Sunday, May 27, 2012

Speakeasy and hang loose!

Memorial Day weekend is always a crazy whirlwind of activities but more so this year because I was summoned to New York at short notice. Summoned with vivid descriptions of a fantastic dinner at the Macao Trading Co. in Tribeca, a unique restaurant that reflects the best combination of Portuguese and Chinese cuisines indigenous to Macao, just off the coast of Hong Kong. So there I was, overnight bag in hand at her doorstep. The food was impeccable and memorable but not as much as the bar hopping that ensued.
We hit several venues as the evening progressed each one more bizarre than the last. The Biergarten, a gay bar (this was not a deliberate or sober decision), a Blues bar and a Speakeasy called The Raines Law Room. This last one fit the New York stereo type perfectly with its pseudo Nineteenth century Prohibition era decor and ambiance. New Yorkers, like no other race on the planet, thrive on the unique and especially on fantasy and this place more than ever fit the bill. The rooms were divided into sections with translucent curtains and even the furniture is a throwback with dark velvety chaise lounges and wing chairs. We almost expected a cabaret troupe to make an appearance but were left to entertain ourselves at the expense of the waitstaff who looked like they had stepped out the backdoor of an off Broadway production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie". The only way to get their attention was to tug on a elasticated pull in the wall.
The Mixologist in my opinion is this bar's best asset. The cocktails are amazingly complicated and appear to have several perceptible layers of flavor. My pick was the San Luis Cup, a concoction of Mezcal, Ancho Chili syrup, muddled lime and cucumber, sea salt and black pepper and served over cracked ice. Mezcal, like Tequila, is extracted from the Agave plant but is distinctly different. The smoky Ancho chili added a distinct smoky flavor and a definite kick, something of a novelty for me. At $ 13 a piece this was not a place for binging but more for teasing the taste buds. Delicious as they were the glasses were artfully filled with ice with only a small doze of the real deal, leaving one craving for more. Like the Chef's beautifully decorated plate with only a bite or two, this bar gives you Ambrosia in minute doses and leaves you wanting more...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Stick to your ribs!

Summer time is my favorite time of year because its all about being outside. The days are longer and whether I'm gardening, hanging with the kids or simply sitting in a shady spot and enjoying the summer breeze, it makes me happy. It's also time to fire up the grill for many backyard barbecues. It's undoubtedly the best way to entertain but I tend to cook on the grill any time. It's super healthy to begin with and I love the charred bits on a slab of meat, that only comes from cooking outdoors. Its easy cooking especially since I make my son Raoul, chef for the day and I volunteer for the cleanup since there's hardly any!
Baby back ribs are the best kind when you're out buying the ribs but the trick is to cook them very slowly so that the fat renders. Which means that over low heat, the fat tends to melt away and the meat becomes succulent and tender. Quick cooking leaves large chunks of blubber interspersed with the meaty parts and I dislike that immensely. Plus the meat tends to remain tough and chewy.
I tend to get adventurous when I get my hands on ribs. Sometimes I go Asian and at other times I simply stay local. Americans slather on BBQ sauce and it tastes fantastic, the only hitch is that I am opposed to bottled sauces and so I make my own....

Recipe for BBQ Baby Back Ribs:
1 slab of ribs
1 large onion minced
4 cloves garlic minced
2 tbsp oil
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp coarse mustard
1 tsp paprika
salt to taste
2 bay leaf
a few splashes of Hot sauce (optional)
1. Heat oil in a heavy pan and saute the onion and garlic till it caramelizes and add in the other ingredients.
2. Simmer the sauce over low heat till the mixture starts to bubble gently and becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
3. Allow it to cool completely. Remove about a cup of it and brush onto the ribs on both sides.
Keep the remainder for later.
4. Grill the ribs and brush on some of the remaining sauce before serving.

Raoul brushes on the Marinade.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Small bites... big flavors!

Last week my childhood friend Jen (AKA Golay) flew in to spend a couple of days with me. Although we haven't seen each other in a few years, we often have transatlantic conversations that leave us bleary eyed and groggy and quite likely enough to put John Moschitta to shame.
Sadly her night is my day and vise versa since she lives in Hong Kong, but this does little to deter us once we get started. It leaves the rest of our families in awe when we switch relentlessly and effortlessly from one topic to the next for hours on end. It was during one such conversation that she mentioned a desire to taste my Middle Eastern cooking. In case you're wondering - it's not because I'm famous for my Middle Eastern food but more because she had just returned from a trip to Dubai and was craving what she had left behind. Once her trip here was planned I decided that I would make it a point to give her a taste. There was one little technicality-I wasn't sure of what time she was arriving and so I decided to play it safe and create a platter that she could nosh on any given time of the day. So here's what I did...
I toasted pita bread to go with the hummus, bought picked olives and hot peppery Mediterranean salami at the deli and put together a platter. The falafel and beef kebabs were made from scratch and they helped add depth to an otherwise simple luncheon. She enjoyed the kebabs immensely and we managed to tuck in even as we chattered non stop until 2 A.M. the next morning!

My recipe for the Beef Kebabs:

4 skewers soaked in water for an hour
2 cups ground beef ( Burger meat)
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tspcumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon garlic paste
salt to taste
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon oil

1. Mix all the ingredients until well combined and divide into 4 parts. Stick the meat mixture by the handfuls onto each skewer, making sure to keep it as even as possible.
2. Grill on all sides on a barbecue pit or under the broiler until golden brown.
Serve as part of a platter or with mint chutney.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sink your teeth into this...

Chocolate is good for you. Every fashion magazine shouts about it and the caption is usually positioned next to a skinny super model's tiny waistline. I'm on the fence with the logic, but who can say no to a good chocolate chip cookie? So I feel compelled to agree. Either way these cookies are hard to resist and I justify the indulgence with a few extra sit-ups. Besides, this particular recipe makes the grown-up version of a regular chocolate chip cookie. Dark, nutty and moderately sweet, they are quite sophisticated and what I consider to be, the cookie version of dark chocolate. This is not a cookie reserved for a quick sugar high but more suited as an accompaniment to a good cup of coffee or in my case....dessert. Rich in flavor and heavy with walnuts and chocolate chip, a little goes a long way.

My Recipe for Dark Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies:
2 sticks unsalted butter ( 1/2 lb) at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/3 cup dark cocoa
2 flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter till light and fluffy. Meanwhile prepare 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
2. Add the sugars and continue beating till creamy.
3. Add in the eggs, one at a time beating well between each till completely blended.
4. Mix in the vanilla and cocoa and continue beating.
5. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in the flour mixture till well combined.
6. Using an ice cream scoop, spoon batter onto the sheet pans, leaving a couple of inches between each. Flatten the tops gently with finger tips.
7. Bake for 10-12 minutes tops. Remove trays from the oven and cool.