich.

Eating here was enjoyable, but rather than a dining experience, it was more of a thrown gauntlet. And one that I was more than willing to take up. The meat was wonderfully prepared. I even sampled some of the pastrami leftovers of my father-in-law’s sandwich. That, too, was good. Really, really good. I think I spent about ten minutes marvelling with Sarah and her parents that the same cut of an animal could produce two such mystifyingly distinct meats. At which point Sarah asked me to stop, because she doesn’t like it when I talk about the specific parts of an animal that a meat comes from.

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