Bloody & Burger at Prune

After work last night, I stopped by Prune with a friend to check out their newly revived Bloody & Burger deal.  For one crisp $20, on Sundays through Mondays between 5:30 and 7 PM, they hand over an expertly made Bloody Mary and one of their fantastically decadent burgers.

Bloody.

Bloody.  Check!

Burger.

Burger. Check!  (Yes, it looks to be on the smaller side, but is incredibly rich and flavor packed.  You will not go hungry.)

Marrow.

Roasted Marrow Bones.  (What?!?)  We couldn’t resist.  Marrow was being served all around us, and it was too intriguing.  If you haven’t had marrow before, I think it can be best described as meat butter.  Meat. Butter. Meatbutter.  At Prune, the meatbutter is served with toast, grey sea salt, and a much needed side of de-clogging parsley salad.  If you’re being a rational human being, a burger plus marrow equals waaaayyyyyy too much cow.  I could feel my arteries slowly solidifying, and cow-ness coming from my pores.

And then I washed my hands and went to a yoga studio.

The End.

Best of the Food Memoirs

Food Books at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks

I will read any food memoir.  Want to talk about making more bread than anyone should?  Growing up in India?  Shucking oysters?  Your mom’s terrible cooking?  Rendering duck fat?  Tell me a story.  Right now.  I’m there, I’ll pull up a chair, read it cover to cover, and enjoy every second of it.  (Unless you are one of three books.  These annoyed me.)

Yes, it’s because I’m obsessed with food, but it’s also because the best food memoirs take love, food, inspiration, adventure, travel, and maybe a well-earned life lesson or two, and emphatically smash it all into a glorious literary meatball. (Subtle food reference!)  Food memoirs are comforting proof to me that food and life are inextricably intertwined, and that all of it is accidental, messy, and should be consumed in the greediest of manners.

These following, in no particular order, are my favorites of the genre.  Some of them made me cry in embarrassing places.  And by places, I mean locations.

My Life in France

My Life in France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Life In France / Julia Child (A lot at the end, but mostly at home.)

This woman was just extraordinary – a trailblazing, fearless, and huggable giantess that changed the food landscape of America and redefined what it meant to be a woman in the post War era.   My absolute favorite thing about this book is the completely  offhand way she talks about the incredibly ballsy things that she does.  She makes having top security clearance at the OSS (the pre-CIA), being the only woman cooking at the Cordon Bleu, and writing what would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking seem like the most simple, logical thing to do.  Like, oh, that?  Not a big deal.  Her keen intelligence, her curiosity and her plain, good spirit come through every page, and made me wish desperately that we could be friends.

Cover of "Tender at the Bone: Growing Up ...

Cover via Amazon

Tender At the Bone / Ruth Reichl (Three cries)

I love all of Ruth Reichl’s writing.  Her books are ostensibly about her life, this one about growing up in an unconventional household with an erratic but well-intentioned mother, first in New York and then California.  Food, and her evolving relationship to it, is not so much spelled out but reads as a constant background hum to her life.   This is her first book, followed by Comfort Me With Apples and Garlic and Sapphires.  (Also, I totally remember my mom reading this book in English and loving it.  English is her second language and she only really reads short stories.

Blood Bones and Butter / Gabrielle Hamilton (Three cries)

This book made me cry so much.  First chapter, and then another few times later on. True story.  I loved the directness and honesty of her story, how unflinchingly she tells about the times her parents abandoned (forgot!?) about her and her siblings in the woods, their deteriorating marriage, her deteriorating marriage, and eventually, the opening of her restaurant Prune.  Food for her is the backbone, the milestones and the sustenance all rolled into one, and she is the everywoman who has erred, been wronged and has dusted herself off just one more time.

Cover of "The Apprentice: My Life In The ...

Cover of The Apprentice: My Life In The Kitchen

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen /Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pepin.  Just freaking adorable.  Jacques Pepin’s experience as a classically trained chef is fascinating in itself, for those of us not in the restaurant world.  That, along with his inexhaustible work ethic, lack of pretensions and straightforward charm and kindness make this memoir the cosiest and sweetest of reads.  Also, it’s living color proof that cool people find their way to other cool people.  Julia Child and Jacques, besides being great friends, quietly bickered and cooked through 22 episodes of public television television together.

Yes, Chef / Marcus Samuelsson and Veronica Chambers (Two cries)

Another cryfest.  The first chapter had me tearing up behind my sunglasses in a very public place.  Food is family, no matter how unconventional and sprawling your family tree is.  Born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and belonging wholeheartedly to New York City, Marcus Samuelsson’s take on food is as wide-ranging as his experiences have been.  Threaded throughout his book is a sense of social consciousness, sensitivity to social responsibility, and an unadulterated sense of idealism that I think is very much representative of his (our) generation.  Food is the great leveler and a connector, and the difference we make in the world is not about the job that we do but the spirit that we do it in.

What do you think? Any glaring omissions, dear Readers?  Set me straight!

-

P.S.  These were also great: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper / Fuchsia Dunlop,  Climbing the Mango Tree / Madhur Jaffrey and Kitchen Confidential / Anthony Bourdain.

P.P.S.  If you haven’t checked out Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, where the photo above was taken, you really, really should.  Her hours change from week to week, so calling ahead is good protocol.

P.P.P.S.  I’m also slowly combing my way through this list by The Literary Foodie and this list on Goodreads.

A Spring-y Lamb Stew.

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Lamb Stew Chunks

Oh my god.  Where the hell have you been?!  You are in SO much trouble.   I hope you have an amazing excuse.

I don’t.

I’ve been studying for a terrible set of exams.  I paid $1,000 and studied for weeks and weeks.  It soon became evident during the test-taking that the test itself was written by a group of illiterate, and possibly drunk, garden gnomes.  I’m embarrassed for my profession.  (Hey, CLARB.) And I hope to something holy that I passed.  Because I never ever want it to happen again.

In the spirit of renewal, and this soggy, nutty spring we’ve been having, I bring you the spring lamb stew.  Adapted from this super classic and cozy Irish Stew recipe circa 1963, I’ve updated this shizznit with brighter flavors and that super trendy grain, FARRO.  Farro is sundried tomatoes, kombucha, quinoa, and chia seeds all rolled into one – trendy, healthy, versatile, and damn it, extremely tasty.  It goes in this stew.

Judge away.

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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 lb thick cut bacon, cut into little matchstick pieces (I love this double smoked bacon from Schaller and Weber.  It can totes have my babies.)
2 lbs of lamb stew meat, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup flour
handful of fresh thyme leaves
2 onions, diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
4 carrots, diced
2 turnips, peeled and diced
1 cup pearled farro
1/2 cup of flat leaf parsley, chopped with stems removed
Salt and pepper, as needed

Put all your little bacon friends in an good sized Dutch oven pot.

Lardons at Work

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Turn the heat to medium low and let the bacon sweat, stirring occasionally until they are lightly browned and crispy.  When the bacon is done, scoop it out and place it to the side for later.

While this is happening, season your lamb pieces well with salt and pepper, patting lightly to help the seasoning stick.  Lightly dredge the meat in the flour.  (Lightly!)

Brown the floured lamb pieces in the bacon fat on all sides, taking care to leave some space between the pieces and to be patient.  Browning = flavor.  This will take at least 3 or 4 batches to finish.

Browning Lamb Chunks

Once all the lamb pieces are browned, remove them from the pot and place them to the side as well.  Add the onions and thyme to pot, and cook on medium/high heat until they have softened and turned a nice caramel brown.

Onions and Thyme

Throw the lamb and bacon bits back in the pot along with the parsnip, and pour in enough water to just cover the lamb meat.  (Remember how much I love not having to use stock??  I really, really do.)  Bring the pot to a boil and cover, turning the heat down and letting the lamb cook at the smallest of simmers for 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours until just tender.

While this is happening, throw your farro into a pot with water (check the package for the amount of water, I find that it varies slightly from batch to batch.) I added a vegetable bouillon cube to mine to amp up the flavor.  Cook until al dente, about 20 minutes and then drain any remaining liquid and set aside.

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(Have you guys tried these Rapunzel cubes??  They are sort of amazing and taste like…vegetables.  And not like dirt water, mushrooms or mud.  Amazing.)

Adding Vegetables to Stew

Add the carrots, turnips and parboiled farro to the pot with the meat and cook until the farro is tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the chopped parsley to the pot and let the stew cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

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And voila! Your stew awaits.

SOME NOTES:  This lamb stew is the perfect weapon to combat the last of the winter to spring chills, and to help your bide time while our local farmers markets ramp up for the new growing season.  Almost any root vegetables you have lying around will do to augment or substitute for the turnips, carrots and parsnip, just know that a pop of color is nice.  The bacon is great but not necessary, just add whatever cooking oil you prefer to substitute for the fat.

Good Morning, Sunday

kipperseggs_1

Hello there, world.

This Sunday morning felt like kippers and eggs.  For that matter, so did Tuesday night.  And last Sunday afternoon.  I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again.  Quick meals that have the right amount of cozy indulgence mixed with plain old comfort don’t come around all that often.   Like soft scrambled eggs, and a slice of good toast with butter and smoked fish on top, these dishes are like slipping on a well-worn robe after a long day of being up and about.

kipperseggs_3

A few things not about kippers.

I’ve been rather single-mindedly slogging through this food memoir list.  The last two I read were Marcella Hazan’s Amarcord, and Jacques Pepin’s The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen.  Both are formidable giants in the food world – they have published, they have taught, and they’ve blazed trails in their own individual way.  Marcella Hazan?  Not sure I’d want to hang with her.  Her memoir, though stocked with some great anecdotes, seemed more like a way to settle up with the world on some long held grudges and resentments.  Deserved?  Possibly.  But not attractive.  Jacques Pepin, on the other hand?  Maybe he just had a better editor, but each and every story just made me wish really hard that he would be my friend.   I would totally go mushroom picking with him anytime.  I liked his unpretentious way of talking about food, his easy way with people, and his utter lack of horn tooting.

This post from Brain Pickings about Ann Patchett caught my eye.  “Every choice lays down a trail of bread crumbs, so that when you look behind you there appears to be a very clear path that points straight to the place where you now stand. But when you look ahead there isn’t a bread crumb in sight — there are just a few shrubs, a bunch of trees, a handful of skittish woodland creatures. You glance from left to right and find no indication of which way you’re supposed to go. And so you stand there, sniffing at the wind, looking for directional clues in the growth patterns of moss, and you think, What now?”

The first story from Sum, by David Eagleman.

Christoph Niemann is the best.  Yet again.

And good morning.

Ix-nay On…Brains?

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I was listening to this American Life the other day, as Ira and gang meandered through an episode on doppelgangers.  First up, (or should I say Act One) was a piece on passing off sliced pig rectum as…dum dum dum…imitation calamari.  (By the way, pig rectum is officially known as BUNG a.k.a. funnest word ever.) Initially, yes, I was horrified, but when I stopped to think about it, I was really just horrified by possibly being lied to.  NOT by the bung eating.

I’ve had this bung you speak of.  And I liked it.

Maybe you know this, maybe you don’t – Chinese people think everything is edible.  Like everything.  Color the world in shades of cold jellyfish salad, braised chicken feet, sea cucumbers, swallow spit, fish eyeballs, congealed pork blood cubes, duck tongues on a stick, fish head stew, and spicy tripe casserole.  On the less esoteric end, meat is always with bone in, fish with head on and everything with skin on.  Growing up in a Chinese household, within the ethnic food buffet that is New York City and being lucky enough to do a good amount of global traveling, food has always equaled adventure without the defying of death and threatening of life.  When confronted with a new, exotic dish, the question has always skipped right past the yes versus no to ‘is it good?’.  If you’ve come to conclusion that this also called being greedy, you are so correct.  Being overly confident in this particular sector of life, I thought there was nothing I could eat that would faze me.

Cut to the former M.Wells Diner in Long Island City, winter of 2011.  We had a bunch of good eaters doing what they do best, with a table of raw seafood, escargot, foie gras, maple pie, and veal brains.  Veal brains.  They tasted much like what I had envisioned – silky like a slightly toothsome tofu, with an undefinable sweetness.  In the moment, I felt fine about but for weeks afterwards I felt guilty and terrible, with a nightmare or two thrown in for a good measure. I decided that this was a food boundary I would not be crossing again.  It made me a little sad, as I like to think of myself as a person who eats everything, but this particular food has quite effortlessly punched through my imaginary armor.

Which made me wonder, adventurous eaters, what’s your food kryptonite?

(Thanks to my cousin, Peter, for the in-action shot of pork blood/rice cake on a stick at a Taiwanese night market.  Good job with the eating.)

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