Archive for July, 2010
Every week, around tuesday or wednesday, I start to get a nagging feeling in the back of my mind. A feeling that something needs to be done, and if it’s not done soon, it will lead to disasterous consequences. Like if I don’t act now, I’ll wake up one morning (soon) and everything will have gone wrong, terribly wrong. And no matter what I do, the only way I can shake this feeling is to head to my kitchen, open the fridge, and face my worst nightmare.
That’s right. Rotting produce. Yummmmmmmy.
Well, not quite rotting yet. As a regular sunday food shopper and a great purchaser of fruits and veggies, each week requires a day to day in a balance of making sure I eat the fastest-to-ripen goods first, and save the heartier items, like sweet potatoes and apples, for the weekend, or even (gasp) next week.
Mushrooms have been a bane of contention for me for a while. I absolutely love mushrooms, love how they soak up the flavors you cook them with, going from a stringy white fungus to a delicious caramelized delight in just a few minutes. They can be garlicky, creamy, earthy, hearty… but leave them in the fridge for more than a few days and you’ll start to have a soggy, slimy mess on your hands.
Early last week, whiling away the hours in my cubicle, I found my lunch break the perfect opportunity to ponder what I would eat for dinner. What better time to think about food than while eating it, right? And the more I surmised my supper, the more I realized what the perfect mate for my peaking mushrooms was. Barley! Organic pearl barley that I had picked up at Food Emporium on a health food kick months ago, which was gathering dust at the topmost, back-most corner of my kitchen cupboards (which speaks volumes for the staying power of my “health kicks”).
I did a little googling on the redeeming qualities of barley, and what I learned was quite fantastic news. Apparently barley, which is a fiber-rich, dense grain that requires low and slow cooking just to be edible, can be prepared in such a way that POOF! It practically turns into risotto. As one who worships on the alter of risotto, this was pretty much a no brainer.
Barley takes at least an hour to cook, just like risotto. Barley, however, requires far less heavy lifting; unlike risotto which must constantly be stirred and “fed” a strict diet of stock or other cooking liquid, barley can be thrown in a pot with some liquid and will pretty much take care of itself (though I recommend stirring every five minutes or so to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot). So on this fine Tuesday, I decided that the 8 grams of fiber and negligible fat content in those little pearls of joy justified skipping the gym, so I headed home with ample time ahead of me to prepare my glorious dinner.
Let me preface this by saying that this dish was super fun to make. Even more fun was seeing the look of skepticism on my roommate’s face turn to utter delight when I force-fed her a spoonful of the finished product. So without further delay, here’s the recipe for Balsamic Mushroom “Barl-sotto”. Just try not to lick the bowl when you’re done. (Kidding, totally go for it).
Balsamic Mushroom Barley-Risotto
The following recipe makes 2 one-cup servings (for a main course if you feel like going to town!) or 4 1/2 cup servings (ideal for a side dish served along side chicken or fish).
- 1/2 cup of Organic Pearl Barley
- 1 3/4 cups of low sodium chicken stock
- 2 cups of white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp of olive oil
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup of grape tomatoes, diced
- Spices to season broth – to taste (I used a dash of each, but this provides the seasoning for the barley so use your own discretion)
- Chili powder
- Sea Salt & fresh ground black pepper
Add 1 1/2 cups of the chicken stock to a medium sauce pan with salt, pepper, and spices (to taste). Add the barley and stir this around to make sure everything is evenly dispersed. Put over medium heat, cover, and bring to a simmer; then reduce heat and continue to simmer, stirring occassionally (I like to use a whisk to break up the clumps of barley).
Meanwhile, add the oil and garlic to a saute pan over medium heat. Sweat garlic until fragrant, about one minute. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and saute until softened. How long you do this is a matter of taste; I like my mushrooms really soft and well done, so I saute them for at least five minutes. If you like your mushrooms a little heartier, saute them for less time.
Once mushrooms are soft and beginning to carmelize, add the balsamic vinegar and reduce heat to low. You want to keep cooking this, stirring, until the balsamic thickens and most of the liquid is evaporated. The mushrooms will be a dark brown now. Remove the mushrooms from heat and set aside.
After the barley has been cooking for about an hour, the liquid should be mostly absorbed. Taste the barley; it will probably be aldente, and if you like that then turn off the heat and proceed to the next step. If not, you can add the remaining quarter cup of stock and cook this for another 15 or so minutes until that liquid is absorbed. Note – the longer you cook it and keep adding liquid, the more “risotto-ey” your barley will become.
Turn off the heat, and add the balsamic mushrooms and tomatoes to the barley. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.
Okay, now on to the best part. Go eat
Nutritional Breakdown for this Recipe:
For 2 main course servings – 260 calories, 4 grams of fat, 10 grams of fiber, 12.5 grams of protien per serving
For 4 side-dish sized servings – 130 calories, 2 grams of fat, 5 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protien.
They say you can’t go home again. I beg to disagree, especially when your parents have just arrived back from a month-long tour around Italy laden with all sorts of treats and goodies, and your access to said goodies is only an hour train ride away. It was with this in mind that I hopped aboard the classiest train around – the Long Island Rail Road – and headed home for the weekend to relish in delights from a far-away land.
One of the greatest goodies that made its way back across the atlantic with my parents was truffles. Yes, truffles in all sorts of glorious forms, all except for the chocolate kind. Truffles, which are a fungus, are similar to mushrooms in how they grow and look, and are extremely unique in how they are harvested, namely by pigs who sniff them out and dig them out of the dirt with their cloven feet. Truffles are often referred to as “the diamond of the kitchen;” these little gems are extremely expensive (you can buy a jar of two – that’s right, TWO – at a specialty store for $25), and are used to elevate dishes at fine restaurants to the next level. Garnishing a risotto with shaved truffle, or a hint of truffle oil drizzled over a braised fish adds a degree of elegance and subtle, buttery flavor that many foodies lust after. In fact, the new TriBeCa hot spot, Locanda Verde recently instituted a “Truffle Dinner” where each course in a lengthy meal used the ingredient in some way, hoping to draw in the high brow crowd.
But back to Italy. My parents came back from the motherland with a great culinary story; one night, they were in a cab rattling through Rome and asked their driver to recommend a restaurant. He recommended Postilogne, an unassuming, family owned restaurant outside the walls of the city. My parents arrived at Postilogne, told the owner that Bruno C, the cab driver sent them, and proceed to make fast friends with the owner, enjoying an excess of wine and off-the-menu meals created specially for them for the rest of the evening. (I should note that this always seems to happen to my father.) And later, when they tried to pay the bill and depart graciously, the restaurant owner came back out, shouted “But Bruno C!”, disappeared into the kitchen, and returned moments later with two small plates. On each was an over easy egg topped with shaved black truffles and extra virgin olive oil.
This meal of only three simple ingredients was to become my parents’ favorite of the trip, and the reason they came home laden with truffle oil, shaved truffles in honey, honey infused with truffles, etc.
Now, coming home is always exciting for me because I get to use my parents’ large kitchen, high-quality cookware, and fully stocked fridge with no complaints – as long as they get to enjoy the outcomes of my culinary adventure. With just a smidgen of nudging from my mother, I decided to recreate my own version of their Postilogne meal for saturday morning breakfast using the fresh Italy-inspired ingredients in our fridge. So, my friends, I give you – Poached Eggs with Truffle Honey.
Poaching an egg is something that I’d never done before, but after reading about it on another blog and hearing from a friend about how easy it was, I decided to give it a whirl. I tried it twice; once using a pot of water, once using a pan, and I think the pan method definitely works better (and takes less time). Here’s how it goes.
Fill a large sauce pan three-quarters of the way with water. Set on the stove, cover, and crank up the heat to a boil. Once the water is boiling, lower the heat so the water goes down to a simmer, add a teaspoon of vinegar (this helps the egg coagulate or stick to itself, not the pan) and a pinch of salt.
Give the water a few minutes to adjust to the temperature and salt and reach a steady simmer. Meanwhile, crack your eggs into small, separate bowls.
Once you’re ready to go, set your kitchen timer for three minutes, slowly slide your eggs into the pan near the side and close to the surface of the water. The eggs will look a bit cloudy when you crack them in, and that’s okay – thats normal. Cover the pan, and start the timer. If you notice a lot of steam starting to escape from the pan or your cover rattling, lower the heat – you want the water to be simmering, not boiling, and it will boil faster with the lid on so you may need to adjust the flame/heat source. Other than that, keep your hands off! (Though, I imagine if you have a glass pan lid, this would be very fun to watch.)
In the mean time, slice some thick grain bread and toast it. Once it’s crispy, add some butter. To be fair, I made a lower-cal version of this for myself with a Thomas’ multi-grain english muffin and “I can’t believe it’s NOT butter” and it was still fabulous, so you can definitely “healthify” this meal. I made the full grain-bread-and-italian-butter version for my nineteen year old brother with the wicked metabolism, and he loved it as well, so the choice is yours.
By the time your bread is buttered, your timer has probably gone off. Take off the cover, and remove your eggs with a slotted spoon. I left the eggs on the spoon atop some paper towels for a few minutes to dry off a bit, and then topped the toast with them – one egg on each slice.
Then I added salt and pepper, and drizzled a little bit of the truffle honey on top each.
Now, I know that most sane people aren’t going to run out and drop over twenty bucks at a specialty store on some truffle honey just to make this dish. But if you have regular honey in the cabinet, I’d imagine that would be just as good. The little hint of sweetness balances the creamy egg and the salty butter and crunchy bread really nicely.
Like I said before, this can definitely be a healthy breakfast. If you make one poached egg, one whole-grain english muffin, a little “butter”, and a drizzle of honey (I’d estimate 1/2 a teaspoon), you’re looking at about 250 calories for breakfast – not bad at all! I ate it with a side of fresh fruit – a sliced peach and 1/4 cup of blueberries, for a very energizing, filling, balanced breakfast. Okay, now I sound like a Kelloggs commercial. But go poach an egg! It’s fun, healthy, and a lot easier than it sounds. Happy Poaching!!
Nutritional breakdown for this breakfast:
- 1 poached egg: 70 calories, 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein
- 1 Thomas’ Multi Grain Light english muffin: 100 calories, 1 gram of fat, 8 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein
- 1/2 tbsp “I can’t believe it’s not butter” light, or similarly “healthy” spread: 25 calories, 2.5 grams of fat
- 1 tbp of honey: 20 calories
- 1 peach, sliced: 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of fiber, 1.5 grams of protein
Total: 275 calories, 8.5 grams of fat, 10.5 grams of fiber, 13.5 grams of protein.
I first heard about “Shorty’s .32” while standing on the corner of 63rd street and Second Avenue on the sweltering hot morning of June 16th. Amongst a crowd of pedestrians waiting to cross the street, a white haired elderly gentleman leaned over to me and said, “I hope you have an umbrella.”
This was surprising. Most people in Manhattan seem to be struck mute during the morning transit hours; it takes the certain discomfort of a subway ride and a bitter cup of coffee to rouse most of us to a state where we can accomplish some form of work when we arrive at the office. At any rate, he pressed on, and we struck up a nice little conversation as we crossed the intersection. A few minutes later, as we stood in the Food Emporium entryway chatting aimlessly, I learned that the old man once worked in PR, representing restaurants all over the city. When I mentioned to him that I work in SoHo, he instantly brightened up and said, “Well, you must know a place I used to rep down there – everyone loves Shorty’s!”
Uh, Shorty’s? What’s that? I scraped my memory, but it was turning up blank. I vaguely remembered the burgundy awning over a small, nondescript restaurant front that I’d passed sometimes during my lunchtime walks around SoHo, but that was it. My elderly friend went on to explain that Shorty’s was a SoHo institution and “everyone” loved the place. I walked away mostly forgetting about Shorty’s, until a few weeks later when the restaurant popped up on my Blackboard Eats Deal of the Day.
Let’s take a moment for a side note. For those who are unfamiliar with Blackboard Eats, it is one of the most wonderful things available to you if you live in NYC. Essentially it is a daily newsletter that provides some sort of offer or discount to a randomly selected Manhattan restaurant of the day. But we’re talking amazing deals – 30% off dinner, free bottles of wine or free appetizers and desserts at places that never have specials or coupons – places that won’t even participate in Restaurant Week! Not to mention the subconscious benefits; having that discount gives you an excuse to indulge on a decadent meal out, which you will find some totally irrelevant occasion to unnecessarily celebrate, and wind up having a fabulous time that you’ll undoubtedly rave about for months to come. Thank you, Blackboard Eats!
My 30% off dinner coupon to Shorty’s .32 arrived at the perfect time; it coincided exactly with one of my oldest friend’s homecoming from the West Coast. He suggested a reunion dinner, I suggested Shorty’s, and quickly the guest list had grown to six. We were luckily able to secure a last minute reservation; little did I know that the “32” in Shorty’s name stands for the number of seats in the cozy restaurant’s front (and only) room.
A quick Google search taught me Shorty’s menu is very to the point. You have about ten appetizers, ten entrees, and seven sides. Each dish uses a different protein, a different combination of vegetables, flavors, and sauces; no two dishes are even remotely similar. This is a menu that isn’t afraid to list Asian flavors (Tandoori Shrimp) above a French-Italian fusion dish (chicken confit ravioli, anyone?), which might be just your starters for a classic American roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and bacon-sauteed green beans. The menu’s not afraid because its all in the name of comfort food, a level of comfort so understated that you’re not even sure that it’s chef Josh Eden’s unifying theme until you’ve finished your entrée and are reclining back in your chair, wondering how taboo it would be to loosen the button on your trousers Thanksgiving-style in the middle of SoHo proper. Not that I wanted to do that or anything…
When we arrived at Shorty’s, the small restaurant was packed to capacity (all thirty-two patrons seemed to be quite enamored), but nowhere to be seen was a table for six. My mind immediately waned pessimistic, pooling Shorty’s in with other pretentious eateries who follow the “rule” that a dinner reservation can mean next to nothing in New York City.
Instead of guaranteeing a table with no wait, you’re just guaranteed a table at the end of your wait – if you’re willing to stick it out. As the orchestrator of the event, I was pretty distressed, but thankfully the host swooped in and lubricated the situation with unlimited on-the-house drinks for our entire stay at the bar, making my friends quickly forget the delay.
We were seated forty-five minutes later (it felt like twenty) and received profuse apologies from everyone from the host to the waitress. Even executive chef and owner Josh Eden himself retreated from the kitchen (to my surprise and delight), offering his sincerest regrets and expressing how important it was to him that we enjoyed our meal. He really seemed like he meant it, and we really believed him, especially after he sent over two free appetizers – the tandoori shrimp and confit chicken- as well as a cold canteloupe summer soup amuse bouche to tempt our palates. By the time our entrées arrived, we had forgotten there was ever a wait, and the true purpose of all those free drinks was revealed.
Like a great group of friends enjoying a dinner out, a great meal often has the potential to create epicurean synergy – the product of all the cuisines enjoyed together is so much greater than the sum of each dish individually. We each ordered something different, and the following hour resulted in the great enjoyment of sharing food across the table and eating off each others plates.
Mussels soaked in garlicky broth perfumed the table with a delicious aroma that amplified all other tastes.
The modest portion of braised short ribs was divided into bite-sized samples for each to enjoy the sweet tang of barbeque sauce.
Even dishes that you expected to fall short, like the cold pea soup, tasted like a sweet summer night, infused with mint, sweetness, and complimented with the salty bite of pancetta.
And the roasted chicken, which can so often be the overcooked and underwhelming low note of a meal, took everyone by surprise as it melted in buttery delight in our mouths. As I fed my friend a steaming piece of chicken smothered in mashed potatoes across the table, I wondered aloud if restaurant patrons in any other city in the country enjoy their food with the vigor of New Yorkers. We surely give the French and Italians a run for their money.
Tonight there was no shame in ordering not one, but two sides of French fries – which Shorty’s is rightfully famous for – on top of the crispy mac and cheese, and leaving not a morsel behind. So gluttonously delicious was this meal that after an hour of eating, after each of us six was visibly stuffed to capacity, dreading the moment we would have to hang our heads in shame and decline the dessert menu, we still could not say no when one friend fished the once crispy, now soggy bread from the bottom of the mussel broth and divided it up. We all took a taste of that garlicky goodness, and one of the guys noted that it “tasted like dessert.” Completely salty, soggy, greasy, and garlicky, I could not find one flavor in that bite that was indigenous to dessert, but I knew what he meant. Something to the extent of: at Shorty’s, there’s always room for one more bite.
As we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and into the humid air of Prince Street, said our goodbyes and parted ways, I had not a single regret of that meal.
Well, maybe one. Next time, I will be having dessert….