Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ahu Talks: Greg F

Ahu Talks is a series of conversations with people who have interesting things to say about food.
Two weekends back, I had the great pleasure of spending the afternoon with Greg; a native New Yorker, firefighter with the FDNY, member of the Air National Guard, excellent cook and an all-around interesting person. The mission of the day was to make an Italian dish called 'Braciola' (pronounced bra-zhul according to the Sicilian dialect) - so the first stop was at Faicco's, an Italian pork shop store in the West Village.

Ahu: Greg, what got you into cooking?
Greg: Growing up I always saw my dad baking, which is what got me started in the kitchen.


Faicco's is wall-to-wall with different types of meat, sausage and Italian prepared goods, and while the space is small it is chock full of people, specialty products and of course, meat. While we waited for our four braciolas to be packaged, we snacked on rice balls, a divine creation sent from the heavens. Creamy rice and parmesan rolled into a ball and then deep fried.

Holy shit. The rice ball is so good it deserves profanity.


Ahu: Any cooking tips or secrets you care to share?
Greg: Freeze your onions before you chop them, and you won't cry.

While waiting at the counter, we spotted some prosciutto bread... yes that's right, prosciutto bread. Buns with chopped up prosciutto and cheese baked right in. We grabbed a few, they look like plain bread in the display but flip them over and you can see the entrance to a mini den of lard.

Normal bread, right? Wrong!

Salty goodness.

Ahu: What was your most memorable meal?
Greg: Thanksgiving dinner last year, which I had a day after Thanksgiving. I had just come back from a 3 month deployment in Africa and we had a deep-fried turkey.


Once we got back to the kitchen (thank you to our host for volunteering her kitchen!), Greg unwrapped the meat and explained how he was going to prepare the dinner. The braciola would be seared on all sides, then simmered in a tomato sauce (that he made himself) and served over pasta. Our braciola was pork tenderloin rolled with prosciutto and cheese:

I know what you're thinking, you perv.

Ahu: Is there anything you won't eat?
Greg: I'm not big on seafood.


The sauce, which takes about 2 hours to simmer, smelled amazing. It's one of those slow-and-low dishes, but the wait was well worth it.

Greg, hard at work, and our (g)host hamming it up for the camera

Ahu: Greg, what's your favorite New York burger?
Greg: JG Mellon. Also, Burger Joint (in the Parker Meridien). 


The end result (which sadly, I don't have a picture of due to the fact that we dove right in to the food) was delicious. It's a hearty meal, so much so that I couldn't finish my portion (Greg served one piece per person). A perfect meal for a bunch of guys who fight fires!

I really enjoyed my afternoon watching and learning from Greg. As a veteran firefighter and a member of the military, he has lived through some things most people will never experience, yet is still light-hearted and upbeat. His words are as carefully chosen as his food, which he takes great pleasure in preparing for others. Thank you Greg for the wonderful experience and also to our excellent host!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Poutine! La Banquise - Montreal

9/10
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I've been eagerly waiting to try the famous French Canadian dish, poutine, for quite some time now. Two of my close friends are Canadian and they said many times over how much they love poutine, so naturally I was curious. Thanks to my gracious friend and her family, I was able to visit Montreal and finally try poutine this week.

Without getting too sentimental, I truly believe that a people's food is really a window into their culture, and going to La Banquise (said to be the best poutine in Montreal) was an awesome sneak peek! There are many definitions of poutine but it generally seems to be comprised of french fries, cheese curds and some sort of gravy or sauce. The cheese curds must be fresh (not more than a day old) and the gravy is typically made of some sort of stock and pepper. Right before serving, the cold curds are added and the hot gravy is poured over the dish, to heat up the cheese but not melt it. This is the result:

There she is, in all her glory.

La Banquise has 25+ types of poutine, but we got the classic. Salty crunchy fries, squeaky cheese and the warm gravy. While I don't think I'll be suffering withdrawal symptoms from poutine any time soon, I can definitely see how this dish is a favorite with people after a night of drinking or a day of skiing. Salt, carbs and fat... the basic elements of a good dish in my book.

Even though I didn't try the other types of poutine, I'm giving La Banquise 9 stars - there was a line down the street to get in and there seemed to be a general consensus by locals that this was the place to try. I would definitely come back to try the 'Poutine Kamikaze' (merguez sausages, hot peppers and tobasco).
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La Banquise
994, Rachel Est
Montreal, QC
www.restolabanquise.com

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chocorooms

These chocolate-dipped mushroom cookies from Meiji are addictive. The stem (the cookie part) and the cap (milk chocolate) are the perfect combo of crunchy, mildly sweet and soft.

I mean, it doesn't get much cuter.

Chocorooms are not easy to find, so if you ever come across them, grab a few boxes.

This fungi doesn't grow underground.

I spent a few years in an international school in Berkeley, CA where the entire curriculum was taught in Mandarin, so I became very fond of Asian food and snacks. Meiji, the company that makes Chocorooms is particularly near and dear to my heart because they make my favorite snack from my childhood days, Yan Yan sticks.

(image from asianfoodgrocer.com) 

Yan Yan are much easier to find, but just as delicious as Chocorooms and come in many varieties (chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, etc). Cost Plus World Market carries a lot of Meiji products - a great place to search out these little treasures!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Things I Don't Want to Eat: Part 2

Because what kid doesn't want a dinosaur in the process of getting sick on their birthday cake?

No more words, really.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Potato Leek Soup

As the days grow colder in NYC, I love making and eating soup. It's easy to whip up a ginormous pot on a Sunday (my favorite day to cook) and enjoy it for several days after. After getting my first immersion blender two weeks ago, I was eager to finally try it out this past weekend by making potato leek soup (yes, I'm a nerd. I get excited over such things). It's very simple, as most soups are, but blending it makes it look so much more... fancy shmancy.

I don't like my food to be all one color... hence, the scallions.


It's basically just leeks, potatoes and onions cooked down in broth for about 30-45 minutes then blended with milk, salt and pepper. I also added red pepper flakes, because I like a little kick to my food. I would have squeezed in some lime juice as well had I had limes. Next time. I'm on day 3 of eating the soup and it's still delicious!

P.S. I feel like I should add that I literally ate the soup while writing this, as if that adds some sort of Inception-esque credibility to my post!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Sense of Humor

I spotted this sign outside of Boqueria recently that made me chuckle:

Randomly placed quotes always add a little "Je" ne sais quoi.

In my opinion, Boqueria actually IS the best tapas in the city, and one of the best restaurants in NYC. Great food, drink and a sense of humor... can't ask for anything else.

Monday, December 12, 2011

'witchcraft

7/10
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I adore places that have excellent food without all the muss, fuss, or pretentiousness of a fancy restaurant. That's exactly what 'witchcraft achieves - with a clean and inviting aesthetic. Having had their coffee and various sweets (TriBeCa location) many times over, a friend and I popped into their Flatiron location for some 'real' food during a shopping marathon this weekend.

Goat cheese sandwich with some damn beautiful bread.

My friend had the sandwich - sadly my walnut allergy kept me from trying it (it had walnut pesto sauce on it) but she swears by it. I had the tomato and Parmesan soup - I'm not even a fan of tomato soups and this was delicious. It was a tad sweet, a bit spicy with just enough parmesan throughout.

Those breadsticks are where it's at. I'll take a few... hundred, please.

The perfect light meal during an afternoon of power shopping - any other gal will concur that lightness is key when you're trying on outfits! The breadsticks that came with the soup were out of this world - almost like savory cookies - buttery and salty. Yum.
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Definitely stop in for a bite next time you pass by 'witchcraft and you feel a zing of hunger.

'witchcraft
Multiple locations
www.wichcraftnyc.com

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bongo Burger

9/10
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I've been going to Bongo Burger for years, yet I have no idea what else they serve besides the Persian Burger and fries! The fries have been voted best of the Bay Area and rightfully so. Absolutely delicious but really overshadowed by the classic Persian Burger.

No, it's not a weapon. It's a Persian Burger and fries

The burger is really a lamb koobideh kabob (koobideh means ground meat) made of Niman ranch meat with special sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions between crunchy french bread.

Good bread is the key. To life.

The kabob is about a foot long, but not to worry, once you've taken the first bite, the rest will be a blur. The secret sauce really adds a tang that elevates the sandwich to divine levels.

 Sneak peak under the hood of this burger.

After eating the Persian Burger probably 100 times in my life, I'd guess the sauce to be made of mayo, sumac and lemon juice. I could see it being a great french fry dip as well - not sure why Bongo Burger hasn't thought to bottle it and sell it!
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Bongo Burger is a Berkeley landmark and not to be missed.

Bongo Burger
Multiple Locations - Berkeley, CA

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Weather Up

9/10
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Weather Up is everything a superlative cocktail bar should be - understated, chic and the bartenders are killer mixologists.

Kitschy but not overly so. Perfect.

I could read this on a Sunday morning with coffee.

The very first time I came here, they were out of vermouth or bitters, so the awesome bartender (Joe) made me a drink I'd never heard of before instead - an Enzoni (gin, Campari, lemon and grape juice). I have to say, it was superb. I have asked for this drink at other bars and they never know what it is.

Enzoni

They have a number of interesting cocktails that change often. However their crowning glory is without a doubt the negroni. All the right elements - the perfect temperature, the right ice, and a bitterness that washes over your mouth without making you wince.

Don't mind my alien hands.

The ice cube takes up about 50% of the glass keeping the drink perfectly cold.
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It doesn't really get much better than Weather Up. Come early in the evening, saddle up to the bar and enjoy a truly exceptional cocktail experience.

Weather Up
159 Duane Street
New York, NY 10013
www.weatherupnyc.com 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pancetta!

Sometimes the best things are what you make for yourself on a whim. I love cooking - especially when the ingredients themselves are the inspiration, which is exactly what happened today on the way home from work. I stopped at the market and saw the meat guy cutting pancetta. I've always wanted to try cooking it, so I took the plunge and bought some (a little goes a long way!). 3 other ingredients later (green beans, cremini mushrooms and garlic) I was out the door and ready to cook.

I always gravitate towards food that showcases the ingredients - simpler preparation and fantastic ingredients. All I did was saute the garlic and pancetta (diced), add mushrooms for a few minutes, then add in the beans. The whole thing was done in 15 minutes start to finish (and as my mom can attest, I'm the slowest food-preparer ever - bread and cheese takes me half an hour!). Salty, crunchy, garlic-y goodness.

The pancetta is so salty and so good.


OK, off to have seconds.