leave your inhibitions at the door
Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderful to be with family, seeing Botha, meeting new friends, and watching back-to-back screenings of Kill Bill 1 &2. But with the hurricane coming, my flights canceled, and injured knee restricting exploration it was shaping up to be a disappointing trip. Add to that, I think I had some through-the-roof expectations of meals and ended up with –
– Indians serving me veal piccata that tasted like…like… well, nothing. I would’ve taken Arby’s because it would’ve had more flavor. (Not good, just more)
– Mystery vermin stir-fry with a bowl of flatulence soup.
– A somewhat overrated gastropub meal with distinct absence of a Lindsay Lohan or Anne Hathaway. Hell, I would’ve taken Tom Selleck at that point.
Since nothing was open that night and probably the next day, our prospects of culinary redemption were looking pretty bleak. Luckily, I’m not your ordinary, out-of-town, couch-inhabiting leech – I’m a blogger.
Over the next day and a half, we ended up having the best meals of the week. I think there’s some sort of moral to this story or life lesson here. Something like an afterschool or holiday season TV special about the best things in life come in the company of family, friends and simple pleasures….. Nah, these were the best meals because I fucking knocked them out of the park.
It was me, Panhead, his girl, and my nephew for an intimate 50th birthday celebration catered by yours truly. To impress, I went with my go-to meal – braised short ribs, pureed leeks, and haricot vert. Add in his girl’s homemade baguettes, perfect French meal.
– Short ribs – This is my recipe I modified when I made veal cheeks a couple months ago. That recipe used beer, but this recipe calls for red wine. I usually opt for the cheapest Pinot Noir I could find, this time it was some Malbec.
– Pureed leeks – This is a recipe that Botha taught me. It’s simple – saute chopped leeks (minus green parts) in butter until soft – ten minutes or so. Then puree with some heavy cream.
– Haricot vert – Chop the bacon and fry until crisp, separating pieces as much as possible. Remove bacon and set aside. Toss in a couple handfuls of trimmed French green beans (thinner, usually pre-bagged in the produce section). Toss around in bacon fat and cook until tender-crisp, about 4-5 minutes. Then sprinkle the bacon on top of it. It’s probably best to blanche the beans first to retain crispiness and color, but I was too damn lazy.
All of this enjoyed with a fantastic bottle of 2007 Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere (Chile). For those unfamiliar with Carmenere, it’s a terrific story. It was one of the original Bordeaux grapes, but is hard basically non-existent in France due to a vine disease in 1867. Chileans, who had thought that they were growing Merlot, were actually growing Carmenere. So now they lead the world in production for this wine. It’s usually deep-red, medium-bodied with flavors of red fruit, spice, and berries. It’s lighter-bodied and more drinkable then cabernet, with more refined tannins.
For dessert, we had an assortment of mini-cakes from Bruno’s, a little old-school Italian bakery across the street.
Bruno’s claim to fame is that they beat Bobby Flay in a cannoli competition in an episode of Food Network’s “Throwdown”. Not sure if that was a fair fight, but impressive nonetheless. We went with an assortment of mini-cakes and a cannoli – all beautiful desserts that tasted better than they looked.
Chinatown Part 2
Irene hit town around 3:30am on Sunday morning. By that time, it was downgraded from a category one hurricane, with 75mph winds, to “just” a tropical storm with 65 mph winds. I’m a really heavy sleeper, but the rattling windows of the old highrise easily woke me up. It was scary as hell but, thankfully, there was minimal damage where we were. Most places had planned to close that Sunday and we figured (correctly) that the only places that would be open were in Chinatown.
This time, I made sure we stayed away from the ratmeat buffet. We happened on a bakery and I ordered a dozen siaopao – steamed buns filled with barbecue pork. A lot of people refer to them as humbaos, and I’m honestly too lazy to figure out what the difference is. All I know is, if I ever get sent to the electric chair, these will be part of my last meal.
One more night of Hedonist-cooked food. Went a simpler this time, but no less delicious – steak fajitas with homemade flour tortillas, refried beans, and rice with pigeon peas. Due to the rush of people stocking up in advance of the hurricane the bread section was decimated, tortillas included. So we found a recipe online simple enough for my nephew to make. Find one yourself, I’m sleepy…
For the fajitas I used hanger steak, which I absolutely love. Like short ribs, they are among the cheapest cuts of meat but also the most flavorful but you have to cook them right. With short ribs, it’s braising. Hanger steaks can get tough pretty easily so it’s best to just sear them in a hot pan for about 4-5 minutes on each side to get medium-rare. Anything more than medium will be too tough.
– Marinate the steaks in lime juice for about an hour. These were about an inch or so thick.
– Dry the meat and sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and ground cumin.
– Sear in a hot heavy pan with a little oil in it. 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare, a little more if the steak is thicker. Remove and let sit while cooking peppers and onions.
– Sautee thinly sliced green pepper and onion in the pan for 7-8 minutes until softened, but still crisp.