Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vietnamese penicillin.

Last night, my friends Lisa, Cristin and I headed downtown for a night of girl talk, Vietnamese food, and showtunes. Where the girl talk originated is easy enough to determine, I suppose - the Vietnamese food we found in Chinatown, and the showtunes at a West Village piano bar called Marie's Crisis.

Girl talk and show tunes are all well and good, but what I really want to talk about tonight is pho. Pronounced "fuh," it's considered by many to be the national dish of Vietnam. It's a noodle soup, traditionally with a beef broth, served with piles of fresh herbs, a few citrus wedges, and lots and lots of hot sauce on the side.

Chinatown boasts many Vietnamese restaurants, and there are endless opinions on where the neighborhood's best pho is to be found (See, for example, this eGullet discussion on the topic.). Since I didn't want to determine my companions' meals ahead of time, I thought we'd better head for somewhere where more than just the pho could be vouched for, so we picked Pho Viet Huong on Mulberry, just south of Canal.

We started with some excellent barbecue beef rolls - hot, grilled beef wrapped with lettuce, mint and cilantro - and great spring rolls, hot, bubbly, and bursting with porky, mushroomy flavor. And then, three steaming bowls of pho arrived at the table.

I dosed mine with plenty of Sriracha and dug in, chopsticks in one hand and soup spoon in the other. The broth was fragrant, and there were enough tender rice noodles to feed three Queenies. I ordered a pork version, and the slices of meat bobbed amidst the herbs, just waiting for an extra little dab of hot sauce. Paired with a bottle of Saigon Export, there simply could not be a better cold-weather meal.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Kitchen Lust: Martha strikes again.

I love Martha Stewart. I'll say it again - I love her. Is she disturbingly placid, even when clearly upset? Yes. Is she a ridiculous, over-the-top perfectionist? Double yes. Is she a terrible neighbor who doesn't accept cookies from the family next door? Triple yes.

But, but - that perfectionism, that competitive spirit, that slightly manic drive...all these contribute to the fact that when she puts her stamp on a product, you know said product is for real. Which is why I have been drooling over this cast-iron pot for ages. It's a fabulous color - a bit more celadon than teal when viewed in person - and the quality is superb. I've been to Macy's, I've checked it out, and now that it's on sale for $60 (yes - a cast-iron, enameled, 7-quart pot for sixty buckaroos), I've ordered it.

I cannot wait to make osso bucco...or to braise a whole duck...or to deep-fry some doughnuts for dinner party petits-fours...or...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Newsflash: that skinless, boneless chicken breast used to be alive.

While the New York Times is no doubt frequently behind the curve (The Omnivore's Dilemma was published almost two years ago), it's still nice to see them spend some words on the chefs and writers who are doing their darndest to make us confront the origins of our food (our processed foods and our meat in particular).

Today they published an article in the Dining & Wine section entitled "Chefs' New Goal: Looking Dinner in the Eye." With his characteristically flamboyant style, Jamie Oliver spent last week educating the British public about the horrors of factory poultry and egg production, something I'd give my eyeteeth to see Martha Stewart (or Sara Moulton, or Ina Garten, or anyone else similarly popular with the average American cook) do. Oliver's shock tactics included, according to the Times, suffocating baby male chicks (as is done daily on egg-production farms) and putting birds in standard battery cages (as is done daily on poultry farms).

I'm not a vegetarian, and I don't think I ever will be. But I staunchly believe that if you're going to eat it, you should know where it came from. You should be aware of the ethical, environmental, and agricultural consequences of your diet.

How cheap is that factory-produced meat, really? Not cheap enough.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

637 pages. 26 actors. 6 playwrights. 1 weekend.

And now for a little non-food talk...

On January 26th and 27th, Babel Theatre Project (I'm a proud board member!) will present its first readings festival, aptly titled Groundwork.

There will be three readings each day, all completely free, including new works by prior Babel playwrights Emily Young (The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie) and Bekah Brunstetter (You May Go Now). There will be cool people (including, potentially, some (admittedly minor) celebrities). There will be yummy baked goods for sale (provided by yours truly).

And, on the 26th, there will be Babel's Winter Bash, our first fundraising event. Tickets will be $15 if bought ahead of time, $20 at the door. I'll be there, so you know it's going to be good times. Plus, there'll be lots of beer and some live music, both of which, depending on your tastes, may be more tempting even than my presence.

Both Groundwork and the Bash will be held at the 45th Street Theatre, Babel's current home.

For more details on Groundwork and the Bash, check out Babel's website. You'll be able to read descriptions of each of the six plays and buy tickets for the Bash.

So, what are you waiting for? Check it out!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Anatomy of a dinner party, part three.

The best thing about having people over for dinner on New Year's? Not having to find a cab at the end of the night. The worst part? Doing dishes at 4 o'clock in the morning. No, my friends, I kid you not.

Backing it up a bit, I'll bring you up to speed on the final guest list. When Faith and Rhonda weren't able to join, we were down to four - but then my brother's old roommate (who we'd assumed would be in Boston with his girlfriend) called, and we told him to come along for the festivities. So at a healthy five, we tackled the four course dinner I'd spent most of Sunday and Monday planning, prepping, and cooking!

Before dinner, we nibbled on some old-school appetizers - Ina Garten's pan-fried onion spread (like Lipton, but ten times better), crudites with The New Basics' awesome Green Goddess dip, and Gourmet's parmesan-onion toasts.

After everyone had partaken of some snacks and at least a flute of champagne apiece, we adjourned to the table. First up, Jean-Georges' oeufs au caviar. These were, without a doubt, the big hit of the evening. While you're supposed to serve these suckers in the eggshells, I used little white bowls I use for sorbet - so sue me, I don't own egg cups and didn't have time to make it to Sur La Table. On the bottom are eggs softly scrambled in butter (with just a pinch of paprika), then freshly whipped cream spiked with vodka and lemon juice, and, finally, caviar. I used salmon roe - it was surprisingly affordable (about $10.00 for four ounces), and the color, mild flavor and juicy texture all worked really well. Plus, unlike sturgeon caviar, it's kosher!

Next, Ina Garten's roasted tomato and basil soup (with veggie stock instead of chicken). This was fantastic - easy, and a show-stopper. Great flavor, beautiful, and can be made ahead. You can also serve it cold in the summer! (Tip: I used an immersion blender instead of a food mill, and it worked perfectly well, with less fuss.)

For our main, we has the crispy polenta with wild mushroom ragout that appeared in December's Bon Appetit. This was my first experience with a Bon Appetit recipe (I received the subscription for spending $50 at Sur La Table in October), and I wasn't overly impressed. The polenta did not crisp up easily, and the suggested olive oil and butter smoked like crazy. The mushroom ragout was good, though, and I would make it again to serve over pasta or as a side dish, even.

Finally, one of my favorite recipes of all time, Jean-Georges' soft, warm chocolate cakes. Easy as brownies - you butter and flour the ramekins or molds (twice, don't skimp, trust me), pour in the batter (which has about four ingredients), and put them in the fridge till about an hour before dessert. Bring the cakes to room temp, bake for about five minutes, and boom. It's gorgeous, it's delicious, it's dessert. These were a big hit - my brother went after the spare, and I made sure to serve them with plenty of whipped cream.

Dinner was followed by a raucous round of Trivial Pursuit and after sending the last guest home around 3:30, I did a little bit of clean-up and tumbled into bed around 6 A.M. Needless to say, New Year's Day was a quiet one.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


This past weekend, Jay Rayner of the Guardian took Alain Ducasse's new restaurant, Ducasse at the Dorchester, out for a serious beating. I love a great negative restaurant review - must be something to do with the inexhaustible appeal of schadenfreude. But, come on, how can you not savor a review that contains the following quote?
"I genuinely don't have a problem with restaurants charging £75 for three courses. I just demand that it be memorable, in a losing-your-virginity way. Not memorable in an accident-with a threshing-machine way."
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