Chocolate City.

I am completely behind on most things in my life, so it makes complete sense to me that I would be writing about Thanksgiving almost two weeks later.  Time may have passed, but I’m still feeling the impact of my contribution to the table.  I’m aware of how obnoxious that comes across but I don’t care.  I don’t care because it’s true.  Besides, it’s not as if I invented the recipe; that credit goes to the lovely people of the much-mourned Gourmet.  It’s just a damn good recipe, it makes a damn good tart, and I’m damn well going to take the credit.

This tart is as incredibly easy make as it is incredibly easy it is to eat — as long as the eater has plenty of milk to wash it down with.  It is a very rich tart, this unassuming wedge of chocolate, and the type of chocolate used makes all the difference.  I personally prefer a darker chocolate; the tart is very dense, and a sweeter chocolate here quickly becomes cloying.

Chocolate Truffle Tart from Gourmet
Makes ten portions

for the crust
28 chocolate wafers such as Nabisco Famous, finely ground in a food processor (1 ½ cups)
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled completely

for the filling
½ pound fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), coarsely chopped
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

optional garnish
unsweetened cocoa powder for sprinkling (I skipped this)

special equipment
an 8-inch (20-cm) round springform pan

  1. Make the crust.  Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°. Wrap a sheet of foil over bottom of springform pan (in case of leaks). Lightly butter side of pan.
  2. Stir together ground wafers and butter in a bowl until combined, then pat mixture evenly onto bottom of pan and 1 ½ inches up side. Bake until crust is slightly puffed, about ten minutes, then cool completely in pan on a rack, about fifteen minutes. Leave oven on.
  3. Make the filling while crust cools.  Melt chocolate and butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth, then remove from heat and cool five minutes.
  4. Whisk together eggs, cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a bowl. Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until combined well.
  5. Assemble and bake tart. Pour filling into cooled crust and rap pan once on counter to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake until filling one inch from edge is set and slightly puffed but center trembles slightly when pan is gently shaken, twenty to twenty-five minutes. (Center will continue to set as it cools.)
  6. Cool tart completely in pan on a rack, about two hours. Chill, uncovered, until center is firm, about four hours. Remove side of pan and sprinkle with cocoa to serve.

Cooks’ notes:

  • Tart can be chilled up to three days. Cover loosely after tart is completely chilled (covering before may cause condensation).
  • Crust, without filling, can be made one day ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature.
Chocolate City” by Parliament.
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Memories Are Made Of This.

Keith and I were supposed to spend last Saturday night at Eleven Madison Park, a favorite restaurant of ours in New York, but Irene threw a wrench in our plans.  Mayor Bloomberg shut down the city, and Eleven Madison Park followed suit.  I can’t say I blamed them, regardless of how much I had been looking forward to dinner.  The restaurant has never failed me in the past, and I know we would have had a spectacular meal.  I was able to get us last-minute back up reservations at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, but they too closed because of Irene.

So, reservationless on the eve of a hurricane, we stayed at home with my parents and ate reheated-in-the-microwave rotisserie chicken from Costco.  A few hours later, the power went out.

And that is how Keith and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary.

I am not the kind of girl who cares about anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day, or if my partner stays out late with The Guys.  Frankly, I don’t give a damn about any of it.

Does Keith love me?  Do we still enjoy each other’s company?  Are we happy?  Yes to all of the above.  Isn’t that all that matters?

Okay, take all of that in and then scrap a third of it.  I mean, sure: love, company, happiness… I want to go to there, and most of the time, I do go to there.  But my relationship with Keith moved so seamlessly from platonic to passionate that until we got married, neither of us had a clue as to when it was we actually got together.  It was springtime, we agree, when I was nineteen and Keith twenty-three, but that’s it.  Was it March?  Or May?  Or in between, in April?

This is my point precisely: we have no idea.  And that’s why finally having an anniversary meant something to me.  Valentine’s Day can get bent.  It has nothing to do with me.  But a certain day in August…

It’s just plain nice to have one day marked in Keith and my lives that celebrates us, even if most of the time I don’t think about it unless someone asks or if the end of summer looms.  I feel that with Keith I’m part of something special, and though we take care to appreciate each other often, it’s important to take a minute once in a great while to formally acknowledge it.  Often with cocktails.  So when August 27th does come around, I like stepping into a dress and a favorite pair of heels, sitting across from my husband in a thoughtfully decorated room, and drinking a French 75 while talking about absolutely nothing related to our wedding.

Which is why I was pissed off at Hurricane Irene.

Now about those chickens…

My dad is a horrible snob.  He’s opinionated, and he’s particular, and sometimes — let’s face it — he can be a little racist.  That said, he loves Costco rotisserie chicken.

This is alternately bizarre and hilarious to me because my dad scorns places like IHOP and Outback Steakhouse (though he does like the occasional Red Lobster).  My father likes Peter Luger, drinking oghi on warm summer days and talking about life in Beirut.  Most modern American things are worthless, or a disappointment.  Case in point: Burger King.

In the seventies, when my parents were still dating, they went to a fancy dinner that neither of them enjoyed very much.  As my father drove my mother back to her apartment, he spotted a Burger King.  Still hungry, he pulled into the drive-thru.  They each ate a Whopper in the car, parked in the lot.  Now when my father talks about Burger King, what he has to say is all past tense, what Burger King used to be like.  He pinches an inch of air with his index finger and thumb and says, “The burgers used to be thick, like this.  And the lettuce was crunchy, and green.  The tomatoes used to be so fresh the juice would come out of it!  Now the hamburgers are so thin, like paper.”

For my father, the memory of something is always far more delicious than the reality.  So I can’t help but wonder, what’s up with the chicken?

To be clear, I fully admit to sometimes cheating a recipe and using a store-bought bird rather than poaching or roasting my own.  When I do that though, I feel like such a culinary con man.  My mother raised me better than this, I think guiltily as I hide the chicken’s take-out container deep within the recycling bin.

Of all the social stigmas in the world, the ones we’ve associated with food have got to be the strangest.  I mean, we have a whole category called junkBut is there anything junky about a rotisserie chicken?  If there is, like Valentine’s Day, does it even matter?  They’re flavorful and nutritious, and my Republican dad loves them.  And when I think about the day that marks my sixth year married, what I’ll think about is this: eating chicken with our crybaby puppy tangling himself up in the now-tattered quilt I made for our bed over a decade ago, while my parents — once so disapproving of Keith — tease and cajole my husband to eat some more as they piled more white meat onto his still-full plate.

And, for me, that’s what’s up with the chickens.

* The most popular recording of “Memories Are Made Of This” is by Dean Martin, but I’m quite fond of Johnny Cash‘s.

Is it Weird That…

…I froze my mother’s leftover Thanksgiving turkey bones and drove them* from New York to Massachusetts?  Is it strange that when I got home, I chopped the bones up so they’d fit in my stockpot with carrots, carrot greens, a hacked-up onion, a handful of black peppercorns, some leftover parsley, a smattering of thyme and a couple of bay leaves?  What if I told you I then covered the whole lot with water, and let it all simmer, covered, on the stove for about four hours?  Would that be weird?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Making turkey — or chicken — stock is so simple, there really is no reason why anyone couldn’t do so at home.  All you need are the bones from your bird (ideally with some meat still attached, but no worries if that’s not possible, since the flavor really comes from the cartilage inside the bones), mirepoix and seasoning.  If you want results that  are a bit lighter in color, I’ve read that you can substitute parsnips for the carrots, though I’ve not done this myself.

You can also add a bouquet garni of thyme sprigs, bay leaf, parsley, sage, et cetera.  I highly recommend tying your herbs together with kitchen twine, or making a little cheesecloth bundle, or using a tea strainer, since you want your stock to be as debris-free as possible.

Speaking of keeping your stock debris-free…

Once your stock is ready to come off of the flame, you will need a fine colander to strain it.  I like to fish out the larger pieces with a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs before I go through the straining process, but that’s just a personal preference.  Regardless of what you like to do, you will need to place a colander inside a large bowl to capture all of your freshly-made stock.  I’m a bit clumsy, so I put my bowl and colander inside the sink, since I invariably will splash a bit — well, maybe more than a bit — outside of my target.

If you don’t have a very fine colander, that’s okay.  Michael Ruhlman has a great tip for you:

…Strain [the stock] through a kitchen cloth, cheese cloth if you have it, or any kind of cloth (I use ones that i can wash and reuse because I’m a cheapskate and hate to keep buying cheese cloth).

After all your straining is done, it’s storage time.  I like to freeze my stock in zipper bags because I have a small freezer; this way my stores of stock take up less space than they would in little plastic tubs.  Normally I freeze stock in three-cup-quantities.  To do this, I date and label my bags, then stick them in a clean, empty plastic quart container while I measure out my three cups.  It’s much easier to pour liquids into a plastic-lined container than a floppy plastic bag.

As you can now tell, stock-making is so easy that writing a recipe for it seems a little silly, but here goes:

Turkey Stock
Makes about twelve cups

Leftover turkey bones from a fifteen-pound turkey
6 quarts cold water
4 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
2 large onions, unpeeled and chopped roughly into quarters
4 large celery ribs, broken in half
4 large carrots and their greens, broken in half
bouquet garni of parsley, 2 bay leaves, and thyme sprigs
15 black peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoon salt

  1. Melt butter in a 10-quart stockpot over medium heat.  Add vegetables, stirring to coat.  Lower heat to prevent burning.
  2. Break apart turkey carcass to fit into the stockpot.  Transfer to stockpot, along with remaining ingredients.  Cover with cold water and increase heat to high.  Bring to a boil, skimming scum off as needed.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 4 hours.
  3. If you’re using the stock right away, go for it.  Otherwise, let the stock cool to room temperature, about one hour.
  4. Set a fine colander inside a large bowl.  Carefully pour stock through the colander and dispose of vegetables, bones, peppercorns and bouquet garni.  Stock can be frozen for three months; otherwise it should be used within five days.

* Before the accident.

My Version of a Traditional Thanksgiving.

We spent Thanksgiving at my parents’ this year, which is the first time in two years that Keith and I have even been around for the holiday.  (Last year we were in England; the year before we were in Spain.)  On Thursday, Keith telephoned his brother from New York to wish him a happy Thanksgiving.  Later, he told us that Brian was interested in our menu.

“He was very concerned that your parents wouldn’t make a turkey,” Keith said.  “I told him that we had a turkey, but he was appalled that we didn’t have stuffing or mashed potatoes or gravy.”

My mother laughed at this.  “This is how I’ve always done Thanksgiving,” she said.  “This is what I know to do, so this is our tradition.”

It’s true; I’d never tried stuffing until I had Thanksgiving at Keith’s mother’s, and I’ve still never had sweet potatoes with marshmallows — though I am totally fascinated by this combination.

Here’s what we have instead: phyllo dough stuffed with mozzarella, red pepper flakes and parsley (boereg); garbanzo, dark cannellini bean and black-eyed-pea salad with roasted red, yellow and orange peppers; mango-and-cucumber salad; fattoush; pilaf with cinnamon, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts and ground beef; some sort of beef dish (this year was rib-eye with peppers and tomatoes); and turkey with caramelized onions slipped under its skin.

My absolute favorite part of the meal is the boereg, which turns a beautiful burnished gold in the oven.  I’m not alone in my boereg love — anyone who has ever had my mother’s recipe has fallen for its crisp pepper-laced cheesiness.  During high school, her boereg made my mom famous amongst my friends; whenever they stopped by, they asked if she’d baked any “cheese things.”  It’s surprisingly easy to make, though a bit time-consuming.  I’ve got the recipe at home, but it’s written on a sheet of scrap paper that I think I tucked in Michel Guérard’s La Cuisine Minceur this past June.  Normally I’m more organized than this.  I promise I’ll make it a priority to find the instructions and post them here, because boereg is best shared.

Dinner at Momofuku Ko.

Momofuku Ko, 2I’ve read Momofuku Ko reservations are really tricky to get, which is why I surprised that I was able to snag a pair on my first try.  To make a reservation, you need to make an account on the company website, then log in at ten AM one week before with the hopes of getting through to the actual reservations page.  When I created an account last week, I didn’t expect to get a table (well, two chairs — I’ll tell you about that in just a sec) on my first try, but stranger things have happened…

So let’s say you are able to get reservations to Ko.  Here’s what your night might be like, if you had been dining next to me.

First, we’d find a convenient parking spot directly in front of Momofuku Noodle Bar.  Then we’d stand outside Ko, looking at the exterior — which New York Magazine describes as being Momofuku Ko, 1“sheathed in what looks like high-tech chicken wire” — before heading inside, giving the hostess our printed-out reservation confirmation, and sitting at the twelve-seat bar.  Our backless wooden barstools would be close together, but still, we’d be able to overhear the couple on my left flirting and the foursome to your right offering to buy the chefs a beer.  We’d chat, clink our glasses together, and watch the three men in the kitchen work.  We wouldn’t take pictures of our food (since it’s not allowed) but we’d eat.  And we’d eat well.

We’d start with two flat-bottomed ceramic Chinese soup spoons, one of which would be cradling something like a creamed corn; the other would hold a bite of shrimp suspended over a thick gel that tasted like miso soup.  After slurping up each of these and arguing which was our favorite — mine would be the shrimp, you’d vote for the corn — we’d have a few horseradishy greens with Spanish mackerel crudo dotted with some refreshing Meyer lemon zest.  The black pepper biscuit that followed, presented to us on an angular slab of slate alongside a housemade chicharrón, would be so delicious that I would run several scenarios through my head on how I’d be able to distract you enough to steal yours.  Instead, I’d tell you how envious I am of Strawberry Shortcake, and how she’s able to live in her favorite food.

“I’d move in here,” I’d say, brandishing my biscuit.  “Can you imagine,” I’d ask, “walls made of this?”

My dreamy rambles, rather than distracting you, would instead befuddle me so much that I would forget in what order some of our courses arrived.  At one point, a chef would place in front of us two bowls of ravioli made with a fragrant matsutake mushroom and yet another piece of slate.  On it, he’d set a cup of traditional matsutake tea and a perfect little cube of French toast.  We’d comment to each other about the toast’s lovely custard center, and each ravioli’s creamy interior.

It would be impossible for us to know that we’d be talking about a gently boiled egg days later.  Split open, its yolk would be smothered in generous spoonfuls of caviar that spilled onto teensy little fingerling potato chips and the creamiest buttery onions.  We’d scoop each black pearl up and smile at each other over our empty plates.

We’d rock in our Momofuku Ko, 3seats to music by the Rolling Stones while spooning short-rib tortellini out of a clear oxtail consommé; we’d tap our fingers against bowls of monkfish bobbing a spicy lobster and shrimp broth to The Hold Steady; we’d ooh as the veritable cloud of grated frozen foie gras floating over a Riesling gelée and slivers of lychee melted in our mouths while Bruce Springsteen played in the background; we’d aah with Elton John over a celeriac purée sprayed out of a whipped cream canister next to venison and shaved Brussels sprouts.

Our two desserts would be cause for more debate — I’d favor the animal cracker ice cream over heirloom peaches and doused in carbonated peach juice, even though I’d confess to you that I’d never had an animal cracker before. I don’t have a frame of reference, I’d tell you, and you’d reassure me that the flavor was spot on, even if you preferred the black pepper crumble with macerated blueberries, a tangy ice cream and black pepper crème fraîche.

Before we slipped back into our coats, we would clink our glasses and finish our beers — Ommegang Hennepin for me, and Two Brothers Domaine DuPage for you.  As we made our way home, we’d discuss our night, the food and, of course, the price.  $125.00 is a lot for one person’s meal, we’d reason.  $350.00 (two dinners, tax, tip and two beers) is even more.

“Was it worth it?” one of us would ask the other.

“Yes,” the other would say, “but I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone because of it.”

Then I’d think, driving through the East Village, I’d come back for that foie.  But would you?

Momofuku Ko
163 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
212.475.7899
momofuku.com/ko

Momofuku Ko on Urbanspoon

A few things to note: the photo of Momofuku Ko’s interior is from their website, the restaurant currently does not accomodate vegetarians, and has a general policy of not providing a printed menu.  As a result, my description of my meal is based solely on memory.

Dinner at Harvest + Hearth.

Before I even got to Saratoga — possibly even a week prior — Marcella sent me a link to a possible restaurant to try for last night’s dinner.  Located a little ways out of the city center, we thought Harvest & Hearth would be our best bet for avoiding the Valentine’s Day crush of kissing couples.  We were absolutely right, joining families and small groups similar to ours in a large room overlooking Fish Creek.

hearth-harvest-11Marcella and I decided to romantically split a starter salad, while her sister Lindsey went with the soup special of butternut squash and pear; I had a taste, and while it was nice, I much preferred our salad: Mamie’s Poppy ($6.95).  Both Marcella and I loved the dressing in particular — it was intensely flavored, but not at all cloying.

“What’s this sweetener?” I asked Marcella.  “Is it honey?”

“It might be,” she said, “but it’s different.”

We pondered this for several minutes until our server happened to pass by; we waved her down and I inquired after it, but she told me the owners refuse to give away the recipe, a family secret.  It was definitely the highlight of the salad, which was also comprised of organic pears, roasted pecans, goat cheese and organic mesclun greens.  Though I did really love the salad, I wish it had included more pears, instead of four slim slices.

hearth-harvest-2Before we had even gotten to H + H, I had already studied the menu and chosen the pizza I was most looking forward to trying:  The Shrooms — wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, Fontina, Mozzarella and organic herbs ($7.95 for a small, $15.95 for a large).  The three of us agreed and ordered the larger pie, which was a combination of sweet and savory.  I couldn’t really taste the Fontina, but since it’s such a mild cheese I suppose it wasn’t surprising, though it made me wonder why it was included at all.

hearth-harvest-3Aside from the Shrooms, the three of us also decided to share two additional small pizzas.  We agreed upon the Natural (sun-dried tomato pesto, caramelized onions, organic mushrooms, maple-fennel sausage, Mozzarella, and herbs, $8.95) and one of the night’s specials (bacon, arugula and Gorgonzola, I forgot to make note of its price — actually, we weren’t told the price, and I forgot to check the bill).

The sausage in the Natural was excellent; the fennel added a wonderful hint of anise essence to each bite.  Lindsey especially liked the sausage, saying its crumbly texture was the perfect and the only way she liked to eat it.  The big surprise, though, was the special — it was by far the superior pizza of the three we chose.  As we devoured it, we lamented the fact that we had ordered a large Shrooms and only a small special.  The medley of sweet and salty bacon, peppery greens and tangy cheese was a thoroughly wonderful combination, an utter success.

While I’ve heaped praise upon Harvest & Hearth, I would be negligent if I didn’t mention something: the kitchen is unbearably slow.  At one point, ages after the scraped-clean plates of our starters were cleared away, our server came by the apologize for the delay.

“There’s been some confusion in the kitchen,” she said, not elaborating.

It was such a shame we had to wait so long, and not only because I lean towards the impatient.  The food really was stellar, and our server tried to do the best she could to make us more comfortable.  The truth is, the only thing that would have made us happy was our food, on time.

“Well,” said Lindsey, once the pizzas were in front us, “at least it’s hot!”

That’s what I think she said, anyway.  Her mouth was full.

Harvest + Hearth
251-B County Route 67
Saratoga Springs, New York 12866
518.587.1900
harvestandhearth.com

Harvest & Hearth on Urbanspoon

New York to Massachusetts: Soundtrack.

It took a little while longer to get back to Boston than it did to drive to New York, partially because of Labor Day traffic and partially because we stopped twice to take turns behind the wheel.  Usually it only takes four CDs (yes, that is a unit of length which may be used to measure distance!) to get from here to my parents’ and vice versa, but this time it took the following five:

I think my handwriting’s legible, but my mother has never thought so.  This is for those of you who agree with my mom.