Dinner for 6

I have been toying with the idea of taking some cooking classes, but each time I come close the price tag brings me up short.  I asked two chef friends of mine whether they thought school was worth it for someone who does not want to be a professional chef and just wants to learn more and improve.  Both gave me the same advice: skip school, spend the money on groceries and experiment at home.

So this past Saturday marked the first in what I hope will be a series of dinners during which I buy a lot of food and cook it for friends.  It ended up being a 3 day affair: Friday I went to the farmer’s market, looked up recipes, ruminated about which things to puree and which things to glaze, whether to make soup, what kind of wine to get; Saturday I cleaned, prepped, cooked and served; and Sunday I cleaned and made stock with the leftovers.

The Menu:

  • Celeriac, potato and leek soup
  • Individual roast Poussin with sage and lemon
  • Glazed carrots and parsnips
  • Brussel sprouts with pork belly lardons
  • Smoked Berkshire blue cheese & sliced Bosc pears

And we drank white Burgundy, red Burgundy and a Semillon from Argentina for dessert.

The Produce:

On Friday I went to the market at Blue Hill Stone Barns and stocked up on 6 little poussins (baby chickens), carrots, parsnips, celeriac, onions, leeks and pears.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

the goods

The next day I supplemented with Brussel sprouts from Essex Street Market, smoked blue cheese from Ann Saxelby and pork belly that I got from the Mecox Bay Dairy a few weeks ago.

For help in the kitchen I enlisted one of the aforementioned chef friends, Sam, and his Vita-Mix blender (an item now on my Christmas list).

The Soup:

I took as loose guidance a potato-leek soup recipe from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.

Ingredients:

  • 5 medium sized Yukon Golds (or other yellow potato), peeled and sliced
  • 1 medium celeriac, peeled and sliced
  • 2 leeks, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a few springs of fresh thyme
  • salt & pepper
  • some pork fat
  • 1 cup white wine

la soupe

Melt the butter in a large pot, add bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper and the leeks.  Cook for a few minutes, then add the potatoes and celeriac.  Cook a few minutes more then add 1 cup white wine (I used the bottle I was drinking, which was from Sicily).  15 or so minutes later add the chicken stock, simmering all the while.  Since we were sauteing pork belly anyway, we threw in a little pork fat along the way as well.  When the vegetables are soft, but not totally falling apart (about 30 minutes), remove from heat and blend.  With the Vita-Mix, we put in about three cups of solids and liquid at a time, pureed, then “mounted it” (technical term, seriously) by adding a bit of olive oil or pork fat (a few tablespoons).

We finished each bowl with a little drizzle of olive oil.

The Poussin:

Drawing on an Epicurious recipe, I tied up the legs of the little chickens and stuffed butter and thyme under the skin.  We then roasted them at 375° for about an hour.  They didn’t get quite as brown and crispy as I might have liked – noted for the next time round as a “development area”….

the birds, trussed and stuffed

To finish it off, Sam drizzled each one with a little “jus” (super concentrated chicken stock) on the plate.

The Veggies:

For the Brussels sprouts, we trimmed and cut them in half, then cooked them cut side down with a little bit of olive oil in a saute pan until brown and crispy.  Before dinner we tossed with some browned pork belly and stuck them in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Since the carrots where small anyway, and so fresh, I just scrubbed them down (no peeling) and cut off the tops and any scrawny bits.  Then I cut the parsnips up into batons of commensurate size.  We cooked them separately in saute pans with a bit of chicken broth, a big pat of butter, a thyme sprig and salt.  Usually, Sam said, he would cook them under a parchment paper cut out with a whole in the middle.  Since I didn’t have any parchment paper we improvised with various pot lids.  After cooking we set them aside until a few minutes before dinner when we threw some more butter and stock in a pan, emulsified it, tossed the veggies in it and put in the serving dish.

Et voilà, dinner is served:

the plate

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Good Things in Midtown Manhattan

The midtown scene can be pretty dire.  Not to mention expensive. And as much as I enjoy overpaying for sub-par food and drink at impersonal chain restaurants … Oh wait, I don’t enjoy that at all.

Luckily there are a few bright spots scattered about here and there.  Here are some of my faves:

‘wichcraft

Choice #1 for lunch is Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortuzar’s sandwich mini-chain ‘wichcraft.

berkshire pork sandwich with jalapeno and red cabbage

For about $10 you can get a yummy lunch made with quality ingredients. With options like slow-roasted Berkshire pork, smoked turkey with goat cheese and mashed chickpea with roast pepper there’s something for everyone.

Plus: they make good soups and delightful mini cookie sandwiches, like lemon poppyseed with raspberry or oatmeal with caramel cream. A perfect little afternoon pick me up.

Vital Statistics:
Location: various, but I go to the one in Rockefeller Center
Subway: F, M, B, D to Rockefeller
Website: http://wichcraftnyc.com/
Prices: sandwiches $8-10

Macaron Cafe

It looks a little too pink from the outside, but Macaron Cafe place turns out good salads and sandwiches at reasonable prices – like the croque monsieur I sampled this week that came with a little side salad and mustard vinaigrette for $10.

on 59th between Park and Madison

As the name suggests the house specialty is macarons – New York’s new fad food item, giving the cupcake a run for its money. Macaron Cafe turns out a wide variety of flavors including classic (cassis) and not so classic (pumpkin spice). But at $3 a pop these are not the most budget friendly treats ever.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 625 Madison Avenue, entrance on 59th Street between Park and Madison
Subway: 6 to 59th Street or the N, R to 5th Avenue
Website: http://macaroncafe.com/
Prices: sandwiches and salad from $8-10, macarons $3

Zibetto

My go-to for coffee when I’m at work and in need of some caffeine help.  Helps that you feel as though you’ve walked into Italy when you enter.  I like to pretend and say “ciao” and “grazie” to the waiters, just for good measure.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 1385 Avenue of the Americas between 56th and 57th
Subway: F, M, B, D to 57th Street
Website: www.zibettoespresso.com
Prices: $3.50 for a latte, $7 for a sandwich

The Lantern’s Keep at the Iroquois Hotel

As I was bemoaning the lack of good cocktails in midtown the other night at Milk and Honey, bartender Theo told me clearly I had not frequented his establishment yet.  It’s true – some good things happened while I was away in Europe and Lantern’s Keep is one of them.

the Dodd's Cocktail: a bourbon Manhattan with a Fernet rinse

Tucked away in the back of the historic Iroquois Hotel, it features a list of the classics and a staff that can, in good Sasha Petraske fashion, make you exactly you want, even when you don’t know what that is yourself.  And so now I can go out after work and not cry on the inside every time I order a drink.

FINALLY.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 49 West 44th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues
Subway: F, M, B, D to Bryant Park
Website: http://thelanternskeep.com
Prices: $14 a cocktail, plus a menu of yummy snacks ranging from $4 to $19

Coffee & Pastries

One of life’s little pleasures is the neighborhood coffee shop – especially when they also serve yummy pastries. Here are three good spots – 1 an old standby, 2 brand new:

Bluebird Coffee Shop

This gem of a place is my morning go to – every day I stop in for a latte and maybe a scone or muffin before descending into the F train to make my way to soul-less midtown. They serve Counter Culture coffee and some quality eats, like the BLT on a croissant or the egg sandwich with bacon and Swiss on a cheddar-chive biscuit.

Sole criticism: about 6 months ago they were taken over my new management who saw fit to remove the jalapeño jam that used to accompany the aforementioned egg sandwich. Please join me in petitioning them to bring it back!

mmmm, coffee

Vital Statistics:
Location: 72 East 1st Street just west of 1st Ave
Subway: F to 2nd Ave
Website: www.bluebirdcoffeeshop.com
Prices: $4.25 for a latte, $3-6 for pastries and sandwiches

Prima Strada

This place just opened down the street from Bluebird from the guys at Ninth Street Espresso. The space is all exposed brick with two long trestle tables and high chairs with the bar at the far end. Coffee is served 8-5, then dinner starts and goes til 1am.

They serve pastries from François Payard – I sampled the ham and cheese croissant which was delish. Their food menu for lunch/dinner looks good too so I’ll be returning soon.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 58 East 1st Street between 1st and 2nd Ave (and more specifically between Prune and Bluebird Cafe)
Subway: F to 2nd Ave
Website: if they’ve got one, I can’t find it
Prices: $4.50 for a latte, $5.50 for a stuffed croissant; dinner mains $15-22

Dominique Ansel Bakery

Another newly opened joint, this one is on the West Side on Spring St. The draw here is really the baked goods and the headline item is Dominique’s (a former Bouley pastry chef) kouign amann, which is like a croissant covered in sugar and butter and baked again. It is some kind of good. I also sampled a Cannelé de Bordeaux, an eggy creation that’s crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside – kind of like a very dense popover with a hint of vanilla. Washed down with a cup of the Chef’s not-too-sweet-and-very-rich Hot Chocolate, it was the perfect start to a crisp fall Saturday.  Oh, and they serve lunch, too.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 189 Spring Street between Thompson and Sullivan
Subway: A, C, E to Spring Street
Website: www.dominiqueansel.com
Prices: $4 for a hot chocolate, pastries $3-6 each; see the menu here.

Mas (la grillade)

Last week my friend Cordelia and I checked out Galen Zamarra’s new restaurant Mas (la grillade) – yes the name includes the parentheses – on Leroy and 7th Avenue South (a corner that is also home to another fine establishment, Little Branch). For those of you thinking “Wait, isn’t there already a restaurant called Mas in the West Village?” you’re right – that would be Zamarra’s first restaurant Mas (farmhouse) which he opened in 2004.

La grillade is a bit less upscale than Farmhouse but they still go in for fancy linens, hot plates (those decorative ones at your place when you sit down) and service which, although excellent, at times felt overly formal given the otherwise relaxed vibe. The dining room is spacious with a full wall of windows facing 7th Avenue, double height ceilings and a small lofted space with a skylight.

True to its name, la grillade is all grilling all the time – even the desserts (we had grilled figs). Apparently some people in the neighborhood are not fans though, as demonstrated by the irate man who barged in as we were finishing our main courses yelling about how the restaurant was poisoning the neighborhood with smoke. He was firmly escorted out by a group of waiters and the general manager.

squid stuffed with bay leaves

To start we sampled grilled artichokes with chanterelles topped with arugula. Some of the most incredible chanterelles I have ever had, they were crisped and sweet, melt in your mouth delicious. The squid appetizer was also good – although the waiter felt obliged to warn us to remove the bay leaves before eating it.  I wondered how many unassuming guests have choked on them to warrant this disclaimer.

The wine list featured French wines – lots of red Burgundy and Cotes du Rhônes – with a few American bottles thrown in. We found the price point a little high, with most bottles between $65-$120 which for me is just a little more than what I want to spend for dinner just because it’s Wednesday.  In the end we settled on a bottle of Carignan from the Languedoc, 2007 for $58. It was a nice medium bodied wine and paired well with our mains: squab and lamb chops.

lamb + squab + fennel and pear

Both meats were sublimely juicy and tender and richly smokey – the lamb total pink perfection.  We also ordered a side of fennel and pear – delish.

Vital statistics:
Location: 28 Seventh Avenue South at Leroy Street
Subway: 1 to Christopher Street
Website: www.maslagrillade.com
Prices: $30-34 for a main course, total damage for us was $110 each

La Promenade des Anglais (in Chelsea)

It is rare that I have a dinner in Manhattan that is so underwhelming as at La Promenade. This one was particularly disappointing because I had heard good things, had walked by and thought the space looked really cool, and chosen it for a pre-black tie party dinner with my cousin Stephanie.

I didn’t even take any pictures it was so bad. Here is the rundown:

  1. Rubbery and under-seasoned calamari salad with chickpeas.
  2. Veal tartare that was more mustard than meat and after a few bites had my eyes massively watering.
  3. Overcooked, poor quality gnocchi with fennel pork ragu (not sure I could taste the fennel).
  4. The one good thing was the burrata served with salt and a bit of oil on grilled bread. Also, they had my friend Begoña’s family’s cava – Raventos i Blanco “l’Hereu”.

And, to top it all off, when we didn’t order two main courses our waitress was visibly annoyed and proceeded to mostly ignore us the rest of the evening.

We skipped dessert and went for cupcakes at Billy’s across the street instead. That made us feel a bit better.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 461 W 23rd St between 9th and 10th Avenues
Subway: A, C, E to 23rd Street
Website: www.lapromenadenyc.com
Prices: $96 for both of us, including one glass of white and one glass of cava

Brunch @ Hundred Acres

Hundred Acres is not a new spot so it is rather distressing that I had not been before, but better late than never I suppose.

My friend Carrington suggested it for our official New York homecoming catch up brunch so a few weeks ago Saturday that’s where we met at 1:00 pm.

The first thing that caught my eye was actually the condiments on our table. Alongside the glass jar of sea salt was one with what looked like dirt. We were informed that it was in fact urfa pepper and it was black spicy and smokey smelling.

urfa & salt

We started with some coffee, to help perk us up and prepare us for the Bloody Marys that were on the way. Well, I had a Bloody on the way, Carrington opted for a mimosa and they also had some other yummy sounding cocktails including one with aperol, cucumber and grapefruit.

you had me at shucked oyster

I have not always been a Bloody Mary fan but over the past couple years have developed my taste and am now a pretty faithful devotee. So it was very exciting to see that Hundred Acres had not one, not two, but four different kinds on their menu. Obviously I ordered the Hampton Shore Mary which came with an oyster on top.

Then, the challenge was deciding what to eat. We agreed to share a bunch of dishes, a few small and one main (I have trouble maintaining friendships with people who are not into sharing).

We settled on melt in your mouth pork tater tots served with pickled peppers; pork meatballs that arrived bathed in a spicy tomato sauce atop a soggy piece of bread with queso fresco; super light and fluffy ricotta fritters with just-the-right-sweet syrup; and breakfast sausage with poached eggs.

tots (don't put these in your pocket)

balls & fritters

We were seriously full and very satisfied by the time we left.

Restaurant notes: there is a cute garden space, glassed over in winter, and a nice long bar, which I consider an absolute necessity for any restaurant – where else are you going to wait for your date or eat alone and not feel awkward taking up a whole table?  Service was ok – a little slow at times, but it was peak weekend brunch time so I can’t complain too much.

the dining room

Vital Statsitics:
Location: 38 MacDougal Street between Prince Street and Houston Street
Subway: A, C, E to Spring Street or the 1, 2 to Houston
Website: http://hundredacresnyc.com
Prices: Brunch mains run about $15-18 each.  Our bill was $45 each for food, 1 cocktail apiece and tip.

Red Rooster Harlem

I’ve been meaning to go to Red Rooster up in Harlem since it opened last year.  But somehow the trek uptown always seemed too daunting when it came down to it and I ended up eating at the usual suspects in my neighborhood – Freeman’s, Prune, Peels, Spitzer’s Corner – instead.  So this past weekend I finally mustered the energy and resolve and set off with my cousin Diana on a journey to Manhattan’s hinterlands above 125th Street.

Red Rooster is the latest venture from Marcus Samuelsson, the half Ethiopian-half Swedish chef and entrepreneur who used to run Aquavit in midtown.  Aquavit is a chic, rather staid and very refined restaurant so Red Rooster is a bit of an about face.

The restaurant is nestled in a block across from a big, boxy mall building advertising Marshall’s, Staples and Planet Fitness, around the corner from the requisite McDonald’s and Popeye’s, and, inexplicably, next door to a French bistro called Chez Lucienne.

Feeling a bit claustrophobic in the indoor dining room – which has the personality of a chain restaurant in a suburban mall (think Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday’s), and on the day we visited featured too loud and slightly random live music – we opted for a table outside on the oversized sidewalk.

We then devoted our full attention to the menu, which is a mish mash of Southern American and Swedish comfort food. We mostly stuck to the American side of things, except Diana’s Lenox Smörgåsborg which came with Serrano ham, gravlax and a smoked trout bagel. I chose the Fried Yard Bird (aka chicken), served with white gravy, some spicy red sauce and “shake”, a mixture of spices that arrived at the table in a do it yourself canister. The chicken was very fried – I would have preferred a little more soft crunch and a little less burnt.

the spread

We fared better with our sides: Mac and Greens came in a small cast iron dish with big macaroni baked in three kinds of cheese and topped with crunchy bread crumbs. And the cornbread with honey butter and tomato jam was moist and delicious.

All in all the food was okay, but not worth the hour long trip from downtown. In future, I’ll be sticking a big closer to home … At least for comfort food brunch.

Vital statistics:
Location: 310 Malcolm X Boulevard, Harlem, NY
Subway: 2, 3 or 4, 5, 6 to 125th Street
Website: www.redroosterharlem.com
Prices: about $36 per person (without booze)