Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Would you like fries with that?

After a recent trip to a Queens eatery for brunch with Mike and my sister Jess, I found myself thinking back to my most absurd, silly, outlandish, asinine, and confounding restaurant encounters.

We had spent a lazy Sunday morning lingering over food and beverages. Minutes turned into hours and after requesting several rounds of mimosas, tea, and coffee, after begging our server for refills on the complimentary mini-muffin basket, and after feasting on eggs Benedict AND cheese cake for dessert, our server greeted us tableside and asked “Are you ready to order?”

“Um, okay there, buddy!” We had been gorging ourselves for several hours, requested the young lad’s service almost a dozen times, and he appeared sheepish and perplexed when we shot him baffled facial expressions. That’s putting it mildly- my face was contorted into a giant question mark, complete with dotted I’s and T’s!

After he ran away, tail between legs, to pick up remnants of self-respect (and gather our check), we all burst out in uncontrollable, although uncomfortable laughter. We had developed a superficial relationship with this kid and he failed to recognize that he had already served us brunch and dessert and many, many drinks. I don't want to say we were the bain of his morning, that we were voracious, ravenous pests, horrible heathens of hedonism, every servers worst nightmare, but we were surely demanding in our hunger that morning.

We started questioning our identities, wavering between confusion and laughter and started to speculate- were we that unmemorable, faceless gluttons in a sea of hungry infidels? Or was he just having an off-day? Or perhaps he'd been hitting the mimosas! Either way, it was strange in a Twilight Zone kind of way.

I tried to recall any similar circumstances that rang out in my mind, anything as oddly humorous, as quirky, perplexing. As I surveyed past eating experiences, I conjured images of undercooked pizza crust, soggy fries, forgotten orders, misplaced meal tickets, spilled beverages. Obviously, this is one of those “you had to be there” moments, but it has become one of those things we mention in passing, just for a quick laugh. I began referring to this event as a “would you like fries with that?” moment. And yes, we would have liked fries with that, but of course, our server neglected to ask!

Do you have a similar "would you like fries with that?" tale? A tale of humor, a tale of bad service, a tale of bad food, a tale of restaurant darkness?

"Would you Like Fries with That" Salt and Pepper Oven Fries
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

Serves 6

3 large baking potatoes (about 2 1/3 pounds) peeled, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide planks, each plank cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon pepper

Place rack in top third of oven and preheat to 400°F. Place potato strips on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil; toss to coat. Roast 25 minutes. Using spatula, turn fries over. Roast until tender and golden brown around edges, about 25 minutes longer.

Mix salt, pepper, and sugar in small bowl. Sprinkle over chips.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mango Fool

In the still, thick, sticky summer heat, sometimes the only thing that satiates the palate is a shockingly chilly frozen treat. Ice cream is so satisfying, so right, that is seems as salubrious as an icy cold cucumber. Sometimes banal summer desserts, however, can leave you wanting more, wanting something different. When ice cream seems too cloying, a popsicle too hackneyed, consider the fool, a cold and silken dessert so simple - the essence of cream and summer fruit whipped together in an instant.

Fool is an old-fashioned dessert made from pureed fruit mixed with whipped cream or custard. I admit I had never heard of this formidable classic until recently. Mark Bittman states that it is a “once commonplace dish that has all but vanished from the repertory of most home cooks.”

Popular flavors of the vintage English dessert include strawberry, raspberry, peach, traditional English gooseberry and mango, which was common in British colonial Africa.

The historical recipe recently popped up in an issue of Gourmet, too effortless a recipe to forgo. The combination of pureed mango and whipped cream yields a satiny custard and a hint of fresh lime juice gives it a refreshing, lively tang. Served over blueberries, it is a great alternative to ice cream on a hot summer’s night. There’s a true charm to this declaration of simplicity.

Mango Fool
Adapted From Gourmet Magazine
Start to finish: 10 min
Servings: Makes 6 (dessert) servings

1 1-pound ripe mango, pitted, peeled, and cut into chunks
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1 1/2 cups blueberries (1/2 pound)
Grated lime zest to taste

Purée mango, sugar, lime juice, and a pinch of salt in a blender until very smooth. Add cream and blend until very thick. Blend in additional lime juice and sugar to taste.

Transfer to a bowl and fold in most of blueberries, then divide among 6 glasses. Top with remaining blueberries and zest. If desired, chill, loosely covered, 30 minutes.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cheese of the month- Hudson Valley Camembert

As much as I have unapologetically resisted a fondness for living in the Hudson Valley, my childhood dream of living on a farm has grabbed hold of my impervious soul and latched on for good. I can no longer resist the idyllic aesthetics of my surroundings. I’m hooked on local farms and their verdant, sweeping pastures. I have been romanced by the earth’s abundance and by the honest dairy.

If I can help it, I only drink Ronnybrook Farm’s milk and I love their creamy garlic infused butter, addictive yogurt, and luscious ice cream. After starting an internship at my favorite local creamery Sprout Creek Farm, I only eat local cheese (and yes, pretty much only SCF cheese….and in a somewhat unhealthy abundance!).

However, having never tried cheese from the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, I decided to branch out. After all, I am from Albany and these guys are my neighbors. Old Chatham burst onto the scene in 1994 with a small flock of sheep and went on to produce award winning sheep’s milk cheese and creamy full-fat yogurt.

Nestled in the softly undulating hills of the upper Hudson Valley, Tom and Nancy Clark, the farm’s proprietors, now house a flock of over 1000 organically-raised East Friesian crossbred sheep.

One of the few producers of sheep’s milk cheese in America, its Camembert is award-winning, a blend of their flock’s milk and from a bit of cow’s milk from neighboring Hollrock Farm in Kinderhook. At the 2001 US Cheese Championship it won the coveted Best Cheese in America prize and in both 2002 and 2006, it won World Championships in Best of Class.

In “Cheese, A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best” Max McCalman and David Gibbons state that the cheese “gives the continental double and triple crèmes a run for their money, adding an extra dimension with the inclusion of sheep’s milk.” A traditional French Camembert is made from the unpasteurized milk of Normande cattle.

The soft bloomy-rind Camembert is less mushroomy than its French counterpart, with a subtler earthy flavor. Its texture is richly buttery and sweetly creamy and the mix of sheep’s and cow’s milks yields an even, harmonious taste. The cheese is distinctly American, a neat little square packaged in breathable paper and labeled with the likeness of a sheep.

Serve this antibiotic and hormone-free cheese at room temperature and enjoy its melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Summery Soup to Slurp- Naeng Myun

I have been consistently craving naeng myun ever since I first sampled the beautiful soup in San Diego. That was two years ago. I have since developed a mental obsession with the dish, an enlightening combination of flavors and textures that is burned in my mind like a visceral tattoo.

The day of my soup revelation, the Southern California sun was on fire and the humidity level at rare SoCal heights. It was a scorcher, the kind of day where you stave off the fiery air by seeking shelter inside overly air conditioned malls or cool, azure swimming pools.

My friend had been talking up one of her favorite local Korean BBQ joints and I was in town just for the day. I needed to try this place. Despite the heat, we braved the fierce smoke and glittering flames of the indoor grills. I was content with our selection of bulgogi and samgyeopsal, but my friend’s husband insisted we try naeng myun, one of his favorite childhood dishes, and major refreshment after the charred, spiced meats. He swore it would be just the thing to refresh our still-hungry, overheated bodies before we once again braved the torrid, dense air.

Sipping and slurping the tangy, icy soup was a revelation. The broth is so subtle, the tangy soupcon of radish brine whirled into the slightly sweet beef stock danced a gustatory pas de deux on my tongue, the elegant interplay of sweet and sour. It was that taste-moment I realized I could live the rest of my life eating nothing but naeng myun. This was my new death row meal, that meal in which I would wholeheartedly indulge on my last night on earth. Everything about the dish struck a harmonious chord and the icy, refreshing broth couldn’t have been more soul-satisfying, the liquid lovingly licking our throats, a cool tingling spreading like the flames of the grill through our bodies.

Naeng myun, which means “cold noodles” is a Korean repast made with slightly chewy buckwheat or yam noodles nested in a cold beef broth. The noodles and soup are seasoned tableside by adding tangy vinegar or spicy mustard before eating and most typically topped with an array of bite sized texture variants: tender slices of beef brisket, sliced cucumber, half a hard-boiled egg, sweet Asian pear, and a mild pickled daikon radish (and often with shaved or cubed iced). Use of Korean buckwheat noodles or arrowroot noodles yields a wonderfully chewy, springy texture and slightly sweet taste.

I started my broth in an atypical fashion. Many traditional naeng myun beef broths are conceived of brisket boiled in water with scallions and garlic. Due to my local market’s lack of brisket and a fussy looking flank steak, I went with a healthy cut of London broil and oxtails for their unctuously rich fat. I also beefed things up my using scallions, thinly sliced garlic, and a whole onion. My broth was evocative, breathtakingly flavorful, especially after adding a few tablespoons of vinegar to finish (which I utilized in place of dongchimi brine, the tangy liquid used for pickling daikon kimchi).

My version of naeng myun wasn’t entirely authentic, but it was the taste I remembered and for that, I was proud of my efforts.

Naeng Myun
Serves 4

Beef broth:
1 pound beef brisket, flank steak, or London broil
1 1/2 pounds oxtail
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 scallions, green and white parts, whole
1 medium onion, peeled, cut in quarters
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 large daikon radish (about 7 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 small pickling cucumber
1 Asian pear
2 hardboiled eggs
1 22-ounce package Korean buckwheat noodles (made from buckwheat flour and sweet-potato starch) or arrowroot noodles

To make the broth:
Rinse meat and place in large stock pot with onion, scallions, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover with 8 to 9 cups of cold water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour, or until meat is cooked through, skimming foam and fat occasionally.

Remove beef and oxtails. Discard onions and oxtails (or reserve oxtails for other use). Strain the broth until a clean pot and continue to boil broth for an additional 15 minutes. Cool broth slightly. Add sugar, vinegar and salt to taste. Chill broth in refrigerator for about 2 hours, or until broth is very cold.

To prepare garnishes:
Slice beef across the grain into very thin slices, about 1/8-inch thick, yielding about 5 slices per bowl. Reserve remaining meat for another use.

Wash, peel and slice radish into long, flat pieces (like a ribbon), about 3-inches long. Add 1 teaspoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt to radish. Mix well and let sit while you prepare the rest of the garnishes.

Prepare cucumber in the same manner, although do not peel.

Wash and slice 1/8-inch pieces of Asian pear.

Prepare a large pot of boiling water and cook the noodles about 2-3 minutes, until the noodles are al dente and chewy. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Drain liquid from radish and cucumber and add 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil to each.

To serve, place about a handful of noodles at the bottom of 4 large bowls. Top noodles with radish, cucumbers, meat, pears, and egg. Ladle broth around noodles. Serve accompanied by small bowls of vinegar and hot Asian mustard to garnish.