Tag Archives: food

catch of the day: my life in sourdough

In the world of “food television”, there’s not much I like to watch. I’m easily bored by cooking shows, get aggravated by nearly all reality television (thought I did have my Top Chef moment), and am wholly persuaded by Michael Pollan’s observation that more time spent watching food TV inversely correlates with more time in the kitchen (not to mention general culinary proficiency).

But I am an avid fan of culinary cinema, works that seek to tell a story beyond who can quickly bang out canapés for 500 guests and actually delve into the story behind the food—see Hiro Dreams of Sushi, Toast, or Kings of Pastry. That said, I don’t often have the time to watch a two hour film, and wish there were more short-form cinematic food programs.


Enter My Life In Sourdough , a just-launched cooking show by filmmaker Marie Constantinesco, a French transplant and baking aficionado living in Brooklyn. Admittedly, if there was an equation for things that are likely to please me, Food + French + NYC would be a pretty good bet. But there’s an elegance and quirky honesty to Marie’s work that speaks to both an intelligent, subtle French sense of humor (that I very much appreciate) and the wondrous absurdity of being young today in Brooklyn.

I had the pleasure to meet with Marie and speak about the series, her own experience with cooking and the differences between home-cooking culture in New York and France:

What inspired the series, and how did it come to be?
My Life In Sourdough was inspired by my love for food and film. I wanted to do a new kind of cooking show involving a narrative and decided to tell the story of a girl looking for food and for love in NY. Food was going to be the link between the characters. The series was developed as an independent study at NYU (I’m a thesis student in the Graduate Film Program) and we started shooting the series with a really small budget and a tiny crew of very talented fellow filmmakers.

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Is this your first foray into the food world?
Prior to the series, I had already been playing with food themes in previous short films (Too much strawberry jam, which involved an intense making out/bread kneading session) and I have been shooting food and blogging about food for a while—but food was never really the sole focus. So yes, the series is my first real food world adventure.
 
Any particular funny/interesting stories about the production of the series?
There are a few! From shooting at 6 am in Choice Green in torrential rain (It was literally raining in the store and, if you look close enough, you can actually see the rain in the scene with the made-from-scratch guy!), to feeding the crew prop food to save money (we used the pasta we made in the scene for lunch!).For episode 4, we also needed one shot in the waiting room of an ER. I scouted a grungy hospital, but there was a lot of security and I thought we would never get away with shooting there without permission. On the day of, we went in with a tiny camera. We sat down quietly, I hid the microphone in my handbag and we stole the shot in less than 10 minutes. The security guards couldn’t care less. 

What’s already in store for the future of the show/where would you like to see it go?
I’m planning on shooting another season in the fall in NY – it’s my favorite season on this side of the Atlantic and I can’t wait to shoot in corn fields and apple orchards. A season in Paris is also on my mind. Eventually I would love to develop the series in a longer format. I’m currently looking for producers and investors.
 
Are there any food films/series that you particularly like and respect?
I love In the Mood for Love, which is not a food film per se, but I particularly like the slow motion scenes where Maggie Cheung goes down the stairs to buy her daily dose of noodles. The sensual atmosphere that comes with slow motion was an inspiration for the food videos of My Life in Sourdough, shot by Chananun Chotrungroj who brought her great sense of framing and aesthetics to the series.I also really like Rachel Khoo’s BBC series, and while not a film, Clotilde Dusoulier’s series on French food idioms is quite fascinating!

When and how did you start baking?
I started baking and cooking fairly young, watching my parents cook. My Romanian grandmother was also a serious baker, and I would make hundreds of biscuits with her every Christmas. My first cookbook was called La cuisine sans maman (“Cooking without mum”), but my first cooking endeavors quickly became family gatherings over mini-disasters. I once attempted to make some powered sugar and mint syrup candy balls that would refuse to come into shape. My mum invited along the postman to help out, and the green liquid paste magically turned into candy—but they tasted horrible. 

The kitchen has always been a place of exploration for me. It’s the place where I go when I’m down, and I’ll make a rhubarb jam to cheer me up. The place I like to invite friends—to cook with me or eat the new cheesecake I’ve just made. It’s also the place where I can close the door, turn on the radio, and create something. I also love how you know very quickly when it’s working or when it’s a fail, and sometimes I wish making films would resemble that process.

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How would you compare home cooking culture in France vs. New York?
Typically in NY people have less time—they drink or eat their breakfast on the street, and tend to eat out or do take out for dinner. The tradition of home-cooked meals is not as rooted as in France, but it’s changing, as there is a growing movement towards home-cooking in NY, and farmer’s markets are becoming more and more popular.In France, where a croissant used to be the only thing that was acceptably eaten on-the-go, people now tend to devote less time to eating lunch. For instance, the two hour lunch break has often been reduced to one hour, hence more and more sandwiches eaten on the street. However, it seems that the tradition of family dinners remains somewhat unshaken, even though the communal table is often facing a television.

Eventually, the main difference is that in France, people are so obsessed by food that they can’t stop talking about it. Even in a “non-foodie” family, it’s not rare for a dinner conversation to focus exclusively around food. Reminiscing over extraordinary food experiences makes the best dinner conversation!

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seen and heard: supper studio

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

As a food writer, most of the time, my job includes avoiding open nights. Even in the better, faster, stronger culture of social media, the most serious critics still give new food businesses 4-6 weeks (and 2-3 visits!) before writing a first review.

On the flip side, in the music industry, there has long been an appeal of being the person to “discover” a band. While heading to a new restaurant is often a major risk on opening day, a great many music stories revolve around being present at the first public performance of a song, or even getting a sneak peak of a band’s studio time.

Preparing the duck prosciutto and polenta fry appetizer.

Preparing the duck prosciutto and polenta fry appetizer.

At the brand-new venture, Supper Studio, these two worlds—music and food—delightfully collide, with all their disparate quirks and appeal. The event’s organizers, Laura Leebove, Tracy Candido and Ben Wygonik, are no stranger to this mash-up, as Laura’s longtime blog, Eating the Beats, features recipes inspired by various musicians.

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Pearl and the Beard performed mere feet from where we were standing.

Such was the format for Supper Studio, with local band Pearl and the Beard as the inspiration for the evening’s ambitious eats. As Pearl’s guitarist, Jeremy Styles recalls, the group actually met Laura through her blog, when she featured their Bon Iver cover of “Stacks” alongside a fanciful stack of pancakes.

This seasonal dinner series launched on a humid night near City Hall. Curiosity ran high, as well as excitement. $35 for dinner and a concert certainly seemed like a bargain rate, so I was both anxious and excited to see what the night would bring. A glass wall was all that separated us from the kitchen—an exciting detail, from my perspective, but certainly one that raised the stakes for the kitchen crew.

Laura Leebowe explains the inspiration for the first course.

Laura explains the inspiration for the first two courses.

We were promptly served small cups of polenta fries with duck prosciutto, roasted asparagus and horseradish mustard. It was a tasty, indulgent snack, if a bit difficult to eat. Upon hearing the dish analyzed by the cooks, Pearl’s Jocelyn joked, “Our voices have never been compared to prosciutto—that’s some expensive meat!”

As the band geared up to play their first set, the kitchen served a second appetizer of smoked almond tart with eggplant, vine tomato and ricotta. My co-diners especially liked this course, which we savored, settling into the intimacy of watching one of our favorite bands from 3 feet away.

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As someone who regularly hosts a supper club, I was impressed that the kitchen was accommodating for food allergies (a generous, but time consuming move, in my experience). The decision to serve the three final courses seated also created a significant delay, given the event’s limited staff.

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Despite the delay, the other courses were well prepared—a refreshing watermelon radish and butter lettuce salad, creamy macaroni and cheese with salmon and zucchini and a sweet vanilla tapioca with strawberry rhubarb and shortbread cookie crumbs.

During dessert, Pearl and the Beard performed a second set, and any disappointment caused by the dinner’s delay instantly faded. The band played a brand new song—so new, in fact, that they had yet to agree on the name. It was in that moment that I recalled how different the value of “newness” is in music and food. We forgive the experimental among musicians—the false starts, the jokes when they do mess up—in ways that we do not forgive cooks.

Pearl and the Beard's sultry cellist, Emily Hope Price.

Pearl and the Beard’s sultry cellist, Emily Hope Price.

Which is why I would recommend Supper Studio to other fans of music and food. For a first event, the food was well prepared—an ambitious feat, especially given the team’s small, makeshift kitchen. To boot, unless you work at NPR’s Tiny Desk, it’s nearly impossible to see a band (especially a great band!) in that intimate a setting. So keep an eye out for Supper Studio this fall. I’m sure they’ll return with tastier timing.

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eater’s digest: googamooga 2013

Photos by Eric Isaac

The dust is starting to settle after GoogaMooga‘s second annual food and music festival, and I can’t help but think of LL Cool J’s oft-misused catch phrase “don’t call it a comeback.” After the onslaught of criticism about long lines and insufficient amounts of food at GoogaMooga’s first run, I returned to this year’s food and music extravaganza with tentative optimism. And until 12:15 on Sunday morning, I was ready to write an article on how, this year, the event had finally earned its name of The Great GoogaMooga.

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Sure, the sound on Friday night could have been better, and yes, Saturday’s weather left something to be desired. But on the whole, the food I ate at GoogaMooga was among the most satisfying I’ve had at large-scale, multi-vendor food events. The notorious lines were short, bordering on non-existent. And Saturday’s musical acts at the Joe’s Pub stage included some of the most promising local bands in New York City.

So after frankly acknowledging the fact that attendees, the musicians and (especially) the food vendors were blindsided by Sunday’s last-minute cancellation, let’s talk about the first two days of the festival.

Friday’s beautiful weather had everyone in high spirits, with early arrivers singing along to The Darkness, laughing as they realized they knew all the words. The smell of barbecue was in the air, shoulders were bare, and a surprising number of toddlers donning adorable sound-muffling headsets danced along with the mostly 20/30-something crowd.

Grilling oysters at Maison Premiere

I kicked off The Flaming Lips’ set with a round of Maison Premiere‘s grilled oysters, their brine laden with a gorgeous herb butter and aroma of char. Serving oysters at an outdoor music festival may seem more Hamptons than “hipster”, but at GoogaMooga, quality was king. Even the stands selling sliders upped the ante, as with Umami Burger’s fragrant, truffle-infused beef patty.

Another unexpected element: healthy food options. At Back Forty, Chef Michael Laarhoven served up a harissa smoked lamb over a refreshing pickled vegetable and quinoa salad with spiced yogurt. Sufficiently filling for an evening of drinking, but leaner than your average summer bbq fare, it was my clear favorite dish at the festival.

Back Forty’s smoked harissa lamb dish

Midway through the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ performance, I had a hankering for something sweet, so I headed up to the Melt Bakery cart to check out Chef Julian Plytner’s latest concoction. I’ve tried many of his flavor pairings before, but I was especially impressed by the sugar-sprinkled chocolate cookie with malted chocolate rum ice cream. Alcohol isn’t my favorite flavor in dessert, but Julian had crafted a just-adult-enough ice cream sandwich, mellowing the chocolate flavor to let the malt and rum subtly shine through.

On day two, the drizzle had us feeling indulgent, so we started the day with dessert from Red Hook’s BAKED. Head Baker Molly Marzalek-Kelly couldn’t have been more friendly, as she hawked her sweet and salty brownies, as well as “brooksters” (the love child of a brownie and a chocolate chip cookie). We eagerly gobbled up the brookster and used our remaining willpower to hold onto the brownie, which later proved to be one of the most moist and delectable I’ve ever eaten.

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For lunch, we opted first for Red Hook Lobster Pound‘s chilled Maine lobster roll, with a bright, mellow sweetness that helped us imagine sunnier times. Looking for a warmer dish to follow, we ran into Chef Dan Holzman of The Meatball Shop, expediting to ensure that each of his MBLT sandwiches had exactly the right amount of mayo. To say the least, we were grateful for his attention to detail. Having recently been impressed by Pok Pok‘s showing at the Lucky Rice Night Market, we settled on Chef Andy Ricker’s “phat thai.” Unusually egg’y, with crushed bits of dried shrimp, tofu, tamarind and fish sauce, it had a delayed spiciness and complexity of flavor that couldn’t have been farther from takeout food.

By Saturday’s end, we had already dreamed up a last-ditch list of the dishes we wanted to try on Sunday. Jeepney‘s pinoy corn and chori slider. DBGB Kitchen & Bar‘s Käsekrainer sausage with ramps, spring onion and mustard. Northern Spy Food Co‘s fried eggs with kale and potato hash. Big Gay Ice Cream‘s vanilla with bourbon butterscotch and cardamom and cacao nibs. (That’s the short list.)

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Really, the tragedy of GoogaMooga’s cancellation on Sunday wasn’t the fact that it was poorly communicated (There was already a delayed opening when I arrived at 11:30, and nothing was announced on social media or their website. The cancellation itself came nearly 90 minutes after the scheduled opening.) The rain was constant, and despite our “make it work” game faces and weather-appropriate outfits, we still were chilled to the bone. The real tragedy is that the very vendors who killed it on Friday and Saturday were faced with a major financial hit to their bottom lines.

I’m not sure what the future of the festival holds, and I’m not one to suppose I know enough of the details about Superfly’s event planning tactics and policies. What I do know is that there is an amazing number of small food businesses in this city and that they’re not only incredible at serving food on their own premises, but they’re also dedicated enough to surpass our expectations off-site, in challenging weather, faced with potentially ungrateful crowds. That’s the story of GoogaMooga I’d like to remember. So maybe we should “call it a comeback.”

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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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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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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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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.

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au marché: pike place market

While preparing for my recent trip to Seattle, I started having “fish fantasies”. There I’d be, in a yellow rain slicker, steaming cup of coffee in hand, hanging with the Pike Place fishmongers at 5am.

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Needless to say, my co-travelers weren’t having this. But I did motivate them to head to market around 8:30, on a surprisingly sunny day, with the promise of coffee in their near future.

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For all my fantasizing, I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew they might throw fish, a quirky gimmick I’d witnessed in the opener for Seattle’s Real World. Given the market’s tv-ready renown, I assumed I was walking into a relatively delicious tourist trap.

First, let me attest that throwing fish is a pretty efficient way to move the product. When we arrived, there were very few other onlookers, so we got to chat a bit with the ‘mongers about their fish flinging style. They also let us taste their smoked salmon (I hate this “word”, but mouthgasm seems an appropriate descriptor), and sold us a bit of salmon jerky for the road, while I wantingly eyed the king crab legs.

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As impressive as the fish was, the biggest surprises at Pike’s were the flowers and fruit. Generously bursting bouquets of cabbage flowers sold for the New York price of a bad bunch of dyed carnations. The range of local,  vividly-hued produce was also impressive, especially the iconic-ly tart local citrus: satsumas. We were also seduced by one vendor’s chili-spiced spin on huckleberry jam. In short, the whole market was a series of sensory revelations.

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If I did have one critique of the market, it would be this: when the other tourists did arrive, few of them seriously shopped. It’s hard to support a market on tourism alone, and you could hear it in the mongers’ banter. “Step right up, anyone with money.” “Someone here who actually wants to shop?”

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It killed me not to have a kitchen. Next time I go to Seattle, I’m cooking for myself.

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eater’s digest: pike street fish fry

A few months back, I headed west – Pacific Northwest to be exact – to check out the locavore food culture of eclectic Seattle, WA. The ingredients I found there surpassed every expectation, from sweet-tart satsumas to incomparable smoked salmon. But my first edible stop on this city tour wasn’t a colorful market. It was a fish lover’s greasy spoon.

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Far from the waterfront stalls of the Pike Place market, the similarly named Pike Street Fish Fry is a dive-y bastion of pescatarian nostalgia. This “chipper”, like the nearby Elliot Bay Book Company, remains the kind of spot that locals still haunt, undeterred by the accolades that further expose it to the masses. When we arrived for lunch on a Friday afternoon, it was quietly bustling, hawking greasy wares from a simple open kitchen. Overhead, a blackboard menu listed: battered & fried, grilled, sandwiches and sides – plus the option to “slap anything on the menu on a roll” for an additional dollar.

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Here, there are no standard “fish and chips” – you order by type of fish. We opted for fried cod, calamari and fish tacos. The tacos and cod initially seemed greasy, but one bite of the moist and flaky flesh revealed a light breading that puffed crunchily away from the fish. The fried calamari was an equal improvement on a classic: tender, freshly-caught squid that couldn’t have been a further cry from the frozen, heavily-breaded version which frequents too many appetizer menus.

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As we dug into our fish, dashing malt vinegar over our salt-and-peppered fries, we struck up a conversation with a pair of locals. One, taciturn, deplored the number of overrated restaurants in the city. But this, this was his spot. Understated pleasure, pommes frites-style dipping sauces (try the lemon aioli or chili mayo) and self-serve soda fountain included.

Pike Street Fish Fry
925 East Pike Street
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 329-7453

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supper club: november

This weekend, I hosted an edible ode to my favorite chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I have long loved his London-based, Jerusalem-born, spice-driven cooking. In his world, it’s all fresh ingredients and innovative flavor combinations. It’s the most exciting food I know, and his recipes are among the only that I will (mostly) follow to a T. In specific, this meal was inspired by recipes from his latest cookbook, Jerusalem.

As always, I tried to keep the menu seasonal and sustainable. With a number of vegetarians in the mix, the meal was conceived as a rustic, mostly plant-based “friendsgiving” – and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to cook for such an amazing group of friends.

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Menu:

Whiskey Moscow Mules

Roasted almond stuffed dates

Homemade pickles – cauliflower, carrot, radish

Roasted cauliflower, hazelnut, celery, pomegranate and parsley salad*

Mejadra – Green lentils, spiced basmati rice, fried onions*

Hoisin, chili and garlic roasted brussel sprouts (recipe)

Roasted butternut and winter squash with cilantro garlic and spiced yogurt sauce (recipe)

White wine, cardamom and saffron poached pears*

Spice, chocolate and citrus zest cookies with lemon glaze*

*Recipe taken from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem

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