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Monday, May 23, 2016

Sandbar

Sandbar, Cold Spring Harbor, NY

Photo courtesy Sandbar

First of all, I am really sorry about my lapse in posting. Yes, I know my last post pictured a snowy back porch. So much has happened since then! Most importantly, we bought a house. It's a mid-century home with great bones and lots of potential. At last count our project list numbers in the 90s. Yes, I said 90, and that list includes big projects like redoing the entire kitchen, building a woodshop, rewiring the living room, removing carpeting, refinishing floors — you get the drift. So honestly, the house project has taken over my life and what little free time I have. But tonight we got a break. We decided to go out and celebrate a variety of events, including our wedding anniversary and my husband's and mother's birthdays.

Our usual celebration place is Peter Luger's. There are two locations: Williamsburg Brooklyn and Great Neck on Long Island, so it's an easy choice. Hard to beat, massive red meat (aged Porterhouse), but pretty heavy. I was feeling like something new, so I did a little research and found the only James Beard-nominated restaurant on Long Island. Run by chef Guy Reuge, Sandbar is 15 minutes from our house, so off we went.

The restaurant decor is yacht-club-chic with a little Restoration-Hardware-industrial-elegance mixed in. Modern landscape paintings of Long Island, and waiters in khakis and blue-checked shirts. Trés WASPy! The dark wood table was simple (no tablecloth) with beautiful white china, a single white chrysanthemum, and good thin glassware. Silverware could have been better. The menu is small and well-thought-out, with local, seasonal ingredients and many very tempting seafood options.
 
We started with cocktails; a margarita, a vodka tonic, and a Negroni. They were well-mixed and a little strong. They did have a few signature cocktails on the menu, but they were not that interesting and two had ginger in them (I'm allergic), so I went with my old standard.

For appetizers we had the foie gras of the day which was grilled, served with brioche toasts and a dark purple beet purée. When the beautiful dish arrived, I tried to cut the brioche into three pieces (because we were sharing each dish) and the knife slipped and went into the beet purée which splashed all over my mother's face, her orange sweater — wait there's more — I also got the wall, the window sill, and the white curtain. What a mess, I was so embarrassed and the waiter was such a gentleman, thank you! I should mention it was excellent, perfectly grilled with the sweet purée cutting the rich fat flavor. We also had the chickpea fries, which were super light and fluffy, with with chipotle creme — a tiny bit of heat.

The main courses were all superb. Jim tried the special of the day, soft-shell crab. They were simply fresh and delicious, lightly sautéed with a little lemon. Bernice had the duck, nice and crisp, with apricot sauce and her usual: "Please no vegetables, can I have French fries?" I had the swordfish which was moist and flavorful and served with edamame, peas, ramps, and potatoes finished with a Creole emulsion.

  
Left to right: soft-shell crab; duck; swordfish.

The dessert selection was solid, but not mind-blowing. There were about six choices, including ricotta doughnuts and a trio of sorbets. We had the chocolate bread pudding served with booze-soaked cherries and vanilla ice cream and the toasted lemon pound cake served with coffee ice cream. They were fantastic!

Besides the fact that the waiter did not know what the foie gras of the day was when I asked, and that the butter was ice cold (which kind of kills the warm bread service), I would have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this meal.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Snow Day!

 
Projects to do on an unexpected day at home
Yesterday we had a major snowstorm on Long Island. It took us one-and-a-half hours to shovel the stairs, the path to the car, and then release the car from the 3-foot snow drift that covered it. Aside from a sore back, it was kind of fun. This morning I carefully walked to the train station on the black ice in the dark, only to find the trains (in spite of the MTA website saying things were running on schedule) were not actually running. So I turned around and headed home.
Now what do I do?

It's time to bake bread! One kind of bread I have never tried is a classic baguette. So I went to Food52, my go-to reliable food website and found this recipe, here we go:

Dan Leader's 4 hour Baguette

Makes 3 baguettes

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup (12 ounces) tap water, heated to 115° F
1 teaspoon (1/8 ounce) active dry yeast
3 1/4 cups (14 2/3 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons (3/8 ounces) kosher salt
Canola oil, for greasing bowl
1/2 cup ice cubes

Procedure
Whisk together water and yeast in a large bowl; let sit until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes. Add flour, and stir with a fork until dough forms and all flour is absorbed; let dough sit to allow flour to hydrate, about 20 minutes. Add salt, then transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place bowl in a cold oven or microwave. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and shape into an 8-inch x 6-inch rectangle. Fold the 8-inch sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center, like a T-shirt. Return dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic again, and return to oven. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Remove bowl with dough from oven, and place a cast–iron skillet on the bottom rack of oven; position another rack above skillet, and place a baking stone or upside down or rimless sheet pan on it.

Heat oven to 475° F. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and cut into three equal pieces; shape each piece into a 14-inch rope. Flour a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet; place ropes, evenly spaced, on paper. Lift paper between ropes to form pleats; place two tightly rolled kitchen towels under long edges of paper, creating supports for the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let sit until it doubles in size, about 50 minutes.

Uncover; remove towels, and flatten paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor, knife, bread lame, or scissors, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle in four spots; each slash should be about 4 inches long. Pull out the oven rack with the stone or baking sheet on it and, using the corner of the parchment paper as a guide, slide the loaves, still on the parchment paper, onto the baking stone or pan. Place ice cubes in skillet (this produces steam that lets the loaves rise fully before a crust forms). Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes; cool before serving.Where's the butter?

Okay so those are the original instructions which I found really confusing. I just put the dough ropes on a silpat, let them rise and then slid it onto the hot, up-side-down sheet pan in the oven. Check out the photos, they came out pretty well.

 
 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Holiday Projects

As 2015 comes to an end, I thought I would take a few moments to highlight some of my recent holiday projects. Usually I celebrate Christmas with a classic Chinese take-out dinner, but this year I was lucky enough to be invited to a traditional Italian feast. It was amazing — there must have been 12 courses, each better than the next. In addition to the fish courses, there was an assortment of meats, pasta, and veggies. Italian sautéed broccoli rabe with garlic and lemon, how can that be bad?


In terms of house decorations, I limit that to our front door. Each year I make a wreath. I try to use recycled junk I find around the house. In previous years, I have used brass nails, police caution tape, and stainless steel scrub pads. Last year I collected (with the help of my commuting friends) over 100 used Metro cards which made quite a festive display. This year, my decorating took a slightly more political turn as I felt the need to express my horror over the abundance of guns in American culture. I thought it would be so easy to buy plastic guns. But ironically, it would have been easier for me to purchase real guns than kid’s toys (which seem to be heavily regulated in wealthy white neighborhoods). Fortunately a co-worker who lives in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn had no trouble getting the guns.


For holiday foods, I basically limited my production to desserts. I find you can’t go wrong with a fruit tart. Easy to start ahead of time, filling variations are endless, and winter fruits work perfectly. Here's the basic recipe:

Fruit tart

This is a great recipe because it’s done in an electric mixer. If rolling the dough freaks you out, you can simply push it into the bottom and sides of a tart pan with your hands. This recipe makes enough for 2 tart crusts and you can keep the extra dough in the refrigerator for a week, or you can freeze it.

Almond pastry crust ingredients
12 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, minus 3 tablespoons
(used for rolling out dough)

Almond pastry crust procedure
Cream the butter, sugar, and extract until light and fluffy in the bowl of your electric mixer. Slowly add the flour until the dough holds together. Turn out on floured board and give a few turns. Refrigerate for 1 hour before using. This dough can either be rolled out or pushed into a tart pan with a removable bottom. Bake fully in a 350 oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. I line the shell with plastic wrap and then use pie weights to make sure the crust bakes flat. Let cool before filling.

Cream filling ingredients
2 cups cream cheese (regular or low fat)
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one lemon, orange, or lime

Cream filling procedure
Whip up everything till smooth. If you want to get creative, you can add a bit of booze (Cassis, Rum, Brandy, Triple Sec) or you can experiment with different extracts. You can also fold some melted chocolate into the cream cheese.

Preparing the fruit and assembly
If using apples and pears, I like to slice thinly and gently sauté in a little butter and brown sugar. If using berries, all you have to do pop them in place. I usually brush the inside of the baked tart shell with white chocolate to keep it from getting soggy. Then the evenly spread the cream filling, and carefully lay out the fruit slices in a fan pattern. If you like a shiny finish, melt some jelly with a little water and brush it on the fruit. I like to use apricot glaze but any kind works.


These cookiee were a simple variation on a chocolate chip cookie, with the addition of fresh pomegranate seeds, orange zest, and rosemary.


Another easy, festive addition to the holiday is a seasonal beverage. Now that fresh berries are available year round, I see no reason not to serve this yummy drink.

blackberry gin cocktail

Ingredients
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
6 large blackberries
1/2 ounce crème de cassis
1/2 ounce simple syrup (heat equal amounts sugar and water until sugar is melted; cool before using)
1 1/2 ounces Gin
Blackberries for garnish

Procedure
Combine the lemon juice and blackberries in a rocks glass and muddle until the berries are broken up. Fill the glass with ice. Combine Crème de Cassis, simple syrup, and gin in a cocktail shaker and stir to combine. Add to the berry/lemon mixture, stir and garnish with additional blackberries.

 
And finally, I made a small croquembouche. Not my best effort, but in my defense I did not have the right pastry bag or tips (much of my kitchen is packed in anticipation of our next move). It tasted good but looked a bit wonky.

That's all till New Year's Eve, when I am planning to make and document a great meal! Pace yourself till then.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thanksgiving Tips 2015

My People! Rula is here for you! I know, I know, for some of you, cooking for Thanksgiving can be very stressful. That's why you should go check out my surefire hints to improve the evening's meal:

Rula Gives Good Bird

Yes, fellow Pilgrims, these are the same tips I post every year, but — like me — they never go out of style!

Since she's moved back to New York, New York, Stacy will not be on the Radio Café with Mary-Charlotte this year. Those of you who are used to hearing her on KSFR the morning before Thanksgiving will just have to content yourselves with listening to the eight years of Radio Café podcast archives that feature Stacy's Thanksgiving tips. Maybe next year they can work out some sort of wireless, satellite hookup or something. Technology — how do I even?

Well, my little Sweet Potatoes, it's back to Brooklyn for me — my gravy boat has come in! Ciao!