Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Soup as Salve for Post-Thanksgiving Blues

Chicken, Kale, Brown Rice Soup

Thanksgiving plus my birthday plus impending holiday celebrations equals an almost involuntary response: the desire to eat healthy this week.  I’ve had some wonderful meals out to celebrate my big day- tagliatelle with frutti di mare at Bianca, duck confit at AOC- and have been showered with gifts from delicious chocolate cake at Bee Desserts to fresh eggs from my friend Vicki’s farm.  I have cooked too- roast chicken and pecan-chocolate pie for Thanksgiving, those farm fresh eggs with butter and gruyere for a birthday morning scramble. 

Which leads me to today, where the aftermath of gluttony has joined forces with the fear of more holiday season indulgence to come.  This state of guilt and pre-guilt usually leads me to one eating solution: soup.  I want to feel soothed, fill up my belly with lighter fare, and pack in a huge dose of flavor in the process.  This soup however, though healthy, should not taste like any dieter’s soup.

I had chicken bones leftover from Thanksgiving, but not quite enough to make a full pot of stock, so I set out to enrich store bought stock instead. Browning the bones in a little oil then add them to a pot of premade chicken broth (this works for any poultry bones) is a great way to add flavor to generic chicken stock without adding much fat.

Next I went to the depths of the vegetable bin, hoping to use up odds and ends leftover from recent, more elaborate cooking.  This was the time to put that stray carrot to work or the half and onion sitting in a plastic bag.  Kale is one of my favorite soup greens, the hardy leaves stand up well to a long simmer and come packed full of vitamins and fiber- roughage whose taste is far from rough.  Cubed sweet potato, diced red pepper, sliced mushrooms, just about anything goes. 

With a richly flavorful stock and a heap of veg, all that was left was some protein and carbs to make my soup feel like a complete meal.  A little decadent meat can go a long way.  Think two sweet fennel sausages in a pot of soup that feeds 4-6 people.  But of course, leftover shredded turkey, or chicken in my case, also does the trick.  If there is not already tons of potato in the soup (I had one unused sweet potato in mine), I’ll add a small scoop of brown rice or even some leftover bread cubes to help thicken up the pot.

Rich broth plus plenty of vegetables plus a little protein plus some starch equals a guilt-free and filling post Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas meal.  A week of healthy soup and I’ll be back in form for round two of holiday eating indulgence. 

Chicken, Brown Rice, and Kale Soup
Time: 60 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 T. vegetable oil
Chicken bones
8 c. store bought chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs

1 half medium onion
1 clove garlic
3 cups thinly sliced kale
1 ½ c. diced sweet potato
3 T. olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1/3 cup long grain brown rice
salt and pepper

Heat vegetable oil in a large soup pot over a medium high heat.  Add chicken bones and brown on all sides.  Add chicken stock, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs to the chicken bones.  Bring pot to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer for 20 minutes then strain off broth.  Discard bones and herbs.  Return strained reinforced chicken stock to the stove to keep warm for the soup.

While stock is simmering, prep vegetables.  Cut onion into a small dice.  Mince garlic.  Remove woody ribs from kale then shred the leaves.  Peel and dice sweet potato.  Heat olive oil over a medium flame in a large soup pot.  Add onion and cook till softened, about 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.  Stir in kale with a bit of salt and pepper.  Keep stirring till slightly wilted, about 3 minutes.  Add sweet potato, oregano, shredded chicken, rice, and reinforced chicken stock.  Bring soup to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Cover with a lid and let simmer for about 30 minutes, until rice is tender.  Adjust seasoning if necessary with additional salt and pepper. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Monday, November 28, 2011

Food Gift Cyber Shopping: Direct From the Little Guys

I may not have been among the 226 million Americans who went shopping this past holiday weekend, but today is a different story.  Today, Cyber Monday, is a great way to get online deals and a reminder that one of the most comfortable, least stressful ways to Christmas shop is on your computer, from the comfort of your own home.

Food gifts from cookies to cheese are perennial holiday favorites, particularly when shopping for office gifts.  Sites like Williams-Sonoma and Dean andDeluca are gold standards, always there you with the requisite Tower of Treats or box of petit fours to give to secretaries.  This year Tasting Table’s shopping section is making a big push for a slice of the business and year-old Gilt Taste is in the game too with edibles ranging from gourmet macarons to gluten-free vegan brownies. 

Regardless of the offers of free shipping and special discount codes, I’m always in favor of supporting the small producer, buying direct, and giving a unique food gift to friends or colleagues in the process.  Thanks to the egalitarian World Wide Web, even the most humble candy maker in Spokane, Washington making the world’s best soft peanut brittle can take an order online and ship wherever you want it to go.  Be sure and reward yourself for clever, carefree shopping by putting a little something extra in the virtual shopping basket, destination you. 

Chocolate Honey Cakes from Bee Desserts:  I have known the proprietor of Bee Desserts for years, when her Brazilian café was serving caipirinhas and burgers and desserts were more of a personal addiction than business venture.  But Claudia struck gold in my opinion a few years back when she started to manufacture these pint-sized cakes.  With the look of a Ding Dong or brightly colored hockey puck, the cakes unwrap to reveal a hard chocolate casing surrounding a moist interior cake sweetened with honey.  With five to a box, there is more than enough to pass around an office.  Best part is these freeze well, potentially prolonging the sugar rush well past Christmas Day.  Favorites: Classic Chocolate Honey Cake and Almond Honey Cake.

Cheese and More from Beehive Cheese CompanyI first fell for the cheese from this Utah producer after one bite of Barely Buzzed, a cheddar-like cheese with the rind rubbed with coffee and lavender.  After visiting their tasting room recently, I discovered this little company does more than just cheese.  To go with the cheese Beehive does a small production of rusks, a triangular cracker made with whole grains that pairs exceptionally well with a range of cheese from the local salt and honey rubbed Seehive to Smoked Apple Walnut.  Beehive is also a huge promoter of other local artisans making everything from salami to chocolate, much of which they sell in their cute, yellow tasting room. The Party Box on the Beehive website is a good way to give a taste of everything from the region- rusks, Creminelli salami, Pepperlane Jalapeno Pepper Preserves, chocolate from Chocolot, and of course, cheese.  Favorites: Rosemary rusks, Barely Buzzed Cheese, Seehive Cheese.

Soft Peanut Brittle and Butter Toffee from BruttlesIt is remarkable I ever discovered this gem of a classic candy store in Spokane, Washington considering people who have lived there for years don’t always know about it.  The signature candy of this old fashioned shop is their soft peanut brittle.  The store shelves are lined with jars of saltwater taffy and foil wrapped chocolates.  But one cannot leave this store, online or in person, without trying the individually wrapped Bruttles.  An offspring of the popular soft peanut brittle, the best way to describe this unique candy is that it is like a homemade Butterfinger.  I have never tasted anything quite like it.  The sampler box is a nice way to try their full range of classic candies.  One thing is for sure, if you give the gift of Bruttles, you probably don’t have to worry about anyone else giving the same gift, at least this year.  Favorites: Bruttles, soft peanut brittle, butter toffee

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Friday, November 25, 2011

Getting Out, and Over the Turkey

Khao Soi Kai at Pok Pok, Portland, Oregon

While the rest of you are dreaming of turkey soup and late night sandwiches, I am fantasizing about an entirely different Day After Thanksgiving experience: eating out.  After a day heavy with starch and sugar, I wake up Friday morning craving anything other than Thanksgiving food- light and luscious sushi, crispy beef tacos, a bowl of fragrant laksa.  The best part is, particularly if you find yourself in a big city on Friday, the restaurants are empty, the usual crowds dispersed to the countryside to be with family or to the mall for Black Friday specials.  Now is the time to eat well, eat ethnic, and eat out.

Tonight, we eat at Nobu Fifty Seven, part of our “Staycation” in New York City.  It is not often you can call Nobu on a Friday night, hours before your desired dinner time and get a table for two no problem. 

I imagine this ease of getting into popular restaurants extends to other big city dining destinations.  If I had found myself in another American metropolis today, here are a few very popular restaurants serving food that is light years away from Thanksgiving cuisine, where you might just be able to snag a last minute table hours before dinnertime.

Ping and Pok Pok, Portland:  My excitement over this Portland-based mini chain of South East Asian themed restaurants can hardly be contained, and I am not alone given the lines that normally form just to get into these two restaurants.  Not specifically true to any one country, the menus span the region taking some liberties with dishes like Vietnamese style chicken wings at the otherwise Thai Pok Pok but ultimately the group of restaurants authentically represent the flavors of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia with even a tip of conical hat to Yunnan, China.  One taste of the Nonya style green beans at Ping, bathed in spicy coconut sauce and sprinkled with fried shallots, and Aunt Susan’s green bean casserole will be a distant memory.

Brasserie Beck, Washington D.C.:  If I was in DC and had some calories to spare after Thanksgiving, I’d head to Brasserie Beck.  This K Street restaurant is typically packed during the week with suits from downtown, but on a holiday weekend I imagine it clears out.  I’d start with a tart Belgian sour ale to cleanse the palate, a welcome change of pace from the flowing red wines of yesterday.  From there I’d move onto a platter of mussels plump and served up in a sizzling cast iron skillet.  Fennel and chorizo would be a bold and flavorful combo particularly nice when paired with a towering cone of crisp fries.  After so many spuds boiled, mashed, and baked, those French fries sure will taste good.

Rivera, Los Angeles:  There may be taco trucks on every corner in Los Angeles, but Latin-themed restaurant Rivera is not of that genre.  At trip to Rivera tonight comes with the benefit of almost no traffic, most people having skipped town earlier in the week, and the chance to leisurely sample from Chef John Rivera Sedlar’s ambitious menu of Latin dishes spanning three continents.  A bowl of posole gets hit with truffle and oregano.  Banana leaf wrapped pork shoulder is done pibil style but cooked à la molecular gastronomists, sous vide.  Rivera is a far cry from the taco stand and even further removed from turkey memories of yesterday.  And the Friday night of a holiday weekend in downtown LA, you might even find street parking. 

Pok Pok, 3226 SE Division Street, Portland, Oregon
Ping, 102 NW 4th Ave., Portland, Oregon
Brasserie Beck, 1101 K Street NW, Washington, DC
Rivera, 1050 S. Flower St. #102, Los Angeles, CA

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Of Food Hangovers and Turkey Wings

If you are lucky at Thanksgiving dinner, one carnivorous soul will live out his caveman fantasies by taking ownership of a hulking turkey drumstick.  But what of those pesky wings?  Finding a taker to pick finicky strands of dark meat out of the turkey wing is a bit of a challenge too often leaving the wings behind in the pile of Misfit Thanksgiving Food bound for the garbage bin.

A couple of years ago I woke up with the inevitable Day-After-Thanksgiving food hangover looking for a breakfast that would simultaneously soothe my tummy and potentially use up some leftovers.  It was then, as I stared at a bag of plain white rice contemplating a comforting bowl of porridge, that I finally found a use for those misfit wings: congee.

Ubiquitously served for breakfast in China as well as at dim sum restaurants across America, congee is simply a porridge made of rice and water.  This bland breakfast food turns out to be not only the perfect dish to stage a morning after recovery, but also a great way to use up some leftover turkey bits, like wings, in the process. 

The porridge cannot be simpler- water, rice, and a bit of salt simmer for a very long time until the rice bursts, transforming the water to a milky soup.  Congee doesn’t taste like much, that is, until you add to it.  The Chinese like combinations of pickled vegetables, ham, and omelet usually with a fiery chili sauce to crank up the flavor.  For my purposes after Thanksgiving, the turkey wings do all the hard work.

Turkey wings turn out to be the perfect flavoring for this long cooking porridge.  Throw a couple of uneaten wings into the pot with the rice and water, over the next 90 minutes the porridge is flavored with a rich turkey taste.  As for those pesky bits of meat on the bone?  They naturally fall off during the cooking process mixing in seamlessly with the slowly dissolving rice.  A little garlic chili sauce and maybe a sprinkling of green onions and the bowl is good to go, for breakfast, lunch, or even a late night snack.

In my kitchen, turkey wings, once confounding for being nearly inedible find new life the day after Thanksgiving in a bowl of congee.  It is like grandma’s chicken noodle soup for exhausted stomachs, if my grandmother was Chinese and had some turkey wings lying around.

Turkey Wing Congee
Time: 90 minutes
Yield: 6 serving

¾ cup short grain white rice
8 cups water
1 tsp Kosher salt
2 turkey wings plus other miscellaneous turkey bones if desired
Sliced green onions
Soy sauce
Garlic chili sauce

Bring rice, water, salt, and turkey wings to a boil in a large pot.  Reduce heat to a low simmer.  Partially cover with a lid.  Cook stirring occasionally over the first hour, then frequently during the last 30 minutes.  Rice kernels should burst and the porridge should have a thick, milky consistency.  Remove the bones.  Any pieces of meat that didn’t naturally fall off during cooking can be removed at this point and added back to the pot.  To serve, ladle congee into bowls and let each person add soy sauce, sliced green onions, and chili sauce as desired. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Monday, November 21, 2011

Can’t Live Without: 3 Cookbooks for the Holidays

Can’t Live Without: 3 Cookbooks for the Holidays

This time of year, three of my cookbooks seem to spend more time off the shelf than on.  Whether baking holiday treats, setting up a spread for a cocktail party, or dreaming up a show-stopping main course for dinner, I go back to these books for tips over and over again.  These cookbooks are old friends, dog eared and beat up, who are always there for me, no matter how many spots of food I spill on their well loved pages.
Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres HandbookThe queen of all things domestic may have just come out with a new book on entertaining, but for my needs, the Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook covers it all.  If you’ve ever wondered how those catering companies find so many clever ways to hold bits of food- cucumber bowls, stuffed grapes, phyllo pockets- Martha has all the answers.  Beautiful photographs detail instructions for the more complicated dishes.  Menus in a back appendix give suggestions for every event from baby showers to a New Year’s Eve cocktail party.  I’m no Martha, but with a little help from her Hors d’Oeuvres book my cocktail parties always feel a little bit classier.

Baking with Julia:  I’d like to think if Julia Child had been my grandmother, this book would have been her collection of baking secrets passed on to me before she died. I go to this book when I need a refresher on making a tender pastry crust or step-by-step instructions for brioche sticky buns.  The holidays are all about baking and the recipes found here cover everything- delicate cookies, bagels, everyday bread, simple tarts, even wedding cakes.   For an infrequent baker such as myself, this book is part teacher, part inspiration, and part grandmotherly baking wisdom. 

Bones- Recipes,History, & Lore:  I have this thing where every Christmas I try to make a more interesting Christmas dinner than I have ever before.  It is to Jennifer McLagan’s indispensable book Bones I go to first when thinking up a new, grand, meat based centerpiece.  McLagan gives tips and recipes for cooking with almost every kind of meat and fish on the bone.  The Millennium Rib Roast, a recipe where a beef rib roast gets a multicolored peppercorn crust bursting with flavor, is one I have gone back to multiple times.  But there is enough in here worthy of a celebration- Crown Roast of Pork, Osso Buco with Fennel and Blood Orange, Seven Hour Leg of Lamb- I’ll have elegant and memorable dinner ideas for many holidays to come. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Good Find in the Upper West: El Malecón

Cafe Con Leche at El Malecon
Two people can eat really well for $20 in New York.  And no, I’m not talking about upstate New York. I’m talking right here in the city I live, on the island of Manhattan. 

I discovered El Malecón the way most good food finds come- through a friend who lives next door to it.  Indeed, I do not have much of a reason to be hanging out on W. 97th and Amsterdam were it not for visiting this friend.  But the day she first took me to eat at this gem of a Puerto Rican restaurant was the day I started thinking up reasons I might need to spend more time in this far North section of the Upper West Side.

You see and hear the deliciousness of El Malecón before you taste it.  The store-front is plain (it doesn’t even show up on Google Maps) save for the golden brown chickens rotating in an endless circle on the window rotisserie.  And if you were to wonder the about the authenticity of this place, one pause to listen to the conversation at the busy tables and all doubts are put to rest- everyone speaks Spanish. 

Rotisserie chicken and all the fixins'
I don’t speak Spanish, gracias, but that wasn’t a problem.  The waiters speak English too.  I’ve been a couple of times and though the servers recommend a half a chicken per person, a half a chicken for two people to share is more than enough.  The reason is that this luscious bird comes with a lot of friends- yellow rice, black beans, and really excellent buttered bread.  Add sides of fried plantains and yucca, they might just have to roll you out the door. 

Boiled yucca with pickled red onions is as unappealing to eat as it is too look at.  But other than that one failure, every side I’ve had has been almost good enough to make a meal in of itself. 

Total cost for this feast for two with café con leche to finish? $15-$20, lunch or dinner.

The décor is plain and the service sometimes non existent (not unusual to be served food with no utensils with which to eat and no server in sight) but the food is really good, really filling, and a far cry from the pretension of “casual” restaurants in other unnamed neighborhoods.  I might not suggest El Malecón for date night, but for an Upper West Side adventure- say after a trip to the Natural History Museum or before catching a show at Symphony Space- this restaurant is just right. 

From one friend to another, you will thank me next time you are on the far Upper West looking for a place to eat.  You’re welcome.  Or as they say at El Malecón, de nada. 

El Malecón- 764 Amsterdam Ave (at 97th St.), New York, NY

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Straight from the Backyard: Cooking the Whole Hog

Pernil Style Pork Shoulder

Back in my cooking school days, I never shied away from breaking down large pieces of meat.  Today, as I do not work in a restaurant kitchen, I make do like most people and have the butcher do the hard work for me.

But I miss it.  I dare say that working with the whole animal, whether its pig, cow, or chicken, gives me more respect for the food I eat.  It is not just filet medallions from the meat case- it is a cut from a tubular piece of beef, part of the tenderloin that runs along both sides of the cow’s spine.  Understanding where the filet comes from on the cow it is easy for me to see how the meat is so tender and so valuable- it is the part of the cow does not get much of a workout.

Lard rendering in crockpot
It was great fun for me last week then to work with some parts of a pig I don’t get much time with- like pig skin and back fat. About 18 months ago, some friends in rural Massachusetts bought two piglets to raise on their mini farm- Sir Hamsalot and YouBaconMeCrazy.  Over the next few months those piglets became full grown swine, and those swine became a freezer full of pig parts the couple has been slowly making their way through ever since.

Good lard is a treat.  Sir Hamsalot, raised on a diet of pumpkins and corn, has some really tasty fat.  To render the lard I removed the skin, cut the fat into chunks and then added them a few at a time to a hot crockpot.  Over the next couple of hours, the pile dissolved into a luscious amber liquid.  Strained and poured off into glass jars, my friends and I will have lard to work with for months to come.

Still warm rendered lard
Working the pig skin was more difficult than I imagined, but as long as it was there, I had to give pork rinds a try.  Using a few recipes as reference, I tried to cut down the three-day process recommended by the blogs into a one-day marathon.  The skin was boiled in a pot, cooled in a freezer, and scraped clean off the remaining fat.  After letting it dry out for a couple hours I cut the skin into squares and heated up some oil for frying.  The result? Crunchy, slightly chewy pig snack.  Not really my cup of tea but hey, not everyday uncooked pig skin comes my way.

A partial rack of spareribs got the appetizer treatment one night.  Slipped into a shallow pan with a spicy-sweet Asian inspired sauce and some water, they came out tender and intensely flavorful.

Pig Skin getting ready to fry
The highlight of the great pig experiment was roasting the pork shoulder on my last night with the friends at their home.  Twenty-four hours before cooking time, I covered the shoulder with a marinade comprised of things I scavenged from their refrigerator: onion, garlic, orange juice, lime juice, honey, and pickled jalapenos.  About four and a half hours before dinnertime, I transferred the shoulder to a roasting pan fat side up along with the marinade and enough water to come about an inch up the side of the meat.  A sort of cheaters pernil, the Puerto Rican classic pork dish, the beast emerged from the oven dark, pink, fat oozing, and so tender it could be eaten with a fork.

Sir Hamsalot’s shoulder was the best pork I’ve ever had.  From where he lived happy days eating pumpkins and playing in the mud to the table on which he was eventually served, there lies a distance of no more than 100 feet. A happy ending to a very piggy tale. 

Pernil-Style Pork Shoulder
Time: 24 hours
Yield: 6 servings

5 lb pork shoulder
1 ½ cup orange juice
½ cup lime juice
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
¼ cup honey
3 T. chopped pickled jalapenos
1 tsp. ground black pepper


Place pork shoulder in a dish or bowl that is a snug fit with just a bit of space on all sides for the marinade.  In a separate bowl, mix orange and lime juice with the honey.  Thinly slice onion and chop garlic.  Mix in with juice mixture, jalapenos, and black pepper.  Pour the marinade over the pork.  Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.  About 4.5 hours before dinnertime, remove the pork from the refrigerator and let it rest at room temperature for half an hour.  Preheat oven to 400°F. Transfer pork to a slightly larger roasting pan, preferably one where it will fit with a lid on (like a Dutch oven).  Season the pork with salt and pepper on all sides.  Add the marinade to the roasting dish along with enough water to so the liquid comes about 1 inch up the side.  Place pork in the hot oven uncovered for 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350°F, place a lid (or foil) on the roasting pan and cook for about 3 hours.  After 3 hours, remove the lid or foil.  Increase heat to 400°F and cook for another 20 minutes.  Top of the pork should have a nice dark crust and the fat should be unctuous at this point.  Remove pork to a cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Monday, November 14, 2011

To Market, To Market to Buy a Fresh Pig Belly

Last week I spent several days up to my elbows in pig fat, loving every second of it.  It is not often I get to explore the lesser-used cuts of a pig such as the back fat and skin. 

The source of this delectable, well-bred pork was Sir Hamsalot, a swine raised by my friends Aline and Brian on their farm in rural Massachusetts.  Butchered one year ago, Sir Hamsalot now fills their freezer with a seemingly bottomless supply of pig parts- from bacon to pork shoulder.

With nose-to-tail cooking gaining popularity in restaurants, it is no small wonder that people are wanting a bit of that up-to-your-elbows-in-pork-fat experience at home, even if they can’t raise a pig like my friends with the farm.  And with that interest in harder to find meats and poultry on the rise, so is the availability of these parts at better butchers around the country.   

A New York Times piece a few weeks ago covered a range of city butchers, including my go-to: Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market.  On any given day pork parts from bellies to cheeks to chops are ready to take home.  Game birds like guinea hens and quail are sometimes in stock but can always be special ordered, shipped in daily from a few Amish farmers in Pennsylvania.  Whatever meat piques my interest, I feel comfortable knowing that with Dickson’s no matter the type of meat, the animals are raised locally, allowed to roam free, and never receive hormones or antibiotics.  It's a difference from normal market fare that I can taste.

Living in San Francisco I made a habit of visiting Marina Meats on Chestnut Street.  This small storefront has a big focus on beef, short ribs ranking among my favorite cuts on offer.  Duck breasts are almost always in stock as is a wide range of local fish and seafood.  For the more intrepid cook, Marina Meats frequently gets a supply of fresh goat- racks, tenderloins, and ground goat meat all at the ready for some inspired cooking.

Around the holiday season I am frequently seeking out new ideas for celebratory meals in the form of a grand or unusual main courses.  In Los Angeles, Huntington Meats at the Farmer’s Market on Third and Fairfax was my go-to for all things specialty meat.  Huntington’s regularly carries beef from Harris Ranch, Kurobuta pork, Kobe beef, and dozens of sausages blended and stuffed in house daily.  They can also order in specialty items, like they did for me the year I made venison racks for Christmas dinner.  And this is probably the easiest place (and one of the only) to place orders for suckling pig.  Just do it soon.  Last year Huntington’s available pigs had all been ordered a month before Christmas. 

Not everyone can raise a Sir Hamsalot, but for those who live in big cities, they need only make their way to a good butcher for a taste of all those delicious pig parts and unusual meats hard to find in normal markets.  For those who live where meat only comes on Styrofoam trays suffocating in plastic wrap, demand more of your store.  If you are going to eat meat without getting up to your elbows in it, you owe it to yourself and the animal to eat the very best quality you can find. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Friday, November 11, 2011

California Pizza Dreaming

Pizza at Co. New York City

It has been seven months since I moved out of California back to the East Coast.  Friends ask me all the time if I miss it.  Sure I miss things- family, endless sunny days, beach out my front door.   But what I miss most, which comes as a surprise for other New Yorkers, is the pizza.

Sure I know, walk out my door, down 8th Ave and hang a left on Bleecker St., I find myself at one of the classic New York pizza joints, John’s Pizza.  And if I head east, just north of Washington Square Park, there’s the thin crust Italian style pizzas of Mario Batali’s Otto.  Up 9th Ave into Chelsea is a more (but not quite) California style pizza of Co., charred to a nice crisp around the edges and topped with interesting combinations of Italian meats and cheese.

But I can’t help it.  I love pizza in LA.  I miss it.

Fennel Sausage and green onion pizza, Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles
Mozza is the hands down favorite.  Oddly, it is also a Mario Batali restaurant but the pizza is the baby of his bread genius partner Nancy Silverton.  3000 miles away I can still taste the sweet pork sausage, squished down onto the crust at the suggestion of the bartender, juices oozing out over the chewy thin crust with billowy, hollow edge.  Some of my most memorable meals in Los Angeles during my time there happened at the bar at Pizzeria Mozza, watching the pies- goat cheese and leek, squash blossoms and burrata- go in and out of the oven.  (Note: For traveling pizza lovers, I have it on good authority from KF Seetoh, Singaporean food guru, that the Mozza in Singapore is excellent as well.)

Bollini’s Pizzeria in Monterey Park, south east of downtown Los Angeles, was a journey off the beaten track I never once regretted.  The wood fired oven burns at 1200 degrees, a feat achieved by few restaurants anywhere.  The pizzas are paper thin, with that just barely burnt around the edges look- the sign of a pizza oven master.  The toppings at Bollini are solid if not wildly inventive.  The Fungi Y Tartufi, wild mushrooms with fontina and truffle oil, never disappointed.  But is of that crust I dream.

For everyday eating near the beach where I lived, Gjelina in Venice was the go-to.  Reservations were impossible, waits were always long, but for the determined, like I was, the pizza was always worth the wait.  The menu there changed seasonally so toppings might range from heirloom tomatoes in August to beet greens in the fall.  It is the sort of place I could go often enough, not far away, not too much of a special occasion destination, that I could try out the new toppings on a regular basis- if I didn’t like what I ordered, there was always next time.

Pizza in New York sure is good.  But these days when I think of pizza, I’m California dreamin’.

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

America’s Favorite Bird Meets America’s Favorite Sandwich

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a new way to look at this season’s iconic bird: ground up and on a bun.  If the hamburger is the quintessential American food, then substituting our country’s most symbolic edible bird for the beef perhaps makes the turkey burger even more patriotic than a McDonald’s quarter pounder.

This is not to mention the health benefits of switching out lean poultry for high fat ground beef.  Our nation certainly doesn’t need to get any wider so rejiggering one of our favorite foods to be less fattening couldn’t hurt. 

Eating turkey burgers out at restaurants, however, is not easy.  Finding one that doesn’t taste like rubber and freezer burn (see my column Turkey Burger on the Brain) is even harder.

And making them at home requires a little more effort than the typical beef burger.  But the extra effort will yield healthy and flavorful results.  Here are some tips for making this king of all bird burgers at home.

1. Go Dark:  it is tempting to think as long as you are making a lower fat burger with the use of ground turkey in lieu of beef, to go as low fat as possible with all white meat ground turkey.  Big mistake.  The flavor, and a bit more fat, is in the dark meat.  Standard ground turkey is usually a combination of white and dark.  Go with that.  The flavor is worth the few extra calories.

2. Bind: A true beef burger has no binders, relying instead on a high fat content (up to 30%) to hold the shape of the patty together.  Lower in fat, turkey burgers lack the natural binder to keep it together.  A bit like a meatball, turkey burgers benefit from a bit of moisture-retaining starch, like breadcrumbs, and some egg as the glue to keep it all in place.

3. Low and Slow: A waitress once asked me how I wanted my turkey burger cooked.  Unless you want that burger with a side of salmonella, I told her, I’d suggest you cook the turkey burger all the way through.  To do that without drying it out, I’ll cook the burger in a heavy pan over a medium heat.  Starting out I’ll keep a lid on the burgers to speed up the process, then remove the lid toward the end to brown the burger on both sides.  The whole process takes a bit longer than a beef burger- about 10 to 12 minutes- but the juicy results are worth it.

4. Compliment with Condiments:  The blue cheese, gorgonzola, and sharp cheddar that work so well with richer beef burgers have a tendency to overwhelm turkey.  Milder cheeses like provolone, swiss, and jack make a fine topping.  And as long as you are keeping it healthy, try out a range of vegetables from heirloom tomatoes, to sprouts, to pickled shredded carrots.  Sauces from flavored mustard to pesto also make a fine dressing for a different take on a special bird.

Basic Turkey Burger
Serves: 3
Time: 20 minutes

1.25 lb ground dark meat turkey (size of average store bought package)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 T. vegetable oil
3 Buns

In a medium bowl, mix ground turkey, egg, and breadcrumbs with a bit of salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a large heavy sauté pan over medium heat.  Place burgers side by side being careful not to overcrowd the pan.  Cover with a lid and cook for about 6 minutes, flipping once half way through.  Remove lid and cook for another 4-6 minutes until burgers are cooked through, turning once more to properly brown both sides.  When done, remove to a platter and let rest while toasting the buns.  Toast buns in the same pan as the turkey burgers cut side down.  Serve immediately. 


South of the Border
Mix-in: 1 chopped canned chipotle pepper and 1 tablespoon of adobo from the peppers with the ground turkey.
Top: Top burger with jack cheese and sliced avocado.

Mix-in: ½ tsp ground sage with the ground turkey.
Top: Top burger with cranberry sauce and sautéed winter greens, such as collard or chard.

Healthy California
Top: Top burger with sprouts, pea shoots, or microgreens, a slice of heirloom tomato, and honey mustard. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Monday, November 7, 2011

Turkey Burger on the Brain

I started getting into turkey burgers six years ago when I was training for a marathon.  Which is probably why I had turkey burger on the brain this past weekend as 47,000 runners were passing through my city for the annual celebration of pain and exhilaration that is the New York City Marathon.

Turkey burgers are a great, low fat, and tasty source of protein- just the sort of quick and easy meal a tired body craves post a long and strenuous workout. 

Now, I’ve gotten pretty good at making turkey burgers over the years which is why I hardly ever order them when out to eat.  Most that you find on restaurant menus are the thin rubbery kind, previously frozen and purchased in bulk from a broadline distributor.

Not so the turkey burger at Westville in New York.  Westville’s three downtown New York locations have extensive menus with a strong Southern comfort food bent.  But it is the turkey burger I return to time and time again.

The turkey burger at Westville is thick and moist, cooked slowly in cast iron skillet resulting in even cooking and a fine crust.  The Portuguese bun on which it is served is slightly sweet with the thickness of an English muffin, just enough bun to hold the burger together.  This comes with your choice of cheese, pickles, lettuce and tomato.  If you need cheese (and this is a turkey burger that really doesn’t) the Gouda fails to melt in a nice cheeseburger way and the cheddar is a bit to sharp, dominating the meat.  But the Swiss is just right, tangy and molten, adding richness without overwhelming the burger.

For those in recovery, from long runs or a long night out, nothing really beats the Westville turkey burger- unless you make one yourself.  For that, come back Wednesday for my tips on bird burger cooking at home. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Friday, November 4, 2011

What’s With All the Wine Bars?

Crostini at 'inoteca liquori

When last I lived here, I was lucky that my little loft space in the East Village of New York was around the corner from one of the only true wine bars in that area at the time- Bar Veloce, a small, sleek space to grab a glass of vino Italiano.  Flash-forward to 2011 and my return to NYC, something strange is going on… wine bars are everywhere. 

And I really do mean everywhere.  When Murray Hill- home of giant high-rises filled with recent Ivy League grads still partial to Miller Lite- can lay claim to not one but several respectable wine bars, you know that this wine bar thing is more than the latest food fad, it is becoming part of the fabric of the city.

One of my favorite additions to the wine bar scene is the new mini chain Terroir.  Whereas its fancy farm-to-table parent restaurant, Hearth, has never seemed to fully fit in with its corner on 1st Ave and 12th St., Terroir right next door fully embodies the ethos of the neighborhood.  Lots of wood, tattooed bartenders, menus in school binders, water served in mason jars, and a great Happy Hour- about all your wine interested (but not snobby) East Villager could hope for.  What’s more, the service (when it isn’t overly crowded) is on par with some of the best restaurants in the city.  On a recent night my boyfriend and I were given a dissertation on the Rhone Valley with a side thesis on emerging Austrian wines.  The wines would have been good either way but the effort from the bartender made our wines taste just that much better.

The owners of the ‘ino empire started small.  Really small (“ino” means “small” in Italian).  The diminutive name of their original West Village wine bar ‘ino was no reflection of the New York empire they have expanded into today.  ‘Inoteca on the Lower East Side came next, the perfect spot to people watch through the large glass windows and observe the slow influx of hipsters as that neighborhood transformed, Jewish tenements replaced by late night barber shops and vintage clothing stores. Today, the group has expanded its reach to the mid 60’s with Indie Food and Wine, to Brooklyn with Betto, and even to larger digs in the West Village with Corsino (‘ino is still there too).  It is the Murray Hill location, ‘inoteca liquori, that most surprised me.  It lacks the cool of the Lower East Side and the intimacy of the ‘ino, but for residents of Gramercy and Murray Hill, it is a place to have a reasonably priced delicious glass of wine and some crostini that did not exist in that neighborhood even five years ago.

Circling back to Bar Veloce, that space on Second Avenue was always my favorite.  I drank Barbera by the glass when the narrow room still had the Vespa parked outside.  I forced sherry on my friends when they expanded next door with a Spanish concept, Bar Carrera (now relocated to Houston Street).  This summer they shut down Second Avenue for a few weeks for a major overhaul.  The result is stunning.  What was once the sort of place so narrow you couldn’t walk to the bathroom without hitting several people on accident, is now so open you could do a pirouette and probably not break a single wine glass.  A big square bar, low tables for sharing paninis, high tops for splitting a few glasses of Aglianico and Valpolicella.  But service might have suffered in the expansion.  Bartenders were not so attentive on a recent night, nor helpful with selection.  Big can be beautiful but for my money I’ll take service over size. 

Who knows why now seems to be the Golden Age of wine bars in New York.  But I do know that it wouldn’t be happening if there wasn’t an interest from the people who live here.  So bravo New York City!  The only way to learn is to taste.  Keep on sipping. 

Is your city experiencing an explosion of wine bars?  Do you have a favorite wine bar in New York, or branch of one of the places listed above?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Terroir (East Village)- 413 E. 12th St., New York, NY

‘inoteca, cucina (Lower East Side)- 98 Rivington Street, New York, NY

Bar Veloce (East Village)- 175 Second Ave, New York, NY

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sardinia by Way of Fregula

Prepped clams and fregula

 Oh Sardinia.  How I dream of you.  Well, mostly I dream of your food.

Since no round trip tickets from JFK to Sardinia appear to be falling from the sky, I decided to bring Sardinia to me last week.  Girlfriends coming over for dinner and my clam-hating boyfriend out of town for work, a warming dish of saffron infused fregula with clams and chorizo seemed in order.

Fregula, though the product of a technically Italian country, owes a heavy debt to its neighbors on the African continent.  A tiny semolina based pasta, fregula is essentially a larger, toasted version of couscous, a staple of may North African diets. 

An island province, Sardinia works seafood and meat into fregula much the way Spaniards add combinations of land and sea to rice in paella. 

Fregula with chorizo and clams.  Brussels sprouts and winter squash.
For the purposes of my girls night dinner, I prepped the clams in advance.  After steaming open the clams in some white wine, I shucked about two thirds, reserving the rest still in their shell for a more decorative look.  The clam and wine broth was strained through some cheesecloth and reserved for cooking with the pasta later. 

When the girls arrived I browned some crumbled chorizo and set it to to the side, toasting the fregula in the sausage drippings.  To the clam juice I added chicken broth and a pinch of saffron, setting the pot of broth to warm up over the stove.  Slowly, like making risotto, I added broth bit by bit, allowing the liquid to absorb while I went.  Fifteen minutes later, with the fregula al dente, back into the pot went the clams, chorizo, and a handful of chopped parsley. 

It was the sort of dish, light and fragrant, perfect for a girls’ night in of drinking exotic white wine and dreaming of our next vacation. 

Fregula with Clams and Chorizo
Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 lb. manila clams
½ c. dry white wine
2 links chorizo sausage (about ½ lb.)
2 cloves garlic
3 c. chicken broth
1 pinch saffron
1 c. fregula
2 Roma tomatoes
1 handful flat leaf parsley
salt and pepper

Rinse clams in a colander under cold running water to remove grit.  Place in a pot with the white wine.  Bring the clams and wine to a simmer and steam until clams all open up, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove clams from the broth with a slotted spoon.  Shuck about 2/3 of the clams, discarding the shells.  Reserve the other third with the shells and clams intact.  Strain the clam broth through cheesecloth or a damp paper towel.  Return the strained clam broth to a medium pot.  Stir chicken broth and saffron into the clam broth.  Bring the broth mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer over very low heat, keeping warm for later use. 

Remove sausage from casing.  In a large pot, brown sausage, breaking up with a spoon until it is all cooked through and crumbled.  Remove sausage and set aside.  Drain off and discard all drippings but two tablespoons.  Mince garlic.  Saute garlic in the sausage drippings over a medium flavor for about two minutes, until soft.  Add the fregula to the pan and toast in the sausage drippings for several minutes.  Dice tomatoes.  Add tomatoes and ½ cup of the warm broth to the fregula stirring while broth absorbs.  Keeping the pan over medium heat, add broth to the fregula ½ cup at a time, only adding more after last addition has absorbed.  Continue on in this manner for 15-20 minutes, until fregula is chewy but not hard. 

Chop parsley.  Stir clams, both in the shell and out, plus chorizo into the cooked fregula with a little additional broth (fregula should be moist but not quite soupy).  Remove from heat after two minutes.  Stir in chopped parsley.  Season with salt and pepper to desired taste.

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell