"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween Scene

The Bobcats held our first annual Halloween party last night -- we were lucky that Halloween fell on a Saturday this year (which led me to wish that Halloween get moved from the 31st to the last Saturday in October from now on). Our original idea was to have an all-pumpkin dinner, sort of an Iron Chef challenge, but we decided to expand to fall vegetables generally, and do a sort of Thanksgiving-if-you-didn't-have-to-make-your-family's-required-dishes with a couple of deep-fried turkeys at the center. For the first time, the Bobcat kids were invited, so the house was filled with various pirates, Jokers, bloody surgical patients, mermaids, spies, and tin woodmen.

We started off with sweetly spiced pumpkin empanadas, served with beer, fruit punch for the kids, and killer hot spiced apple cider spiked with Jameson's. I made a soup course of Mexican-spiced pumpkin soup with a lime crema that I doctored liberally with ground chipotles, cumin, cider vinegar, and maple syrup (following the good comments thread on Epicurious). Our main course included the deep-fried turkeys with gravy on the side, twice-baked potatoes, carrots with butter and thyme, zcornucchini bread, sweet potato pie, sausage stuffing, and I made a deliciously simple corn pudding.

We were, of course, stuffed by then, so took a trick-or-treating break around the neighborhood to get some exercise. Once everyone had returned, Wonder Woman (a/k/a Bobcat Stacy) led a riotous candy exchange while we drank white wine and coffee and plowed through a "devil dog" cake stuffed with orange cream.

Halloween never tasted so good.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bobcats go Italian

On September 26th, the Bobcats (our brilliantly named Gourmet Club) convened for our second dinner, this one exploring a broad swath of Italy. Upon arrival, apple martinis were pressed upon us, which I feel is always a good start to an evening. With garnish, no less.
Shortly after that, we launched into a little antipasto, and by "little" I mean "enough to feed the Roman Army." These included various meats, cheeses, olives, capers, artichoke hearts, melon wrapped in prosciutto with mint vinaigrette, and more drinks.
We were feeling little pain and wanting for nothing when we moved into the dining room for a little pasta. Aren't we a nice looking group?
Mr. Gateau made fresh linguine with basil-sundried tomato-olive pesto, using basil from our garden, and topped with Reggiano Parmesan.
Just when we were congratulating ourselves of showing restraint with the pasta portions, out came the main courses. Our hosts had prepared the central dish, osso buco with gremolata. I'd made risotto Milanese to go with that (done in the Crock-Pot, which works great; unfortunately I hadn't timed it well and by the time we ate, it had gone mushy). We also had chicken cacciatore, zucchini stuffed with parmesan and prosciutto, and just in case we hadn't had enough, Caesar salad and garlic bread. Sample plate below -- note the vast number of surrounding vessels holding alcoholic beverages.
But wait! We weren't done yet. Out came the cannoli, the tiramisu cheesecake (because tiramisu alone would not have been filling enough), the amaretto cookies, coffee, amaretto, and sambuca.
A good time and a good feast was had by all. How could it be otherwise? The Bobcats will reconvene on Halloween, Bobcat offspring included, to do a pumpkin (and other fall vegetable) feast, with a centerpiece of deep fried turkey. Costumes required.

An orgy of steak

Last night our intrepid group of carnivorous friends dined at Peter Luger, the celebrated Brooklyn steakhouse. For anyone who hasn't eaten there, dismiss any images you have of a dark, elegant room with masculine touches, refined service, and limousines lining the street outside. Luger is smack in the middle of Willamsburg, Brooklyn, just past the on-ramps for the Williamsburg Bridge. The front-of-house personnel are notoriously surly (and poor John had to endure this when Mr. Gateau and I were 30 minutes late and he had to ask them to hold our table), and there is a distinct lack of ambiance. In fact, the lights are so bright that I got better photos of the food than I ever have before -- see below. I suspect that any bartender who cracks a smile when he give you your drink will be sacked on the spot.

But the food is sublime. I've eaten in most of the great New York steakhouses, and they're good, but nobody matches Peter Luger for steak. It doesn't have that gamy flavor of over-aged meat (inexplicably popular, to me), and the famous appetizers and sides are equally excellent. We had the classic Peter Luger meal of tomato and onion slices topped with their steak sauce dressing (basically, it tastes like barbecue sauce mixed with cocktail sauce) and thick slices of grilled bacon for appetizers (why oh why is this not widely copied?).
John, our appointed Wine Guru, selected a terrific bottle of Sequoia Grove Cabernet.
We shared "steak for 4" perfectly medium-rare, and had that with the crispiest onion rings, hash brown potatoes, and luscious creamed spinach. See before:
And after:

As if that were not enough, Luger is famous for offering all desserts "mit schlag," absolutely perfect whipped cream. They don't stint. With our truly scrumptious pecan pie, hot fudge sundae, and coffee (and port, let's not forget the port), our waiter, Karl (center front if you click the Peter Luger link up at the top), plunked down a bowlful:

Is it any wonder we are all swearing we will never eat again. Until next time, of course.

Monday, September 21, 2009

L'Shana Tovah, all of youse!

I somehow accidentally managed to make the best Rosh Hashanah dinner of my life this weekend. First, I didn't buy a brisket until Friday afternoon, and never made it to the good kosher butcher with the first cut brisket, but just bought the only big one they had in the supermarket. On Saturday, I cut up a large number of onions, seared the brisket on both sides with salt and paprika, and doused it liberally with the onions, Worcestershire sauce, red wine, garlic, and pepper. That braised its way into pure meaty nirvana -- for once holding together in beautiful slices and not falling apart when I cut it.

With that I made kasha varnishkes, also with plenty of onions, and for once did not overcook the bowties. I also made a carrot and sweet potato tsimmes that came out fantastic, much to my surprise because it was really improvised. I had no prunes, so I used raisins, and instead of honey, grated orange and lemon zest, and orange juice for sweetening, I used orange marmalade, brown sugar, and orange juice. It came out sweet and tangy and neither watery nor dry. I wonder if I can ever replicate this feat. The secret ingredient may have been my grandmother's enamel dutch oven, which was just the right size.

For dessert we had brown sugar-apple cake with vanilla ice cream, right out of the oven. I know, it's not honey (again) but it was a sweet ending anyway.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The sauce with the mojo

We're on vacation at the beach, just relaxing in a rental house and doing a lot of grilling. We brought some pantry essentials with us (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, worcestershire, A-1, red curry paste, maple syrup, dijon mustard) so that we wouldn't have to buy new bottles of things we had in plenty at home, but did hit the supermarket for groceries. We had brought some frozen boneless chicken breasts with us, and at the supermarket I stumbled across the perfect solution to the quick summer meal: Goya brand Mojo marinade. We've tried a number of these, of various brands, and generally despaired that they all seemed to contain a lot of junky ingredients, but the Goya, which ranks among the most ubiquitous and least expensive, actually had the best ingredients list, with minimal additives. It's got a great citrus and cumin flavor, too, and I'm looking forward to using it up so that I can try the bitter orange flavor too. Extra bonus: the kids loved it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer's Lease

We're packing up the little gateaux and heading out on Long Island for a week of relaxing at the beach, which has me in a lather about what to bring for the kitchen. The house we're renting is actively used by the owners, but I don't know how they stock their pantry, and I don't want to spend my first day running around buying items I have plenty of at home and will only use a little of. So I'm planning to stick a box of essentials in the back of the minivan. The list so far:

  • olive oil
  • balsamic and wine vinegar
  • soy sauce
  • fish sauce
  • red curry paste
  • worcestershire sauce
  • A-1 steak sauce
I figure out I can flavor up practically anything with that stuff. But any other suggestions?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hooray! Bittman strikes again!

My favorite NYT food feature has a new edition -- this time Mark Bittman provides us with capsule recipes for 101 seasonal salads. He's become an increasingly passionate advocate for a plant-dominated diet, so I look forward to these mostly-vegan and vegetarian recipes with health and good taste in mind.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Endangered Tomatoes!

This does not bode well for the tomato crop this summer. I have been fussing over my tomato plants for weeks now, and some seem to be doing well, but all it takes, apparently, is for one to go down with the blight, and then the rest may follow rapidly. Farmers are plowing crops under. This may be the time to go buy a case or two of whole peeled canned tomatoes given how prices may jump later. Maybe I will start a tomato hedge fund.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Question of the Day

Why is it that I am constitutionally unable to stop eating Good 'N' Plenty once I start?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Where the elite meet to eat

Because I am a terrible blogger, I failed to pull the photos together and post this anything like timely. However, I'm cleaning house, so here is the report on our very first "Gourmet Club" dinner from June 28. A little touch of summer on a winter-like October day.


So we did it, we kicked off the so-called "Gourmet Club" last night with a foray into the cuisine of Morocco, and everything went brilliantly.

First, the weather was kind enough to stop pissing down rain long enough for us to have a beautiful evening. I was too nervous to haul a table out onto the back deck Just In Case, but we were able to serve drinks/appetizers and later dessert/tea on the deck, but had the main meal in the dining room.

We started with Fanatic Foodie's pomegranate-rose-basil mojitos, which were such a big hit that a second pitcher needed to be thrown together. We also discovered that the lime-basil-pom-rose combination is excellent, topped up with soda, as a non-alcoholic alternative. For starters, we had tomato jam with pita, finger sandwiches filled with goat cheese, marinated carrots, and green olive tapenade, plus assorted marinated olives.

When we thought we might be able to tolerate more food, we moved inside and served the main course -- grated carrot salad, chicken and chickpea stew, couscous with vegetables, chicken with olives and preserved lemon, and lamb stew with chestnuts and cinnamon. With this was harissa, wine, and more wine.

We rolled ourselves away from the heaps of food still on the table (note to self: in future, a recipe that says it serves 6 is just fine, as it will certainly be part of a giant repast and does not need to be doubled) and went back outside, where we had sweet mint tea, haroset balls with dates, cinnamon cookies, and the piece de resistance, rose petal cake.

Our next meal is planned for September, when we will take on Italian. Not sure yet which region we'll focus on, but I hear cannoli and gelato are already being planned.

We also came up with a name for our group. Because we're interested in food of many nations, fine dining, and refined conversation, of course we picked a name that might as well be a middle school soccer team.

Confidential to the group: click here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cocktail report

Googling around for a rosewater-including cocktail, preferably with something pomegranate in it, I came across this excellent recipe on the fabulous Diary of a Fanatic Foodie blog. Not only does she have excellent, creative ideas and great photography, she is also a cooking and food loving attorney.

This has moved up to the top of my list for the house cocktail to offer at Saturday's Moroccan dinner. Unless I get lazy and do a rosewater-soaked sugarcube with rose champagne cocktail instead. But will report back in full, and meanwhile will keep reading about the Fanatic Foodie's exploits.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Remembering Mary

My mother reminded me that it's 2 years today that my grandmother died. Here is what I posted about her and her brilliant mandelbrot back then. Will have to make a batch in her honor.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Le Gourmet Club

I know I'm verging into pathetic suburban key party territory here, but a few other couples we are friends with in the neighborhood also enjoy cooking and eating, and so we've decided to emulate our parents and form a so-called Gourmet Club, through which we will take turns hosting dinner parties that all of us will contribute to. Whoever hosts gets to pick the theme and assign courses. We expect that most of these will be grown-up affairs, but figure that a few could be made kid-friendly, since we all have kids ranging from age 3 to age 13, who get along.

Figuring that since my dining room and kitchen are tight to host 8 people (though doable), we volunteered to host the first party at the end of June, so that we can use the back deck and yard. I chose a Moroccan/North African theme, partly because there are a number of recipes I want to try, and partly because I think the summer outdoor setting will be just right. I'm hoping for a very casual, sensual kind of thing, lots of finger food, paper lanterns, wine in stemless glasses, etc.

I'm considering main courses of a slow-roasted, shredded lamb with mint and pomegranate that Nigella does, served with a couscous, maybe with olives and preserved lemon, and a vegetable tagine. We'll need a selection of salads and hors d'oeuvres, and I'd like to do a rose-flavored ice cream as part of the dessert (at my birthday dinner last year, we were served a rose ice cream with raspberry sorbet and lychees that was ambrosial). I'd love to hear ideas if anyone has any.

Other themes we kicked around, besides the obvious national cuisines: upscale barbecue/picnic, ancient Rome/Greece, retro dinner party using no cookbooks from after 1960 (Beef Wellington? rumaki?), tapas, smoking, all desserts.... Would also love ideas.

And of course we have all agreed that an annual field trip to NYC to a restaurant we all want to try is a necessity.

Wish us luck!

Kitchen Garden 2009

I definitely always have eyes bigger than my stomach for gardening. I knew absolutely nothing about gardening when we bought our house 5 summers ago, but I had visions of growing my own herbs and produce. I can't bear to actually sit down and read a book about soil quality and fertilizers and other dry technical matters, so my approach has been of the trial-and-error, lazy organic variety. Fortunately, though pretty it ain't, I've managed to have lots of success with my experiments, despite the fact that by early August I tend to just pretend I don't see the weeds and the gone-to-flower vegetables.

My designated patches are pretty small, are limited in where I can get full sun, and prone to attracting weeds, but though I seem unable to resist overplanting, I get by. I've tried to limit myself to herbs and tomatoes only, but I have allowed myself a few cucumber plants (I like to have a cuke around for a quick cucumber salad), red leaf lettuce, some hot peppers, a couple of broccoli plants (one of the only vegetables Young Master Gateau will eat), and some radishes because they are so easy and fast to grow, and thus good near-instant gratification for kids. There also appear to be a few carrots and beets from last year.

The herbs this year include my monster tarragon plants, oregano, chives, mint, cilantro, basil, dill, parsley, rosemary, and lavender. Nothing particularly exotic, but all get steady play through the season. I have some nasturtiums for decorating salads, and Y.M.G., on a Roman Empire kick, has asked for a bay plant so he can make laurel wreaths.

As for tomatoes, I'm going for a rainbow of smaller heirloom varieties -- Arkansas travelers (red), Sungold and Yellow Pear, Green Zebra, and Black Cherry (a strange purple-green). These plants tend to grow out of control and produce more than I can eat, so I'm going to try to jump on the pickling/canning bandwagon and see whether I can come up with some good preserves, chutneys, etc. At worse, I can turn them into some weird colored but tasty sauce and freeze it.

Tomight we should have the first lettuce and radish salad!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Urgent Cocktail Update

Just came across this delicious-sounding cocktail recipe, the Tropicaliana (via the Al Dente blog Twitter feed, how's that for your intertextual web experience?). It combines rum, lime, ginger liqueur, and simple syrup, topped with rose Champagne or sparkling wine. Must. Have.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bittman strikes again

I have been following @bittman on Twitter, who is none other than our beloved Minimalist. Yesterday he posted a link to his Bitten blog, which had a recipe for Roast Chicken with Cumin, Honey and Orange. I immediately began craving this dish, so I went to the supermarket on my way home from work and got a chicken. One nice thing about this dish is that you're likely to have all the ingredients but the chicken already in the house. Anyway, it was beyond easy to make -- I love dishes like this that require you to dirty only one small dish other than the roasting pan (see also Donna Hay's cookbooks). You can't really get away from the kitchen while it's cooking, because it has to be basted every 10 minutes, but I found that was a value-added aspect, because it made me sit at the dining table with a magazine and a glass of wine for an hour.

The chicken came out glossy and crisp, with delicious juicy meat. We had it with some string beans dressed with olive oil, salt, and garlic. Just perfect.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Unsmiley Pops

Ms. Cake and I set forth to start what we hoped would be a new monthly tradition of getting together to do some crafts and/or baking. We thought it would be fun and easy to make these adorable smiley face cake lollipops.

So we headed to the supermarket for cake mix and icing, and had a long detour at the craft store, where we went into a fugue state and bought enough stuff for about 15 other craft projects. This turned out to be the smartest move of the day.

The instructions required us to mash a cake together with a can of frosting:

And then to roll the mixture into balls, which are then impaled on sticks:

After this it should be simple enough, you simply dip the balls in yellow candy melt, wait to dry, and then decorate with those cunning edible magic marker pens.

Well, it was an unmitigated disaster. The icing clumped, the balls were flat on one side, if we were lucky, and a large number disintegrated in the icing bowl. Even the children refused to eat them.

At one point we dissolved on the floor as several of our master creations slowly slid down the sticks on which they had been suspended.

The edible marker pens were impossible to work with. Eventually we ended up with this, and threw the rest away:

The (unsmiling) end.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Save it for a Rainy Day

It's a rainy Sunday at the end of a week of school vacation, so Young Master Gateau was hounding me to bake something with him and his friend, the Girl Next Door. I dug out a fancy cake mold in the shape of nine train cars that we'd bought for his 5th birthday party, and baked up half a batch of a Bundt cake mix from Williams-Sonoma that came with it. Then YMG and the GND went to town with the odd bits of candy lying around the house and a supplemental bag of Skittles picked up at the grocery story. The result was impressively artistic, if a little too sweet, and super sticky.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

One Billion Chinese Can't Be Wrong

I finally had enough time on my hands today to take on one of my never-used cookbooks, from the Shun Lee restaurant in NYC. I was really intimidated by this, and by Chinese cooking in general, but I psyched myself up and went for it. Most of the ingredients were easy enough to find, and when I couldn't find certain items, I substituted as best I could. They recommend balsamic vinegar for black Chinese vinegar, for example, and that worked. In one case, I couldn't find Schezewan pickled vegetable, but from the description (basically pickled mustard greens) I figured I could get by with pickled ginger, which I had for another recipe. In another case I couldn't find dried Chinese black mushrooms, so I used dried porcini and they were fine. I'm not sure I have the right spicy bean paste, but that also worked with what I had. There was lots of prep work to have all the ingredients ready before cooking started, but nothing particularly complicated. Even dumpling making turned out to be easy to master.

So the menu was:

Fried pork dumplings (so much easier than I had imagined, and the recipe made 30, so I froze 20 of them for later use). The store didn't have round gyoza wrappers, so I used a cookie cutter to cut rounds of square wonton wrappers. Served with a dipping sauce of soy, balsamic vinegar, and sesame oil.

Cold Tofu Salad. Soft cubed tofu dressed with sesame oil/soy/sherry/vinegar/sugar/spicy chili bean paste and sprinkled with cashews, minced scallion and the pickled ginger in lieu of the Schezewan vegetable.

Duck Breast with Pickled Ginger. Stir fried with sliced garlic, water chestnuts, scallions, and the ginger. The meat was beyond tender, and the sauce tangy and delicious.

I will definitely do this again. There is a braised tofu and a braised pork belly I really want to try. And now we have leftovers to reheat tomorrow. No cute little cardboard take-out boxes, though.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Near-Instant Gratification


I had to try this, so I pulled out a mug and started dumping in ingredients, including the "optional" chocolate chips, mixing it all with a table knife. Because I am Klassy. Here is what the batter looked like.

I put it in the microwave with some trepidation, expecting it to explode everywhere, especially since the batter rose so high in the cup. I laid paper towel underneath, so as to make the inevitable clean-up easier. But surprise! It rose beautifully and nary a drop spilled. Here it is right out of the microwave.

It was a little sticky to unmold from the bottom of the cup, but everything above the bottom couple of inches looked lovely and cylindrical. Young Master Gateau is eating half of it with ice cream, and I will eat the rest later. It may not be the most tender cake in the world, but it's cake. And it really did take all of 5 minutes and a mug.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I received the below in an email today from a colleague at work. We were both lamenting how busy and crazy the last few weeks have been, and noting that chocolate is basically an essential if we are to muddle through. She had gotten this from a friend, and though I have no idea where it comes from or whether it actually would work, I'm intrigued. I think I will try it this weekend, and if successful, will make a dry mix and keep that and the other ingredients handy in the office for Those Days. You know the kind of days I mean. I can't get the pictures to display properly, but basically it looks like a moist and delicious mini molten chocolate cake, about the size of a cansworth of Play-Doh.


The most dangerous cake recipe

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
a small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.

Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts (high).
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!

Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.
EAT! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).

And why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world?

Because now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!
You are going to print this out straight away, aren't you

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Further Adventures in Eating

Last Saturday night, Mr. Gateau and I actually went out to dinner with friends in NYC. Like grown-ups and everything. This was a partial reunion of our Jamaica group, only this time we were nice enough to let Mr. Gateau and Pam's husband come along. I'd always wanted to try Wylie Dufresne's restaurant, WD-50, and everyone was up for what we hoped would be a pretty exciting dinner.

It's hard to describe my overall feelings without sounding utterly disappointed. I wasn't -- the dinner was in fact very good (and the company and atmosphere were perfect). But it wasn't the transporting, innovative experience I'd been hoping for and expecting.

We were the first to arrive, so we sat at the bar and had a drink. They offer an amazingly extensive wine and cocktail list, and I was in the mood for something creative. I've been on a bit of a Manhattan kick lately, so I ordered a Bourbon Bounce, made with Makers Mark, sour cherry, Peychard's, and burnt orange peel, with a giant ice cube and some sour cherries floating in it. It was really delicious, but I'm not convinced it was worth over $16.

We were seated, and the waiter came over to get us started and to find out how familiar we were with the type of cooking the restaurant does. I thought this was a good sign that things were going to be so way out and interesting that we'd need a guide. In the course of this conversation, he pointed out that, though the a la carte menu had plenty to recommend it, the only real way to get the full experience of what "Chef's cuisine is all about" would be to order the $140 9-course tasting menu. Wine extra (though the restaurant is offering a recession special of half-price bottles of wine when you order the tasting menu). Nobody was really up for that, so I asked the waiter which of a couple of entrees was most likely to give me a more full-fledged WD-50 cuisine experience, and he said that it was a good question he'd never been asked, and guided me to the lamb over the duck.

We ordered, and out came a basket of paper-thin crispbread liberally sprinkled with white sesame seeds. These were addictive and delicious, but light, and we enjoyed that with our drinks. In fact, when we told our waiter how much we liked it, he beamed, and said "Yes, well, we lace it with opiates." Hahaha. Ha.

First courses arrived. I chose the sweetbreads:

From the menu description, which was simply "Sweetbreads, peanut, beet-pomegranate, pickled sweet potato" I was expecting a play on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There was a note of that, but really the flavors were in the Thai realm -- the sweetbreads were crusted in crushed peanuts, and very creamy inside. With it were the little diamonds of beet-pomegranate jelly, plus some dots of mint puree and a touch of lemongrass. This was a very delicious dish, though I couldn't have predicted how it would be from the menu description.

Megan had a play on smoky bacon with the lamb belly, served with eggplant, dates, and smoked feta, which stressed the strong gamy taste of the lamb as a stand-in for bacon. John and Pam each had a very visually stunning octopus terrine (see below, partially eaten) served with pine nuts, saffron, and pickled ginger. It had nice flavor, but nothing that blew me away.

Mr. Gateau had foie gras with fennel, malt, and sherry vinegar jam. This had something interesting going on, with foie gras textured like a malted milk ball, and the sherry vinegar jam added nice tang.

John was appointed wine czar, and he kept us supplied with Laurel Clos, Erasmus 2006, which kept us all happy and docile.

We moved onto main courses. I had gone for the lamb loin, which the menu noted included green apple, chartreuse, and "green tomater tots." This was actually just simple slices of medium-rare lamb loin with a natural jus that was slightly flavored with licorice and a streak of tangy raisin sauce, served with pieces of gala apple and celery, and with the green tomato tots (which were delicious, and a very brilliant idea -- clever and comforting). But the lamb, nice as it was, was ordinary, and the chunks and apple and celery seemed like an afterthought.

Pam had the pork ribs with fried plantain, hibiscus, and jerk jus.

Megan had the duck breast with worcestershire spaetzle, parsley root and mustard greens that had tempted me.

Mr. Gateau had monkfish with red pepper oatmeal, turnip, and black olive.

John had wagyu skirt steak with long beans, tamarind, and peanut butter "pasta." This last item was probably the most interesting thing on the table, quite literally pasta made with peanut butter instead of eggs and flour, and it was melting and delicious.

Bites were passed around, another bottle of wine was opened, and discussions of spa and golf weekends future were enjoyed. And then it was onto dessert. WD-50 does something smart, which is to offer 3 or 5 course dessert tasting menus, depending on how deep into it you want to get, and at $38 or $48 per person, that's pretty deep. However, we all opted to order single desserts. I was tempted by a jasmine custard with black tea, but since it is served with bananas, the Devil's own fruit, and I was told the ingredient could not be substituted, I opted for ginger ice cream in a ginger tuile cigar with "spiced bread foam," beet, candied walnuts, and molasses. Basically, this was deconstructed gingerbread, and it was wonderful, the kind of dessert that has you running your finger around the plate to get the last bits.

Pam had cornbread pudding with lemongrass and prune.

Meg went for the hazelnut tart with coconut, chocolate and chicory that she described as "boston cream pie, deconstructed."

while John opted for caramelized brioche with gala apples, sage, and brown butter sorbet.
Mr. Gateau shocked us all by not getting anything chocolate, but instead having cheesecake with pinapple, saffron, lime and pickled raisins, which looked like ice cream dots from the Good Humor man.
Then our waiter was back asking if he could offer "dessert wine, tequila shots, bottles of scotch?" And noting that drugs would involve a separate transaction. Oh tee hee hee. The gentlemen opted for port, while I had an espresso and we finished our wine. A little dish of petits fours arrived, which were centers of sweetened condensed milk ice cream surrounded by chocolate and cocoa, and which tasted like the best frozen Oreos you ever ate. Then it was time to settle up and go. But we weren't done yet, so we decamped for the bar across the street where we topped off with some beers and I had a glass of (less fancy, and less expensive) port.

Bottom line: WD-50 is a really good restaurant, and it's a terrific place to enjoy a night out with friends. It's not a temple of molecular gastronomy, so adjust your expectations accordingly, and don't be afraid to bring less adventurous members of your personal entourage, because we didn't encounter anything that offbeat. It may be more exciting if you're willing to pony up for the tasting menus, but I'm more than a little put off by the notion that unless you're willing to do so, "Chef" isn't going to bring his A-game to mere $30 entrees. And don't forget to bring your wallet. My great-grandparents are no doubt spinning in their graves realizing that I had a $16.75 cocktail where they used to sleep in tenements.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Is it still good for you if it's fried?

I was out at a little lunch place in the Berkshires with my mother and sister, and we noticed they were offering fried chickpeas as a special appetizer. We got an order to share, and we were all instantly transported to the very simple but flavorful seasoned chickpeas my grandmother used to serve along with cheese, chopped liver, crudites, and other simple hors d'oeuvres.

My sister took a stab at it later that week, and reported that my niece loved the fried chickpeas dusted with a little curry powder. So I gave it a shot yesterday, frying one can of drained and rinsed chickpeas (I used the Goya brand, which I generally find are nice and firm and not mushy) in about an inch of canola oil in a deep saucepan. I cooked them until golden brown (and could have even let them crisp longer), drained on paper towels, and then tossed with lemon zest, sea salt, and zaatar, following with a little sprinkle of fresh lemon juice. We devoured them in about 10 minutes, with glasses of Spanish rioja.

Tonight I'm following a pasta recipe from one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, Jeanne Lemlin's Simple Vegetarian Pleasures (yes, someone who has bacon as her personal icon does enjoy vegetarian cooking). It combines cubes of fried extra firm tofu with black olives, roasted peppers, basil, parsley, and garlic over penne. I'm adding capers, sundried tomatoes, and some red pepper flakes for more of a puttanesca flavor. But the bowl of fried tofu chunks sprinkled with soy sauce is going fast just sitting there in the kitchen. Very tasty, crispy bites that are tender in the center. The key: squeeze as much water out of the tofu as you can before cooking to get a nice chewy consistency.