Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing...

It’s been several weeks since I visited the blogger site, and now that the holidays are over, I’m back. First, I’ll talk briefly about some food that I made during the holidays; then reminisce a little about a “food and golf” experience of days past; and then briefly mention a word or two about some restaurants that I visited in late 2007. Remember, I’m no four-star chef, golfer or New York Times food critic, but here goes. I’ll call this one “Much Ado About Nothing.”

First, the Food:

The holiday weeks were exhilarating in a culinary sense. I made a number of complex and simple, fun and flavorful dishes. I don’t know what I enjoyed more, actually making the food or shopping for the ingredients in Hell (Hell’s Kitchen, that is—not Macy’s during the Christmas shopping fiasco), or at the Japanese market in Edgewater, or at the Whole Foods Market, or at my local fishmonger. Okay, it was all fun!

The complexity of making Coq Au Vin and Confit Byaldi (aka Ratatouille) comprised most (actually, all) of my Sunday afternoon. It’s true what “they” say about French cooking—it’s complicated, but well worth the effort. The Coq Au Vin was so tender and fell off the bones while the sauce was complex and flavorful. The Ratatouille was full of flavors and melted in your mouth and lingered a long time thereafter. It’s amazing what we can do with pure vegetables!

For Christmas Eve, I made a tuna tartar topped with a raw quail egg, a smoked salmon bruchetta, and the famous Italian fish soup, Soupa De Pesca. I used San Marzo tomatoes, fresh herbs and garlic, and filled it with shrimps, scallops, clams, calamari, and mussels. Yum oh! WAIT! I didn’t actually “SAY” that! Did I?

On Christmas Day, I roasted a goose, which I steamed the day before and let it dry, uncovered, overnight in the fridge (ala Jacques Pepin’s method). I made a covering of cracked allspice berries and pink peppercorns in melted butter to coat the goose, and stuffed it with dried figs, prunes and apricots. I also threaded the dried fruits on skewers and placed them in the pan with the goose. I also prepared a port gravy. As a side, I roasted chef’s potatoes in goose fat, and served them with a medley of vegetables—carrots, haricot verts, corn and lima beans (Okay—I “cheated”—the veggies were from a bag—the antithesis of the ratatouille that prior Sunday. Hey, I was getting tired).

The New Year’s Eve weekend cuisine consisted of broiled Alaskan King Crab Legs with a creamy, spicy mayonnaise that I put together using Mirin and Tabasco sauce. I also prepared red ruby jasmine rice that was first steamed in the rice cooker, and then stir-fried with fresh ginger and scallions. I topped each serving with fried shallots and a poached egg. Yum oh! AGAIN?? I HAVE to STOP this.

Since I was feeling more of an Asian flair versus French the prior week, I decided to go “Viva la Vong” and revisited the Chicken Satay recipe with peanut sauce, and the Crab Spring Rolls wrapped in butter leaf lettuce, garnished with fresh mint and garlic sprouts. However, this time I used purchased pre-wrapped egg roll wrappers versus the Thai-style dried rice paper rounds that are soaked in warm water. Did I “cheat” again? Not really. Cheating would be purchasing "everything" already made from Trader Joe’s.

During that week, some of the simpler things that I prepared were hard boiled quail eggs (the simplest, obviously—boiled eggs—quail, though); slow roasted Atlantic salmon drizzled with scallion oil and served on a bed of mashed potatoes; and a steamed red snapper smothered and stuffed with fresh ginger, garlic and fresh coriander. I also prepared sushi rice to go with the snapper. Very good. Yum oh—no—Very good!

Finally, I ended the culinary experience by preparing a “classic” fondue using grated Emmenthaler and Gruyere cheeses, a dry chardonnay, and Chambord (versus Kirsch)!

“The Next Iron Chef” Episodes Piqued My Memory of a Food and Golf Excursion:

After all of that (food) shopping and cooking, I took “off” one day to watch the replay episodes of the “Next Iron Chef.” Actually, I met two of them—Bobby Flay and Michael Symon (the newest Iron Chef)—back in April of 2003 in Scottsdale, Arizona (Wow—a long time ago!).

Back then, I traveled to Scottsdale, Arizona, to play golf on a “real” golf course; attend a Celebrity Chef Golf Tournament as a spectator; and go to the Best of the Southwest Grand Tasting cuisine gathering. Food and golf were/are two of my hobbies. Well, food more than golf, and what a better way to enjoy both—chefs playing golf and then sampling their cuisines later. I had been cooking for a long time but had taken up golf the prior year. Actually, the extent of my golf was hitting golf balls at a local driving range and being coached by a lousy driving range pro every week. I had never played golf or set foot on a golf course, so that year my goal was to play on a golf course. The food and chef thing was an added bonus, so after reading about those events in Bon Appetite Magazine, I headed to Scottsdale!

That weekend, I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort at Gainey Ranch. The Celebrity Chef Golf Tournament was held on Saturday morning at the Greyhawk Golf
Club nearby. The Grand Tasting event was held later that evening at the hotel, and the next two days were booked for my golf playing lessons.

The morning of the event there was complete chaos at the hotel because the staff knew nothing about the van that was supposed to transport us to the golf course. Finally, it was located, and I ended up being a passenger in a nearly empty van with two gentlemen—one who won a contest to play golf with the chefs and the other was Michael Symon. I recall Mr. Symon telling me about his golf game and that he was a chef from Cleveland (Lola Bistro). Since I was neither a chef or a golfer, I told him that I was a spectator. That’s what I was.

Now I had no idea of what to expect when I got to the golf course. Again, at that time, I was never on a golf course, let alone a huge popular one in one of the best golf cities in the country. Where were all the spectators? Was I the only one? Later, I learned the answer to that question.

After looking at the roster that listed the “celebrity chefs” and their partners, I decided to follow Bobby Flay’s foursome because he was the only “celebrity” chef’s name that I recognized. Sorry, Michael. You weren’t an Iron Chef back then. I don’t even think Bobby Flay was, but I knew his name from New York City restaurants and the food shows. Again, sorry Michael. We have all come a long way!

Anyway, it was hot and I had no clue where I was. I walked among the cacti and sands of the dessert golf course in the blistering sun for the first four holes, following the golf carts transporting Bobby Flay and his group way ahead of me. I also sampled a few unusual dishes on the way, one being fried cactus. Needless to say, since I was the “only” spectator at the tournament, it was time for me to head back to my hotel. I decided that a cocktail by the hotel pool was a nice alternative to lagging behind the golf carts for next fourteen holes. That was it for the spectator part.

The Grand Tasting later that evening was another story. I met Tom Colicchio there, who wasn’t a superstar judge on Top Chef at the time, but well known for his Gramercy Tavern restaurant in New York City. Finally, I ended the day sampling various foods from restaurants of the southwest. At least there were people in attendance at the food event.

The next day two days were comprised of golf playing lessons at the Gainey Ranch Golf Club. I won’t go into details about those episodes, and just remind myself that I’m much better in the kitchen then I am on the golf course. And, I must say, that my cooking has improved tremendously during the past five years, but my golf hasn’t budged. Oh, well! I may not ever be a scratch golfer, but I can certainly cook a meal for any golfer any time!

Lastly, A Food Critic—Not:

Recently, I sent an e-mail to one of my former colleagues, who is a true food connoisseur (notice I didn’t say “foodie”) to wish him a Happy New Year and also tell him about several of the restaurants that I visited late last year:

Brasserie Les Halles – Always a good place to go “anytime” for good food, good service, and no attitude. They have escargot that melt in your mouth, literally. Besides, it’s Tony Bourdain’s place. And, better yet, Eric Ripert cooked there with Tony one night not too long ago. Wish I were there for that one and some of the tequila that they drank afterwards!

Mai House – Good Asian cuisine; I’d go back…maybe.

Centro Vinoteca – The place is casual and the Italian food is pretty good. I like it more as a “drinks and tiny plates at the bar” versus a “full-fledged meal” at the table. Also, it’s fun seeing “Mario Batali’s Iron Sous Chef” hanging out.

Centovinni – Lousy!

Butter – Really lousy! I read that Tiger Woods eats there. Too bad.

A Voce’ – Food was okay, but not a “do-over.”

P*ONG – Truly a dessert place. Stay (far) away from the burnt-tasting cheese soufflé’—I guess that’s why they gave it to us “on the house.”

Bouchon Bakery at Time Warner – I figured this is the “closest” I would get to Tom Keller’s food – still haven’t gotten to Per Se. Can’t get an answer on the reservation line.

Annisa – By far, my favorite on this list. The food was excellent – got one Michelin star recently.

And, later this week, we’re off to Le Bernardin for dinner. I’ve been there several times before, and recently stopped in with my companion for a shot (actually doubles) of tequila (Patron Platinum). After a shocking bar bill of $169 before tip--just for the drinks, mind you, he reminded me of my saying that, “I don’t like cheap booze or cheap men.” I don't.

Finally, next week we have reservations at the new Bar Boulud. Yes, Frank, We have Reservations! Do you need one?

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