Monday, June 29, 2009

Bread Bar at Tabla

When Lizzie, another one of my lovely acquaintances, from Vika and Rafe's Bahamian wedding in the was in town a few weeks ago, we treated ourselves to dinner at Bread Bar at Tabla . Bread Bar may be the less expensive part of Tabla, but it still a treat for me. Tabla is pleasantly decorated, nothing overly unique, with music that seems out of place since it is not a lounge. Though we were not sure who our waiter was at the end of the night, we had attentive and unobtrusive service all night. None of these details really matter though as we were there for the food, which exceeded expecations. Here's my rundown of the dishes our group of six shared...

Garlic and Sourdough Naan with the Chutney Sampler
I didn't try the sourdough naan, but the garlic was delicious. I always love naan's texture and Bread Bar's was no exception. It reminded me of Little Caesar's Crazy Bread in a good way. The favorite chutney was mint-cilantro chutney.

Fresh Chickpea & Kala Chana Chaat (warm street salad with red onion, chili & lime) $9
This dish was spicy with a nice crunch. I picked it out and it was my favorite small plate. It was like nothing I had tasted previously.

Creamed Spinach Samosa (local spring garlic, chickpeas, radishes & chipotle chutney) $15
You receive one samosa to split at this price. I found it heavy, but everyone loved it. The plate had a beautiful presentation with a radish salad that tasted strongly of ginger.

Sunny Side Spiced Up Egg (local baby arugula, applewood smoked bacon & gingered chicken livers) $13, includes a $2 donation to City Harvest
It looked great with the sunny side up egg. I couldn't taste the ginger on the chicken and didn't have bacon in my bite but the flavors melded nicely.

Saag “Paneer” Pizza (spiced creamed spinach with crumbled Coach Farm goat cheese on corn roti) $16
I scoffed at this dish wondering what is Saag Paneer without the Paneer? But it was surprisingly good. The spinach was very fresh, almost dry, and the warm goat cheese and the crisp roti were a great contrast in textures.

Main Courses
Kerala Black Pepper Chicken (seared chicken stewed with curry leaves, onions & black pepper) $19
This was my favorite entree and one I never would have ordered on my own. The chicken was tender and moist; the sweet accompanying stew was excellent over the fluffy basmati rice. It wasn't too peppery, in fact I didn't really notice pepper.

Berkshire Country Pork Pan Roast (marinated with apple cider, cinnamon & mustard seeds) $18
This was my least favorite entree. The pork pan roast was a little dry and flavorless yet fatty. The flavor was vaguely sweet, which was appropriate given the ingredients.

Tandoori Lamb (marinated in yogurt, cardamom & chilies) 20.
The lamb was succulent and tender with a great flavor. I almost didn't need a knife to cut it. This entree had the smallest portion.

As an aside, Bread Bar's dessert menu wins a prize for having the only dessert to have ever repulsed me. Does anything about this sound tempting? Rhubarb Clafoutis (Roasted rhubarb, toasted almonds, basil-lemon curd ice cream). My one other comment on desserts in general was that they must use a melon baller to scoop the ice cream. The one scoop was too tiny for two people to taste much less six.

Sticky Date Pudding (Chocolate ice cream, toffee sauce, crumbled caramel brittle) $8
This dessert surprised me. It had a rich chocolate flavor without being too sweet. The brittle was perfect.

Citrus Polenta Fritter (Braised pineapple, apple lambic ice cream) $8
This was the dessert the women unanimously wanted. It was good but disappointing. The presentation and taste was reminiscent of a lemon bar with less punch.

Bread Bar Doughnut Holes (Made to order with orange blossom essence and a trio of sauces) $10
The doughnuts are light with a tasty sugar and cinnamon topping that overpowered the caramel and vanilla sauces. It did work with the chocolate sauce though. The caramel sauce was great on its own but the vanilla mysteriously tasted boozy.

The best dessert isn't listed on the online menu. If I remember correctly it was lemon pudding cake with coconut sorbet and lemon confit $8. The presentation was amazing and it made me swoon with its smooth sweetness and rich flavors.

I definitely want to return to the Bread Bar. If only to try the Pulled Lamb & Mustard-Mashed Potato “Naanini” (a street sandwich drizzled with fresh lime juice & chilies) and to have more Chaat.

Location: 11 Madison Avenue at 25th Street
Hours: Mon-Fri 12:00p-2:00p, 5:30-10:00 pm (not Friday pm), Fri-Sat 5:30p-11:00p, Sun 5:00p-9:00p
Cost: $$$
Note: Bread Bar Reservations are for inside seating only.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Savory Asparagus Pie

Back on April 25, I was way overeager and picked out two recipes featuring asparagus. Our late Spring, which as grown into a very slow starting summer, did not provide me with the necessary vegetable. Conscience be damned I went to Whole Foods and spent a small fortune on an excessively large bundle from California for this Savory Asparagus Pie. The other recipe would wait.

The week sped by, kind of like the past 2 months, and I finally got around to making the pie at 9 pm on the Wednesday the 29th. I can't even begin to explain why complicated cooking projects appeal to me late at night. I was tired and yet again there I was there I was moving forward and making my first pie crust.

While I wasn't happy with the aesthetics of my attempt the pie tasted pretty awesome, impressed my difficult to impress co-worker Lauren, and made a great, really rich breakfast reminiscent of a quiche. Next time I make this recipe I might cut back on the asparagus, I didn't measure it out but I suspect I overdid it, and attempt to convert the pie to a quiche with more of an egg base. Eggs are less expensive than crème fraîche and I like them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fine Cooking I: Week 4

Week 4 covered Compound Salads, Basic Theory and Techniques of Egg Cookery, Perfect Poached Eggs, Beurre Manie, Croutes Scrambled Eggs, Omelets, Whipping Egg Whites and Soufflés. I like eggs but this many egg dishes at once was a bit overwhelming.

After lecture each team prepared their own Salad Niçoise and Soufflé and each person rotated through the omelet and poaching stations. Omelets were eaten immediately; everything else was served in our traditional big meal at 2:30 pm.

The term omelet refers to the way the egg is shaped when it comes out of the pan, not the filling inside. French omelets are not browned on the outside; American's can be a little brown. I attempted the French omelet with some minor difficulties including excessive clarified butter, not letting the pan get quite warm enough and starting to overstir into a scramble. The result was still pretty good, though the amount of butter made it almost inedible. I had to pat the omelet down with a paper towel to eat it. Nice.
Salad Niçoise
I was less than thrilled that this lesson focused on Salald Niçoise as it has never appealed to me. I was surprised to enjoy it as much as I did. Having been involved with making it, I also now understand why this the salad costs as much as it does. Compound Salads are labor intensive! Two dressings, endless cutting, arranging... By the way, sashimi means the fish is as fresh as possible. I always thought it was a cut of fish.
Eggs Benedict
We poached the eggs and Chef Jane did the rest. I feel more comfortable with poaching eggs, but they are going to take practice. My yolk was properly runny, but my whites kept blooming into interesting shapes. I think my transfer from the bowl into the gently simmering water was too slow, giving the white more time to spread out. Regardless this should never happen again! When poaching eggs add enough white vinegar to the water that you can smell the vinegar if you waft the water toward your face.
Banana, Lemon and Chocolate Soufflé
Our group chose to make chocolate soufflé. It was challenging, especially since we decided to beat the egg whites by hand until the stiff peak stage. The chef's assistant ended up getting involved, but ultimately they were right because Chef Jane could turn the bowl upside down over her head without them falling on her. The soufflé's end result was warm, rich and light in texture. I think if I practiced enough and had a mixer, this could be an impressive, easy dessert to master. The banana soufflé, my favorite, was the most dramatic. I definitely want to recreate it at home. Maybe with a caramel sauce on the side? Or all the accoutrements of a banana split? The others are a lower priority though still good.

Now for some visuals...

You can't see the full effect of my meticulous arrangement/direction of the arrangement but you get the idea... Yes, the whole class basically made fun of me about the perfectionism.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fine Cooking I: Week 3

I skipped week 2's homework, even though I had two weeks to do it as we didn't have class Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. I wasn't ready to eat another chicken and it turns out leg of lamb and standing rib roast are expensive and must be purchased in large portions. Who knew?

Week three covered Brown (meat is browned in advance) and White (meat is raw) Roasting, Reduced Pan Sauces, Deglazing and Reduction, Preparation of Mussels and Whipping Heavy Cream. Between being overtired from weekend activities and being not so into mussels I wasn't quite as excited about this week.

Mussels steamed in White Wine with Cream, Thai Curry Paste or Chili-Garlic Sauce
Our group prepared the Thai Curry Paste variation. Mussels are surprisingly easy to prepare. I liked them more than I remembered, but did not feel like there was a noticeable difference between the different variations. Perhaps if there had been more bread to soak up the juices?
Braised Lamb Shanks with Juniper Berries and Rosemary
Braised Leeks
One Pot Potatoes
Glazed Carrots
Warm Lentil Salad
Each group prepared a batch of the braised lamb shanks. Our group's are the one's closet to the camera in the picture below. Chef said our sauce and shanks looked the best, so unfortunately someone ATE my portion. That was so not okay... Anyway, the shank I ate was tender but I wasn't in love with the dish. Ultimately it reminded me of roast beef, very heavy, which I've never loved. Our group also was assigned the warm lentil salad. It tasted good and was easy to assemble, but the prep work took longer than I expected! The glazed carrots were by far my favorite side; they were very rich with a sweet flavor.
Belgian Endive Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette
Our group was assigned prep for this dish, but ended up only making the vinaigarette when the other group washed and prepared too much endive. This seemed very bland and colorless in my opinion. I won't revisit it.
Chocolate Mousse and Truffles
Both are very rich, chocolate desserts. The guys on my cooking team made our mousse and it ranked very high for its texture. I didn't remember mousse being so thick; I believe the texture is what ultimately caused me to prefer the truffles. That said I definitely want to try making it at home for the experience. I'm sure I could add a little Baileys for flavor and that might win me over...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fine Cooking I: Week 2

My second class in the Fine Cooking I series at ICE followed the same structure as you would expect: lecture, practice and finally a VERY big meal with wine. Did I mention we get to take home leftovers after class? It's pretty awesome, especially as class makes me way too tired to feel like cooking dinner.

Anyway, this class I felt more comfortable as I knew what to expect. Week 2 covered stocks, basic chicken stock, classic and express methods of degreasing stocks, roasting and baking of proteins and vegetables, rice cookery and trussing and carving poultry.

The stock we made was so clear. It involved more steps and patience than my past attempts at stock making but it was worth it. Also, apparently you should NEVER use leftover bones to make stock as it won't have enough flavor.

I was excited that my team seemed to let me take charge and assign tasks from the assigned recipes. The menu for Lesson 2 and pictures are below.

Arborio Chicken Soup
Rosemary Roast Chicken
I've roasted chickens successfully before, so this wasn't life changing. However, Chef Jane pointed out something very smart. You should NEVER ever wash poultry before you cook it. This spreads any potential infection around your sink, etc. and ultimately anything that could make you sick will cook out. Our group had a little trouble with following the trussing instructions; we hadn't tucked the wings properly. The chicken was super tasty as a result of lots of basting. Carving was pretty easy to follow and it probably will change my life. Previously I've just masochistically picked everything off the bones.
Baked Stuffed Tomatoes Provencale (YUM)
Roasted Garlic
"Best" and Brown and Wild Rice Pilaf
My group made the brown and wild rice pilaf, which was pretty fantastic and a great compliment to the chicken. I loved the texture. It involved porcini mushrooms, pine nuts, shallots, currants, parsley, etc.
French Style Spinach, Bacon and Mushroom Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette or Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
I sauteed the lardon (thick cut bacon) for the salad and was excited to receive compliments from Chef Jane and her assistant on the even browning. My homework paid off! I also made my first vinaigrette ever and it held, all week. My arm was BURNING by the time I finished the tasks though.
Claufouti, 3 types, with Haagen-Dasz Vanilla Ice Cream
Our group made a blueberry clafouti. Chef Jane describes it as sweetened pancake batter poured over fruit,which is accurate. This is a great, simple dessert. I think lemon zest would have spiced up our version. I'm contemplating an attempt at creating a peanut butter and grape "jelly" clafouti.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Fine Cooking I: Week 1, Homework

Each week we have unenforced homework, after the first week I was most eager and made two practice recipes. I thought it was extraordinarily important to learn proper sauteing after doing it incorrectly for so long! So much so that I was late to/almost missed birthday party 1 of 2 on the following Saturday. My priorities were a little skewed perhaps.

Recipe 2 was Veal Cutlets Piccata. I substituted chicken cutlets for veal as they likely cost less and I couldn't find veal cutlets at Whole Foods. It was a quick, good/decent recipe. My disappointment rose from a disconnect between reading the ingredients, making the dish and still somehow imagining/wanting Veal Scallopini i.e. a completely different dish as the result.

I loved the Sauteed Fish Fillets with Ginger-Lime Butter, recipe 1, and will definitely revisit it. Preparing the ginger-lime compound butter, which I disgustingly enough wanted to eat by itself, makes this recipe take a bit longer but I found the results worth the effort. I sauteed some green beans in garlic and sesame oil for a side.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fine Cooking 1: Week 1

When I arrived for my first session of Fine Cooking I at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE), I wasn't really sure what to expect; I was just nervous and excited (nothing rare about that though). I made it just in time, slipped into my seat at the long table, applied my name tag and marked my name in my binder.

Soon after Chef Jane launched into the lecture portion of the class... She went over rules and procedures, recommended kitchen implements, food safety and a myriad of other topics before reaching what we would cover in lesson 1: knife skills, blanching and refreshing vegetables, sauteing, theory of protein cooking, simple salads, sauce vinaigrette, compound butters and macerating. The first class has the longest lecture - it was around 2 hours?

Then the 14 of us were divided into 3 groups to cook. The major difference between class at ICE and class at the Bowery Culinary Center is that you cook in teams. You may not get to do each thing in class, although you'll hear about the technique and at least watch someone do it. This confused me at first, but then I realized that is because they follow their model for teaching students to work in kitchens professionally. I had to adjust to the concept but I've found it enjoyable. The menu for Lesson 1 and pictures are below.

Chilled Gazpacho Soup
Spicy Hot Vegetable Soup
My group did the hot soup. I helped dice the veggies. The soup wasn't actually that spicy but it was a good vegetable soup.
Sauteed Lamb Chops with Herb Butter
Sauteed Broccoli
Diced Sauteed Potatoes with Persillade
Every group did all aspects of the main course. I made the compound butter, which was easy enough. You mix room temperature butter with ingredients, then make a log on parchment paper and chill until firm. I also cut a lot of herbs for the butter and persillade (a 50/50 mix of finely minced garlic and parsley). Discovering that sauteing involves using your arm to move the food in the pan rather than using a spatula was a big lesson for me.
Simple Salad with a Vinaigrette
Simple salads involve 3 or less ingredients, so this was easy enough to put together. I didn't personally make the vinaigrette this week but it looked hard. You have to whip together the oil and fats enough to emulsify them together. Most of the prepared vinaigrette's broke (separated).
Macerated Fruit: Sliced Oranges with Grand Marnier, Blueberries with Maple Cream and Strawberries Romanoff with Fresh Whipped Cream
Each group made a recipe. My group was assigned the strawberries and I helped whip the cream by hand! I learned that I needed more endurance in my arm, that each motion with the whisk should hit the side of the bowl and that you need to use a large bowl to ensure the proper volume (if the bowl is too small not enough air will be added). The blueberries were my favorite macerated fruit recipe.