Back to the Drawing Board

So much for celebrating all of my successful crepe endeavors. This morning I made a couple of buckwheat crepes for breakfast...but they weren't right at all! I used the same recipe as I did last year, and the only thing I did differently this year was weigh the flours instead of converting the measurements to cups. But for whatever reason, the batter's super-runny, doesn't taste right, and is just completely wrong. Mysterious.

Back to the drawing board. Seems like many of the recipes I've found on a quick search of French websites have a few more ingredients and a different flour-to-liquid ratio, so we'll see what happens!


Just A Quick Note About My Crepe Obsession

I've spent the last few days battling a little cold...and quietly obsessing over my new blue steel [insert Zoolander joke here] crepe pan. Wow, am I one happy camper. I love me some crepes, and I must say, this little puppy makes all the difference. I've had sweet crepes with Nutella for breakfast all week (feed a cold, right?), and I'm just about to make galette batter (savory buckwheat) to test out tomorrow. (Just wait 'till I use it to make dosai, too...)

And as the French traditionally eat lots of crepes on La Chandeleur (February 2nd), my obsession will undoubtedly last through next week...


Oh Daffy, Your Compatriots Are Soooo Tasty

Smokey The Bear once said, "You, too, can cook duck at home."


Anyway, you can cook duck at home, and it's sooo easy. And really, we had no choice but to try--Mandy had purchased some beautiful local duck breasts--so we grabbed her grill pan and our imaginations, and went to work.

We began by marinating the duck in quatre épices, orange juice, and a little red wine (we think the quatre épice was ultimately key, so get out there and find some). Then we started a blood orange, shallot, honey sauce, from which we learned a lot. Mistakes were made (so I won't really go into it here), but next time we'll know better--use the juice of a blood orange, not the pulp, as it ends up making everything fairly bitter.

Mandy had done her research, so while we were a little afraid we'd ruin the duck, we forged ahead--fat side down for 7 minutes, flesh side for 5--and they actually came out perfectly. Served with our rescued sauce, garlicky-lemon spinach, and spaghetti squash with butter and sage, dinner was pretty fan-tabulous.

So, don't be afraid of the duck--get out there and grill some for yourself!


Simple Celery Potato Soup

I needed to use some potato peelings to season my new de Buyer crepe pan (I should research why, but it's Sunday afternoon and I'm feeling lazy). I pondered what to do with the actual potato and bit of droopy celery I noticed hanging out in the vegetable bin, and decided to improvise an easy soup. To my surprise, I ended up with something kind of spectacular (I'm sure it's the butter, but...).

Simple Celery Potato Soup
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• about 2 cups chopped celery (I was using the inner portion of a bunch and threw in leaves and all)
• 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
• salt to taste
• 1 large potato, peeled and cubed
• 4 cups stock (preferably something rich)

Melt the butter in a medium/large pan. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until it becomes translucent. Add the celery, herbes de Provence, and a little salt and cook until the celery begins to soften. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring every so often to make sure things don't burn. Turn off heat and purée with an immersion or regular blender. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Saturday's Chinatown Finds

Anyone named Frank might want to reconsider visiting Chinatown...


Worth the Splurge: Hill Country Barbecue

There have been numerous barbecue joints popping up in NYC over the last few years, and now I understand why Bill Clinton's been spotted at Hill Country. I've assumed it must be good--I trust the Clintons know their 'cue--and sure enough...

We ended up at Hill Country for Lara's birthday (she wanted mac and cheese, and boy, does this place have mac and cheese!). The food is a la carte, so I went for the pork ribs (and ordered way too many...I'm used to ribs that are mainly bone, but these were super-meaty), the skillet cornbread with ancho honey butter (amazing!), and the green bean casserole (I needed to fill the vegetable bill as to not feel guilty, but let's get real...incredibly yummy, not at all healthy...). Lara picked up the regular Kreuz sausage (they were out of the jalapeño variety, but the regular was pretty spectacular), corn pudding, and the world's biggest container of mac and cheese (fabulous). Steve, being from Texas, went for the traditional lean brisket (really, really flavorful, smoky, and nice), and more of the cornbread.

The portions are definitely Texas-sized, so expect to end up with lots of leftovers (which isn't a bad thing...but now that I know, I think I'll order a single rib next time). It's NYC, so of course it's more expensive than the South, but I think Hill Country now tops my list of the city barbecue places I've tried so far.

(I also think 26th Street is turning into Barbecue Row. What's up with that?)

Thanks, President Clinton! (And thanks S&L for a fabulous dinner!)

Hill Country, 30 West 26th Street between Broadway and 6th.

Billy's Blue Hue

Consumed this beautiful cupcake at Billy's Bakery last evening. I try to stay out of Billy's (important for the waistline!), but when I do partake, I generally go for a slice of the fabulous banana cake with cream cheese frosting. But as I hadn't had anything with the vanilla buttercream frosting for ages, I decided to choose one of the famous cupcakes. While the chocolate cake was fab, I'm worried that Billy's is going down the Magnolia road frosting-wise...less butter, more sugar...(say it ain't so!!!). Let's hope it was a freak incident, and the butter will happily return in all its glorious abundance.

Billy's Bakery original Chelsea location, 184 Ninth Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets.


Today's Dining Section: Pirates, Ducks, and Bitters

A few intriguing articles in today's Times Dining section. Firstly, don't miss Matey Minimalist Mark Bittman's latest vid...

And I'll be trying this recipe for easy duck confit, paired with a cocktail made with one of these new German bitters (will they save the NYC cocktail scene from the Angostura shortage?).


Sign O' The Day

Spotted this on Hudson Street. Does this mean I should stop playing the lottery and concentrate on other games of chance?

In The Mushroomy Mood

My brain pondered, "I want mushrooms...can make pasta...cooking for friends...what to do?" Then...a flash: Mark Bittman's recipe for risotto-style pasta. He'd written his Minimalist column about it a few months ago, I was dying to try it (and happened to be making stock...), and now I had the perfect excuse.

While Bittman's recipe called for chicken, I was in a relatively meatless mood, so opted for lots of cremini mushrooms (about a pound), 1/4 cup of dried porcini mushrooms (reconstituted in warm water, which I used as well), a large clove of garlic, and a shallot. I served the pasta with some Pecorino Romano, alongside green beans with garlic and my blood orange and fennel salad. We were all pleased with my experiment, and to seal the "putting this in my regular roster" deal, the dish is even better the next day!

Hmm...speaking of leftovers...


Time For A Visit

Passed Arturo's during my Saturday wanderings, and it was looking extra-cozy in the mid-afternoon January sunshine. It's been a while since I've gone there for pizza, and I think this was a sign to stop and have a nosh sometime soon!

Arturo's, 106 West Houston at Thompson Street.

Huzzah--Blood Oranges!

I finally picked up my first blood oranges of the season at Chelsea Market yesterday, and decided to throw together a quick salad for last night's impromptu dinner party. Oh...how I'd missed you, my little loves...

Blood Orange & Fennel Salad
• 2 blood oranges
• 1/2 fennel bulb
• 1/2 small red onion
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
• sea salt & pepper to taste

Peel, halve, and slice the blood oranges crosswise. Remove the tough core from the fennel, then thinly slice. Slice the red onion into thin strips. Toss everything with the remaining ingredients, and serve!


Happy 100th Birthday, Yonah Schimmel!

A Wednesday post on The New York Times City Room Blog reminded me...Yonah Schimmel's knishery on Houston Street is 100 years old this year! Some claim Yonah Schimmel invented the knish, and whether he did or not, the store remains one of the last old-school holdouts on the Lower East Side, along with Katz's Delicatessen and Russ & Daughters appetizer shop (all within a few blocks of each other).

I've been stopping in for Yonah Schimmel's handmade baked knishes since I moved to the city in the mid-90s, and fondly remember the gruff service received by the bleached-blonde woman behind the counter during the neighborhood's pre-gentrification days (I wonder if she was the wife/mother of the current owners, father Alex Wolfson and daughter Ellen Anistratov?). Today, the knish trade must be much better (they seem to get a ton of business from moviegoers at the renovated Landmark Sunshine next door), and while service can be incredibly slow, it's a much more pleasant experience.

I have to say, I tend to favor the cherry-cheese variety (yeah, the cherries are from a can, but it brings back wonderful childhood memories, so who cares?!). Yesterday I tried Ms. Anistratov's recently-invented red cabbage knish, which was kind of perfect for a wintry day.

The famous dumbwaiter.

And finally, I have to say BOOOO to the Chowhound thread completely eviscerating Yonah Schimmel's. To each his own, but remember the history here. This family has been making knishes their way for 100 years, and if you don't like them, fine. But I always enjoy stopping in for a nosh, and I hope the place thrives for another century!

A bit of the decor.

Yonah Schimmel, 137 East Houston Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues).


NYC Tidbits: Federal Hall

New Yorkers, it's time to get off your butts and visit Federal Hall. I've walked past it a million times, only knowing (because of the large statue outside) it was the location of George Washington's swearing-in as the first POTUS. Mandy and I checked it out yesterday, and it's not only absolutely beautiful, it's an incredibly important historic location.

Also on this site: Newspaper publisher John Peter Zenger was imprisoned, tried, and acquitted of seditious libel, establishing freedom of the press. The Stamp Act Congress met, taking the first official steps towards the rebellion against British rule ("taxation without representation"). It was the first Capitol of the US after the Constitution was ratified in 1789, and our first-ever Congress met here. During that first Congressional session, the Bill of Rights was discussed, composed, and passed.

The site's current building--based on both the Parthenon and Pantheon--opened as the US Customs house in 1842, became a sub-treasury in 1846, and became a national monument in 1939.

Federal Hall, 26 Wall Street, is open Monday-Friday, 9AM to 5PM. Admission is free. Check the website for holiday closings.

NYC Tidbits: 23 Wall Street

Did you know that in 1920, a wagon loaded with dynamite exploded across the street from the J.P Morgan Co. building (23 Wall Street, now apparently being converted into residences designed by Philippe Starck)? I've read various accounts reporting various numbers, but as it exploded during the busy lunch hour, more than 30 people were killed and over 400 injured. Occurring not long after one of the country's most difficult financial crises, nobody knows if it was an accident or deliberate attack. J.P. Morgan never repaired the façade, and numerous pock marks are still visible on the Wall Street side of the building.


Playing With Purchases

Heading to the subway to zip home from Jackson Heights on Monday, I popped into the Patel Brothers grocery store on 74th Street, desperate for some veggies and a few spices. I've played with most of the few things I purchased, and including the Swad frozen Paratha (surprisingly good), here are a couple of standouts:

I picked up this container of "Fantasy" masala-chai because I always like to have the chai option, and the product name was kinda funny. Turns out...it's pretty good!

I'm a dosa freak, and love the sambar served with them. I was entranced by this particular brand (who can resist an orange bag that says "HOT HOT"???), so I decided I'd buy it and use some of it for the base of the soup I was pondering. At first taste, I wasn't really sure (and of course I hadn't read the directions, so didn't have some of the ingredients to add to make it true sambar). But after tossing 25 grams in a pot of onion, okra, tomato, celery, and green onion soup, adding a little turmeric, cumin, coriander, and salt, I ended up with a pretty fantastic concoction that tasted even better the next day!


Great Deals: Time to Chaat

Congrats are in order for KKNY friends Steve and Lara, who just bought an apartment in Jackson Heights. As a super-bonus for me, it's only a few blocks from the awesomeness that is the Indian heart of the neighborhood: 74th Street between Roosevelt and 37th Avenues. So, after moving a few boxes and bits of furniture yesterday, we decided to head out for some late afternoon chaat, a traditional Indian snack comprising various crunchy things, beans, spicy sauces, potatoes, and more.

We realized that our usual chaat place is a take-away on 74th Street, so we ended up popping into a joint closer to Steve & Lara's new digs: Mehfil. Three of us went for the samosa chaat (pictured above: a samosa covered in chick peas, onions, tamarind and coriander chutneys, and a little fresh cilantro), while the two others went for the lunch buffet (which received two satisfied thumbs-up). The chaat was pretty darn tasty...there was just enough sauce (while I love it, there's often too much, and the crunchy bits get soggy before you're halfway through), and the ingredients were fresh and just spicy enough.

We also had some nicely-spiced masala chai, and the mango lassis were pretty good, too.

I picked up the to-go menu, and the prices seem very reasonable (the generous dish of samosa chaat was $5.95, and the lunch buffet was $8.95), so I can't wait to go back and explore more of their offerings. I don't think I'll be getting my fill of Mehfil anytime soon...

Mehfil, 76-05 37th Avenue, Jackson Heights.


Galette des Rois

The French have a wonderful tradition of marking Epiphany (the day the Three Kings arrived bearing gifts for the baby Jesus) with a Galette des Rois, a puff pastry "king cake" filled with almondy frangipane. The family fun includes hiding a fève (a bean or porcelain piece of something) somewhere in the galette, and whomever receives it is the king and receives a prize...or at least the excuse to gloat. (Chocolate & Zucchini has a great description of the galette and its tradition here.) Mandy decided Saturday was Galette des Rois day, so I hopped on the A train ready for a baking adventure.

Mandy received both volumes of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking for Christmas, so we decided to break them in by following her frangipane recipe, even making our own almond meal. (Why pay $15 for a pound of it when you can toss some blanched almonds and a little sugar in a food processor and make your own? I spent $2.50 on 1/3 pound of almonds, and we had lots leftover for future baking adventures). And inspired by Serious Eats' Mini Galettes des Rois recipe, we decided to make lots of baby galettes so we could easily share the fruits of our labor with friends and family.

We did chicken out on the puff pastry making, though, and Mandy bought some frozen dough for us to use. But as it was crazily expensive, we decided that we'll dedicate a day to making and freezing our own sometime soon.

The frangipane turned out to be fairly easy to make, though we agreed you either need a stand mixer or two people (it would be difficult for one person to drizzle the hot milk into the egg mixture--while beating it--armed only with a hand mixer and no one to hold the bowl). We were especially amazed/proud of ourselves when the frothy milk/egg mixture turned into a custard on the stove...cooking science at work! We finished by adding the ground almonds and other flavors, but we had to substitute a little cherry brandy for the kirsch, as Mandy's local boozery didn't have any of that particularly useful eau de vie.

For the baby galettes, Mandy rolled out the dough and we used her holiday cookie cutters (a bell and a Star of David) to make little shapes. We plopped frangipane on one piece (along with a few strategically hidden beans), topped with another slice of dough, sealed, and brushed an egg wash on top. For the big one, we did the same thing, but ended up with a sort of amoeba shape that ultimately baked itself pretty much into a circle.

In the oven, we had a few frangipane explosions...we figure we either overfilled the pastries or didn't poke big enough holes in the tops of each. But it really didn't matter, because all in all, everything turned out pretty well. We were especially happy with Julia's homemade frangipane, and we'll definitely make it again. Thank you, Julia!

The only bummer was that Mandy and I, after slaving over the galettes, lost the kingship to Stéphane. Whatever!



Made a quick stop today at Balthazar Bakery, and I gazed in awe at the beautiful galette des Rois on display. I had to take a photo, as Mandy and I are going to attempt mini galettes tomorrow. More to come!


I caught a bit of an NYC history show the other night, and apparently, the Manhattan Bistro's haunted! The location of the restaurant is in what used to be Lispenard's Meadow. In 1800, the body of Juliana Elmore Sands was found in the park's well. The last person seen with her, her fiancé Levi Weeks, was brought to a very high-profile trial, but the spectacular defense duo of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton pulled the original OJ, and he was found not guilty. The mystery of her death remains unsolved.

That well still exists...in the basement of the Manhattan Bistro. I've only had coffee there, and I don't remember running into a ghost, but I'm going to have to have dinner there next Halloween!

Manhattan Bistro, 129 Spring Street between Wooster and Greene.

Peppers & Snow

I just love that it's flurrying outside, but inside my hot peppers continue to flower and ripen...


Another Soup for a Blustery Day

After enjoying some parsnips at a lovely post-holiday pre-Doctor Who special gathering at the Fosters on Saturday (hooray for their homemade Christmas Pudding!), I decided it was time to play with parsnips. As it's absolutely freezing outside and I had some stock in the fridge, I decided to concoct a soup. It wasn't totally perfect (it ended up being a little on the sweet side), but perhaps the recipe will inspire you to experiment with these underrated roots.

Parsnip Bacon Soup
• 5 strips of bacon, chopped
• 2 medium onions, chopped
• 4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
• 2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
• 4 cups stock
• 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
• 1/4 cup milk
• salt and pepper to taste
• 3 green onions, thinly sliced

In a large pot, sauté the bacon until the fat begins to render, then add the onion and cook until golden. Add the parsnips, potato, stock, and spices and simmer until the parsnips are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Purée with an immersion or regular blender, then stir in milk. Taste and adjust spices if necessary. Stir in green onions and serve.


And Finally...Happy New Year!

And to ring in what will undoubtedly be the best decade yet, I've decided to begin a new KKNY tradition: New Year's Jambalaya. Pennsyltucky's pork and sauerkraut never really did it for me, and the Southern tradition of Black-Eyed Peas (or Hoppin' John) on New Year's Day hasn't really worked (in fact, I've only known about it for the last decade, and look where that's gotten everybody...). So, here's my Jambalaya recipe, based on one from the Napoleon House in New Orleans...

• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 2 pounds chicken (white meat, or a combination of white and dark), cut into small pieces
• 1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
• 3 green peppers, diced
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 large onion, minced
• 5 stalks of celery, diced
• 1 bunch green onion, sliced
• 2 16-ounce cans chopped tomatoes
• 1 tablespoon dried thyme
• 1 teaspoon dried basil
• 2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne (to taste)
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 3 cups beef or chicken stock
• 2 cups long grain rice
• 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

In a large pot, heat oil, then sauté chicken and sausage until the chicken loses its pink color. Add peppers, onion, garlic, celery, and green onion, and cook until soft. Add remaining ingredients--except shrimp!--cover, and cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Check spices and adjust to taste. Turn off heat and stir in shrimp. When the shrimp's cooked (it will turn opaque), serve!

Sign O' The Day

Three for three...

Play With Your Couscous

I have new found respect for couscous after watching the last bit of an episode of Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth, in which Ruth Reichl and Lorraine Bracco travel to Marrakech. The process of making couscous by hand is surprisingly laborious, so I've decided, from now on, to make couscous concoctions more fitting of its noble birth.

So, when Nancy decided to make couscous this weekend, we experimented. For 1 cup dry couscous: Sauté a medium onion and a clove of garlic (both minced), in some olive oil in a small frying pan until the onions turn golden. In a small pan, boil 1 1/2 cup water, then throw in a handful each of golden raisins, currants, and sliced dried apricots. Stir in the dry couscous, a little more olive oil, the onion/garlic mixture, and about 1/2 cup sliced green pitted olives. Turn off the heat, place the lid on the pan, and steam until the grain is cooked, about 5 minutes.

We discussed other future additions: almonds, preserved lemons, herbs, and more. Time to play!