Archives for April 2011

Social Eatz-Celebrity Restaurant Done Right

Oh, celebrity restaurants. How nervous you make me. The hype. The hubbub. The hair gel your chefs wear on the numerous television interviews they give. And yet, sometimes they are awesomely delicious. Other times…not so much. So how did Social Eatz fare?
 Disclaimer: I was predisposed to like this place. I LOVED Angelo Sosa’s previous restaurant, Xie Xie, and often chatted with Angelo himself, who I found to be a sweet, passionate and talented chef and person. I still dream of the complicated and fragrant Fish Cha Ca La Vong sandwich in its turmeric glaze on that crunchy bread…so Social Eatz has been on my radar since it opened. I have missed that Asian fusion flare!
 Social Eatz is a small but roomy restaurant with long benches at tables and a small bar at the front. Be aware that there are no chairs with backs, so this might not be the best place to bring Granny for her 90th birthday.
Unless she is really fit. In which case, kudos to Granny!
 Smoked Ribs: Asian soul food, st. louis pork ribs marinated in mesquite-smoked tamarind, slow cooked to perfection. comes with a pineapple bbq sauce laced with gochujang, an aged Korean pepper sauce. 
This appetizer was delicious – one of my favorite menu items of the night! Melt-in-your-mouth pork ribs that fell apart when you looked at them were bathed in a sweet, salty and tangy sauce. Be aware, these are not charred or crispy at all, which some people might dislike, but I really just go for soft, tender ribs. So this is right up my alley. The tamarind provided the sugar and the pineapple provided a bit of acidity that kept the sauce from being over the top on the sweet side. It wasn’t very spicy, but a quick squirt from the Sriracha bottle on the table fixed that. Awesome ribs, and I would definitely come back for these.
 Chop-Chop Salad With Tangerine Vinaigrette- bite-size cut romaine, mixed with avocado and tomato, sugar snap peas, shrimp and a six-minute egg. drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and the tangy juice of a tangerine.The salad was pretty much just that –  a salad. Albeit a good one, one I could make at home. The veggies were fresh but nothing extraordinary. The dressing was predominantly sweet, and the egg was more medium than soft – no runny yolk here. The shrimp was excellent – sweet and snappy, not overcooked, properly cleaned. It was a good salad, but why would you wast stomach space when you could have…
 Fries with Sake Cheese sauce – AKA, DELICIOUS homemade Cheez Whiz. THIS is the STUFF, people. Crispy, McDonald’s style fries, dusted in a zesty house seasoning, served with mild, melty cheese sauce. It tastes homemade but reminds you of that AWESOME chemically stuff.
I really miss eating more chemically stuff. Ignorance was bliss, indeed.
These are FABULOUS. If you are a fry lover, don’t miss these.
If you aren’t a fry lover…what the hell is wrong with you?
 Imperialist Hot Dog made with organic chicken, served on a toasty bun, smothered in sweet and spicy relish.This is a signature dish and it was certainly delicious. More on the sweet than the savory side, it had that homey, comforting taste that roast chicken has juxtaposed with exotic spices like cinnamon and cumin. The relish was not too spicy – I found that a bit sweet as well, but – once again! – the Sriracha bottles are there for a reason. A soft bun, crunchy lettuce and razor-thin shards of sweet raw onions gave a fresh note to the hearty sausage. A successful new spin on an old favorite. 
Social Eatz is good. I wouldn’t say it is a destination restaurant, but perhaps it doesn’t mean to be one. It lacks the complexity and intricate flavors of Xie Xie, but it is a different restaurant altogether.It wants to be a clean, slightly trendy restaurant with tasty food that people can visit with their families or on first dates with equal levels of comfort. It is familiar, it is well priced, and it really is delicious. It is, in short, a celebrity restaurant done right. 
And, yes, these REALLY ARE the signs for the bathroom.
Social Eatz on Urbanspoon

Cheddar Mashed Potato Souffle

There must be a thousand variations of mashed potatoes out there. Thin versions, thick versions, versions with milk and butter and olive oil and…probably tofu. Somewhere, in Hell, that recipe probably exists.
But this is one of my favorites. Don’t worry…no tofu in sight. 
Preheat the oven, first, to 325 F.
 Start with plain mashed potatoes at room temperature – they can’t be hot. Simply boiled, mashed potatoes that you have mashed with a potato masher or a fork…or, if you are Herman Munster, your fists. Figure on one potato per person you are serving.
Also have some grated cheese on hand. Gruyere or Fontina work well here, but I can’t help it. I just LOVE the taste of plain old extra sharp cheddar. About 1 cup per 2 potatoes.
Now you are going to toss in some eggs. One egg per potato – this is why the potatoes can’t be hot. If they are, the eggs will scramble. And duh…that would suck. Make sure you mix up the potatoes until the eggs are JUST combined – otherwise, too much gluten will develop and make the potatoes gluey.
Now toss in a healthy handful each of salt and pepper (more pepper than salt, because the cheese is salty. And potatoes LOVE pepper. They are so smooth and comforting, the need the sharp and spicy zing of freshly cracked pepper. So don’t be shy here.).
 Now throw in 3/4 of your grated cheese and enough whole milk to make the potatoes mix easily – about 1/4 cup per potato or so. Don’t use skim milk here. If you do, I will hunt you down.
Now mix it all up well – but remember, just until it is mixed. Don’t want to develop that gluten.
 Now throw the potatoes in a casserole dish, top with some pats of butter (just use your common sense here – obviously, more is better)…
top with the cheese, and throw it in the oven! You really just need to cook it until the dish is warmed through and the cheese is melted and bubbly. The eggs cook quickly, and everything else is already cooked. It is done when the bottom of the casserole is hot and the cheese…
Looks like this. And the taste…
Well, the taste is really pretty damn outrageous, mostly because…well, there IS nothing outrageous about it. IT is creamy but not overly so. Luxurious but not fatty. Cheesy but not greasy. Flavorful but not aggressive. It just really tastes like it should. Like potatoes, tangy, bubbly cheese, a quick bite of pepper and the smooth counteraction of cream. The eggs make the potatoes puff up slightly and give an airy juxtaposition to the heavier ingredients. That moment when you break through the cheesy crust and the puff of steamy air releases and gives ways to those rich and buttery potatoes…well, it is just heaven.
And, what did I tell ya? No tofu in sight.

Matzah Candy

It has been kind of dessert heavy here at Fritos and Foie Gras, but that is mostly because on Passover, really all I crave are potatoes and sweets since I can’t have so many other things I love. And when I go without bread…you go without bread.
You know how we love to suffer.
If you can actually call the below recipe suffering:
Matzah Candy:
 First, line a cookie sheet (with a lip around the edge) with SEVERAL sheets of tinfoil. Don’t do just one. You will be sorry.
 Then, take your matzah. You could use cardboard (they taste the same), but what the heck? Keep it traditional and use the matzah! Oh, and if you use the salted kind, it is especially delicious.
Line the sheet with the matzahs. Break them up and fill in holes on the sheet as necessary, until the entire sheet is a matzah landscape.
Now you want to melt 4 sticks of butter (for 2 boxes of matzah)
And throw in 2 boxes of brown sugar(again, for 2 boxes. Adjust as necessary for more or less matzah)
It should look pretty good while the butter melts.
And it should look AMAZING when the mixture starts to boil and thicken. You want to keep boiling the caramel until it is quite thick and dark. Not burnt, but until the sugar absorbs all the fat from the butter and there is just the slightest scent of burnt sugar in the air. It should be pleasant, not at all off putting.
Now you just want to pour that caramel CAREFULLY all over the matzah. Note that I say carefully, because if the caramel touches you…you may just get a third degree burn.
But it is incredibly worth the risk. Because it’s just as delicious as it looks.
Then, you sprinkle the whole thing with sliced almonds (you can skip this if you are allergic or don’t like nuts) and place it in the oven at 450 F for about 3 minutes or…
until it looks like THIS. Bubbling and matte instead of shiny, with the smell of almonds intermingling with the bubbling aroma of brown sugar.
Now – while it is still BOILING hot-sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Use whatever kind you like -I think semi sweet or dark is best, because the next step is… 
Pouring white chocolate chips over the top.
Then you spread away, letting the heat melt the chips, let the whole thing cool, and then…EAT IT!
This is just so good. The incredibly bland matzah stays firm and crunchy beneath its crisp layer of sugary, crumbly caramel, fatty almonds, sweet white chocolate and deep, darker chocolate. It is INCREDIBLY sweet, but the salt in the matzah balances that, and so do the almonds. You can only have a couple of squares of this before it becomes overkill. Chances are you will eat too much the first time you make it. It’s worth the stomachache. Somewhere between a chocolate bar, vanilla fudge and pralines, it is just perfection. It can keep for weeks in the fridge in a Tupperware, but it won’t. You will eat it.
And don’t worry…tomorrow, I promise to give you a potato recipe.

The Best Cheesecake on Earth

Let’s just get one thing straight: I KNOW cheesecake.
I have eaten Coeur de Creme in France, ricotta cheesecake in Italy and Oreo cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory. I have had frozen cheesecake bites, cheesecake lollipops and cheesecake-flavored cream cheese spread.
Let’s just say that I have eaten my fair share of cheesecake. Just ask my ever-expanding hips for proof.
But never, EVER have I had a cheesecake as mouth-droppingly delicious as my Marmie’s cheesecake.
It’s so good, it’s just…nuts! (No, really…the crust is entirely made of sugar, butter, and nuts)
The Best Cheesecake on Earth:
1 lb. mixed nuts
1.5 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. melted butter
4 blocks softened cream cheese
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
6 eggs
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. vanilla or to taste
Special equipment:
1. Take the nuts – I like a mixture of pecans, walnuts and almonds – and blitz them in the food processor until it is pebbly and ground but not super fine like pepper.
That’s about right. You still want some bigger chunks in there. Don’t worry if you overgrind it, it just will have a finer, more crumbly texture than a denser, cookie like texture.
2. Now preheat your oven to 325F.
3. Now add one cup of sugar. 
4. Time to tinfoil your springform pan. This makes cleanup a breeze and prevents any possible batter dripping. 
5. Now, put the nut mixture into the pan and dribble the melted butter into the pan. Mix the butter around to make the whole nut mixture moistened. Feel free to use more if your nuts absorb the butter too quickly. 
6. Now it’s time for the CAKE part! Toss the cream cheese into your stand mixer (or bowl, so you can mix it with your handheld mixer).
7. Now start to whip the cheese, and as you do, pour in the sweetened condensed milk.
8. Keep mixing, and toss the eggs and the lemon juice. 
9. Add the vanilla and the sugar. Beat the mixture till everything is incorporated. 
10. Now pour it into the prepared pan, put it in a modified bain marie *just a large roasting pan filled up with some water* and let it cook in the oven for about 80 minutes, checking it every 10 minutes after the first 50 minutes. You want the cake to be firm but NOT stiff. It can still jiggle a little in the middle when you shake it. And don’t cook it so long it gets cracked – that means it’s overcooked. Then, let chill for at least two hours or overnight.
11. Serve.
This cheesecake is dense, creamy, vanilla-y joy. It isn’t sugary, tooth-achingly sweet, but tastes clean and gently sweet, like fresh cream. It is not airy or artificially sweet like lesser cheesecakes are. It is good with some raspberry jam spread on top, but even better on its own. On top of those buttery, rich nuts, the thick and rich cheesecake topping is simultaneously dessert and breakfast. I mean, that’s how I eat it. And that’s how you will too. I guarantee you that if you try this cheeescake, you will NEVER make it another way again.
And, remember…I know my cheesecake.

Candied Nuts – Keeping Passover Awesome

Being Jewish has many great connotations. Intelligence, sense of humor, athletic ability…was I able to slip that last one by ya?
One of those great connotations is not, unfortunately, the 8 days of Passover. Most people who aren’t Jewish seem to view it as a tedious and obnoxious chore where the Chosen People must go without the Chosen Carb (bread) for over a week. No sandwiches?? No pizza? And we have to eat CARDBOARD??? (some call it matzoh, but they are naive or idiots. It looks and tastes just like cardboard).
But I see it as a challenge. An invitation to make new and delicious things to satisfy my hunger when I can’t have a cookie or a quesadilla.
This is the PERFECT time to indulge in French fries, steaks and…might I add…
Candied Nuts?
Just put 3/4 a cup of sugar and 1/2 a cup of water in a pot over high heat. Make sure the water touches all of the sugar.
Then dump in a pound of  nuts. Pecans work well here, but I love the way that walnuts taste here -they are meatier and have enough savory taste to offset the sugar.
Now stir the mixture over high heat. 
Keep stirring as it thickens. Don’t stop or it will burn. 
And yes, kids…if you French Kiss each other, your hair WILL FALL OUT
One of those things is actually true. Up to you to decipher which is which.
The water will eventually evaporate, and you will be left with glossy, shiny walnuts, but don’t stop here! Keep stirring for a few moments until…
Aah…The sugar starts to crystallize on the nuts in small clumps, the nuts turn from glossy to matte and the room begins to smell of caramel that is JUST starting to get its deliciously bitter edge.
Now turn off the heat and toss the nuts onto nonstick foil to cool, in a single layer.
Wait for them to cool until you try them, unless you actually have an asbestos tongue.
In about 10 minutes, take a taste.
Sweet, fatty, nutty, caramel-y goodness that is as good on vanilla ice cream as it is in granola as it is out of hand. I love to put it in a salad with red wine vinaigrette, red oak lettuce, shaved red onions, blue cheese crumbles and sliced granny smith apples.
But, I’m kinda gangsta.
I mean…look at how awesome I just made Passover?

Hubig’s Fried Pies

Who doesn’t love a pie? I mean, really? Flaky, buttery crust, sweet and juicy filling, as perfect for breakfast as it is for dessert…honestly. You would have to be a masochist not to enjoy pie. Of course, the only thing better than a slice of pie is a whole pie.
And these little handheld pies from Hubig’s(the company awesomely sent me some samples) REALLY fit the bill. Hubigs is a New Orleans based company that makes pies and only pies. Pineapple, lemon, chocolate cream and a plethora of other flavors.
 And, oh yeah…they are fried. 
Frying them results in an incredibly light crust, flaky and rich at the same time (more savory than sweet) encasing the most delicious flavors. Sweet and tart lemon, delightfully sugary pineapple and – my personal favorite – creamy, rich sweet potato that melded perfectly with the powdered sugar glaze on top of the pie. Hubigs is just delicious. It is like those old fashioned McDonald’s fried apple pies on Delicious Steroids. These are comforting enough to eat alone at home and unique enough to serve as dessert at a get-together. They can only be found in New Orleans, but they ship everywhere!
If that didn’t convince you…perhaps my little ditty will!

Union Square Cafe – A Golden Oldie

I have to admit…I have been here before. I just haven’t blogged it. But when I ate here for lunch, I knew that it deserved a place on the blog. So what if it has been famous for decades? So what if everyone and their mother has written about it? So what if I like to watch Teen Mom 2 while playing online poker?
Whoops, off topic.
Anyway…I knew the time had come to visit once again to make sure that Union Square Cafe wasn’t just an oldie, but a goodie.
As Danny Meyer’s first restaurant, Union Square Cafe is an elegant but unfussy space that has several rooms, all with enough tables to look busy, but not so many that one feels cramped.
The bread was warm, but not what I would call exceptional. The baguette was a bit cottony and the whole grain lacked the sour or nutty flavors that really great grainy bread has. The olives, however, were outstanding and worthy of mention. Meaty, juicy olives were just salty enough, oily and even sweet with some orange rind in there. I could have eaten the whole bowl.
Actually, I did eat the whole bowl. 
The day’s special was a Crispy Pig Ear Salad with Upland Cress, Candied Pistachios, and Champagne Mustard Vinaigrette. Our INSANELY cool server told us that the chef had just picked up the pig’s ears and the cress (which isn’t actually related to watercress, it is a microgreen) from the farmer’s market that morning. Wow. Fresh. And…freakin amazing. The pig’s ear (one of my FAVORITE parts of the pig) was fried to crispy, greaseless perfection. An airy layer of crunch surrounded a tender, incredibly porky layer of meat. Pig’s ear can be tough if it is not cooked well, but this was exceptional. The candied pistachios added a nutty and substantial component to the dish, while the cress was incredibly herby and fragrant. The champagne vinaigrette was extremely tart, which cut through the fatty aspects of the salad.
Bibb and Red Oak Leaf Lettuce Salad with Gruyère and Dijon Vinaigrette is always on the menu and I ALWAYS get it. The lettuces are so fresh and taste so different – the Bibb is soft and almost ethereal in its lightness and the Red Oak is crunchy and earthy. Dressed in the LIGHTEST, most mild vinaigrette imaginable, neither oil nor vinegar nor mustard is discernible, just the cohesive elements. Here, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The croutons are deliciously crunchy and soaked in roasted garlic and oil and the gruyere cheese is nutty, salty and rich next to the light lettuces.
These two salads just prove how DIFFERENT and DELICIOUS salads can be…they get a bad rap, you know?
I mean, just throw a pig ear on it and some 3,000 calorie croutons and you are good to go!
Our server heard us exclaiming about the food and brought us a complimentary dish she thought we might enjoy. Please note that she did not know that I would be reviewing this meal – she just wanted us to try it. Like all Danny Meyer restaurants, the level of hospitality here is just non-pareil. This was the Spanish Mackerel Crudo, Artichoke Puree, Olive Tapenade, and Chili Oil. The mackerel was SO light and mild it tasted more like hamachi than anything else! The artichoke puree was fresh, vegetal and incredibly artichokey, and there seemed to be no salt other than that from the olives. The light hand with the seasoning let the fish and the artichokes shine – a combination I would not have made, but the lightness of both really complimented each other, especially with the slight heat from the chili. 
Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano. Do yourself a favor, and get a pasta dish here. It is all housemade and it is all delicious. 
Yes I just made a blanket statement…and I stand by it.
The pappardelle was smooth, toothsome but not hard and rich with yolks. It was with a long braised pork ragout that tasted of sage and perhaps juniper berries…truly aromatic, complex and deep. The boar was less sweet than pork usually is, with a heartier and slightly gamy taste – not unpleasant, but the way that lamb is gamy. Rich and a little wild tasting, hitting flavor darker and deeper notes that pork does not often hit. With a sprinkling of Parmesan, this dish came together on a creamy high note.
And that is what this whole meal was…a high note. Well priced, well fed and EXTREMELY well served, we left feeling as if we had REALLY had an experience, with people who loved to cook and eat as much as we do. You have to make a reservation, often weeks in advance, because this place fills up, but it is worth it. Cause sometimes an oldie really is a goody.
Union Square Cafe on Urbanspoon

Zigolini’s Pizza – Wood-Fired Pizza in Midtown NYC

Midtown has a couple of great pizza places – but most of them are nontraditional. They are delicious and craveable, but sometimes you don’t want a blue cheese-buffalo chicken pizza on gluten free cornmeal spelt crust, you know?
That’s what I was NOT in the mood for when I headed to Zigolini’s for lunch. I felt like plain old pizza today  -that perfect blending of dairy, veggie and bread that would leave me satisfied and comforted. Zigolini’s is a pizza-wine bar that has branches downtown and uptown, the specialize in wood fired pizzas and wine.
The midtown location is a long, narrow building with minimalist decor and that huge oven in the back. Very relaxed, but still nice enough to take your mom for lunch.
Or have her take you. Go on, it feels GREAT to be a mooch, especially when you feel like some classic pizza.
The bread is worth mention. Fluffy, chewy, nutty pizza dough topped with olive oil and some sweet caramelized onions.  I love pizza dough – I am one of those people that hoards other peoples’ crusts like they are pots of gold and I am a leprechaun – so this was a hell of a winning situation for me. 
The Caesar Salad was less so. The romaine was fresh and crunchy, but the dressing was extremely bland. Too creamy, not at all lemony, garlicky or peppery enough. It tasted like it was mostly mayonnaise with a bit of Parmesan. Not horrible, but not what I want in a Caesar.
The Margherita di Burrata with Tomato Sauce, Basil and Burrata di Buffalo DOC. DOC means that this cheese is from a certain region of Italy – basically it is the real deal. So, was this pizza the real deal? Was it everything I wanted and craved?

Well…yes, and no. It had thin crust that was chewy and a bit floppy rather than crispy, but that was because it was so thin. The sauce was PERFECTION – just sweet, tart tomatoes and the taste of sweet basil at the end of the bite. The cheese was much smoother and creamier than standard mozzarella, but with the same stringiness that makes mozz so great. It was really just what you might say you look for in a pizza, if you were asked. The flavors were copacetic and fresh…
The char wasn’t as dark as I like it, but it wasn’t bad….
But…as Marmie said…this was kind of the “un-pizza.” As it – SO light, SO pure that it kind of left us…hungry for more. Not unsatisfied but…not really fulfilling of our pizza cravings either. You desire that pool of grease sitting on the top of the pizza. You love those zesty tastes of oregano in your sauce. You kind of WANT that slightly bloated feeling after pizza. 
Well…I do.
So would I go back to Zigolini’s? I would, but only for a light snack with friends. The price was right, the staff was great, and the pizza was just what traditional pizza should be, on paper, but in reality…I need some more oomph to my za! I want it to have a crunchy, carby crust! I want a little oregano in my crust! And for the love of all that is holy, let’s LOAD that baby down with cheese!
And maybe next time, I should just give in and try topping my pie with buffalo chicken and blue cheese.
Zigolinis Pizza Bar on Urbanspoon

Vandaag – Redefining Holland, One Bitterballen at a Time

When I hear Holland I think, in this order:
That is it. Don’t think of food at all, least of all EXCITING food.
 So imagine my shock when I had a totally surprising and interesting meal at Vandaag, the new Dutch-inspired restaurant in the East Village.
Airy, modern and cheeky, the restaurant is part hipster, part art gallery and part 1990’s loft. Think the apartment in “Big” if it took place in Brooklyn and made stellar cocktails.
 The charge you for the bread basket. Pay the $6. The sweet honey bread, the crispy flatbread and the yeasty beer bread are all made on premises and interesting and delicious enough that they warrant the price tag.
 They go delightfully with the seasonal pickles. This pot included cucumbers, pears and cabbage. The cabbage was a TOTAL standout – tender but still with a crunch, and with a delightful sweetness that balanced the tart, vinegary taste perfectly. The other pickles were delicious, too, but what can I say…I am a SUCKER for cabbage. That grassy, deep taste just pulls me in every time. 
Of course, the breads also go swimmingly with the two spreads they come with. The brown one is a light, fragrant lentil spread that was warm with cinnamon and lightly spicy, and the light one is a juniper gin butter that had the sweet creaminess of butter tempered by the clean, lightly acidic taste of gin. 
The amuse bouche, consisting of salmon salad and sauerkraut on a pumpernickel toast, was everything that it should be – soft, meaty, smoky, tangy and pleasantly fishy on a crispy toast that tasted deeply of pumpernickel. It was fresh and inviting, making my appetite stronger.

The Romaine Salad with Sausage, Pistachios and Herring Vinaigrette. A unique and wholly delicious take on a Caesar salad. Sweet and tender baby romaine collides with fatty pistachios, delightfully salty sausage and just enough herring to bring a briny, funky umami taste to the dish. It seems so off, but it just WORKS.
That happens sometimes, ya know?

Bitterballen-Slow Braised Oxtail Croquet with Mustard Relish.
This is the sort of dish that makes a night. Tender, fatty, rich oxtail encased in a crunchy but not hard exterior, served piping hot. The mustard was a bit spicy and tart enough to cut through the oxtail’s fattiness. This was a little heavy, in the MOST pleasant way, and was a cross between a meatball, a croquette and a wonderful beef stew. This was a total standout.
Hot Lightening – Roasted Fingerlings, Bacon, Apples and Stroop Syrup.
Possibly the only time I have actually WISHED that I was hungover. Because I would just LOVE to taste this dish’s restorative properties the way that it should be tasted. This is a hearty, meaty, spicy, sweet mixture that craves only a poached egg’s creamy yolk to dress it. Other than that, this was perfection. The bacon was lightly spicy, which paired so well with the apple’s tartness and the stroop syrup’s maple-y sweet effect. The potatoes were crisp yet tender and absorbed the sugary and salty flavors of the rest of the dish. This is REALLY what you want after one too many of these:
(which was drank here…and MUCH enjoyed!)
Mussels steamed in Mead and Green Garlic with Garlic Toasts.
Mead is a GREAT counterpart for mussels! Sweeter than beer, but with that aggressive yeastiness that compliments the sweet, meaty mollusks so well, it just brings out the mussel’s mild oceanic flavors. The garlic was surprisingly strong, but not aggressive – just pungent and garlicky the way that gently cooked garlic is. It was not overpowering or abrasive, just a bright and clean flavor that brought another level to the dish. This didn’t taste like any other mussel dish I have ever had. It was so unique and of its own accord. Let’s put it this way…I tipped the bowl into my mouth at the end of the meal. Without a spoon. 
Keeping it classy, NYC.
And Vandaag is nothing if not classy. Efficient service, hip decor and an insanely delicious and inventive menu. I really can’t compare it to anything else, because – it isn’t LIKE anything else. It is heavy, light, spicy, sweet and funky all at once. I can’t WAIT to go back and try some of their delicious looking cocktails. And their hen for 2.
And now when I think of Holland, I might just think of bitterballen along with windmills.
Vandaag on Urbanspoon

Beef Stew and Truffle Polenta, Mountain-Man Style

I have never been accused of being a “dainty” girl. Fun? Yes. Smart? Sure. But dainty? Never. Somewhere  between my lack of hand-eye coordination and my incredible ability to burp on cue, I have just never been called dainty.
And oh yeah…I like meat. And cream. And thick, hearty stews.
Real moutain-man type food.
Make this for your inner mountain-man. I promise he will be thrilled.

 A couple of pounds of high quality meat – we used stew beef, because you really want those fatty cuts that will break down during the cooking process and become velvety and tender.

Rinse and dry each piece of meat, then toss it in a bowl of salt and peppered flour. Shake off each piece and…
Toss them into a large olive-oiled stockpot on medium high! You want to get a nice brown sear on all sides to lock in the juices during the long cooking process. Be careful that the pieces of meat are not uber-crowded, or else the meat will steam not sear.
Guh-ross. We don’t want a meat sauna there.
Once they are nice and seared on all sides-maybe just a minute a side or so-you can start to prep the vegetables.

Peel and slice carrots into medium sized pieces – don’t slice them too small, or they will dissolve in there!

 And dice the celery into small pieces because that does not get mushy like carrots do, no matter now long it cooks. It will get tender, but it won’t dissolve into nothingness in your mouth like mushy carrots.

Toss the veggies in the pot!

 Now time to add 2 boxes of stock(any kind you like, but we used beef), 1 disc of demiglace and about 2 cups of red wine.

Then tie up a bundle of herbs with a piece of thread and toss it in. This way, you don’t even have to chop any herbs. What is edible will fall off and dissolve into the stew, and the woody stems and herbs will remain whole and just be fished out at the end. I used rosemary, thyme, sage and a couple of bay leaves
Threw some whole peeled garlic cloves in there too.
Then we preheated the oven to 250, foiled the top of the pot…

AND put the lid on. Ain’t no way there was steam escaping this! The whole point is to let the steam that acquires during the beef’s cooking come up to the top and then have no choice but to return back to the stew and make the beef incredibly moist and juicy.
We have our ways of making our proteins cooperate, here at Fritos and Foie Gras.
Now leave that in the stove, UNTOUCHED for 2 hours. It’s hard, I know. Mommy loves you, you will be fine.
You may have noticed that onions were conspicuously absent. That’s because, like the carrots, we wanted the onions to stay relatively whole. But unlike carrots, onions are incredibly fast cooking. Also, we wanted to use small, sweet pearl onions here. You know…those ones that take FOREVER to peel. Those ones that really aren’t even WORTH it because they are so miserable to peel. So, what’s a gal to do?
1)Boil pearl onions (at least 1 bag) for about 5 minutes, or until knife tender.
2)Take off the MEREST TIP of the root end – just want to take the roots off, still want the onion all attached so it doesn’t come apart.
3)Pinch the onion at the top and the onions should pop right out of the skins. Leave them as is for now. You might want to try just one. But try not to eat them ALL if you can help it…they are so sweet and have the most delightful velvety-firm texture that it is hard not to instantly devour them all. 
You could serve mashed potatoes with this, or wide egg noodles, or even just a hunk of crusty sourdough bread.
But what the hell…how about polenta? In case you havent’ had it, polenta is just cornmeal, so it is like slightly finer milled grits or slightly more textural masa. Every culture loves a good cornmeal dish! There is slow cooking and fast cooking polenta. The fast cooking kind is pretty damn delicious, but since we had to wait those 2 hours for the stew anyway…what the heck? Slow cooking it was!
Lots of different kinds of stock.

Plus a touch of wine…

and some cream…duh. Cause cream is awesome.
Then you are going to pour as much liquid in a large pot as it says on your package of polenta that the polenta needs to cook. Note that you may need to add more liquid as the time goes – we ended up needing a 1:1 polenta:liquid ratio to get the creamy, slightly liquid texture we wanted.
Add the polenta, and you are ready to go! Keep stirring the polenta liquid mixture so it doesn’t burn at the bottom. Start with the amount of liquid that the package calls for, and only add more liquid if the mixture gets too thick or starts to seize.
Now take a nice block of cheese…gorgozola or fontina would be lovely, but this truffle pecorino was a real treat. You want something with good meltability and a bit of its own flavor. Mozzarella would be too mild for this purpose.                                                                                                                                                       
Chop it up.

 And for heaven’s sake, keep stirring!

 In about 20 minutes (no whining, it’s good to build up arm muscles!) you will get this thick, luscious looking mixture that is positively loaded with truffle taste and aroma. If you don’t use the truffle cheese, you can always just splash a wee bit of truffle oil in there (sorry, Serious Eats, I still like the stuff!).
Let the polenta sit. It will thicken as it cools, and you can either cut it into wedges and lightly saute it, or – as I prefer – gently reheat it when serving time approaches and serve it mashed-potato style.

Has it been 2 hours? Good! Uncover the pot in the oven and SMELL that beefy, winey goodness. Toss the onions in, along with salt, pepper and…

 An entire small can of tomato paste. Let it simmer, covered but not foiled, for another half hour.

 Then skim the fat…

and enjoy (along with a delicious mushroom ragout, if you must…clearly, I must…)

This is just insanely delicious.  Juicy, tender beef, sweet carrots, those meltingly tender onions that are still whole but soft and perfectly straddling the line between sweet and astringent. The stock made the stew rich and umami-filled and the wine and tomato paste balance out he acidic and sweet aspects of the sauce. The polenta is creamy, rich and tastes of cream, corn and those earthy, heady truffles. This is a rich, deep meal and it is hearty enough for a mountain man but refined enough for Julia Child.
As we know, I’m more of a mountain man, myself.