Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Friday we went to a local restaurant called Four. Actually... The full name is "FOUR Food Studio and Cocktail Salon." Ugh. Just got a douche chill from typing that. Anyway, when the restaurant first opened it was a rare fine dining oasis on Long Island. For whatever reason, probably the distribution of sprawling and limitless suburbia, it's very hard to keep fancy places open on LI. I think it's because anyone willing to travel just goes to the city. Everyone else just isn't willing to travel 30 mins to a different town on Long Island for a good meal.
The concept is actually four seasons. Four different areas of the restaurant are decorated with little seasonal hints- for instance the winter area is white with a faux ski lodge fireplace, the winter area is wood themed, etc. More importantly, they vowed to change the menu every season.
It's actually been kind of a while since I went there (I guess I should turn the mirror on myself for why restaurants don't get any business.) I was really disappointed with the current menu. "Dumbed down" was the first thing that came to my mind. The original menus were conceptual, well composed dishes, true to their seasonal promise. The current menu had 3 steak offerings, and a healthy helping of Italian takeout offerings: bruschetta, caprese salad, pizza. On top of that, they were most likely appealing more to the drinking crowd than the dining crowd, where in place of chill out lounge music you now dine to the serenade of "girlie got some boobies like wow oh wow."
For our appetizer we had oysters. No work required on their part, except purchasing. They were fresh and large, with decent cocktail sauce. (C'mon guys, at least fix up a little mignonette?) then we shared our entrees: squash ravioli, and Peking duck. The ravioli were tasty, with a decent sauce- white but not cream. I think maybe a velouté with a vinegar accent. There was also a smear of balsamic reduction on the plate. The duck was well cooked if unimaginative. Sliced boneless breast, perfectly on the medium side of mid rare, crispy skin. A few little piles of fixins- chives, cilantro, and a little dipping cup of bottled hoisin sauce, but instead of mu shu pancakes... They put out a pile of flour tortillas. Oof.
Honestly a little disappointed in the spiritual sense, thinking about how one of my favorite places to eat on LI had its balls cut off by a market full of middle aged new rich guidos. But in the immediate sense I enjoyed the meal and drank a bottle of wine. (a slightly syrupy 2003 Rioja, chosen more for my Spain fetish than my wine knowledge.)
The focus of the weekend, however, was the reservations at Colicchio & Sons. I made reservations there the same way I'm sure everyone else does: by trying to get rezzes at Craft and finding a 1 month lead time. But I was not disappointed to have them. I looked at the menus online and they're quite similar anyway.
We had been planning to do the tasting menu but when we arrived, the tasting menu looked kind of sad in comparison to the full menu. The waitress let us pick 8 appetizers and arrange them like a tasting menu. We each ate half and then swapped plates.
Unfortunately it's months after the fact so I'm writing this in hindsight, and the menu has changed already. But I do remember a little bit.
There was a slice of foie gras torchon with a cranberry sauce. Of course.
There was some grilled octopus, which was my first time eating octopus. I always assumed it would taste kind of rubbery like squid, but it's not like that at all. It's meaty and delicious. Reminded me of monkfish oddly enough. And the bits of skin that were charred on the grill were delicious. It was dressed with a chorizo vinaigrette.
There was a pasta, I believe it was squid ink if I remember correctly. It had rabbit sausage, olives and tomatoes. In the end it tasted a lot like a standard pasta dish, like a puttanesca because of the olives. But it was delicious.
There was some of the Craft-famous duck pastrami, which was fantastic.
There was sweetbreads with honey onions and bacon vinaigrette. The bacon didn't come through but the onions were delicious. Sweetbreads are interesting but they have this organy taste that turns me off sometimes. I think if it's too thick of a piece.
And I'm blanking out after that. For dessert I remember there being a sampler of 6 flavors of ice cream which was delicious and fun. I love anything in variety.
So that was my weekend of culinary excellence. The following morning I made hash browns and pancakes and so it was complete.
Monday, March 19, 2012
So my exposure to sous vide was pretty much entirely through Top Chef. I heard what it was but I never gave it much attention. Then someone made a sous vided steak for my roommate. He came home from a friend's house raving about it, how his friend had made a home made sous vider and we had to make one. He had a link to a blog that explained in simple terms what to buy and how to connect it all.
Now I tell people that I'm a computer engineer, but I usually don't bother going into detail about it. I work for a building automation company, and a large part of my day involves digital temperature control. When you send me to a blog about PID loops and platinum RTDs, not only will I understand it, I'll know how to do it better. So even if my chronic nerdiness was not enough for me to want to improve this quick homemade sous vider, my profession cinched that.
We started by buying the parts as listed. We got the PID controller (a device for precisely controlling temperatures using a differential equation), and the beverage heater (a small electric heating element designed to make a single cup of tea). They suggested we use a thermocouple type sensor, but we opted for the more accurate platinum RTD sensor. (Resistive temperature device. Rather than generating tiny amounts of current based on the temperature, it changes resistance.) The home kit also involved using a fish tank air pump to generate circulation. This also immediately bothered me. Injecting air creates circulation by side effect. If we want to move water, we should move water. So instead of an air pump we bought a water pump, one designed to go into an outdoor pond or fountain or something.
The breadboard stage involved exposed 120V wires and electrical taping chopsticks to things. It was not glorious but the steaks it created were indeed. 100% consistently medium rare, tender as the day it was born, and impossible to screw up timing-wise. (in hindsight that was kind of a gruesome simile.) I turned it loose on a couple of dry aged steaks from Fairway and it was a definitively delicious steak. Not something you can find just anywhere. Like Luger's class steak.
So we set to work on a permanent installation. We used one of those 5 gallon beverage coolers; the one with the spigot on the bottom. We removed the spigot and ran the cord for the pump through that hole. Then we drilled through the side and mounted the temp sensor 2/3rds of the way up. Finally, I upgraded from the 300W single-cup heater to a 1000W badass which was designed to boil spackle buckets full of water.
Then for the controller, I found a plastic enclosure to use and a bunch of panel mount connectors. For the power input, I got the 3 pin connector typical of PC power supplies. For the switched output, I got a standard wall outlet type plug. And for the sensor, I got XLR connectors, like professional musical equipment. I cut the end off the sensor and soldered the XLR male end onto it. Internally, I upgraded from using the built-in relay in the PID controller to the SSR (solid state relay) recommended by the manufacturer. The SSR has the advantage of being much harder to wear out, so using a faster cycle time presents no difficulty with control. It also has the dubious advantage of being silent; it turned out that the sound of the click made it much easier to tune. Since the PID controller doesn't officially tell you what it's trying to put out, you are left to try and interpret from a flickering LED how long the pulse is at the given moment.
Lucky for me I spend a portion of my career tuning PID loops. It's more of an art than a science so even if you can grasp the concepts as a layperson having experience is super handy. Our cooker overshoots just once on startup by about 2 degrees. It's a tradeoff for speed or safety. We are looking to tune it further so that there is no risk in a fire-and-forget situation. For example I cooked a pork loin roast in it last week by throwing the pork into it, plugging it into the wall, and leaving the house to go to work. 8 hours later I had a divinely cooked pork loin. In this case the overshoot was not noticeable. I assume if it's being held 2.5 degrees over for maybe 30 minutes, over the course of 8 hours that becomes a negligible amount of time.
Well at this point I'm rambling but suffice it to say I made a sous vide cooker and it kicks ass. I also made a modular temperature controller which I am going to use to electrify my smoker this summer, and my roommate is considering making a breadbox that will use it also. Finally we are going to spraypaint the bucket black and call it Sous Vader.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
So there's this place on the Lower East Side called The Meatball Shop... It is a meatball-centric restaurant that very intelligently stays open late for the drinking hipster crowd. I'm sure they clean up because it's always packed, and the meatballs are amazing. My personal meatball delivery system is the meatball "sliders," where they give you each meatball on its own little bun. My favorite part might actually be the menu, which is laminated, and the meatballs and sauces are presented in a matrix and you order by marking the box where your ball and sauce intersect.
They offer a standard beef ball, a spicy pork ball, a chicken ball, and a veggie ball (which I have never tried but if it's like a falafel it might be worth checking out). Then they have a marinara sauce, a spicy bolognese sauce, mushroom gravy, and a cheesy alfredo type sauce.
Of course they also carry an array of veggie sides, pasta, and a special of every type- ball, sauce, veggie, etc. Up to and including dessert, which is another matrix of cookie and ice cream type, and they make you a custom chipwich.
So after visiting twice in about a week (it was Thanksgiving time, so the special ball was turkey and the special sauce was cranberry sauce) I stumbled on the combination of getting the spicy pork ball with the cheese sauce and it was heaven on earth. So I decided I had no choice but to try to replicate it at home.
I bought a pork shoulder and cubed it up. Then I took about a 3rd of a loaf of italian bread and soaked it in milk. I processed the 2 together in the food processor, (since I don't have a KitchenAid with the grinder on it, although I might have to soon if I keep this up.) In small batches so as not to overload the FP. It worked very well and came out with kind of a pasty consistency, a little dense but perfectly good and almost uniform.
Then I cut up 2 hot peppers in a fine dice. Brunoise I think it's called. They were long red chile peppers, I don't remember the name. They were spicy, and sweet, as spicy or a little more spicy than a cherry pepper, but long so they were easier to chop.
I mixed the hot peppers in with the pork and bread, an egg, and since it felt really dense I added some canned breadcrumb. (I forgot to salt.) Then I balled them and poached them in boxed beef stock.
They came out tasty, the consistency was amazing but they were definitely a little flat for lack of salt, and somehow not spicy at all.
Then the sauce. I melted a stick of butter and sweated shallot and garlic, then added flour and made a roux. When it started to darken I added enough milk to thin it. The problem is, when you start with a whole stick of butter, your course is basically set, because you have to add enough flour to make a proper roux, and enough milk to get it to a proper consistency, and it ended up making a quart and a half of sauce. I got the consistency perfect, but it was a lot of freakin sauce.
Anyway I then melted in shredded gruyiere and fontina, but I didn't have time to go to Fairway and get real cheese, so I used rubbery grocery store pre-wrapped cheese, which is not very tasty. In the end it was a mild but cheesy sauce, but when I was eating it something had a dry, starchy finish. I can't tell if it's the balls or the sauce. If it's the balls I have no idea how to fix that. If it's the sauce it just means I didn't cook the roux enough.
Overall though it was pretty tasty. I hope to try it again someday and get it perfect.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
3 pts fresh chicken broth
2 small cans whole tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
10 Lapsang Suchong teabags
Carrots, onion, celery
Cardamom & allspice
Bring the broth just to a boil, remove from heat and steep the teabags.
Half tomatoes and remove the seeds, then force the guts through a sieve. Add all the tomato juice to the broth.
Toss the halved tomatoes and halved garlic cloves in olive oil, spread in a single layer in a baking dish, salt and roast at 500. The tomatoes will dry out, the oil will start to sizzle, the garlic will turn brown and the tomatoes will start to get some brown spots on them. (If you see any black spots on anything pull it out immediately- burntness is like flavor cancer. It ruins the whole batch if you don’t cut that part out. Particularly on the garlic.)
Salt mirepoix, sautee until it gets color. Pitch in the broth/juice mixture and deglaze. Dump the tomatoes and garlic in. Bring to a simmer. Spice.
Let it reduce and start to thicken. If your broth is any good it won’t take long.
Hit it with the stick. You can stick it for an hour and there will always be some chunks; if you don’t like chunks force it through a sieve but tomato chunks are tasty anyway.
Check the seasoning and put it back on the heat. Add a cup or so of cream and a few oz of bourbon, stir it up and bring to a simmer until integrated and thick.
Serve garnished with fresh cracked pepper and a grilled cheese sandwich, or toast baguette rounds with cheese and drop it on top.
Notes and possible additions for next time:
Tea got some bitterness it seems like. It retards the development of flavor until you eat a few mouthfuls oddly enough. Maybe don’t simmer the broth with the teabags for so long. Adding a little more cream and bourbon before reheating alleviated the problem entirely too.
Maybe a little bit of heat? I bought 1 jalepeno but chickened out and didn’t use it. Also maybe roast red pepper with the tomatoes… or more accurately char and peel red pepper and add with the tomato.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Lunch was bananas. I was at a meeting in Columbus Circle, and I stopped in to the Columbus Circle shopping center which is a retardedly high end mall. I went up to A Voce for lunch and ordered bresaola, leeks with bacon vinaigrette, and caramelized onion agnolotti with balsamic vinegar and foie gras.
The bresaol was delicious. They also give you a piece of ciabatta with goat cheese spread which is fuckin great. The bresaola also comes with some toasted bread which is entirely unnecessary since you already have bread on the table.
I thought about serving bresaola carpaccio style, drizzled with EV, a couple of leaves of arugula and some parmesan peelings.
Then the leeks. They brought it out as an appetizer, although I think leek is kind of a weird veg to just eat a whole bowl of. It's super delicious but I just can't eat that much of it. Maybe it's just too fibrous for me. But the dressing was very good, mild and bacony with some bread crumbs on top for crunch.
And then the main course... The flavor was amazing. Explosive and perfectly layered. The agnolotti were stuffed with caramelized onion. The sauce was a tangy balsamic vinegar reduction. There was parmesan and breadcrumbs on top. My only complaint was the foie gras delivery method. It was like thin slices I guess, melted over the top... But they laid out the agnolotti neatly on the plate, like a grid, and the foie just kind of messily tossed on top in a thin layer. As an engineer I have to demand uniform foie distribution.