30 October 2008

Autumn in Provence with Bruno Ungaro

With the encroachment of cold weather upon us, I have become fascinated by slow cooking meat into tender, savory stews. In this post I shall treat my wonderful, loyal readers to the best meal of my Provençal cooking course with renowned Chef de Cuisine Bruno Ungaro. Ungaro has been featured on Rachel Ray's TV show's feature on Provence, and he hosts a weekly cooking show by radio in addition to running his famous and magnificent restaurant in downtown Aix-en-Provence, L'Amphytrion. Most importantly, as my Manhattan kitchen has many shortcomings when it comes to space, no special equipment is necessary in the preparation of this feast. The only requirement is to consider dinner a few hours earlier than normal, and the results are well worth the effort!

The meal is presented in the order in which you will need to cook it. It took our class a little under 3 hours (with wine-tasting breaks) to put it all together, but the timing is so well planned that as soon as the appetizer is ready, you can simply eat and forget about rushing back to fidget in the kitchen. This meal is about leisure: a Provençal way of life.

Provençal Lamb Stew
(with apologies to Matthew Knouse for being so slow about it)

Instructions as to the meat:
- go to a reputable butcher
- look for a fatty, cheap cut of meat, cut off the bone for this preparation
- 1/2 pound per person should suffice

Unfortunately, I forget what cut of lamb Bruno used, but something from the leg or the shoulder should do well.

For 2-3 pounds of meat:
  • Trim off most of the excess, hard layer of fat on the meat (if any)
  • Cube into large, bite-size chunks
  • Chop 3 carrots, 1 large onion, and one head of garlic, not too finely.
  • Add the vegetables first to a large pot, cooking it over medium heat with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste, until the onions have gone transluscent and the carrots have begun to soften
  • Add the pieces of lamb to the pot, turning the heat up to high, so that the pieces sear on all sides
  • Turn the heat right back down to low, and add an entire bottle of red wine (something from the Côtes du Rhône or Provence obviously compliment this recipe the best). Stir in a heaping tablespoon of black tapenade, and if necessary, add water so that the meat is completely covered with liquid.
  • Cover the pot with a lid, turn the heat down to as low as it goes, and cook it "slowly and gently" (Bruno says, "lentement et doucement") for 2-3 hours.
By the time it's ready the kitchen will be filled with the intoxicating smell of wine-braised meat. Eat with a warm baguette to sop up all the juices.

To turn this into a 3-course meal, like we did during Bruno's class, as soon as the stew has been set to simmer, prepare the dessert, which will need to be chilled for at least an hour:

For dessert we had the most fabulous Mousse au Chocolat:
  • In a heat-proof mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water, melt 250 grams of a dark chocolate bar.
  • Incorporate 100g. of unsalted butter with a spatula
  • Taking the mixture off the stove, and mix in 3 egg yolks.
  • In a separate bowl, beat 6 egg whites with 50g. of icing sugar until the egg whites stiffen (it's much easier if you do this with a hand mixer)
  • Delicately, incorporate the egg white mixture into the melted chocolate
  • "Perfume" the mixture - that is, add a few drops - of Grand Marnier liqueur
  • Fill small mugs or tea cups with the mixture, and let it chill for at least an hour in the fridge.
With the meat now simmering away to tender bliss, and the chocolate mousse chilling into a frozen dream cloud, now focus on the appetizer, which will be ready to eat enjoy just as the smells of the Lamb Provençal start to drive you mad with desire:

Chèvre Tartine
  • In a small bowl, combine 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1 log of chèvre (goat's cheese), and a small pot of crème fraiche
  • Cut a loaf of rustic peasant bread into large slices, and smother each one generously with the chèvre mixture
  • Decorate each slice with a whole sprig of rosemary (which looks festively like a Christmas tree on a white, snow-like background)
  • Place the slices of bread into a pre-heated oven at 375˚F for about 15 minutes, or until the chevre starts to bubble and turn golden brown.
  • Serve the tartine with a salad of thinly sliced endive and a homemade vinegrette of balsamic vinegar (whisk together 3 Tb. balsamic vinegar, 1/4 C. olive oil, salt and pepper to taste)
Now you start eating! With careful planning, this meal can now look after itself. Once you've finished your appetizer, the main should be ready to go, and the mousse should be perfectly chilled after a leisurely feast topped off a red wine from the Côtes du Rhône.

19 October 2008

Dirty Martinis: A Review of Dirty Sue

You are looking at a professional dirty martini drinker. I was intrigued when Eric Tecosky, cofounder of Dirty Sue, offered to send me a bottle of his premium blend olive brine, promising to change my mixology method forever. His website features testimonials of celebrities praising this product for filling a void in the bartending market. While I do not think Dirty Sue replaces olive brine altogether, it is an interesting and valuable addition to any bartender’s liquor cabinet.

A dirty martini tasting party was promptly organized with a panel of like-minded friends in order to gain the broadest spectrum of tastes and opinions. I gamely tried both gin and vodka varieties, using Plymouth Gin and Stolichnaya Vodka. Plymouth is said to be the style of gin called for in the original recipe for a martini; it uses fewer botanical flavors than its cousin, London Dry Gin. Real olive brine from pitted green olives purchased at a gourmet pickle and olive store at 86th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan stood as the challenger to Dirty Sue. Some drops of Martini-brand dry vermouth were swirled around in each glass to give our martinis’ dirtiness the veneer of the classic’s respectability. Once the formalities were dispensed with, the real order of business for the evening began:


Tasted soapy, as the salty astringency of brine drowned out the subtle flavors of gin. No requests for a second round.


For a true gin martini-lover, this is a way to make things dirty. The botanicals in the gin came through, with Dirty Sue adding a light complementary flavor of salt and olive. Truly an aficionado’s drink.


The typical recipe for a dirty martini, it is a drink with heft that quenches an appetite, although drinking it on an empty stomach is not recommended. A silver bullet for salt cravings.


Very clean and subtle. It lacks the meatiness of regular olive brine, but the olive flavor does emerge triumphant. As Dirty Sue is twice distilled, the martini appears crystalline, without the characteristic cloudiness of a dirty martini.


Dirty Sue has the potential to make a very sophisticated drink, squeezing into niches where olive brine otherwise would be too brutal on the palate. It will not replace olive brine in my usual Stoli dirty martini because it lacks the satisfaction of brawn and meat; I order a dirty martini when I crave a liquid meal, a hunger that Dirty Sue does not quite gratify. Notably however, with Dirty Sue gin-lovers can enjoy their martinis dirty too – and I can’t wait to add it to a Bloody Mary. When choosing between olive brine and Dirty Sue, the difference lies in the desired type of drink: whether full-bodied or refined, both have their place and time. I will look for Dirty Sue in specialty, higher-end bars, where I hope that its flexibility to add saltiness to unexpected drinks will be explored and enjoyed.

13 October 2008

Per Se Countdown

Marcus surprised me today with a reservation to Per Se! We will be celebrating both my own birthday and his, as we're only 4 days apart. We have been once before, in July 2007, and it was without question the best meal of our lives. I am especially excited to try one of their winter menus, with its promise of lots of red meat and hearty flavors.

06 October 2008

Inspiration for Autumnal Aphrodisiacs

Apples are back in season!

I'm looking forward to:

Apple cider
Baked apples
Apple pie
Apple cocktails
Apple rakija
Latkes with applesauce

The Honeycrisp variety are my favorite this year as they are tart yet sweet, and always as crisp as biting into a frozen popsicle.

Yellow Grape Tomatoes

This time in Provence last year...

Autumnal Aphrodisiacs

There’s nothing quite as welcoming as a well-conceived cocktail after a long day. As the weather turns crisp, the warming effect of alcohol becomes especially comforting. Invite friends and take an evening to unwind with a reinvented happy hour.

Apple Crisp
Serves 4

- 1 tart, crisp apple, like Granny Smith

- Gin (Tanqueray has subdued floral and fruity notes that fit this drink perfectly)

- 1 small bottle of St. Germain liqueur (relatively new on market - flavors of apple, citrus, and even lychee!)

- 1 pint apple cider

- 4 large tumblers or “rocks” glasses

• Wash and cut the apple into 8 wedges

• Place two wedges of apple in a glass, fill rest of the way with ice cubes

• Fill the glass a quarter to a third full of gin, depending on desired strength

• Add 2 splashes of St. Germain, about 2 teaspoons

• Fill with apple cider, and mix with the end of a teaspoon or chopstick

After consuming the drink, the slices of apple at the bottom of the glass become frozen, intoxicating snacks. Serve with a cheese platter (Roquefort, sharp cheddar, brie), more slices of apple, and French baguette warmed in the oven.

As guests linger after savoring their drinks, consider making supper together by repeating many of the flavors from the cocktail. This recipe is for the world’s most tender pork chops, finished with a homemade applesauce. Serve alongside wild and long-grained rice simmered in chicken broth instead of plain water for a complete meal.

Pork Chops with Pan Apple Sauce
(with thanks to Tyler Florence, but my tweaks make it even better!)
Serves 4

Pork Chops:
- 4 extra-thick, bone-in pork chops (about 1 pound each)
- 1 bunch of thyme
- 1 can of apple concentrate, thawed
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
- 1 cup Kosher salt
- 2 Tb. olive oil

Spiced Apple Sauce:
- 3 tart, crisp apples, like Granny Smith
- ¼ cup red currants
- 2 tsp. brown sugar
- ½ tsp. whole cloves
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 lemon
- 2 Tb. butter

To make the pork:
• Preheat oven to 350˚F
• For unbelievably tender and flavorful meat, make a brine by filling a large mixing bowl with a gallon of water, ½ cup brown sugar, black peppercorns, 4 sprigs of thyme, apple concentrate, and 1 cup of Kosher salt. Add the pork chops, cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge for anywhere from 30 minutes up to 2 hours
• When ready, take the pork out of the brine and pat dry with paper towels
• In a large frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat, brown the chops on each side for 4 minutes
• Lay the pork in a baking pan, and cover each with a sprig of thyme from the brine
• Bake in the oven for 30 minutes
• Let the meat sit for 10 minutes
• Serve 1 pork chop smothered in applesauce per person, with rice on the side as a perfect accompaniment

To Make the Sauce:
• Start the sauce 5 minutes before the meat comes out of the oven
• Core, deseed, and cut the apples into 8 wedges
• Using the same pan as for the meat, melt butter over medium heat. Add the apple, currants, cloves, mustard, cinnamon, 2 tsp. of brown sugar, and juice of one lemon to make the accompanying applesauce
• Simmer for 10 minutes, until the apples begin to break down. Before serving the sauce, discard the whole cloves

02 October 2008

In Honor of Janet Adam Smith

Janet Adam Smith: mountaineer, comic versifier, literary critic, and Marcus' granny. Also, a legendary hostess who understood the value of the civilizing institution of cocktail hour. Tonight I raise my glass to her memory as I enjoy her favorite: Canada Dry Ginger Ale and whiskey, ice cold. Without the benefit of her wit to give the drink a name, I have dubbed it Ginger Whiskey. It is delicious; heathens may like to add a lime to it, but I think it superfluous.


To Janet: may your influence on our drinking as well as our reading (she discovered T.S. Eliot) continue forever more.

01 October 2008

The Perfect Bar

Simone Martini Bar has it all. Its merits are multifaceted, as witnessed by my visual aids: to the left, the outdoor kafana (multipurpose café, a watering hole for talking politics and gossip). To the right, the trendy NYC bar scene that brings out the fabulous glittering side in everyone (this one's for you, Cinnamon Jones!).

1) They consistently have best dirty martinis in Manhattan. Only word of caution: as in any bar, placing a martini order with a waiter rather than a bartender is always a risky business. For best results, go up and make a friend behind the bar.

2) They label themselves as a "martini and espresso bar", which means that the bar is good at any time of day, whether you want coffee, a drink, a meal, or all three!

3) A manageable noise level and unobtrusive music means that you will always be able to have a conversation as you sip that martini.

Atmosphere, better booze, camaraderie: the ABCs of the perfect bar.