Friday, May 29, 2009

Drink of the Week: Paris Manhattan

I found the recipe for this cocktail in a St. Germain recipe book. For me, the challenge with St. Germain is its flowery sweetness. I prefer a less-sweet cocktail and for my palate, St. Germain works best in light and refreshing cocktails. I was pleasantly surprised by the bourbon's place in this cocktail. I was concerned it would overpower the St. Germain, but the St. Germain holds its own.

This cocktail is one of many that has reminded me that I need to try to make some of my own vermouth. I find that dry vermouth has a "cottony" mouthfeel that really comes through in lighter drinks like this one. Anyone have a vermouth method they'd like to share? Pretty please?

Paris Manhattan
Stir together in a mixing glass:
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce St. Germain
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • dash of bitters
Stir until very cold. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

BBA Challenge Bread: Artos, Bread #2

The second bread in the BBA challenge is Artos, a Greek celebration bread. I was raised Greek Orthodox church and while I guess I ate a lot of Artos, I never knew its official name. Artos is a leavened celebration loaf. A number of breads fall within this category: Vassilopita (eaten at New Years'), Tsoureki (at Easter), and Christopsomo (at Christmas). They are all variations on the same spiced, enriched dough. They are shaped into different loaf styles, depending on the holiday.

This is a Christopsomo, baked for Christmastime (due to the glaze, from certain angles I thought it looked like a big roasted chicken). The bread is decorated with a gothic cross. The spices in the bread are mahleb (or mahlepi) and cloves. Mahleb is a spice used a lot in Greek and Middle Eastern baking. It's actually the inner pit of a cherry and has a slightly sour-cherryish fragrance (very slight). I didn't have any mastic on hand, if so I would have subbed it in for the cloves. Mastic is a resin, harvested from a Pistacia lentiscus tree. These trees are found only on the Greek island of Chios. I've seen the harvest process and it's painstaking and low-yield.

The bread is further enhanced with dried cherries, raisins and toasted walnuts. Good quality dried fruit is so nice in breads like this one. Don't fall for the plastic nubbins of dried "fruit" at the supermarket. Get good stuff.

Anyway, the bread. The fragrance of the dough and baked bread immediately brought me to the holiday table; I was shocked by how strongly it evoked memories for me. The dough behaved beautifully. It's enriched with eggs and so the rise was a little slower. In fact, I am experimenting with doing extra-slow rises with most of my breads. I let this one proof in the fridge overnight before shaping and final proofing.

Changes for next time:
  • Split off the dough for the cross before I add the fruit and nuts for a neater result.
  • Make two smaller loaves. The final loaf is huge, well over 10" around. For two people this was overload and too much to eat.
Of note:
  • As a number of bakers noted, this bread makes great French toast.

Week of May 24

Hello all. Hope everyone stateside had a great Memorial Day weekend. Our major accomplishment this weekend was getting all our potted plants out onto the deck. It's important to wait until we're safely out of frost-warning time and while it was 42 this morning, 42 isn't 32!

This happy family has decided to take on the task of mowing our lawn for us. I have to say that they aren't doing a great job, but they don't charge much.

Menu for the Week
Souvlaki (Greek-style kabobs)
Grilled Vidalia onions
Vinegar-boiled potatoes (strangely successful - from the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living)
Greek salad with feta

Cherry bread pudding (with the remains of my Anadama bread)

Tostadas with picadillo (think flat tacos)
Pico di gallo
Black beans

Asparagus avogolemono soup
Huge salad

Pasta with asparagus and mushrooms and lots of herbs

Kimchi soup with tofu and greens (We'll see about this one. My supermarket had no kimchi in stock and the shelves were also devoid of a suitable Chinese-style cabbage for a homemade version.)
Rice noodles

Breakfast for dinner: Eggs and hash (and probably a salad)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

BBA Challenge Bread: Anadama, Bread #1

So because my live isn't busy enough (what's it been, like two weeks since I posted?), I have joined a group of bakers who, led by the fearless Nicole of Pinch My Salt, are baking their way through the Bread Bakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhardt. (Run on sentence much, Mary?)

The BBA Challenge group is 200 bakers strong. The group is really enthusiastic about getting though the book and has been so supportive of the newer bakers. We're working through the book in order. What's fun about that is the book is laid out alphabetically, so we jump from Anadama to an enriched Easter bread (Artos) to bagels to brioche. We aren't publishing the recipes from the book, so you'll have to pick up a copy if you want to follow along (most libraries carry it if you want to look before you buy).

The first bread we baked is Anadama. The [I am guessing apocryphal] story is that Anadama bread was invented when a man, left behind with no dinner and just a pan of cornmeal mush, cursed his wife, Anna, as he threw some bread together: "Anna, damn her!" I prefer to think differently: that after his lovely wife, Anna, made a lovely bread for supper, the man said: "Anna, damn that's some good bread!" Because it is.

Anadama is a yeast bread that includes cornmeal and molasses. The pictures make it look as if the bread contains whole wheat, but the darker tint of the bread comes from the molasses. The bread isn't too sweet, so it makes great sandwiches, but it has enough sweetness so that it's fabulous with a pat of butter too.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I'm A Hero!

Hey all! Here's my first instructional video: filmed and produced by the great folks at How 2 Heroes, it's my first foray into film. Agua frescas are really easy to make and are super for summer. Cheers!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Drink of the Week: The Rosita

I was looking for a tequila drink to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with, but the 5th was rainy and cold and very un-Margarita-like. Adam @ the Boston Shaker (Your Friendly Neighborhood Cocktail Supply Shop) to the rescue! He twittered (tweeted? still working on my Twittercabulary) about a drink called the Rosita and after reading the recipe at DrinkBoy, I headed straight to the liquor cabinet to mix one up.

The unusual pairing of Campari with tequila may stop some of you in your tracks, but the combination works really well. The other ingredients mellow the Camapri's bitterness: it's still there, but it plays more of a backing role instead of muscling through all the other flavors (as it sometimes does in a Negroni).

The Rosita

In an iced mixing glass, combine:
  • 1 1/2 ounces tequila
  • 1/2 ounce Campari
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • dash of Angostura bitters
Stir until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist (I forgot to garnish before we took the picture; the lemon oil in the twist adds a nice touch).

If this is still too Campari-heavy for you, reduce the amount to 1/4 ounce and work your way up to a level of bitterness that works for you.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review: Oceanos Oyster Bar & Sea Grill

Oceanos Oyster Bar & Sea Grill
2-27 Saddle River Road, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410
Accepts all credit cards.

This past weekend, Beppo and I headed down to New Jersey for my niece's baptism. The reception was held at Oceanos. I have been to this restaurant a few times and have always been pleased.

The executive chef and owner Peter Panteleakis takes a lot of care with the quality of his food, especially the seafood. His level of involvement extends to his daily baking of the day's bread (from his own starter, no less) after he has gotten back from his trip to the Fulton Fish Market.

By way of full disclosure, my father and his wife are friends of the owners so we always get a great greeting and very personalized service. That said, I was extremely impressed by the exceptional service our party of 30+ got at the reception. It's not easy to take care of a large group and they did a great job. I also watched the servers taking care of other tables and the diners seems happy and cared for.

On Sunday, I met my dad and wife for lunch and we ended up back at Oceanos. We frequently have the same type of meal: salad, fish and dessert, so I can't really describe much else from the menu.

At the reception, we did have the collection of Greek spreads (taramasalata, ktipiti: a feta spread, hummus and melanzanasalata: an eggplant salad) served with grilled pita and they were fantastic. Highly recommended.

The Greek salad is great. Shredded romaine, tomatoes, red peppers, olives and feta are dressed with a nice lemony salad dressing. With the fresh house-made bread, it makes a great starter.

Oceanos prides itself on the the food it serves, especially the seafood. When we arrive, my father always consults with Peter as to what's best (or most interesting or unique) on the menu that day. You can do that too and I recommend you do so. Your fish (depending on what's available, you can get one for the table or your own fish if not everyone wants the same thing) will be grilled in the kitchen and brought to the table butterflied, deboned and sans head (no worries about your dinner looking at you). The sides are pretty standard: vegetables, potato and an oregano and lemon sauce. Fresh fish cooked this way is great: the flesh is sweet, with just a hint of smokiness. The lemon sauce provides a great contrast but isn't actually needed. We had white snapper which was a new fish for me. (By the way, check out those gorgeous olives - that's what olives should look like: plump, glossy and firm.)

We drank a Lazaridis Amethystos Drama 2007 with the meal. A lovely wine from the North of Greece, it's a sauvignon blanc/semillon blend. It was served at the perfect 50 degrees and was a great pairing for the salad and the fish. The Oceanos wine list is reasonably long (very heavy on California wines and with an extensive selection of Greek bottles) and very reasonably priced, with a good number of wines in the $25-40 price range.

Finally, dessert. Oh my lordy. I'm not really a dessert person so I usually take a few bites to be polite. Peter suggested that we finish our meal with rice pudding (risogalo). Rice pudding is not something I normally get excited about it, but I am still thinking about this one. This picture is my little dish of rice pudding; we had been served family-style so we each could take as much as we wanted.

First the rice pudding itself was creamy and sweet, but not overly so. It was topped with toasted kataifi (similar to shredded phyllo) and golden raisins that had been plumped up with a caramel syrup. I made sure each bite contained the contrasting textures of the creamy rice pudding and the crunchy kataifi and the slightly tart punch of the raisins. This dish is what rice pudding should be.

I was already impressed with what a great place Oceanos is (if we lived four hours closer, I think we'd be regulars), but when we complimented the coffee, Peter completely blew my mind (in the best possible way). Restaurant coffee is frequently an afterthought: it's the cup that wakes you up enough to get you home after dinner, but I seldom think "wow, that's good coffee". This coffee was remarkably good and didn't need the cream and sugar I normally have to add to restaurant coffee to make it drinkable. Peter told us that his coffee is a custom-roasted brew from Allann Brothers. He buys whole beans, grinds them as needed and then (this is where he won my heart) he brews into thermal carafes. And then, if it's not all served, the coffee is discarded after 20 minutes of sitting around. This results in a brew with very little bitterness or oxidation. It can't be cheap for him, but it's fabulous for the customers.

This is a guy who cares about quality. A lot. Please give this restaurant a try if you're nearby I know you'll enjoy. His menu of regular dishes (but not specials) is online - take a look, there's something for everyone. I didn't see the check, so I don't know what the total was but the online menus have actual pricing, so you can estimate costs for yourself.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Easy Eating: White Bean Salad

I put this salad together for the Encased Meats Festival that Linsey over at Cake and Commerce hosted a few weeks ago. I wanted something to provide a contrast to a gyro-style sausage that I'd made. The creaminess of the white beans is set off really nicely by chunks of cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives and dill. I used a simple red wine vinaigrette as a dressing but a lemon-based dressing would be great too.

I recommend that you cook your own beans for the salad if you can: they'll be a little creamier than canned and you'll be able to control the saltiness a little better. That said, if you want to use canned beans, go right ahead and feel no guilt about it. Of course, feel free to vary the ingredients based on what you have on hand.

This salad is best if you make it a few hours ahead. It makes a great side with grilled meat or vegetables. For an easy vegan dinner pair it with a green salad and a grilled portobello mushroom.

White Bean Salad
Serves 4-6
  • 4 cups cooked white beans (about 1 1/2 cups dry beans cooked or 2 large cans of beans, rinsed and drained)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in quarters
  • 3/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and torn in halves
  • 1 bunch of scallions, sliced
  • handful of dill, chopped
  • red wine or sherry vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
In a bowl, toss together the beans, tomatoes, olives, scallions and dill. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons vinegar and 3 tablespoons olive oil over the salad. Toss the salad and taste. Add salt and pepper as needed (if you're using canned beans, you might not need much salt). Add more vinegar or oil as needed to ensure the beans are well flavored and moistened with oil and vinegar.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Two Quick Sauces for Summer

The summer grilling season approacheth. It's a good time to (re)introduce chimichurri to everyone. Traditionally, chimichurri from Argentina and Uruguay and is a sauce for grilled meats. What I love about chimchurri sauces is that they can be made ahead and kept as an insurance policy against boring food. You can also stir the sauces into a pasta salad or cole slaw or bean salad to jazz them up.

A parsley-based chimichurri is the version most people are familiar with. I just found a recipe for the red version of chimichurri. I can tell it's going to become a go-to condiment for me this summer: it's super easy to make and will keep in the fridge for a while.

Chimichurri (Green)
Yields about 2 cups
This is the version you're most likely be served. My version results in pesto-like version. If you prefer a looser consistency, adjust the sauce with more vinegar and oil.
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 bunch of parsley, leaves only
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves(substitute 2 teaspoons dried oregano, or omit oregano entirely)
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2-3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a food processor, blend all the ingredients except the olive oil, until you have a fine paste. Add olive oil to get the consistency you want. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Red Chimichurri (Chimichurri Rojo)
Yields about 1 cup
This yield a very liquid sauce, more like a salad dressing. I keep it in a squeeze bottle and give a squirt to dishes that need jazzing up.
Adapted from Norman van Aken.
  • 1/2 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar (the sherry vinegar results in a much more interesting sauce, but use a good red wine vinegar if that's what you have on hand)
  • 1/4 cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons hot paprika (use half hot paprika and half smoked paprika for an interesting version)
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (leave out if you don't want it to be too spicy)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Shake everything together in a squeeze bottle or jar. Taste for salt and adjust it if needed. This keeps for a while (at least two weeks) in the refrigerator.
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