Pasta Bolognese: The Last Meal of a Very Pregnant Woman

I figured it would be her last meal. Her last meal before the pregnancy would end and the contractions would start. Well, as I write this, I can tell you that I was wrong. My wife is teetering on the edge of being late, which for a first pregnancy is not a big deal. Yet, I think every woman could agree, after 40 weeks of carrying around extra weight, having swollen ankles, and hearing the creative musings of drunk, almost homeless men describe your belly (My Favorite: “Yo baby, damn, I sure hope that ain’t gas!) – you are ready to get the baby out!

I had been thinking for the past week, what do you make for the pregnant woman who will eat anything (actually I think this describes all pregnant women)? Since it has been a while since I’ve written, I will tell you that pregnancy has caused my wife to dip her toe into the meat lake.  About four months ago, I was eating a burger while she was chowing down on her customary veggie burger (hence the name of the blog). But I could tell something was amiss, it took me a second to realize that my wife could not stop staring at my beef burger (This is not a sexual allusion people). It was kinda creepy. I asked her if she had a problem or she wanted a bite. She said, “I think I want a bite.” Two seconds later, there was meat juices running down her chin.  I haven’t seen Twilight, but now, I think I understand. My veggie wife scarfing down a burger as if she just came back from a deserted island, WOW!   Just before you make conclusions, my wife still does not eat a ton of meat, all the meat is from “happy animals” and she is likely to return to her veggie ways after the birth.

From what I read, labor is like a marathon only it’s longer, more painful, and people don’t ask you how you trained. With all this in mind, I made my wife Pasta Bolognese with homemade fettucini. Labor can last two days with almost no sleep and then pushing which, to continue the metaphor, is like a long distance sprint.

When I was working in the kitchens of Hugo’s restaurant, I used to make the pasta seemingly everyday. It was always on my prep list. I wasn’t always psyched to see it. It requires 12 egg yolks, 2 eggs, and a hell of alot of kneading by hand (at least 25 minutes until it felt like a woman’s breast). This meal was an act of carb load love. At the end of the day, this pasta is always beautiful. It is so tender and rich, all pasta should be like it. The pasta could be eaten on its own.

The sauce was its own project. I really like taking brunoise cut mirepox, and cooking it down over a low heat with plenty of salt, olive oil, and butter. I think you cook it on the stove top for about three hours till it becomes almost a glassy paste. The paste is awesome, if poorly named. Also, it makes a great base for a sauce. Next thing I know, I am browning the meat, adding the mirepox, pouring in the white wine to reduce, next add some tomato product, and you are done. It was really good and worth the effort. I think I would want this as my last meal.

Next time I write, I will have spit up on my collar and a smile on my face and in my heart.

Chill Out, It’s only chili….fest!

Fun to the Max

Oy Vey

The last time I made chili, I was getting ready to compete in my first Takedown and I was full of vim, vigor, and confidence. I have been humbled since then by the thought that I am going to be a father soon, and that winning isn’t everything. But, I will remind you all, especially Suarez! (JK) that I won that Chili Takedown!

So I found myself with my friend and partner, Nick at Chelsea Market picking up 50 pounds of good lookin’ beef from Dickson’s Farmstead Meats to use in the NY Chili Fest. I was thinking to myself, Oy Vey and Oy Geuvault – here I am again, carrying a small child’s weight in meat.  They are so committed to local beef at Dickson’s that I have the feeling that they are feeding livestock in the basement.

A side note, I originally did not want to do the Chili Fest. First of all, we were not eligible to win. Winning happens to be a great motivator when standing over two 5 gallon stock pots that steam your face with meat grease. Second, I had grown a little tired of competing. I realize that I prefer organizing a little bit better. When I compete, I stress. It has led to good results, but I end up so spent with a week of my life vanishing into thin air. I kept asking Nick if he seriously wanted to enter, and every time it was an emphatic, “yes!” I begrudgingly ceded. So, with the help from our wonderful sponsor, Brooklyn Brewery, we jumped into the fray with both feet.

All of this was before I realized that I would be hungover at 10 am on this cold Sunday morning attending my adorable 3 year old nephew’s birthday party. I am giving you this photo as proof of his cuteness:

Henry

I told you: cute!

My nephew’s birthday was so chaotic, fifteen children can feel like thirty as they all run around an indoor padded room full of  climbing gear. All the padded foam started to look like pillows, perfect pillows to lay my head and prepare for the afternoon of reckoning. It is funny how a child’s laughter can sound like both angels singing and screaming. Fine line, my friends.  But the early wake up call was going to make it tough to keep up my strength for a four hour contest. It was like a freakin’ marathon.

I was hungover because it was one of my best friends’ birthdays and she threw a terrific party the night before – Open Bar, is she crazy!? I forgot to mention that I catered the party, so not only was I making chili, but I was also elbow deep in chopped liver and gravlox – and NO I was not going to a Shivah. All this contributed to me feeling stretched thin. I felt terrible because I couldn’t gather the strength to really help with the chili during the week the way I normally would have.

Okay, so I already told you that we could not win (since Brooklyn Brewery was sponsoring the event). Yet, just entering a contest makes you want to win. We secretly hoped for a massive write in candidacy effort like the recent Senate election in Alaska. As it came closer to lifting the ladle to serve, my competitive juices started flowing.

Happy-ish

The biggest challenge for Nick and I when we compete together is: who’s judgment to trust more?  Whose recipe are we going to rely on? Chili is a very personal expression. We ended up making “The Chili Experiment” or “The Kitchen Sink Chili.” I think we ended up with 42 different ingredients none of which were beans (this makes Nick very happy, he is more of a meat-ist). To be honest, I think that 31 of the ingredients might have been Nick’s. We just make chili very differently. I do think our Experiment was a success. I thought it was well balanced and very flavorful and very rich, almost an umami bomb. The toppings we devised, I think tempered the richness and made for a complete bite. Each helping was topped with a cilantro, white bean, and garlic puree, and a fried jalapeno chip.

Need Air

We did have our fans and the longest line. I think we could have come close to winning with this gut-bomb of a chili.  It was delicious and a crowd-pleaser.  I did not taste all the other competitors out there, which sucks because that was one of the  main reasons I was excited to compete. We did’nt have time. It was go from the moment it started. I was so worn out by the end, I don’t care if I ever eat chili again. Well, at least for right now.

To all my friends who compete in the Food Experiments: Bravo! I could not believe how many times I had to describe the dish, my jaw hurt from talking and I’m a neurotic Jew from central casting. As we got on the subway to home, I turned to my wife and told her that I was not going to talk for the duration of the evening. I kept my promise.

Please, Empty

The Nude Year

This title is a thinly veiled attempt to increase my audience. (Is it a Porno Movie title lacking an actual film or a film I do not know about?)  Besides being nude this year on a variety of occasions, this NEW year is one I am looking forward to with great anticipation. I was asked by Brooklyn Paper to make some predictions for the upcoming year, and yes they will all come true.  But it is not the predictions that I am eagerly anticipating or the Oscar and Tony I plan on winning this year…

I am excited to say that I will be entering phase four of my life: true and real adulthood. My Wife and I are expecting. I am still a little nervous saying it. We have moved into the second trimester so I feel I can be a little bit more cavalier with the joyous news. Yet, I am so neurotic. I am worried that something will happen at any moment. Now, I must make it until JUNE with my sanity intact! A tall order even without impending fatherhood.

My first priority this year has been to feed the expectant mother.  In her pregnancy, my wife has slowly drifted towards flexitarianism. She has recently found that humanely-raised, additive-free meat is starting to taste pretty damn good. It’s funny what a couple of odd hormones will do to ya. Although she is not exactly slinging back hamburgers, she did order the fried chicken at Buttermilk Channel recently – after requesting to see the vegetarian menu! Fried Chicken is definitely on her list of approved foods. Yet an odd thing has happened, I have forgotten how to cook the basic meat meals. I have had two utter failures at making roast chicken! This used to be my favorite dish to make. I have undercooked it once and had flabby skin the second time. I feel like Rocky after he got knocked out by Mr.T – I am realizing that I need to start training again! Can someone please cue the montage!?

paella

New Year's Paella

So in the new year I am determined to start perfecting dishes. This requires numerous attempts and sadly – failures. How many times can I ask my wife to eat paella before she revolts and is repulsed by saffron? But in the next few weeks I will attempt to make perfect Roast Chicken, Fried Chicken, Paella, Gratin, Pork Roasts, and more. If my wife is going to join the meat eating crowd, let me at least give her good reason!

New Year's Coconut Cake

New Year's Coconut Cake

I don’t want to forget to tell you that this week, my future child is developing his or her taste buds. I am super excited to make my wife eat a wide range of food so my child has a developed palette out of the womb. Queens – here I come! I am not sure the wife feels the same way.  I have already made her eat very spicy Thai food, next up is more Asian and Southeast Asian. I haven’t forgotten Middle Eastern or Latin. It is going to be a tough few weeks for her. But as I told her: It’s for the baby!

And one big prediction for The Food Experiments: the next one will be The WINE Experiment! Start your engines! Details to follow….

Have a great 2011!

The Holiday Experiment is coming to town!

Is it already that time of year? When friends drink too much, speak too loudly, and eat too much….HELL YEAH! It’s time for another Experiment. My friends, and the five others who read this blog, The Holiday Experiment is around the corner. All the chefs have signed up and tickets are selling like gingerbread scented hot cakes.

By the way, I do not like holiday flavorings! It must stop. I do not want gingerbread flavored coffee or egg nog ice cream. Fucking Disgusting! Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Muffins, Pumpkin Donuts, Pumpkin Lattes (How do you know you’re from the sticks? Pumpkin Latte – really!), Pumpkin Cocktails, Pumpkin Shit, Pumpkin Dreams, STOP IT! STOP IT NOW! I do not need the melding of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace mixed into everything that goes into my mouth. My family’s holiday tradition is to make great tasting normal food and cook a friggin’ pumpkin pie for dessert!

Did I tell you yet about the Holiday Experiment? I cannot wait. It is going to be fantastic. The entries look awesome, and yes there are some special pumpkin/gingerbread flavored items, BUT I’m sure these will be delicious! I am proud to say that Brooklyn Brewery is our sponsor, so beer will be flowing. Good Beer, NOT PUMPKIN BEER!

Oh, and for all you cheap bastards who constantly ask to be put on the guest list, try winning some tickets for a change – Follow us on Twitter and you might be selected to win a free ticket. Random drawing is Friday, November 26th.

holiday-fizz

my cat getting festive

Pig Island, Sadly Missing the Pina Coladas

 

cleaver

The Starting Line

 

I have been talking about Pina Coladas for the past three months.  Not because a couple of “hippish” bars have started to serve them.  No, it’s because of my love for a crazy light rock song called “Escape.”  You’ve probably heard the song and not thought twice about it. It’s main hook is, “If you like Pina Coladas and long walks in the rain…” This Summer when my Wife told me of the meaning of this song, no exaggeration, it changed my life. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. The song tells the story of a married couple who secretly put personal ads in the local paper looking for Pina Colada fans, only to end up reuniting with each other. I am getting off topic. The song is funny and it reminded me to start drinking frozen drinks again…

Anyway, Pig Island wasn’t a pina colada type of island, but it was amazing nonetheless.  Jimmy of Jimmy’s 43, that impresario of locavore events, organized it.  He arranged for every chef to get up to five local pigs to serve to the public. Awesome. Of course Nick and I got the maximum amount of pigs to go to town with. We spent forever and a half to come up with our dish. The main road block was that I hate potato salad. I have never had a good one. Deli potato salad is disgusting, warm potato salad is usually greasy and gross. I ask you: how many potato salads have you had that have been undercooked, over mayo-ed, bland, etc?  Lame-O is that potat-O salad. Have I made myself clear? So, Nick wanted to serve our dish with his vinegar-salt potato salad and I kept saying, NO there must be something better. He kept at it. Realizing that we are not a fully functioning restaurant with a budget, potato salad started to make sense. Well, I will be honest..it was pretty good potato salad that complimented our dish nicely. So what did we serve with the potato salad?  read on…

 

caja china

caja china at work

 

We butchered a pig and then made pulled pork out of the legs and shoulders, and brined the carcass/belly flap. Then, we stuffed the de-boned pig carcass with the pulled pork, lemon braised fennel, and cooked it in the caja china till the skin turned crispy. It was fucking awesome. I made two sauces: a reduced pork demi-glace that I buttered out and a chimichurri aioli. So, the dish was pork stuffed pork with pork demi-glace, chimichurri aioli, and potato salad. I was proud. Nick was proud. I think we were a little bummed that it wasn’t a competition. We treated it as a competition – stayed up till three am three nights in a row (looks like we would have gotten votes from the volunteer crew too!).

 

pginpig

Pig Stuffed Pig

 

But there were other great dishes…

People could not stop eating the bacon sticky buns from the desert chef of  Print Restaurant in The Ink Hotel. I’m not saying how many I had, but it was more than one. Plus, Matthew Weingarten of Inside Park at St. Barts made one the best sausages I have had in recent memory. It was a sausage made from the entire pig, skin and all. It was juicy and peppery, really to my liking- perfectly seasoned.

 

Lab

The Lab

 

The real beauty of the event for me was the opportunity to butcher five whole pigs. Since I left professional kitchens, I do not get that chance often. I think by the third pig, Stella Got Her Groove Back! The butchering made the whole event worth it. Also, the space Nick found to do the prep work was amazing. All alone, I butchered the pigs in a ginormous waterfront sound stage in Williamsburg. Such a New York moment. The space was the size of three football fields, painted black, and pitch dark except for a lone spotlight focused on the pig. I was able to drive my car inside to where I was working and play the radio. It was a special night.

 

Head

hello there

 

leg

more Pig Island pics

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Making Paté in Malaysia

Street Food

Street Food in Kuala Lumpur

That Man Love Pate!

That Man Loves Pate!

My friend Ted asked me to write a post about all the food I ate on my honeymoon to Malaysia.  Since he is among my most loyal readers, I promised myself to get it done. Well Ted, it took me three months, but here ya go…

Recently I made a batch of paté, and it brought up memories of my honeymoon (not because we ate paté covered strawberries in bed). I’ve been through a lot trying to find an appropriate place to make my paté for wholesale. Unfortunately (and fortunately), they make it challenging for someone to produce value added meat products. Usually I find restaurant or catering kitchens that I can borrow. This puts me right up against the edge of what can and cannot be done.  I am reminded of my honeymoon because the standards for food preparation in Malaysia are very different.

Throughout Malaysia, I ate street food everyday and I forced my patient pescatarian bride to eat it as well. There are no standards for meat preparation over there – the butchers smoke while they work, prep is done on whatever surface is available (be it a filthy crate or even the street), flies are absolutely everywhere… Literally, there are buckets of animal guts every five feet in the market.

Gut Bucket

Gut Bucket

Smokin Butcher

Smokin' Butcher

Chicken

Prepping Chicken

Yet… I never got sick, not even a tiny squirt. Yet, here in America people get sick after eating tainted spinach.

Enough preaching – what about the food! It was fantastic: spicy, salty, sweet, sour and a whole lot more. The street food system really works in Malaysia. You choose a random table in an alleyway or on the street and whoever owns the table sells you drinks. For us, it was $2 Tiger beers, basically Budweiser with an Asian accent. Now you choose between 15-25 carts, point to something you want, give them your table number (no matter how far away the table is, they will find you), and within a minute you have a giant plate of hot food for 30 cents. That is no misprint.

Excuse having to see me slurp

Excuse my slurping

Skewer Cart

Skewer Cart

We had curries, noodles, satays, and everything in between – fried pork intestine porridge, rotis, laksa, etc. I want more right now.

I was surprised to find very little fresh fruits or vegetables. I found no outdoor markets filled with ripe produce or overflowing sacks of spice. We were fortunate to get there in time for the Durian Festival. Have you had this “fruit”?

First Bite of Durian

First bite of Durian

It is, without a doubt, the most disgusting thing I have ever put in my mouth, and I’m taking into account that time in college when I got drunk and woke up in the wrong bed. Anyway, it was shocking mostly because all the natives described it as irresistible, like a “drug.” “You will become addicted!” they said. Well, they were fucking wrong.  It tasted like wet, fermented, sweet, extremely bitter shit. They warned me that the first bite could be tough, but really. I crap my pants just thinking about durian. Let’s not forget how it smells. It smells so terrible they don’t allow it in hotels, rental cars, subways, buses, stores, etc. I don’t know how you would get it home if you bought it.

What do you think Ted? I still haven’t talked about Hong Kong or Singapore! They are worth their own posts.

It was our honeymoon...

It was our honeymoon...

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The Roots, the roots, the roots are on Fire!!!

Another Experiment behind us, how was it for you?

The Brooklyn Roots Experiment begs the question: Why was this Experiment different from all other Experiments?
-Well, Bobby Steingoldschwartz, we held it in a new location: The Invisible Dog Gallery and it made a huge difference. I give all the props in the world to The Bell House and the GM. They always make the trains run on time. So, we did it in a new space and… it felt like the first time, like an Experiment Virgin touched for the very first time.

First, the space – have any of you been to The Invisible Dog Gallery? It is beautiful, light and airy, windows lining the walls. It worked perfectly for the event. We had planned a smaller more intimate Experiment and the space worked to our advantage.  The rough wood floors gave the room warmth, the event had a friendlier vibe as a result.

But isn’t it really about the Food? Isn’t it always about the food? The Brooklyn Roots Experiment was a different type of theme for us, a little ambiguous to some contestants. Normally, we name an ingredient and say, “go!”  Originally, we got a lot of entries for root dishes featuring beet, carrots, potatoes, it started to sound like a Russian Widows Convention. Anyway, The Brooklyn Roots Experiment was three fold. One could either make a dish using an ingredient grown in Brooklyn, make a dish featuring a product made in Brooklyn, or create a dish that best represents Brooklyn. As I said, it is all about The ROOTS baby!

polisk potluck

Team Lei-mo's Polish Potluck

respect to brooklyn's greatest rapper (sorry lil' kim)

Once everyone got the theme right, the dishes couldn’t have been better. All the chefs have learned to season like a pro. I was initially worried because so many people had last minute wholesale changes to their dish. Yet, the people with last minute updates ending up winning the majority of the prizes. As usual, I loved Roopa’s dish. She is a very talented baker who should probably quit her day job. I cannot say enough about Jill Strominger’s dish. It was very tasty and so well balanced. As I told her, after reading her entry – I was really worried. The ice cream she made could go on just about anything: Horseradish cream cheese Ice Cream – Fantastic! Andrey did his usual mad scientist work. This time, he really hit a cord in my memory. His salmon pastrami cheesecake tasted like a canape my mom used to make from my youth that I just loved. I do not have the time to highlight all the wonders, the home made reindeer hot dog (are you kidding me) unbelievable, fresh made tortellini, braised brisket. And don’t forget the winner’s steak and potatoes – perfectly cooked! Like Butter!

Beet It

Just Beet It - Beet Bread Pudding

Andrey applying the final touches to his salmon pastrami cheesecake

And who was left responsible for judging these amateur culinary masters? A panel of geniuses the likes of which we have never seen. We had Melissa Clark from The New York Times, Frank Castronovo of Frankies 457, Ed Levine of Serious Eats, and Sheri Eisenburg of The Food Lovers Guide to Brooklyn. Wow. I was impressed with how nice and accommodating they were. I cannot thank them enough. We even had a surprise guest who declined to judge, but enjoyed the food.  Wylie Dufrense showed up with two sous chef in tow. They sampled the wares and gave a a thrill to some of our talented cheftestants. The judges left discussing the difficulty in choosing just one winner.

wylie and crew

Wylie and his crew hang out

Erin with her Reindeer Pølse

The best part of the event: The winner, John Husby, donated his entire prize to Ovarian Cancer Research which is a charity very dear to my wife’s and my heart.

more Brooklyn Roots photos


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