Archives for November 2013

The Best Meatloaf…Ever

This is the best meatloaf…

ever.

It has hardly any ingredients. It doesn’t use a special blend of beef. And it surely isn’t health food.

It’s just the best meatloaf…

ever.

The Best Meatlaof…Ever

meatloaf

1 lb. beef (a good, fatty blend…I use 80/20)

half a loaf of bread

1/4 cup – 1/2 cup milk

1 onion, half grated, half sliced into rings

3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup ketchup, plus more for top

assorted seasonings (salt, Sriracha, etc)

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1. Preheat the oven to 350F and combine the onion, bread, and milk in a large bowl. It’s important to use a very soft bread, especially if you want to use the crust. If you use a harder, denser bread, be sure to use only the soft innards. If you use bread with a more pliant crust, you can use it.

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2. Mush it around and make sure that the bread is really soaking up the milk. Leave it for 15-20 minutes, checking back periodically to ensure that there is enough milk in the bowl to keep the mixture “wet.” Start with a little milk and add more as needed.

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3. While the bread soaks, line a baking dish with bread in a single layer, then put the onions on top.

That bread is where the “ever” in “best meatloaf ever” comes in to play.

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4. Add the meat, the ketchup, and the Worcestershire to the bread mixture. Be sure that you season it as much as you like – I like my meatloaf to taste like beef and ketchup. If you like a little more spice, pepper, or salt, go that route.

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5. Mix it on up. Be sure that you really mix it up well – there will be large, soft pieces of bread throughout the meat.

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6. Put the loaf into the pan and top it with additional ketchup. Really lay it on thick, a la cheatloaf.

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7. Bake for an hour or until the meat is totally cooked through.

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8. Serve.

O.M.G. This stuff is unbelievable in its simplicity. It’s the meatloaf you wish your mom made. That’s why my mom rocks – because she actually made this meatloaf. It’s juicy and spiced with sweet onions and tangy ketchup. It is wonderfully soft and that bread…oy. Soft, savory, falling apart – like the French dip of the meatloaf world. It’s the most comforting food you can imagine. Serve it with extra bbq sauce or Sriracha if you must, but the sticky, tangy, sweet cooked ketchup glaze may be all you need.

Along with that bread. Sopping in meaty juices. Sponges for delicious savory taste.

Like I said…it’s just the best meatloaf.

Ever.

Renaissance Vendome in Paris Fits the Bill, but That’s About All

I stayed at a very nice hotel in Paris, too. It was nowhere near the level of service or beauty that the hotel in Amsterdam had, but it was serviceable, very well located, and came at a much lower price point.

The Renaissance Vendome bills itself as a boutique hotel but it is really more of a smaller, tighter chain hotel. You won’t see ultra luxe linens, a staff who will personally deliver you dinner from its own home, or a fleet of Rolls Royces to shuttle you around town. But you will find a very well run and organized hotel who, when asked, will do what you request, provides a lovely buffet breakfast, and extremely spacious (by Parisian standards) room.

The hotel is literally in the back of the extraordinary Le Meurice Hotel, a stone’s throw from the Place de la Concorde, the Tuileries, and the world’s best macarons. The location is safe, central, and unbelievably easy to access via foot, taxi, or metro. It’s the location that really sells this place, because from the inside, you could be anywhere in the country.

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The rooms are clean and modern, but they don’t scream Paris, or even whisper it. They are quiet and provide a comfy, American-king sized bed (harder to find than you might imagine), but other than that…they are a bit of a let down. You are in the city of light, is it too much to ask for a little gilt, some angels, or a couple of flourishes?

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Note: The bathroom is well equipped and the amenities ARE Bulgari – they couldn’t be higher end.

The hotel is very small and offers citrus scented water, jars of candy, and a coffee machine for your use at any time of the day or night.

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You may also check out the dark, gothic-style chinoiserie bar area – it’s tiny but has a full bar and a nice menu. Where else but Paris can you get foie gras and champagne at a Renaissance Hotel bar?

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The restaurant, Pinxtos, has a very thorough, if unmemorable, buffet. A cold selection of meats, cheeses, and smoked fish awaits, along with hot selections including scrambled eggs, roasted tomatoes, and warm breakfast meats.

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There is, being France, a gargantuan bread and pastry section. I wouldn’t seek out this breakfast but if you are staying at the hotel, it is both convenient and filling.

This hotel is good for the money. The location is dynamite, the rooms are clean and spacious, and the staff is accommodating. The only reason that I can’t be more thrilled about it is because it is a very American experience. There is no one who goes out of their way to remember your name, no exclusively French touches, and no really special experiences. However, a lot of people aren’t going to notice these things. They would rather have large, soft beds, plenty of pillows, air conditioning, and reliable wifi, which this hotel absolutely had. If that is what you want in a Parisian hotel, I cannot recommend this hotel enough.

 I stayed at this hotel at a media rate. I was not required to write about my experiences, and all of my opinions are my own and unbiased. 

The Grand – Amsterdam’s Luxury Hotel Experience

On my rather epic European vacation last summer, my time traveling was about more than stuffing my face until I had to go up a pants size.

it was also about staying in some awesome hotels,the most memorable of which was The Grand in Amsterdam.

This ancient hotel (really,the oldest in Amsterdam, where the royalty used to host their guests) was recently taken over by the Sofitel hotel brand. Sofitel has made it whir European flagship for their ultra high end Legend line.

The hotel is a triumph. It seamlessly blends old and new, luxury and warmth, and attention to detail with the modern amenities you might expect at home.

The location is unbeatable – a stones throw from Dam Square, the Jordaan District, the Red Light District,and even walkable to The Nine Streets and the Ann Frank House.
first 2 days trip 081 The hotel’s inner courtyard is the ideal place to relax with a glass of wine or a cappuccino. It is all exposed brick and modern glass.The flowers for which Holland is so famous are abundant,there is a weekend jazz quartet, and the service is attentive but not overly so.  first 2 days trip 083 Every room in the hotel is different – whether you choose a smaller, more basic room, or one of the ultra luxurious suites, you can expect a bathtub, shower, air conditioning, wifi, and an espresso maker.  first 2 days trip 090 The savior after many a long night.  amsterdam day 2 037 Even the smallest rooms are well laid out,with bright, saturated jewel tones decor and luxurious amenities.
amsterdam day 2 044 Of course, should you choose to spring for an insanely luxurious canal apartment suite, you will stay in the oldest part of the hotel, which is outfitted with the most luxurious accouterments. We are talking a kitchenette, a view of the canal, a sitting room,  a bathroom with a standing tub and modern shower fit for a queen, and a lush bedroom.
amsterdam day 2 047 The rooms are all different, but the richly saturated tones echo throughout the hotel.  amsterdam day 2 053 The hotel is also home to an award wining florist (the flowers in Amsterdam are actually unbelievable…they are both ubiquitous and beautiful). amsterdam day 2 054 The hotel is also filled with remnants of its long history, including hidden ancient documents that were found inside the hotel’s walls when the canal rooms were being redone.

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Or this guest book, on this day showcasing an autograph from Andre Agassi.

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Or this dining room mural, covered by a fake wall right after WWII because it depicts hungry children. It was only recently discovered when the Sofitel took over the Grand.

amsterdam day 2 057 Don’t forget to take a moment to have a cup of coffee or plan your dy in the ever so inviting library, just off the elegant lobby. amsterdam day 2 059 There are little nooks all over the place, ideal for realizing after your dogs are barking from walking all over the city. 

amsterdam day 2 066 And you already know about the wonderful buffet breakfast.

This doesn’t even begin to describe the minute but beautifully outfitted spa, the hotel tour given each and every week, and the out-of-this-world staff. They will bring you an ironing board in 10 minutes if you need one, write down their favorite restaurants in Paris, or walk you out the door to personally show you where the nearest haberdashery is.

I can’t say enough about this hotel. It is fairly priced (to say, expensive but worth it) and the experience and location are wonderful.

Don’t pass up The Grand…it’s really an only-in-Amsterdam luxury hotel.

I stayed at this hotel at a media rate. I was not required to write about my experiences, and all of my opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Purple Yam – Comfortable, Craveable Lumpia

I wish there was a really great Asian restaurant in our neighborhood.

 You know the type…when you just walk in wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and can sit down to Thai soup or Korean buns.

Where you can order in and they know your apartment number because they come so often.

Where you can still go on a casual friends date because it’s nice enough.

A place like Purple Yam

I went here with a girlfriend because it is a stone’s throw away from her apartment. It was a cold night and the vibe inside was warm, friendly, and welcoming. It’s casual and Ikea-sleek, and the excellent service was apparent from the moment we sat down.

IMG_20131107_193044_015 Mussels in Thai coconut curry

Just what you want on a blustery night. Plump, sweet mussels in an aromatic coconut broth. the curry flavor is very light, and while it is highly seasoned with cilantro, lemongrass, and scallions, it is not overly garlicky or spicy. The tender red peppers strewn through the broth are only lightly cooked, so they retain their sweet snap. This is perfect for someone who likes the taste of coconut and is mild enough for someone who is scared of curry – it’s a great intro dish.
IMG_20131107_193949_888 Lumpia Shanghai

I LOVE these Filipino eggrolls – they are like uber-large spring rolls! Crisp, shattering wrappers surrounding ground pork, shredded vegetables, and springy noodles. Dip them in the sweet and tangy pineapple dipping sauce and prepare to be in fried food heaven. These are light, greaseless, and come in a very generous portion. I can’t recommend these enough – I’m still dreaming of them, actually!
IMG_20131107_195142_061 Market greens in Thai green curry

It’s Brooklyn, so there was going to be at least one hipster-local-seasonal dish. This is very good, but I can’t put my finger on why. The bok choy, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and other vegetables are tender but still have a fresh, verdant bite. The curry is, like with the mussels, mild and creamy. It’s light but the sauce is rich. Eating it with some of the accompanying sticky rice is just so comforting and tasty. I wouldn’t go back especially for this dish, but I would be happy to eat it again.
IMG_20131107_195614_917 Pork buns

The one item that was lackluster. Pulled pork with some Asian spices in a steamed bun. Okay but not great – nowhere near the best I have had.

Purple Yam is just a great neighborhood joint. The prices are VERY reasonable, the service and atmosphere are lovely, and the service is great.

It’s just the kind of joint I wish we had in our neck of the woods. 

Purple Yam on Urbanspoon

Banana Bread Tricks and Tips

So I made some banana bread.

And it was incredible.

Used up almost done-for bananas, came together in a flash, and served double duty for breakfast and dessert.

However, it wasn’t my recipe.

So, to avoid being the kind of jerk who steals recipes, cuts in line when finding a parking spot at the mall, doesn’t like Bravo, etc…

I have decided to show you the finished product and direct you to the recipe, here.

Of course, I made a few variations:

fooood 117 1. Add chocolate chips

Because, really…why wouldn’t you? fooood 119 2. Cream the butter for twice as long as you normally would.

This is a trick straight out of the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. It results in finely crumbed, rich, and creamy baked goods. Banana bread can sometimes be dense and rather brick-like. Creaming the butter and sugar for so long results in really aerated fat that makes the bread super light. Take 5 minutes – at least – for this step. fooood 121 3. Bang the tin on the counter before you bake it

This gets all the air bubbles out so you don’t end up with those weird, large holes or tunnels.
fooood 127 4. Eat it for 10 days.

Because this stuff lasts forever. Not like “oh it isn’t moldy so I can still eat it” forever.

Like for EVER ever. It stays fresh and moist, even in the fridge.

If it does start to get a little stale, just pop a slice in the toaster and serve it with butter for breakfast or with ice cream for dessert.

Now, go get some nearly rotten bananas and make this stuff!

Commander’s Palace – A Blow-Out Fine Dining Experience

I played fair. I went every small, mom and pop joint I could. I ate sandwiches. I even walked Bourbon Street.

There is no way in hell I was leaving New Orleans without having an honest-to-goodness fine dining experience.

I mean, New Orleans is one of the premiere dining destinations in our country. You can spend 10 dollars a day there and eat very well.

OR

you can  max out the credit cards, plan on eating ramen for the next month at home, and really go to town.

We obviously had to do both.

Commander’s Palace isn’t somewhere that you can wear jeans. Gentlemen wear jackets and black napkins are provided if the ladies have dark dresses. There are at least 3 servers per table, and the moment that your water glass has a sip taken from it it, is refilled. If you get up to use the restroom, the servers standing in the dining room part ways as if they are the red sea and you are Moses. If a mistake is made in service, you know that the staff feels personally responsible and they could not be more apologetic.

It’s warm and friendly but very much a “the customer is always right and thank you SO MUCH for dining here” experience.

Not as much like those places in NYC that ask for your blood type when you make  a reservation.

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Garlic toasts

Every meal starts with these.

You know, New Orleans loves its garlic.

These are exemplary in how familiar they are. You are in an exquisitely beautiful room, with servers all around, yet they want you to feel at home. This is like a better version of what your mom made growing up on spaghetti nights. The toasts are small but there is a whole loaf of them – don’t worry, you won’t go hungry. The tops are crisp and the innards are soft. The garlic is fresh and the herbs are plentiful, but the flavor is not aggressive. It just lets you know that, hey – you aren’t at The Olive Garden.

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Oyster and absinthe dome

Briny Gulf oysters poached with bacon, artichokes, tarragon, Swiss absinthe, and cream under a pastry dome

A unique, shockingly light, oyster stew. The oysters take well to the cream, and their mild flavors really do taste brinier and saltier, but not too fishy. The bacon is very mildly smoky and the tarragon is alight, sweet twist. I don’t takes absinthe, but he cream isn’t at all cloying or heavy, which may be where the absinthe comes in. Dunk the buttery crust into the creamy broth and you are in shellfish heaven. This is mild and elegant – a wonderful starter.

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Turtle soup

The kitchen’ one misstep, though my tablemate loved it. I found it very muddy.

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Roasted foie gras with basil syrup and apple beignets

I love pairing the meaty, buttery foie with light, cinnamon dusted doughnuts! Foie is best with sweet counterparts and pairing it with sweet, yeasty doughnuts is nothing less than whimsical. The accompanying basil syrup taste dlike water when tried alone, but when drizzled over the foie, it adds a light, vegetal note that really brought a whole new facet to the dish. Though  the foie could have been seared a little better and served a little warmer, it’s still a wonderful dish.

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Seared gulf fish with habanero oil and seasonal vegetables

I wish I remember more about the other ingredients in this dish, but it’s hard because the fish is so exemplary. It’s light and flaky, similar to sea bass. Here, it is seared so the flesh is moist but the skin is crispy and salty, almost like a potato chip. The habanero oil is punchy but not overwhelming – it kicks up the sweet flavor of the fish and the earthiness of the roasted tomatoes and thick stalks of asparagus. I don’t know where they get such awesome sweet vegetables in the middle of October, but I’ll take them! This is a genius main dish to order, because when you are eating so much food, you might not have enough room for the wonderful fish stuffed with buttery, rich crabmeat or the venison schnitzel that my dining companion pronounced as “life changing.”

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Apple root beer strudel

Lovely. Buttery pastry encasing sweet, soft apples infused with the aromatic, sweet taste of root beer. Served with soft vanilla ice cream. It’s comfort on a plate.

But let’s not beat around the bush.

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Bananas Foster

If you come here without ordering the tableside bananas foster, you might as well go to Popeye’s and call it a trip to The Big Easy.

Your primary server approaches your table with a rolling cart with various ingredients. Then, in front of your eyes, hem mixes butter, sugar, and bananas in a saucepan. He adds rum and…

Voila! Tableside theatrics that put Benihana to shame!

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The dessert is so tasty. Buttery, sweet, warm, cool. Bananas, ice cream, caramel, rum.

And it’s prepared tableside.

That’s the best part.

That’s the thing about Commander’s Palace – it’s not just the food that makes it famous. Yes, the food is good – the food is GREAT. But it’s more than that. It’s eating in a room with glass walls that look out onto a tropical garden. It’s having your chair taken out for you and being called ma’am. It’s walking up a staircase lined with so many James Beard awards that they are uncountable. It’s having a blow out New Orleans experience.

It’s making me want to go back to NOLA asap

The Foods I Don’t Love

Originally published here

I feel guilty.

I haven’t kicked a puppy or stolen a cab from an old person. But I am a bad foodie. There are some foods that I should like, nay, love, but I just don’t. Is it my parent’s fault?

Is society to blame?

Or, perhaps, are these foods just vastly overrated?

biscuits and gravy

Biscuits and gravy

Bleck. Gluey, mucus-textured gravy over cottony, leaden biscuits. It’s soggy, it’s tasteless, and it’s often aggressively peppered so that it burns the back of the throat. Why do people eat this? Is it for the gristly bits of sausage? The memory of breakfasts in years past? What gives? This stuff is just a sad, sad version of stuffing drenched in gravy at the Thanksgiving table.

Thick-crust pizza

Who needs so much cheese that it coagulates in the trachea, stopping any air from reaching the lungs? Or tomato sauce that is so chunky that it practically needs a chainsaw to get through the huge hunks of tomatoes? Or a piece of dough so heavy and greasy that it might as well be a member of the cast of The Sopranos? Bottom line, I know that Chicagoans love the stuff and more power to ‘em. If I never see a piece of thick-crust pizza again, it will still be too soon.

California rolls

Everyone and their mother swoons over these rolls, and even in high-end places, I can’t stand them. All of that creamy avocado and gloppy mayo. It either overshadows the sweetness of real crab or fails to mask the fishy, woody, fake stuff. Even when the sushi rice is good and the nori is crisp, this is just too much of a non-Japanese thing.

Apples

I know, I know. Maybe my biggest failure not just as a foodie, but as a human. They are too sweet or too tart, too mealy or too hard, and too cloying or too insipid in every single iteration. I don’t like apple juice, apple cider, or apple sauce. Johnny Appleseed can go take along walk off a short pier as far as I’m concerned.

Jacques-Imo’s: Deep Fried Po Boys and More

When I went to New Orleans, I was told two things:

1) Start drinking early

2) Go to Jacques-Imo’s

I’ll be damned if I didn’t follow directions perfectly.

Jacques-Imo’s isn’t on the beaten path. It’s in a dodgier part of town and they don’t take reservations for parties under 5 people – you have to wait for at least an hour. You just show up wearing torn jeans, order a glass of wine or a beer at the dark, crowded bar, and clamor for a seat as people around you inhale plates of crisply fried green tomatoes. If you are lucky, you might see Jacques himself, a true bon vivant. He is a real character, and goes around the bar taking pictures, taking names, and taking shots with the patrons. It is the kind of crazy place that you might see a fraternity, a couple of well-to-do lawyers,  and a rabid foodie.

It’s the kind of place where too much is just enough.

The time you spend waiting goes quickly thanks to strong drinks and the infectious laughter of the place. Also, you are actually quoted the time that you wait – none of that “15 minutes becomes 90 minutes” crap.

By the time you sit down, you should be – if you did it right – tipsy and starving. That’s where this stuff comes in:

DSC_0161 Garlicky corn muffins

Not just any corn muffins. Moist but not mushy with a garlicky-licious explosion of flavor. They are very savory, and moist enough to enjoy sans butter.

That’s obviously due to the intense amount of butter already in these suckers.

They are sweet but not sugary and a really great start to an unconventional meal.

DSC_0163 Shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake

It sounds gross. It sounds repulsive.

It tastes like angels singing on high.

It’s that miraculous.

It’s a rich, garlicky quiche. The bits of shrimp are sweet and snappy and the alligator sausage just tastes like very seasoned pork sausage. It’s the classic combo of pork and shellfish – salty, sweet, and savory. The cheesecake itself is served with a creamy seafood sauce that isn’t muddy or fishy at all – it’s really just buttery. This is a dish I would never have ordered but I am so glad that I got to try some!

The unpictured interlude of spinach salad with sesame dressing and one perfectly fried, crispy-crusted oyster, is a welcome reminder that no dish can be too healthy if it really wants to call itself Creole.

DSC_0165 Deep fried roast beef po boy

What, you want a closer look at one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten in my life?

IMG_20131026_205113_001 Yeah, there it is. Soft French bread filled with tender, wonderfully moist(though well done) roast beef, and melty Swiss cheese. It’s all fried to a very soft golden brown then dunked in hearty beef gravy. Let’s not forget the pickle – for some reason the rest of the country hasn’t picked up on how fantastic pickles are. They are all over N’awlins and always to spectacular effect. Here, they are vinegary and bright and TOTALLY cut through the heavy sandwich. This is just so delicious. It’s saucy and melty and cheesy and beefy – like a Big Mac gone Creole. I loved this dish so much that I ate it past the point of comfort.

It was worth it.

That’s the whole thing about Jacques-Imo’s. Everything is just a little too much. A little too noisy. A little too small. A little too out of the way. Certainly too cheap and with far too sweet and friendly service for how busy it is.

But, somehow, it’s all perfect.

Because, for a few days a year, too much is just enough.

Craftbar – No Wonder it’s Still Around

Sometimes, when you eat at a restaurant you just say to yourself – “oh, no wonder.”

And that’s what I said when I ate at Craftbar .

IMG_20131030_122815_658 This Tom Colicchio restaurant practically screams flatiron with its low-key, upscale atmosphere. It’s large and spacious, with a few tall communal tables and a section that can be partitioned for private parties. It is minimalist but warm, and relaxed enough for a quick lunch but chic enough for a birthday dinner. It’s elegant without being pretentious.

IMG_20131030_123037_279 Breadsticks

A simple, well done dish. Cheesy, crunchy, and just salty enough to make my mouth water for the upcoming meal.  I ate way too many.
IMG_20131030_124421_853 Pig’s head terrine

A totally fabulous terrine. Some terrines can be bouncy, gristly, or way too gamy tasting.

This is none of the above.

It’s soft and mild, with tender bits of sweet pork. It’s topped with pickled chiles that are spicy but not crazy hot, and the pickeld vegetables alongside cut right through the rich meat. It is really mild – even more so than pate – and is spreadable onto the tangy bread. It’s a fantastic rendition of a popular dish.

IMG_20131030_124426_885 Beets with yogurt and pistachios

So well done. freshly roasted beets have a different texture than canned ones – they are tender, but al dente, with a really sweet taste – almost like sugar. These are served room temperature and topped with fragrant dill, crunchy pistachios, and creamy, fatty yogurt. The dill is really the kicker here – it uplifts the hearty dish and gives it a brightness.

IMG_20131030_130757_552 Dorade with pickled eggplant, chervil, white beans, and preserved lemon

Well prepared fish. Nothing earth shattering, but very well done. Flaky, crispy skinned fish atop vinegary, pleasantly salty eggplant. The white beans are al dente and creamy at once, and the topping of chervil provides an unexpected sweet, licorice-y note. The lemon is a nice pop of acid, and the fish is a good sized portion.

So, no wonder. No wonder, Colicchio is considered to be a trendsetter. No wonder he is on Top Chef. No wonder this restaurant has enjoyed such longevity. No wonder.

Because those these items seem old hat now, they were the newest things on the block when Craftbar opened.

And they are still some of the best renditions around.

Craftbar on Urbanspoon