A Sarcastic Appetite


Restaurant Round-Up for the Week of April 30
April 30, 2009, 2:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I canvass the food blogs so you don’t have to. Here are some highlights:

So it’s not a restaurant, but important nonetheless in These Hard Times: Slice reports that a Snapple-sponsored extravaganza means free pizza all week at different locales, beginning at 10:30am on Monday at Spinelli. More info here.

Via Eater, Ssam Bar’s Bar now open, featuring springy cocktails like…martinis with pickled ramp juice? Whatever, if David Chang is behind it then it’s worth its weight in solid gold. Or pork belly, for that matter.

Check out Scarpetta between May 4 and May 8 to take advantage of a four course dinner with wine pairing for $50 big ones and help them celebrate their first anniversary; thank you Eater Dealfeed.

Wined and Dined has compiled the most comprehensive list I’ve seen (and believe me, I’ve seen many) of BYO/reduced corkage fees in restaurants across this swine flu-ridden city of ours. Behold, here.

Artisanal had the Grilled Cheese Contest and picked a winning sandwich, which they’ve added to their menu. Unfortunately for me, its creator wasn’t one of you; I was looking forward to that cheese basket and free dinner. Details here, courtesy of Grub Street.



Old School Banana Bread
April 29, 2009, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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It was the first thing I remember baking on my own. I was in middle school, and it was a definite departure from boxed brownie mixes, and certainly a step up. At the time, I remember also being drawn to the recipe because it was something I remembered remembering as a child – as convoluted as that sounds. These days, the thought of my 13 year old self channeling my 6 year old self is downright terrifying. Regardless, the bread stands up to the test of time, though I don’t own a toaster oven and therefore can’t enjoy a toasted slice slathered in butter. But it’s almost as delicious at room temperature anyway. Just let the butter sit out to soften for a bit, so it spreads more easily…

Banana Bread

Adapted from Joy of Cooking

Have all ingredients at room temperature (let them sit out for 30 minutes) before you begin.

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2/3 c. sugar

3/4 stick butter, softened

2 large eggs, beaten

3 overripe bananas

1/4 c. half-and-half (or cream, or milk)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and softened butter until creamy. Beat in the eggs and bananas, mashing them if necessary. Add the dry ingredients in just two batches, adding the half-and-half in between. Pour the batter into the pan and bake, about an hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center is just about clean. Try to cool slightly before unmolding, or just go at it. Remember about softening that butter beforehand, though, if you can.




Missing the Point
April 27, 2009, 8:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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It all began so innocently. In an obvious – and these days, frankly pedestrian – move, I thought to combine my desire to write again with a longstanding interest in (and appetite for) food, and a more recent infatuation with the act of cooking it: I started a blog. After all, I had been thinking for some time that I wanted to document this part of my life, if only to keep track of what I cooked, and when, and why (not to mention how it tasted).

And yet. And yet I find myself missing the point.

I cook, to be sure, and I diligently photograph my efforts (pitifully), but in the fast, frantic push to get everything together, I miss that moment which compelled me to start this thing in the first place. The situation worsens once I bring said dinner over to my tv table and we flip on the television and wait a minute, how did I already finish eating even before the first commercial break? This is embarrassing.  And ironic: for someone who claims to love food and buying food and preparing food and talking about food – I’ve managed to care less about cooking it and somehow forgotten how to eat it.

Even the act of keeping this blog (all ten posts in their exhaustive entirety) has become a frenetic activity: spurts of typing during commercial breaks as I try to weave in some kind of paltry narrative. (Apparently I need to ease up on the television watching.) I need to relish the time it takes to cook and eat – and I need to enjoy it. Life is short to do otherwise.

So on that note, I’m going back to basics this week, and taking my sweet time doing it. I’ll be featuring recipes that actually have a story behind them – though whether it’s worth sharing, well, you can be the judge.



Restaurant Round-up For the Week of April 23
April 23, 2009, 2:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I canvass the food blogs so you don’t have to. Here are some highlights:

Bar Artisanal is up and running in the former Trigo space; menus and cocktails here.

Go have a drink at The Pony Bar, which just opened in Hell’s Kitchen. The place only serves American brews – the only bottled beers being Bud and Bud Light – and for a patriotic lush like myself, that’s just plain awesome.

Date-friendly Quinto Quarto opened this week: romantic, Italian, West Village. Done and done. Plus, a back patio is expected in the coming weeks.

‘Tis the season for drinking outdoors, and if you’re a nerd like I am, you know the thermometer hasn’t hit 80 in the city since September 21, which is crazy. The Frying Pan, The Gowanus Yacht Club, and the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden are all open for business. Here are a couple other places you can throw a few back, though this is by no means a complete list. But you already knew that.

Downtown:

Zum Schneider, Ave. C at 7th St.: a nice little beer garden (sorry, bier garten) in the East Village.

Royale, on Ave. C at 10th St.: great burgers and a backyard patio.

Bar 13, E. 13th at University Place: look, guys, everyone knows location is all that matters. So go early in the afternoon when it’s quiet, order a beer and chill out on a rooftop that’s basically on top of Union Square.

d.b.a., First Ave. near 2nd St: an awesome beer selection + prime EV location + backyard garden = usually jammed, but it’s worth checking out.

Midtown:

Bookmarks, Madison at 41st St.: on the roof of the Library Hotel, this place does riffs on classic cocktails and the usual cheese plate-kind of menu. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

230 Fifth, at 27th St.: I know, I know, but that view can’t be beat, and you know spring only arrives in Manhattan when they put the palm trees back in.

The Wheeltapper, 44th St. near Lexington Ave.: the backyard garden isn’t very big, so get there early, camp out, and order those sliders – they’re actually really good.

Rare View, Lexington Ave. at 37th St.: in the Shelburne Hotel. On Friday afternoons, the clientele is reminiscent of 230 Fifth, but the views of the East River and the Empire State Building aren’t bad at all. Neither are the mojitos, come to think of it.

Uptown:

The Boathouse, in Central Park: ok, it’s overpriced. ok, it’s usually mobbed. But when you time it right and you can snag a table and order some food, it’s a pretty sweet spot to enjoy the afternoon.

Hudson Beach Café, Riverside Drive at 105th St.: it’s a low-key backyard bbq kind of vibe in Riverside Park, and though it overlooks Riverside Drive, it’s worth the trip.

The Rooftop Garden at the Met, Fifth Ave. at 82nd St: They’ll want you to shell out for an admissions ticket, so you might as well swing through the Department of Arms & Armor on your way up to the rooftop. Have a couple cocktails and imagine the collective loss of real estate value in the stately co-ops lining Central Park…wait a minute, this isn’t fun anymore. Rooftop closes at 8:30pm on Saturday; 4:30pm on Sunday.



Peanut Butter Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
April 21, 2009, 10:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I spied some peanut butter chocolate chip cookies on Monday at lunchtime when I was buying my sandwich and lunged for them. Sounds good, right? The only problem was they tasted like they were made about seven years ago. I was horribly disappointed – though that didn’t stop me from finishing the pack (of 4 mini cookies, thankyouverymuch).

As I polished off the last stale, tasteless specimen, I realized the only way to atone for such a transgression was to make my own. And let me tell you, they did not disappoint. The dough is adapted from Tollhouse’s own recipe, and they do not mess around over there so you know it’s good.

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Peanut Butter Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen big ones; 2 1/2 dozen reasonably sized ones

2 1/4 c. flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 sticks butter, softened

3/4 c. brown sugar

3/4 c. white sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 heaping c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 heaping c. milk chocolate chips

1 1/2 c. peanut butter chips

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a non-stick cookie sheet. (I know, I know. Just do it and be quiet about it.) In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda. In a large bowl, cream the butter and both sugars. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture in stages, beating well after each addition. Stir in all the chips, and don’t be afraid to add more, you know, if you’re one of those people who likes to live on the edge and push the envelope and all that.

Anyway, spoon the batter in nice sized tablespoons onto the cookie sheet. Don’t forget to butter the cookie sheet for each round, or cookie sheet(s) if you’re such a baller that you have more than one. It makes a difference: you get a nice little ring of crispness around the outside before the middle melts into soft and chewy deliciousness. (I believe that is the scientific term.) In this case, I tempered my enthusiasm and managed to fit 12 on one sheet. Bake for about 11 minutes – or more like 13 if you went the glutton route and made saucer-sized cookies. Hey, I don’t judge.

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A Little Unmoored, and Lamb Ragu
April 20, 2009, 7:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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I’ve been in a rut lately – a cooking rut, an eating rut, even a bit of a drinking rut if such a thing is possible. I used to spend Sunday mornings sprawled out on the sofa, drinking coffee and thumbing through cookbooks, making my list for the grocery store and a week’s worth of dinners. After I’d done the shopping, I would make myself a really delicious sandwich – it’s one of my strong suits – and spend the afternoon with the oven, making cornbread, chicken, cookies…oh, if you hadn’t yet realized: I happily embraced the thirty-something-soccer-mom in me years ago.

But these days, I’m not spending the morning at the store and the afternoon in the kitchen. Part of it is sheer laziness – it eats up, please pardon the pun, a significant portion of a weekend I’d easily spend at brunch with friends, or wandering through Central Park, or, let’s be honest, lying on the sofa watching television.  I told you I was lazy. But I also suspect that something else is afoot. Maybe it’s the weather – a gorgeous Saturday on a friend’s rooftop, with too much sangria and too much sun, followed by a Monday so cold and wet I keep thinking it must be January in Providence. Or the sneaking malaise I feel at being a directionless twenty-something in a time of economic crisis the likes of which the world has never seen….

You know, I think it’s definitely the weather.

I think I’m slowly finding my way back into the swing of things, gravitating toward – unsurprisingly – comfort foods and foods with that inherent richness that comes from long, slow cooking. Hence the lamb ragu. I don’t know what does it for me, especially because I so rarely cook pasta. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. This is my own recipe, but you’ll recognize it from other places – it’s nothing surprising, only comfortable. And that’s the point.

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Lamb Ragu

Serves about 4

2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 celery rib, diced

1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium sized carrot, peeled and diced

1 lb ground lamb

3/4 cup dry white wine (I really do mean white. You can use red if you’d like, but I think the white lightens it up a bit. After all, it is April – it just feels like January.)

1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped but juice reserved (spring for the San Marzano if you can find them.)

1 bay leaf

crushed red pepper to taste (about 1/2 to 1 tsp)

lots of salt and ground black pepper

optional: 1/3 c fresh ricotta cheese or heavy cream or half-and-half – whatever you have lying around

chopped parsley, fresh basil to garnish

grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano

1/2 lb rigatoni

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saute pan; add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and stir, letting the vegetables soften and sweat but not brown. This requires a little patience, something that does not come easily to me. It can take ten minutes; pour yourself a glass of wine or do the dishes or stalk someone on Facebook. Add some salt and black pepper while it goes. Add the ground lamb and stir, breaking up the pieces. Keep stirring and cooking until it’s completely browned – about another ten minutes. Add the wine, some more salt and pepper, and the bay leaf. Cook until the wine has pretty much evaporated. Add the tomatoes, some crushed red pepper, a little more salt and pepper.

Now let it simmer, stirring occasionally. You’ll have something pretty good in a little under an hour, but let it go an hour and a half if you can – or two, if you want to go crazy. About 25 minutes before you’re ready to serve, boil some water, well salted, and cook the rigatoni until al dente. Stir in the ricotta cheese or half-and-half into the sauce at the end; it’s a little over top but worth it. Serve with the ragu, chopped herbs, and some cheese grated over the top.  Or serve over spinach – the sauce and the hot pasta will wilt it nicely. Now, there are plenty of recipes that call for simmering for four hours or more, but who has time for that? The couch is calling and my favorite HGTV show is on.

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A Little Bit About Wine
April 19, 2009, 3:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I love to read articles about new wines to try, and wines that give you the best bang for your buck, and wines that haven’t been popular since that August in 2004 when Venus was in a six-week retrograde and your Qi had never been more centered. Except nine times out of ten I don’t write a damn thing down, so all that helpful information slips away into the ether to join other useful tidbits like, Where did I put my keys? Did I pay the electric bill this month? Have I showered today? Oh, that last one’s not an issue for you? Well, pardon me.


At any rate, my very long-winded point here is that I’m not going to list a bunch of wines willy-nilly. Instead, I’m going to write about different grapes and regions, which I find easier to remember anyway – though I’ll leave you to your own devices to procure the wines themselves. Or call me and stop by for a glass – I usually have something hanging out in the wine rack in my bedroom. (It was $2 at a library sale and there’s nowhere else it will fit.) Or take this as a means to strike up a conversation with the guy in your local wine shop, or the waiter or sommelier when you’re next out to dinner.


So, onward.


The Tempranillo grape produces full-bodied red wines and is the principal grape in northern Spain’s famed Riojas – but it’s slightly lesser known and therefore much more reasonably priced. Now it’s grown all over the world – from South America to Australia. These wines are ruby red in color and berry-heavy in taste, though not overly fruity.


Malbecs from the Mendoza Province are Argentina’s most popular red wine. Vineyards here are planted in the eastern foothills of the Andes and at some of the highest altitudes in the world as a result. These wines are also berry-heavy – plum, blackberry – and are more violet in color. They’ve become increasingly popular so you won’t have any trouble finding them in stores or on wine lists – but they’re still pretty reasonably priced (for now, anyway).


On the other hand, try wines made from the Torrontes grape for an Argentinian white that’s very crisp and refreshing and goes with just about anything. These wines are also made in the Mendoza region, and in the Rioja region in Spain, among others. They’re citrusy, some with hints of peach or grapefruit, but still very dry – and cheap, though very highly regarded.


Verdicchio is a white grape grown in Central Italy, in a region bordering the Adriatic known as Le Marche. It makes a straw colored wine that’s usually pretty reasonably priced in restaurants, so it can be a nice option, but be forewarned: these wines are often very, very acidic. The nicest wines from the Verdicchio grape are produced in the Castelli de Jesi and Matelica regions, so look for those.