seen and heard: food book fair

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

This weekend, writers, chefs and other food enthusiasts converged on Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel for the second annual Food Book Fair. This Brooklyn-based series of panels, cooking demos and food tours examined culinary innovation in food policy, media, trends and design, through the specific lens of food publications.

Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen

Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen

The fair kicked off with a cooking demo at Pure Kitchen, featuring self-taught blogger and cookbook author, Deb Perelman, of Smitten Kitchen. Deb’s story is an unconventional one, having jumped into the blogosphere far before it was a full-fledged industry. With creative recipes—like “popcorn cookies”—and indulgent photography that feature her homespun style, Perelman is the quintessential example of a blog-to-book-deal success story.

Deb Perelman's "popcorn cookies", ready for baking.

Deb Perelman’s “popcorn cookies”, ready for baking

Another interesting session considered “Food + Foraging”, with Aska Chef Fredrik Berselius and professional forager Evan Strusinski. The two had a surprisingly non-dogmatic approach to foraging, with Strusinski, in particular, bristling at the trending term. As we munched on samples of locally found ingredients, it was an opportunity to consider the collective weight of terminology and how it influences our perception of individual purveyors or chefs.

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Locally foraged ingredients

Other talks related more specifically to publications, such as “Cookbooks + Art”. The trend of chef-driven texts was discussed in most depth, in particular by panelist Anne McBride. In recent years, the importance of a chef’s perspective has overtaken the historic prerequisite of producing a highly useable, instructional guide to cooking. Publishers are now willing to take chances on chefs whose food is unlikely to be replicated by home cooks, which has led to the production of such magnificent tomes as Modernist Cuisine or Heston Blumenthal’s Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Design, in turn, has shifted to support these more personal, artistic statements of chefs, and not only on the high end of the culinary industry.

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Design was also a large part of the focus at “Foodieodicals”, a day-long fair of printed food magazines and pamphlets from around the world. From the highly-saturated style of Tokyo’s inexpensive, newspaper-like Rocket, to the scratch-n-sniff whimsy of Swallow Magazine‘s latest issue, the range of perspectives of what a magazine should look or feel like was endless. As far as the content, it ran the gamut from editorial, to literary and even intentionally “nerdy”, as in the case of Cereal, whose content most caught my eye.

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There was a food publication for all levels of kitchen proficiency and palate training, a spectrum that represented our growing insatiability for food, distanced from the actual plate. Based on some of the edgier publications presented by the weekend’s panelists, such as Christopher Lopez-Thomas of White Zinfandel, we can only expect that the industry will continue to grow in unexpected ways, creating not only new styles of content, but also innovative designs that further explore our relationship with food.

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au marché: the san francisco ferry building

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

There are cities that you assume have a phenomenal market, and San Francisco is among them. The Ferry Building more than meets expectations, with a combination of indoor purveyors, outdoor stalls and in-house restaurants that could make other culinary cities jealous.

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Among the edibles that made me most envious: peppercress. I’ve never tasted this baby green before, and boy is it fantastic (and spicy!!). So is anchovy cress and mustard cress. New York, you seriously need to work on the super-flavored greens. Washing it down with the sweetest little nub of a carrot makes the experience all the better.

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Also enviable: the airy, spacious—but protected—atrium of the market. On a sunny day, of course,  outside is better, but in the drizzly rain the Ferry Building still seems gorgeously lit.

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A pit stop at Hog Island Oyster reminded me of my days in Paris, where I used to slurp oysters stall-side with nary so much as a slice of lemon. (They have condiments and bread at HIO, but the proximity to fresh produce is the point.)

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It was there that I tried my first Alaskan oyster. From Glacier Point, this particular mollusk boasted a mellow salinity and remarkably clean sweetness that made it prime for condiment-free slurping.

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For those of us who need more than a mollusk in the morning, the nearby biscuit shop will do you well. I opted for the lemon/rosemary, which had actual tart chunks of candied citrus. The crumbly texture was actually like a soft scone, but I’m no stickler for terminology.

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Those with more ample appetites would enjoy the breakfast bars slinging hot sandwiches, such Cowgirl Creamery. I, myself, frequented Mariposa, whose faux rye bread made for a delicious smoked salmon breakfast sandwich.

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If you’ve funkier tastes, consider the array of local ‘shrooms. I eyed them from Mariposa each morning, wishing I had a kitchen in which to play.

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But of all the things I envied most, it was the incredible fruits. Strawberries whose fragrance seduced from yards away. Kumquats so sweet you wouldn’t even make a lemon face. (Though, admittedly, I do like my kumquats sour.) Dried pluots from Bella Viva Orchards that quite literally blew my mind.

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That first day, I left the market with an incredible taste of place. But I returned, almost daily, to dine at the Slanted Door or Boulette’s Larder, to graze on samples of dark chocolate coffee toffee or to simply daydream about the things I’d do with such produce in my kitchen.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who comes here for inspiration, as I spotted local food legend Alice Waters perusing the stalls at the larger Saturday outdoor market. A vote of confidence if there ever was one.

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eater’s digest: boulette’s larder

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

When I was growing up, I would do anything I could to avoid eating breakfast. It wasn’t for a lack of hunger. Rather, I disliked the foodstuffs that made up this iconic meal. Scrambled eggs made me nauseous. Toast, pancakes and waffles, a bit bland. Even my 5th grade invention convention entry spelled it out: a “sog-no-more” cereal bowl, crusading against soggy breakfast. On weekends, I opted for leftover chili or other savory foods.

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So when 101 Cookbooks recommended I eat this most mundane of meals at Boulette’s Larder, I didn’t even consider it. But my sister (older and, in this instance, wiser) noted the tip.

Our trip to San Francisco was a last minute plan, sprung from a work trip to the annual IACP conference. Being that I haven’t been to SF since I was 13, I enthusiastically tacked on a few days vacation to fully explore the city, and Lauren was all too happy to come along.

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Breakfast at Boulette’s, which I experienced twice – on my first and last days in the city – is nothing short of a revelation. I try to reserve such seeming exaggerations for true stunners, and this is one of them.

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From the dreamy open kitchen – complete with copper pots and other elegant details – to the intentionally brief, curated menu, everything was rave worthy. The nauseating scrambled eggs of my youth are not remotely the same species as the impossibly light and creamy eggs at Boulette. Drizzled with lemon or mandarine oil and served with a dollop of fresh chevre, they were the single dish for which I returned a second time.

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The sheep’s milk yogurt and quinoa granola that I sampled the first time were also more than noteworthy. Extra-tangy, luxurious yogurt was served with a nutty, crunchy crumble of home-toasted grains and seeds. It’s hard to describe how something so simple can be so exquisite, but that’s the essence of Boulette’s.

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Perhaps the most fun thing to order is the many-grain porridge, which is served with an assortment of little wooden boxes, offering nuts, seeds and dried fruits, such as currants. While these three stand-bys tend to be offered in different iterations each day, the extended menu changes constantly, based on the local offerings in the market.

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As for the ambiance, the unusually tall and elegant waiters are as pleasant as the food, and the prime communal table seating offers a front-row view into the kitchen. Housed in the Ferry Building, which also hosts the city’s best farmer’s market, there is little not to love about Boulette’s.

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If I had to offer one critique, it would be of the restaurant’s sweets. Both the brown sugar/kumquat and the lemon meringue tarts (which I bought on other mornings for breakfast) were a bit too sweet for my liking. It’s not that they were saccharine, but rather that the tart citrus accent I had hoped for was muted by other elements. That said, the textures, crust and meringue of both tarts were among the best I’ve ever eaten. So if you’ve a sweeter tooth than I, do dig in.

Boulette’s Larder
1 Ferry Building Marketplace
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 399-1155

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Sofar Sounds – March 26

I’ve recently had the pleasure of joining the blog team at Sofar Sounds, an intimate, underground concert experience hosted each month in private apartments and other unusual venues all over the world.

The following post covers the most recent New York Sofar gig, held March 26th in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Read the original post here.)

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In my usual line of work—food writing—the traditional measure of greatness is “that which merits the detour.” With music, it’s not how far we’ve traveled to get there, but rather how far the music can take us from where we are. Braving crowded cold or steamy hot rooms filled with debatably polite strangers, craning necks over heads taller than our own, just for the sake of a listen— the best music can help us escape from this place, or transform it into something far greater.

When it comes to settings, Sofar has the head start, as the venues tend to be naturally charmed, even at their most crowded.  In this case, it was a walk-up Williamsburg apartment, complete with exposed brick, where fifty-or-so music lovers came together—seated, quiet, waiting on a listen.

First up was Afeefa & the Boy, an Orlando-based group stripped down to a singer/guitarist and percussionist. Afeefa emanated the vibe of a traveler—not for her shawl and harem pants, but for her drawling speech, the waxing and waning voice of a storyteller. Her affected pronunciation almost recalled Amy Winehouse, laid upon layers of a much simpler, guitar-based style. Andrew, her drummer, filled out the sound with a range of organic percussion, from mellow tribal beats to shakers and the reverb of a lone cymbal.

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My favorite band from the evening, Leif Vollebekk’s Montreal-based folk/jazz quartet.

Next came Leif Vollebekk, a Montreal-based musician playing guitar and harmonica, backed by harmonium, percussion and upright bass. The quartet immediately distinguished itself from the usual singer-songwriter set-up with an improvisational structure that swelled slowly with abstract sound. It started low, with a few exploratory notes drifting in from the bass, as the scratch of a cymbal recalled the creak of an outdoor gate. Leif’s rough, unfinished timbre came in, coloring lyrics about the simplest moments or snippets of conversation, ending many of his phrases with a subtle lift, as if he was asking us to weigh them as questions. This was a band of exceptional note—one that creates on the spot, revisiting their repeated tunes with the fresh intentions of a first rendition.

Dawn Landes, a country-infused folk artist, brought us back from the break. Accompanied by a friend on the banjo, she played guitar as they harmonized in the iconic intervals of the genre. Yet it was in her last piece, a solo—“Bluebird”—that Dawn revealed her true appeal. Her fragile voice shudders at the end of each phrase with a striking vulnerability. When all other sound is pulled away, you notice the strength of her choices, and can better appreciate her raw talent.

Last, but not least, was Sofar veteran Anthony Hall. This pop singer and guitarist was on his seventh go-round and articulated the evening’s appeal for everyone. “No one here must have ADD—because no one is checking their phones, at all.” Whether testing the crowd with his controversial “Emotional” or bringing the show home with a cover of “No Diggity,” Anthony had the whole crowd laughing and harmonizing. In a borough where “pop” borders on a derogatory term, it was a refreshing reminder of the appeal of a simple, genuinely delivered song.

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supper club: springtime italian

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

After spicing things up in February with a Mexican supper club, March seemed a time for returning to the familiar. For me, that means Italian food and, in this case, an opportunity to put an innovative spin on the flavors of my youth.

For this back-to-basics occasion, it seemed fitting to invite the “family”, a rambunctious group of New York friends who have grown closer than most blood relatives. Silly, selfless and as indiscreet as they come, I knew we were in for a delicious and rowdy evening.

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Greeting friends with friselles.

First came the friselles, little pepper biscuits that have become one of my signature dishes. I often give these savory, crumbly cookies as housewarming gifts, so they seemed the perfect greeting for my guests.

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Homemade ricotta, oven dried tomatoes and DIY crostini

Next came crostini, sesame toasts layered with homemade ricotta and oven dried tomatoes. The tomatoes, simple as they come, were instant hits, which guests used to garnish everything from salad to savory dishes.

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My grandmother’s famous walnut and anchovy pasta

Then came a simple escarole salad, dressed with garlic, oil and anchovy dressing. My favorite briny fish served double duty, tying the salad to my grandmother’s signature pasta dish: linguine with anchovy, walnuts and parsley.

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Curiosity got the best of us in between courses.

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Sicilian meat balls with pine nuts, currants and parsley

After pasta came the main course, Sicilian meatballs (ground pork with pine nuts, parsley and currants) baked over a bed of radicchio. Alongside it, I served spicy broccoli rabe with bread crumbs and thinly sliced, roasted-going-on-blackened winter white vegetables (cauliflower, celery root, fennel).

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Broccoli rabe and winter white vegetables

Relaxing on the couch before dessert.

Relaxing on the couch before dessert

Then came dessert, a blood orange olive oil cake topped with blood orange/honey compote and home-whipped cream. It was the perfect, bittersweet end to this especially nostalgic supper club.

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Blood orange cake/compote, with home-whipped cream

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Laughter and love on our notoriously comfy couch.

A last round of drinks, and it was nearly midnight. That didn’t stop the stragglers however, who challenged me to highly competitive game of Connect-4, the most intense (I’m sure) that my local dive bar has ever seen.

Thanks again to all who made this such a special night. You truly all are family to me, and I look forward to hosting you again and again.

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eater’s digest: buvette

There are some restaurants that fit like a glove. Barely through the door, even without seeing the menu, you sense familiarity. It’s not quite déjà vu, because you’ve rarely seen this before – your kind of restaurant, manifested in the flesh.

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Now that doesn’t mean this is the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten in. Of course, it has to be great. But a restaurant that feels like you imagined it yourself is not a constant succession of “wow!” moments. Like Alice in Wonderland, you’ve tried the bottles that made you bigger and smaller. That was good fun, but this is the bottle that will turn you back to “just right”.

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Getting to the point, this restaurant – for me, in New York – is Buvette. The first time I went there, I had only a glass of wine and two small plates, but that was enough. From then on, I called it “my favorite restaurant in New York”. Sure, I cock my head to think after saying it, knowing I’ve had more earth-shaking meals elsewhere, but that’s not the point.

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The point is the charm, the desire to return, again and again. The waiters and bar staff that range from pleasantly gruff to more than accommodating, all dressed in dapper ties and half-aprons. The random assortment of ceiling mirrors that reflect the hustle and bustle of the small space. The conscious and obvious eaves-dropping of the conversations around you. The bathroom whose haphazard “je ne sais quoi” qualities make you wish you had brought your camera.

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But for all my affection, it was just this month that I ate a full, proper meal at Buvette. I brought along one of my favorite eaters – a friend whose wealth of cultural experiences has not dampened her enthusiasm for simpler pleasures (case in point: her favorite food is macaroni and cheese). I introduced her to brandade de morue, a long-time provencale favorite of mine. Buvette’s was an appropriate balance of creamy and light, briny and balanced. We followed with more seafood, an octopus salad with celery that stunned with its simplicity. If there was a dish of food to eat every day it might be this. Tender, crunchy, refreshing, textural.

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As for sides, I insisted on poireaux. To get properly cooked leeks is always a pleasure, and these were cooked in the traditional French vinaigrette style, tender (but not mushy) with an ample dose of whole grain moutarde. As for the cauliflower gratin (chosen by Ms. Mac n’ Cheese), it was a reminder of this overlooked vegetable’s myriad magical qualities. I’ll take mashed, steamed, pureed or roasted cauliflower over the omnipresent potato any day.

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And then, the pièce de résistance. I had heard rumors about this chocolate mousse – that it was whipped by hand in copper bowls to achieve a most wonderful texture. However, I could never have imagined what I was about to experience. Luxurious, dense, creamy, resistant and yet yielding – I’m not sure you can even legitimately call it mousse. It’s too intense to eat alone, even with its dollop of exquisite whipped cream. The essence of dessert, hailing from a time before we decided to emulate the hyper-sweet, high fructose corn syrup universe in which we currently live. In short – and in summary – it’s not to be missed.

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eater’s digest: al di là

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

One of the great misconceptions that people often have is that I’ve eaten at all the restaurants in my neighborhood. The truth is, if I’m near home, I’m usually cooking. Moreover, something nearby is no more likely of an edible destination than others, as I’ve never been shy about traveling far and wide for the perfect bite.

That said, moving to South Brooklyn has opened the flood gates to an entirely new world of local eats. Though I still spend a hefty chunk of my paycheck on groceries at the Coop, the unique culture of small business in this borough has inspired me to spend more time outside my kitchen. And so it was that on a recent weekend I arrived at Al Di Là.

Soup of the day.

Soup of the day.

Now, eating Italian food in restaurants is a tricky thing. Raised on la cucina della nonna, I typically opt to explore more obscure cuisines on my restaurant outings. To boot, if I’m dining with the discriminating palates of my parents and sister, the bar for a “pasta joint” is set pretty high. But as I’ve eaten in more and more of the excellent Italian establishments in NYC, I’ve come to appreciate the perfection of truly al dente pasta or the difference between everyday minestrone and a masterpiece.

In this ever-crowded genre of restaurant fare, Al Di Là inches ahead with grace and little fanfare. The dining room is a quirky spin on bistro chic, with a red/maroon and gold aesthetic that repeats in the wall paper, curtains and painted-to-look-vintage tin ceiling.  The dishes echo this unassuming – yet distinctive – charm, with slight details that consistently offer something more than expected.

Spaghetti carbonara.

Spaghetti carbonara.

A mild mandolined salad of white winter vegetables was refreshing, elegant and crisp. The soup of the day contained everything but the kitchen sink, and yet achieved a refined balance – in particular, the contrast of bright, just-wilted greens with the slow-built flavors of meat stock. The pastas, too, were an upgrade on the classics. The carbonara tasted distinctly grown-up, with pronounced, lingering notes of white wine and far-superior-to-your-average bacon. An indescribably delicious cavatelli with cauliflower ragu had me bartering “a-bite-for-a-bite” so often that I surely ate half of my sister’s plate.

Cavatelli with cauliflower ragu.

Cavatelli with cauliflower ragu.

These are the meals that inspire me as a cook. The dishes that remind me that ingredients, timing and the tiniest dash of creativity are the difference between great and phenomenal. The days where we laugh ourselves silly, sopping up every last bit of sauce with our bread. The ones where we walk out of the restaurant not stuffed, but satisfied – knowing we’ve truly shared a meal.

Al Di Là
248 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215
718.783.4565

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recipe: kimchi soup

Having successfully made it through winter without a flu shot or the flu, I was taken aback by a head cold at the beginning of March. Sluggish and phlegmy, but not sick enough to stay home from work, I needed a cure – and fast. Immediately, I thought of a spicy kimchi soup I once tried at Seoul Garden in Korea town.

Since I was sick, I didn’t take the time to research traditional kimchi soups; rather, I based this version off ingredients already in my pantry/refrigerator. I was stunned with how well it turned out, and it certainly sped up my healing process. To boot, I liked it so much that I made a second batch, adding in some leftover pulled pork that I had frozen from my last supper club. What I’ve posted is the basic recipe, but feel free to add extra heat, protein or whatever else strikes your fancy.

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Kimchi Soup

Prep: 5 minutes; Cook time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 8 cups broth (of choice – I used a combo of chicken and vegetable)
  • 1 head *napa cabbage, roughly chopped (bite size)
  • 1/2 jar kimchi
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 jalapeno, small dice
  • 3 oz tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp ginger powder
  • 1/2 tbsp tumeric
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • salt (to taste)

Instructions

  1. Quickly heat tomato paste in the bottom of your soup pot, over medium heat. Add broth and turn to high heat.
  2. Add kimchi, lemon juice, napa cabbage and jalapeno.
  3. Once mixture is fully heated, add ginger powder, tumeric, paprika, salt and stir. (Adjust spices/salt to your personal taste, as needed.)
  4. Heat until stalks of napa cabbage are tender. Serve piping hot.

*Savoy or green cabbage will also work, if napa is not available at your grocery store. (You may notice, in my picture, that I used savoy cabbage, since I couldn’t find napa for my second batch.)

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supper club: february

After a few months of hibernation, the supper club is back! And, according to attendees, better than ever. Inspired by a recent encounter with Chef Rick Bayless, I decided to throw a proper Mexican fiesta, complete with piñata.

For the first course, I served ceviche. After much research, I hesitantly chose to use frozen fish: shrimp, calamari and scallops. While fresh fish would have been even better, the secret to my ceviche’s success was slowly defrosting and “cooking” each type of fish for a different amount of time. The calamari (which was the toughest/most resilient) cooked for 2 1/2 hours in lime juice with thinly sliced red onion. I added the shrimp one hour and the delicate scallops thirty minutes before serving. In the Ecuadorian style, a sprinkle of corn nuts provided contrast in texture.

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For the main course, I threw a 9 lb pork shoulder in a slow cooker the night before the party. Rubbed with cocoa powder, chipotle chile powder, oregano, paprika, cumin, dark brown sugar, salt and olive oil, it roasted for 18 hours until pull-apart tender. I served it with corn tortillas toasted in a cast iron pan, Mexican crema, guacamole and roasted tomatillo salsa.

Mole dry-rubbed pulled pork, 8 hours into cooking.

The pork was accompanied by a few vegetarian sides. For the black bean pomegranate salad, I soaked black beans overnight and cooked them until tender (but not mushy). To that I added pomegranite seeds, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar.

My roommates help prepare the black bean salad.

My roommates help prepare the black bean salad.

The Mexican corn crema was everyone’s favorite dish. A simpler version of on-the-cob street corn, it was a mix of frozen summer corn (roasted on a sheet pan until blackened), cotija cheese, crema, chile powder and lime.

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For dessert, I dreamed up “mexican hot chocolate” pudding. Essentially, I doctored jello chocolate pudding with some spices. For liquid, I used a combination of organic whole milk and freshly-brewed espresso (about 4-parts milk to 1-part espresso). To intensify the flavor further, I added smoked cinnamon, chile powder and cocoa powder. When it came time to serve the pudding, I topped it with shaved dark chocolate, fleur de sel and candied orange rind.

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But of all the dishes, the one I had the most fun making were the buñuelo wonton strips. I have little experience with deep frying, so was a bit intimidated by the process. The secret was not to overcrowd the pan, so that the oil remained hot, which makes for a less greasy end product. A quick dusting of cinnamon, sugar and chile powder made these simple treats extra-addictive.

After dessert came the climax of the evening: the breaking of the piñata. We swang at it a few times with a broom handle, but it was my friend David’s move to opt for a copper pot that led to a (literal) break through.

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Thanks to all who came to the supper club! Such a pleasure cooking for you.

Full Menu:

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eater’s digest: revel

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

At the “Center of the Universe” (Fremont, Seattle, WA), there lives an urban-style Korean restaurant called Revel. The epitome of an open kitchen, the space is both understatedly hip and remarkably calm. Fragrant, pungent plates slide across the oversized counter, a constant flow of culinary eyecandy for diners smart enough to snag a bar seat.

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The brainchild of chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, 2013 James Beard Award semi-finalists, Revel is only one of the couple’s local culinary projects. The nextdoor cocktail bar, Quoin, and Joule, an electic international spot in nearby Wallingford, are equally renown for Yang and Chirchi’s fun, imaginative fare.

At Revel, this creativity is first apparent in the somewhat confusing menu, which the eager staff is happy to explain in detail. Even the bacon and eggs (the most straight-forward item on the brunch menu), were assertively different: dark, thick-cut bacon, grill-charred toast and scallion hash to swoon over.

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Hibiscus-Ginger soda and a bacon, hazelnut, asian pear donut

Donut fans should sample the almost custard-y, crunch-crusted donuts, mysteriously bereft of grease. Vegetarian, spice-driven eaters will find their groove with the smoked chili and eggplant DanDan noodles, further improved with a dash or two of Revel’s signature fish and soybean paste sauces.

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Short rib rice bowl with cilantro chimichurri and eggs

Carnivores might consider the incredible short ribs, a heftier spin on bimimbap, but well worth the indulgence. And the wise will wash it all down with a super-spiced kimchi Bloody Mary or fuschia Hibiscus-Ginger soda.

Kimchi Bloody Mary

Kimchi Bloody Mary

Revel
403 N 36th St.
Seattle, WA 98103
206.547.2040

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