My love of Top Chef has gotten to the point that I have a section of my main bookshelf dedicated to some of my favorite judges* and cheftestants from the show—though I will admit that Tom Colicchio’s books live up in my New York section, because most of these books came out way after his did—and while I’ve enjoyed them all, I’ve been heartily enjoying Gail Simmons’ Bringing it Home as it is filled with really interesting recipes and lots of excellent anecdotes about Top Chef from foods she loved while on location to lots of interesting tips based on professional chef techniques that she’s observed along the way, along with her own insight from her days in culinary school. Gail has long been one of my favorite staples of the show because she’s a delightful mix of knowledge, insight, warmth, and the occasional dollop of well-timed snark: Read More
Back in October I received an unexpected but very welcome birthday gift from a dear friend: a turntable. I’ve had a small collection of records that have been traveling from apartment to apartment with me and finally I had a vehicle on which to play them whenever I wanted. I also went on a bit of a record buying spree, picking up some albums that I’ve long wanted on vinyl but couldn’t justify because, well, I didn’t have anything on which to play them. I had some great fun over the holiday season decorating the apartment to the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and playing some mellow jazz on New Year’s Day, but what I was looking forward to most was the simple act of coming home, pouring myself a glass of something, and letting the stress of the week go as I listened to the sweet strains of John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard or started a mini dance party set to Otis Blue. Read More
Back in November I did a very silly thing. I had this Amazon gift card that had been sitting on my desk for months, and for the life of me I couldn’t decide what to get with it. This was mainly due to the fact that I felt very uncomfortable about the circumstances in which it came to be in m possession, so I could never figure out what exactly should I get. I immediately dismissed all things practical because that’s no fun, and so I was toying with adding a couple of books to my cookbook collection or maybe getting a heavier kettlebell.
Instead, I ended up getting a used copy of Galatoire’s cookbook that was in very good condition and a cast iron snail pan.
New Year’s Eve is my favorite food holiday, full stop. We don’t have to follow any specific food traditions, and instead we can make a number of small bites that follow whatever whims we may have in mind that particular year. In reality, the only rules that we do have around the holiday are simple:
- No leaving the apartment, even to do this same thing at someone else’s house, because that never ends well.
- Loungey clothes are necessary, if not required.
- Games will be played
- Wine, especially bubbly wines, will be consumed.
When our friend W asked what our plans were, I explained that we were pretty rigid on the not-leaving-the-apartment thing (seriously, the last time we tried to do this on New Year’s Eve, I ended up with a stomach virus) but that they were welcome to join us. As soon as she said that they would love to come, out came the cookbooks to brainstorm some ideas on what to make. I may have also put the El Bulli episode of No Reservations on while I browsed, and ultimately came up with more ideas for this dinner than I did for the dinners I was supposed to be planning for…because that’s how things tend to go.
Besides: a meal of this scale requires several days of brainstorming, and I ended up finding some fine meals to have on Sunday and Monday shortly thereafter. So there, husband. Read More
Not long after our friend T moved out to Chicago, he sent me a link to a wine bar/cheese shop that wasn’t far from his apartment that he thought I’d like, all but promising to go there when I eventually paid him a visit. I hadn’t forgotten about the place in the intervening months that followed, so when I was finally able to head out to the Windy City a few weeks ago to finally see him, going to Pastoral (the wine/cheese shop) and its sister bistro next door Bar Pastoral was one of the few definitive plans I had for the trip, and perhaps the only disappointment I had was that I only was able to eat there once.
But oh, was that one time a memorable one!
T was completely wiped from a particularly grueling work week, so by the time we sat down at the bar he was more than happy to let me run the show. Since this was my first time there, I decided to cede control to our very helpful bartender, who recommended a nice selection of cheeses: a soft cheese made with water buffalo milk, a lovely blue cheese, and a firm cheese that I’m pretty sure was Manchego. (This bad food blogger forgot to write them all down. Boo.) Some slices of chorizo and prosciutto di San Daniele finished the plate, along with a little loaf of crusty bread and a nice glass of red wine. Even better was that each cheese came with its own specific garnish, ensuring that when you loaded up a piece of bread with your cheese of choice, you were going to get a complex, complete bite.
Do you have those foods that you never, ever purchase (usually due to some combination of expense, availability, and no idea what to do with it) but long for anyway? Or foods that you have reserved in your mind to only indulge in for a very specific, very celebratory reason, regardless of whether you’ve ever tasted it or not? The image of sitting down at a fine steakhouse and ordering the Wagyu ribeye along with a glass of 80-dollar scotch comes to mind, if just a tad on the extreme side. To get to my point: it’s the treat that you know you can only indulge in as a treat maybe once a year at most, or something you’d only buy for very, very special reasons.
I have a few things on that list like mozzarella di bufala and a really good bottle of champagne, but my biggest obsession that I never indulged in was getting some jamón ibérico de bellota either from Fairway or Despaña. While no cured ham could be considered a bargain, ibérico is the platinum standard, widely considered the apex of cured ham deliciousness and usually it can only be had for, at minimum, 100 bucks a pound. When you live in a place like New York, ephemeral luxuries like this feel far too outrageous to indulge in without knowing exactly what you’re getting, so I told myself that I would figure out a really good reason to get some eventually. I’d see the hock of it at Fairway when it would be my turn to wait in line at the deli, but I always managed to resist an impulse to purchase it. Read More
Have you heard about Charcutepalooza yet? Two particularly intrepid food bloggers have deemed 2011 the Year of Meat, and so they (along with about 300 other bloggers) are working their way through Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie with a new challenge each month. January was duck prosciutto, February was pancetta and bacon, and for March corned beef (or brined pork chops or chicken) is the challenge of the month, and it’s so inspiring to see the posts and the recipes and the dedication that real charcuterie requires. You really should follow their exploits because it’s yielding some fascinating results. Because we live in an apartment that is not only dry as a bone but also at least 85 degrees during the winter and summer thanks to intense radiators and no air conditioning it’s unrealistic/unsafe to commit to the rigors of the year-long challenge, but it hasn’t dimmed my craving for some of the meats that have been featured or to follow along in our own way.
Fortunately, we can make duck ham thanks to a recipe from Tom Colicchios’s Think Like a Chef that is short (at least in meat-curing terms), delicious and easy. If it’s good enough for the head judge of Top Chef, well, it’s good enough for us. Read More