Saturday, March 26, 2011

Feel Better Brown Butter Brownies

This past week, I’ve experienced a succession of unfortunate events.  Firstly on Monday, I come into work and wanted to check my financial situation, so I log onto my online banking and see a barrage of fraudulent activity beginning on Friday night and continuing through the weekend.  There are about 12 transactions from, dating sights, Skype calls in Luxembourg, online porn site memberships and a ton of other transactions to the tune of over two thousand dollars!  The next few days consisted of my spending a lot of time at the bank disputing charges, signing affidavits and figuring it all out.  On Wednesday night, here in New York we were experiencing awful bizarre weather, it was snowing, sleeting, thundering and lightening and FREEZING.  Anyway, I get off the bus after work, head towards my car and notice my front-end driver’s side tire is totally flat.  A couple of hours later, an AAA call, a donut on my car, I head home soaking wet, freezing and miserable.  My immediate call to action is a hot shower, but I go into my kitchen and find what appears to be HUNDREDS of ants single file coming from a power outlet (from inside the wall!) parading through my kitchen into my cat’s food bowl.  I was repulsed.  Reaching for my vacuum, I took care of those critters like Bill Murray took care of Slimer in Ghostbusters.  Anyway, I had to take Thursday off to take care of my finances, car, the ANTS and my taxes, which I did.   By Friday, I was defeated and done with the week.  I head to my personal training session at my gym at around noon, ready to get my ass kicked AND relieve some of the stress I had accrued from my week from hell.   The combination of my trainer NOT listening to me (Uh, I usually lift HALF of that weight) and my obviously low blood sugar had me wiping out at the gym, embarrassingly.  I awoke to an all-over body sweat, people in my face urging me to “drink water!” asking “are you okay?”  Eh….

So yeah, I needed something to make me feel better.  That something is chocolate or to be more specific, one of the best brownie recipes I’ve ever tried.  A foolproof delicious, moist, chocolaty, bit of fudgy perfection with walnuts.   The first time I tried this recipe I wondered to myself “why the HELL do people use boxed brownies?”  They are that EASY and the result will make you forget all about those notions of what you think “good brownies” should taste like.  One of the main ingredients is browned butter, which imparts a deep, nutty flavor.  You bake them in your 8x8x2 dish that you line in foil, which allows you to lift the brownies out to let them cool leaving you with no extra clean up!  Try these out, you won’t be disappointed and I can almost promise you, that you won’t go back to boxed after this!

Browned Butter Brownies with Walnuts
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Total Time:  1 Hour

  •         Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  •        10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
  •     1 1/4 cups sugar
  •     3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to     measure, then leveled)
  •     1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •     2 large eggs, chilled
  •     1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
  •     1 cup walnut pieces

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray. 

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. 

Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies.

Recipe courtesy of Bon Appétit

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Culinary Journey Through Staten Island’s North Shore

Last weekend, bored out of my mind and looking for something new to do, I decided that I needed to explore within my own backyard so to speak.  There is a stretch of area on Staten Island from Bay Street up through Victory Blvd that while looks interesting I’ve filed away into my subconscious being that I pass it every single day.   So, I got in my car and made the, er, FIVE minute ride down Victory Blvd.  My first stop was the Grocery Lanka (353 Victory Blvd) down just before Cebra/Castleton.  

This store looks completely non-descript from the outside, like any other bodega but is actually a treasure trove of Indian/Sri Lanken & Asian spices.  I’ve recently started experimenting with Indian cuisine and LITERALLY had just ordered Garam Masala and a few other items online, which cost me a good amount of money.  So, you can understand my surprise when I walked into the Grocery Lanka!  The place is tiny but PACKED with the biggest selection of spices and cooking ingredients. 

A huge variety of roasted curries, all sorts of different lentils, flours, rice, spices and so much more all inside this tiny grocery store!  In the back I noticed one of the owners sorting through a huge box of dried green leafy things, which I thought was Fenugreek leaves, but when I inquired, he told me they roasted their own curry and shipped it worldwide!  I picked up Gram flour (chickpea) for some Paneer Pakora I wanted to make,  green cardamom for $1.99, which retails for $15 at the supermarket, Garam Masala, some dried roasted curry powders, garlic & ginger paste, Tumeric & basmati rice for about $15.  Leaving with my armful of groceries and the owner scratching his head at me asking “Do you cook a lot of spicy food?” YES, yes I do. 

I was thrilled with my bounty and continued down the road.  My next stop was a little further down, a Mexican grocery store called Frutas y Abarrotes Mexico Deli & Grocery (54-A Victory Blvd).  In this instance, you would likely expect a standard Mexican fruit & deli, right?  This place IS pretty standard but does stock a good variety of dried chiles, tamale wrappers, spices and here’s the kicker for me, HUGE pieces of CHICHARONNES, which if you don’t know are pork rinds.  The chicharonnes here are lightly salted and sold by the pound in huge plastic bags.  I realize these might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I happen to really love chicharonnes.  I left with a half pound, which were fresh and delicious and some dried ancho and guajillo chiles which I plan on using for a chocolate mole sauce.

I was about to leave the area and was heading back to my car when I noticed ONE more place just across the street, The Polish Place (19 Corson Avenue).   The Polish Place was a restaurant on one side combined with a Polish deli attached, presumably operated by the same owner.   I quickly looked it up on UrbanSpoon and surprisingly, The Polish Place had ALL excellent user reviews.  I headed into the deli, since I wasn’t looking for a sitdown experience and wanted to check it out.  In the back of the store was a deli window where you can order all kinds of hot Polish food to go!  They had potato pancakes, a huge
variety of pierogies, blintzes and borscht & of course kielbasa sandwiches. I opted for a   kielbasa sandwich and potato pierogies which were satisfying, excellent and CHEAP!

The people working there were warm & friendly and quick to answer all my questions & provide me with suggestions.  After declaring my love for Zubrowka vodka one of the ladies recommended a Zubrowka filled chocolate candy.  The candies were boozy and reminded me of those chocolate liquor bottles you used to get at your relatives homes during the holidays!  I left The Polish Place amply filled and slightly tipsy. 

My culinary journey concluded at Everything Goes Café, which while not as ethnically diverse as my previous stops, allowed me to load up on a ton of vintage cookbooks.  I left with 5 books totaling about $20.  It was a good day & it reminded me that a culinary adventure need not be any further than within your own stomping grounds.  I’m excited to get cooking with my new spices and culinary resources!  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

Mardi Gras is right around the corner and what better way to pay homage to the great city of New Orleans than with a New Orleans themed posting.  I’ll come clean, I’ve actually never been to actual Mardi Gras.  The idea of New Orleans filled with THAT many people just boggles my mind.  I mean, we’re talking 500,000 people PLUS, PLUS.  Bourbon Street is not even THAT long of a street.  The equivalent would be dropping myself into the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve and that idea just doesn’t appeal to me.  BUT, New Orleans during Halloween is just lovely.  The number of people that attend is significantly less.  You get the parade and the fun and the beads up close, right on the route lines without having to elbow your way through.  The weather is mild and crisp sans the humidity & mosquitoes (though they do sometimes stick around!)  

Anyway, New Orleans is hands down a culinary & spirits extravaganza.  It’s already been months since I’ve been there and the flavors I experienced there are still fresh in my mind.  The hotel I stayed in during my week-long visit is located in the Historic Garden District, a few St. Charles Avenue trolley stops away in a more quiet, traditional area.  In the Garden District is where you will find all of those grand, amazing historical homes with elaborate wrought iron fences and balconies.  It’s where Lafayette Cemetery #1 is located and across the street is the famed Commander’s Palace.  In operation since 1880, Commander’s Palace offers traditional southern & Creole food served in a setting that is also traditionally Southern.  

The waiters are dressed to the nines, ever attentive and aim to please. Additionally, and more importantly, Commander’s Palace serves 25 CENT martinis during the week! YES, 25 CENTS!  But, wanting to get the full experience that Commander’s has to offer, I took the liberty of booking myself for the Sunday Jazz Brunch.  YOU will need to make a reservation if you choose to go there on a Sunday. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the food to be honest, but nothing prepared myself for the food that I ate that day.  My brunch experience set the bar HIGH for the rest of the week. The food was DELECTABLE.  I opted for the Price Fixe menu that included three courses and a Bloody Mary served from an ice block.  The first course, a Gumbo YaYa included whiskey barrel chicken simmered in a rich poultry stock, RICH was not the word. The andouille sausage was house made and also amazing. The second dish, Eggs Couchon de Lait featured perfectly poached eggs served over rosemary biscuits with a smokey braised pork debris & bourbon bacon fat hollandaise. You don’t understand how PERFECT this dish was.  It was smoky, savory, decadent! This dish was one of the BEST dishes I’ve ever eaten in my life. 

Forget Daniel Boulud, forget Thomas Keller & Colicchio—I devoured every last bit, demanding that the waiter go back to the kitchen and tell the guy at the sauce station that I wanted to bring a gallon of this sauce home! Okay, I just told him to send my compliments, but you get the drift.  When I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, the dessert came out, Creole Bread Pudding Souffle. The waiter comes over, breaks the soufflé and then pours a warm whiskey cream sauce onto it.  The experience was pure heaven.  

The jazz band took my A-Train request and I never wanted to leave Commander’s Palace.  We loosened our belt buckles and decided a walk was in order to digest what we had just destroyed.

The next day we took a walking tour of Lafayette Cemetery #1, organized and led by a member of the Save Our Cemeteries Organization a non-for profit dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the historic cemeteries in Louisiana.  The tour was $10 a person with proceeds benefitting the organization. The tour guide was a true LA native and gave us a history lesson like no other touching on everything from the origin of the Po’ Boy to an education on the public use aspect of Louisiana cemeteries (the above ground tombs are reused when the bodies decompose!) The cemetery is beautiful and memorable and is JUST like every movie you might have seen it in, Interview With a Vampire & Easy Rider included.

Speaking of Po’boys…we ate A LOT of them. We had shrimp po’boys, oyster po’boys, steak po’boys. By the third day of the week we were ready to detox from all the fried food, but we ate on!

On the opposite end of the spectrum of the Southern Traditionalism found at Commander’s Palace, was a casual, comfy, albeit amazing dining option down in Bywater area (near the 9th ward) called Bacchanal Wine. The front of the Bacchanal operates as a wine retail shop stocked with an impressive selection. Towards the back of Bacchanal, past the cheese station (more on that later) is a huge backyard where their chef, Joaquin Rodas cooks up amazing culinary delights in his outdoor cooking station & grill area.  Ok, you’re thinking grilled meats, right? So was I!  What I got instead was a braised lamb shank coated in Moroccan spices served over a bed of yellow lentils. The lamb so tender it must have been braised for hours! A creamy sweet potato soup punctuated with autumnal flavors- clove, cinnamon, perhaps a bit of cumin.  The wine never stopped flowing, since a bottle is a walk to the front of the store, where the employees are happy to recommend something to you based on what you might be eating.  You can also pick up a cheese plate based on your wine selections by the deli counter.   Also, the music never stopped playing, because did I mention, there was a live jazz band on a stage in the backyard as well? If I lived in New Orleans, I would surely call Bacchanal my second home.  It was comfortable, fun, the food made at a standard you find in a fine restaurant and the entertainment was excellent.  We left New Orleans properly after that night, with a hangover!! But it was worth it.  AND yes, we did all the requisite Café du Monde, Antoine’s, Pat O’Brien’s, Preservation Hall and more.   I get why people fall in love with New Orleans, it’s easy just like the nickname so apropos, the Big Easy.