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.
Monthly Archives: March 2011
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add some acid: I squeezed in half a lemon.
- Add some fat: I poured in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.
- Whiz: I closed the lid on the food processor and blended it all up until it got smooth with chunks.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bake the chicken: 375 for 30 minutes.
- Chop up veggies: While the chicken was browning, I chopped up some celery stalks, onion, and one yellow squash.
- 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.
- Make the couscous: I use instant from a box.
- Add the yellow squash: After the celery and onions got soft and had absorbed some of the wine, I added the yellow squash.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.