Monday, January 31, 2011

Momofuku Milk Bar - NYC {and a cookie recipe}

Momofuku Milk Bar - Downtown
Can we pretend it's last Friday? Because that's when this was supposed to be posted. A last New York post to go along with Wednesday's list of comparable delights in San Diego. I can confidently say there is nothing comparable to Momofuku or the Milk Bar in San Diego, but that's why we travel, no? The good news is that even if you can't visit the Momofuku family in NYC, David Chang is generous with his recipes and the intrepid cook can recreate many of his dishes at home. His cookbook is not quick or easy, but it's a good read nonetheless.
Momofuku Milk Bar - Downtown
I myself have baked several batches of the famous "Compost Cookies" - so named because they're full of odds and ends including coffee grounds, potato chips and candy. The crack pie recipe is also floating around out there, here in fact. (Note that these recipes are not in the Momofuku cookbook - pastry chef Christina Tosi is working on her own book, due out soon recently released her own cookbook.) If you're feeling incredibly ambitious though, you could try the recipe for the pork buns. These consist of a meltingly (literally, it turns to liquid in your mouth) tender piece of pork belly, layered over fresh cucumber pickles, hoisin sauce and scallion greens on a sweet bun. I took this photo before I drizzled them with Sriracha, but that little bit of sweetness and heat balancing out the incredible richness of the pork in these buns is one of the best single mouthfuls of food I've experienced in recent memory. (To get the full effect, I recommend washing them down with a chilled can of Porkslap beer, available at the counter.)
Pork Buns at Momofuku Milk Bar
The photos above were taken at the Second Avenue Milk Bar - the original location next to Momofuku Ssam Bar. The uptown location I mentioned earlier does not offer the pork buns or beer - but focuses solely on the sweets. Both offer at least two flavors of the famous soft serves including unusual seasonal flavors like plum, lemon verbena, french toast, donut, cereal milk, carrot cake, red velvet, etc. I tried the dulce de leche at the East Village location - it had a wonderful velvety texture and tasted just like salted caramel.
IMG_1211
The Crack Pie - a thin, superrich layer of sugar and butter baked over an oatmeal crust - is available at both locations both as a whole pie and packaged individual slices. I bought several of the boxed slices to take home and distribute as gifts. I also bought a few slices of their grasshopper and candy bar pies, but found them disappointing. I didn't try the cakes since they are sold whole - but their "cake truffles" made from scraps are sold three to a package - I especially liked the malted chocolate. Overall, I liked the concept and the adventurous spirit of the place as much or more than some of the offerings.
Momofuku Ssam Bar wall
Since my visit to the East Village shop was on the day I flew home, I picked up a few of the savory creations - a reuben croissant stuffed with corned beef, cabbage and swiss cheese, and another stuffed with kim chi and bleu cheese - and took them home (I packed them in the thermal bag with my smoked salmon from Russ and Daughters.) We had them for dinner the next night - warmed to melt the cheese - alongside a salad, and I was glad I'd gone to the trouble to schlep them home. Ironically though, I discovered I like the Compost Cookies that I make at home better than the ones from the bakery. I use the recipe below, which I adapted from the one on Adam's blog The Amateur Gourmet.  Enjoy!
Compost Cookies
Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookies
adapted from Christina Tosi's recipe as it appeared on Regis & Kelly's website and The Amateur Gourmet

Ingredients:
1 cup butter (two sticks) unsalted, soft at room temperature.
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsps Kosher salt
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups of sweet baking ingredients - such as chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, heath toffee chips, peanut butter chips, chopped candy, etc. (after much experimenting, my favorite combo is 1 cup dark chocolate chips and 1/2 cup each of heath chips and chopped peanut butter cups or peanut butter chips)
1.5 cups coarsely chopped salty snack foods, such as pretzels, potato chips, crisp rice cereal, etc.

1. Place the butter, sugar and salt in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat on high for two to three minutes until well blended, scraping the bowl down as needed. While this is happening, stir together the baking powder, baking soda and flour.

2. Lower the speed and add the eggs and vanilla to the butter mixture, beating to combine. Then set a timer for ten minutes and turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Do your nails, wash the dishes, whatever you want. During this time the mixture will lighten significantly in color and double in volume and the sugar will dissolve completely. (Do NOT skimp on the time, even if it looks like this has already happened. Trust me.)

3. When the timer goes off, lower the speed and gradually add the flour mixture. Stir by hand or blend on low speed just until no traces of flour remain, about 20 seconds.

4. Stir in your chopped candy and snack foods and stir in by hand or blend a couple of spins on low speed - just long to distribute them through the dough.

5. Chill the dough for at least one hour in the refrigerator or freezer before baking. (To speed this process, you can scoop the dough onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and place the sheets in the freezer or fridge until well chilled.)

6. To bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Scoop 1.5 inch balls of chilled dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment (I think it works better than Silpats for these cookies) and bake for about 9-12 minutes. They will crackle and puff in the middle. Take them out just when they no longer look raw in the middle and the edges are nice and brown. They will flatten and continue to brown outside the oven. (You may have to experiment with the first batch, if they are browning too fast, turn the oven down to 350 and bake a bit longer.)

7. Try not to eat the entire batch in one sitting!


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How to Eat like a New Yorker in San Diego

Russ & Daughters Bagels
Just for fun, I've put together a little list of typical NYC dining experiences and matched them up with what I think are their closest counterparts here in San Diego.  If you've ever had a hankering for a NYC specialty while trapped here in San Diego, or wondered "Where can I get a...?"  Here, at long last, are some answers... or as close as we can get anyway. :)

1.  A Lox Bagel, a la Barney Greengrass or Russ and Daughters - Ok, so no - it's not a New York bagel, but the lox bagel at Einstein's isn't half bad, really.  Better yet though, is the smoked salmon plate at Bread & Cie.  Slices of very good lox salmon with their special dill cream cheese spread, capers, red onion and tomato.  Yes, it's served with (not on) a lemon ficelle, but you can do what I did - split it open and make your own sandwich.  With their fresh squeezed orange juice, it pretty well does the trick.  (I have also heard good things about Garden State Bagels in Encinitas and Carlsbad, but haven't tried them.)

2. Pizza, a la Patsy's, Grimaldi's, John's or any number of other fabulous pizzerias - I'm not even going to pretend it's comparable. Ok, maybe I am but I know it's not. Regardless, we have some pretty good pizzerias out here using wood fired or coal fired ovens.  For coal fired pizza, it has to be URBN (aka Basic) located Downtown, in North Park and Vista.  For wood fired, Blue Ribbon Pizzeria is doing a very good job (with lots of other good dishes to go along) and Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano isn't half bad either.  If you're interested in checking out the local beer scene, Blind Lady Ale House is also a great spot for both beer and pizza - I especially like the Salciccia pizza and their charcuterie plate. When they have it, the citrus and avocado salad plate is also well worthwhile.

3.  Italian groceries, a la Eataly - it could almost fit inside the espresso bar at Eataly, but our own little Mona Lisa on India Street does a pretty good job of bringing us the basics. Gioia mozzarella and burrata from LA, fresh pasta, Italian candies and cookies, wines, sauces, cheese, and even some very good prosciutto (skip the Italian and stick with the domestic.)  They also make a mean sub sandwich.

8. Cannoli and Italian pastries, a la Venieros - Years ago, when we used to host weekly Sopranos-watching parties, we would occasionally pick up cannolis from Cafe Zucchero for dessert. They're the best I've found, stuffed with sweet ricotta cheese filling with mini chocolate chips and garnished with thick chunks of candied orange peel. Their other Italian pastries and cookies look great too, but I wouldn't know how they taste, because I never stray far from the cannoli.

9.  Farm to table fine dining, a la Blue Hill - There is no shortage of "farm to table" restaurants in San Diego, but in the fine dining category I think one of the best examples of simple, clean, exacting cooking using local ingredients is at A.R. Valentien, at the Torrey Pines Lodge.  I actually prefer to go for lunch and sit on the deck, when they offer a three course meal, Chez Panisse style, for around $30. 

10.  Oyster Bar Style Seafood, a la Pearl Oyster Bar or Grand Central - I hadn't been there in ages, but just last week I sat at the bar at The Fish Market downtown and shared some very good Fanny Bay Oysters and a bucket of clams with a friend.  We had to wait for seats on a Wednesday night, which maybe tells us San Diego could use a few more good casual seafood houses?

11. Glam French Bistro, a la Balthazar or Pastis - If you have a hankering for a hangar steak, some cute French decor and a good glass of red wine, Farm House Cafe and Cafe Chloe will sate it. They're somewhat different in atmosphere - Farm House playing up the Country French angle, and Chloe going for more of an urban bistro vibe, but both serve French bistro style food with an upscale twist. Chloe has the distinct advantage of being open all day every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while Farm House serves dinner every night but Monday, and brunch on Sundays.

12. A great takeout burger - a la Shake Shack - It's no wonder the drive through lines are almost as long at lunch time at In n Out Burger as the walk up line is at this mini chain in NYC. For a burger that meets or beats Shake Shack's - order a cheeseburger, animal style (or a double double, if you're really hungry.) Tell them to add ketchup and mustard and go easy on the spread (otherwise, they put extra on and it overwhelms the burger.)  Add chilis on the side, fries well done and a Neopolitan shake, and Shake Shack will be far in your rear view mirror.

14. A killer restaurant burger (and scene) a la Minetta Tavern - It's not quite the same scene, but it's scene nonetheless.  Cucina Urbana opened last year to raving enthusiasm from local diners - so much so that it's still booked solid every night of the week.  It's not without reason, their prices and food are appealing across the board, but I have a hard time going in there and ordering anything but the burger.  It's a perfect, thick hunk of juicy meat, topped with (are you ready?) short rib meat and served with the usual fries and accompaniments.  Decadent, yes - but just so good.  A.R. Valentien (actually the Lodge Grill) and Farm House also serve fantastic basic burgers.

15. Monster cupcakes, a la Magnolia Bakery - The cupcake craze has really taken off around here in the last couple of years.  I have to admit I haven't tried them all (nor have I actually had a Magnolia cupcake, while we're doing true confessions)  but I have tried Babycakes in Hillcrest, and if a monster cupcake is what you're after, they've definitely got you covered.  They're made with good ingredients, they're huge, moist and most of them are stuffed with filling as well as frosted.  Sprinkles, the world's first cupcake only bakery, just opened in La Jolla and if I'm going to treat myself to a store bought cake - it most likely will come from there.  I'm just a sucker for their design and packaging, and I think cupcakes are almost as much a treat for the eyes as the tastebuds. (I wrote a little ditty about my love for Sprinkles here.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory - NYC

Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory - Brooklyn
After brunch at Locanda Verde, Rorie and I traveled across Manhattan and the East River (and eventually across the New York Marathon!) to the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory in Brooklyn for a tour, given on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 PM.  I have to admit, the first time I saw one of their bars on display at Miette Confiserie in San Francisco, I was a little taken aback.  I was drawn to their beautiful paper wrappings, but I wasn't about to pay $10. for a bar of chocolate I had never tasted.  Of course - I'd pay $10. for all kinds of other things at least as trivial or more so, but something about a $10. chocolate bar just hit me in that spot.
Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory - Brooklyn
Pretty soon though, I started hearing about Mast Brothers Chocolate all over the place, and when I finally had a chance to try some, I understood what all the fuss was about.  Their chocolates have a noticeable clarity of flavor and richness that sets them apart.  They're fruity and intense without being bitter or chalky.  Some of them are still a little strong for me - I definitely had my favorites in the tasting at the end of the tour, but the ones I liked I loved.
Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory Tour
These photos, above and below, are from the tour that we took.  Their facility is tiny - contained in just a few small rooms.  The steps of the chocolate making go from left to right, top to bottom in the collages - from the conching of the beans on the top left, to the emulsifying of the mixture with the sugar and fats, to curing and drying the hotel pans of untempered chocolate, which are turned out of their pans and stored in giant blocks.
Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory Tour
Those blocks are chopped and fed into their super-slick fancy tempering machines - seen at the top left of this second collage.  After tempering, they're poured into molds.  Anything that is added to the chocolate, such as chopped hazelnuts, coffee beans or nibs is sprinkled on the chocolate before it sets.  The firm, molded bars are wrapped by hand at a table right there in their factory shop, and the labels are applied.  At that point, the bars are then ready for sale.  I really felt like Charlie in the chocolate factory watching those guys hand wrap the bars in gold paper, one after the other. 
Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory - Brooklyn
The hand wrapped bars are displayed in a case at the front of their facility, where they offer tastings and bars for purchase.  My two favorites were the red-wrapped Dominican Republic bar and the cocoa nib -both fruity and with a well-rounded flavor.  I brought a few home and savored them for months. (The last of it was served on New Year's Eve.)   The Ocumare, pictured below is actually more expensive than the others because of it's bean blend.  It was a little dark and intense for me, but the wrapping sure is pretty. 
Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory - Brooklyn
At the factory, they take only cash, but they sell the bars for $8. instead of $10. You can also order online here.  They only sell them in assorted sets of 10 for $92.00, but at least there's no tax and you can pay with a credit card!

For more views of the factory, check out the Selby's recent spread on the brothers Rick and Michael Mast and the factory.  (No, they weren't there that day, unfortunately.)   

Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory
Brooklyn
105 North 3rd Street
NY 11211-3927
(718) 388-2625

Tour reservations are available here. Tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 1 PM, and last about an hour.

The tasting room is open for tasting and sales from 12-7 Thurs. and Fri. and Saturday and Sunday from 12-8.

Click here for a full list of their products and varieties.  I'd love to get my hands on some of their baking goods.  (They sell to many restaurants and chefs, including Thomas Keller.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Blue Ribbon Pizzeria - Encinitas

Blue Ribbon Pizzeria - Encinitas
Last Saturday night, James and I got out of the house and tried something new. You might not think that would be such a big deal for someone who calls herself a "foodie" and writes about restaurants (even if it's just for fun) but it's pretty unusual for us. For the most part, we cook at home during the week, and we've been doing quite a bit of traveling (and entertaining) lately so fancy dinners out just haven't been in the budget. When we do go out, we have a short list of places we like to go where we know we'll have a good meal. I've been meaning to do a post about that lately, and update my places to eat in San Diego list as well as the 100 good things to eat and drink. It's a bit of a project though, so when I get through this backlog I'll tackle it.
Blue Ribbon Pizzeria - Encinitas
I've liked Chef/Owner Wade Hageman's food since he was the opening chef at Blanca, back when the menu still reflected the go-go mentality of the aughts. The food was luxurious, simple but interesting, and very, very expensive. Luckily, Hageman is bringing the same level of attention to detail and technique to the much less expensive menu at Blue Ribbon. You can see it in the above-pictured dish of local albacore crudo with buttery avocado, ruby red grapefruit and lemon olive oil, and the simple but perfectly balanced plate of creamy burrata with arugula tossed with lemon olive oil and crostini.
Blue Ribbon Pizzeria - Encinitas
The menu is roughly divided into two parts, with the top half comprised of salads, snacks and small plates, and the bottom a list of composed artisan pizzas. Everything is sized for sharing, which allows for the option of a very inexpensive meal if you don't go overboard - like we did.
Blue Ribbon Pizzeria - Encinitas
We didn't really need two pizzas, as it turned out, but we really wanted to try a white pie and a red one, and we figured leftovers would not be a problem. (In fact, they were eaten for breakfast straight out of the box the next morning.) We especially loved the white pie - called the "Signature" on the menu - topped with mozzarella, lemon zest, ricotta and basil. The kick of the zest was especially nice with the creamy ricotta.
Blue Ribbon Pizzeria - Encinitas
The red pie was also good, but we wished we'd ordered the Knight Special instead of the "Classic." Topped with housemade fennel sausage and mushrooms, it was tasty, but a little wet and heavy. The Knight pizza, pictured at top, was made with sliced assorted salumi and looked like it might be a better balance for a meat/red sauce pizza. The Classic was great cold out of the fridge though, maybe even better than it was hot.
Blue Ribbon Pizzeria - Encinitas
I snuck this blurry photo of our neighbors' butternut squash soup and salad with beets, oranges and hazelnuts. The soup looked velvety and rich (there's that attention to detail) and the salad was chock full of good ingredients.
Blue Ribbon Pizzeria - Encinitas
From our seats at the bar, we had a good view of Wade tossing the pizzas and sliding them into the oven. I was impressed to see him all of that work himself. He's clearly taking not only pride but a leading role in producing what's coming out of the kitchen. The menu boasts that their dough goes through a three day fermentation process. These days, pizza is all about the crust - and while this one was good, it wasn't quite as good as Mozza or Pizzeria Delfina. It was thinner, flatter, less stretchy and chewy. There is bound to be some variation though since he's cooking them in a real, live wood-burning oven - even from one of our pizzas to the other we noticed one was more blackened around the edges than the other. I would need to go back and try a few more pizzas before declaring this the best in San Diego, but it's definitely up there.
Blue Ribbon Pizzeria - Encinitas
They serve only one dessert, but it's a good one. Butterscotch pudding with caramel sauce, sea salt and whipped cream. I think it's easily as good as Mozza's, James said not quite. Either way, it does the trick. The espresso from their little automatic machine was pretty darn good too. At the end of our meal, we well understood the crowds gathered around the door waiting for tables, and we felt lucky to have snagged the two seats at the bar when we arrived. We left happy and sated, and we're already planning our next trip back - preferably with two other couples, so we can make a reservation (they only take them for parties of six or more) and try more pizzas!

Blue Ribbon Pizzeria
Lumberyard Shopping Center
897 South Coast Hwy (101)
Encinitas, CA 92024
(760) 634-7671

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Chicken Adobo Experiment

adobo

Maybe you also saw this piece in the New York Times Magazine this past weekend?  These recipes almost always look intriguing, but it's rare for me to run right out and buy the ingredients for something like I did for this. I don't know what it was about it, but I just had to make this, NOW.  I'm glad I did, too.  It was absolutely delicious, and pretty darned easy.  It was something completely different for me, and I don't run across too many meals I can say that about these days.  It's also a great way to use chicken thighs and legs - which generally cook up a little too rubbery for me in any preparation but a braise, and you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry already - though you may have to buy another bottle of rice vinegar. (It uses a whole one.)

I modified the recipe to use the whole can of coconut milk and - inspired by the article -  added a few ingredients of my own to give it a little zing.  The result was rich, tangy, spicy, complex and strangely addictive. I was inspired enough to run right over here and type this up - both to share it with you fabulous people, and to make sure I don't forget what I did, since I definitely plan to make it again!

Chicken Adobo
adapted from Sam Sifton, who in turn adapted it from Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan of the Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn.

1 can coconut milk  (I used regular, but I am pretty sure light would also be fine)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1½ cups rice vinegar (one 12 ounce bottle)
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar*
1 Tablespoon of good balsamic vinegar*
1/2 tsp ground red pepper*
1/2 tsp turmeric*
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and cut into chunks roughly the size of the garlic cloves*
12 whole garlic cloves, peeled  (you could probably use 4-6 and smash them but leave them whole for the same effect)
2 whole serrano chilis or other hot chilis (original recipe calls for Bird chilis) split open and seeds removed with a paring knife. 
3 bay leaves
several grinds of freshl black pepper

3 to 4 pounds (8-10 pieces) bone-in chicken thighs.

Jasmine rice

1. Combine all ingredients with chicken in a large 5 quart dutch oven or stock pot.  Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. 

2. Place pot containing chicken and marinade on the stove over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and tender, around 30-40 minutes.

3.  Remove chicken pieces from pot and place on a foil lined sheet pan - set aside.  Skim excess fat from sauce, and use a slotted spoon to remove garlic cloves, ginger, chilis and bay leaves.  Simmer sauce over medium-high heat until it reduces and thickens slightly, about 10-15 minutes.   While the sauce simmers, preheat the broiler and cook the rice according to package directions. 

4. When the sauce is thickened and the rice is ready, broil the chicken pieces for about 5 minutes, until they begin to brown and caramelize.  To serve, spoon rice into shallow bowls, top with chicken, and pour sauce over. 

* = my additions
photo credit - NY Times

Monday, January 10, 2011

Brunch at Locanda Verde - NYC

Locanda Verde - NYC
Back to New York! Wasn't that a movie? Or an MTV Real World season subtitle? Either way, I couldn't let too much more time go by without telling you about brunch at Locanda Verde. This was another one of the "must dos" on our list, and we were very glad we made it. Locanda Verde is one of those rare restaurants not in a hotel that is open all day, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It worked out well for us to have brunch there, and then scoot over to Brooklyn for the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory tour, which started at 1:30 PM.
Brunch at Locanda Verde - NYC
Locanda Verde strikes me above all, as a Restaurant for Everyone, and it seemed like just about everyone was there - parents, kids, girlfriends, mother-daughter pairs, dates, you name it. It was crowded, but luckily they take reservations - kind of rare for a brunch place, but it makes all the difference. The menu is just different enough to be interesting, and everything sounds delicious, which makes it hard to choose.
Brunch at Locanda Verde - NYC
We settled on a first course of "burnt orange toast" with house made sheep's milk ricotta and truffle honey. I've had good bread before, and I've had homemade ricotta and honey before, but I've never had anything that tasted like this. It was the best of both worlds and then some, with the gooey, sticky cheese, slightly bitter toast and earthy honey. We weren't the only ones with the good taste to order this, we saw it on almost every table in the dining room.
Brunch at Locanda Verde - NYC
For my "main course" - I chose a soft scrambled egg "crostino" served with a slice of ham and mushroom salad. The eggs were perfectly cooked and the ham was lovely - but the salad was surprisingly delicious - a little tangle of curly endive accented with the rich umami flavors of mushrooms and parmesan.
Brunch at Locanda Verde - NYC
Rorie chose the Lemon Ricotta pancakes, served with lemon curd and blueberries - with a side of bacon. Restaurant pancakes can be tough, dry or both, but these were just right - and the creamy, rich lemon curd was a stellar accompaniment.
Coffee bar at Locanda Verde - NYC
While we were there, I noticed quite a few people coming in and walking over to the coffee bar in a corner of the dining room - the set up is really darling, and if our meal is any indication, I'm sure the pastries and coffee are divine.
Doughnuts at Locanda Verde - NYC
Seeing this also drove home for me just how incredibly spoiled New Yorkers are. If this was around the corner from your house, how would you not stop by there every morning? How would you feel when you travel to another city where Starbucks is the only option? How do you not gain 6000 pounds from all the breakfast pastry options calling your name on the way to work? Then I thought, maybe it's not that different from my experience living in San Francisco. After a few months of going crazy on all the great stuff there I realized three things: 1) it was expensive; 2) it would be the death of me; and 3) it would always be there. Likewise, I wouldn't be surprised if doughnuts from Locanda Verde are considered a special treat, even in New York.




Humphry Slocombe on the Selby

Humphry Slocombe on the Selby
As a fan of the Humphry Slocombe ice cream shop in San Francisco, I was pleased to spot this feature on The Selby a few weeks ago.  That huge jar of Amarena cherries on their counter is making me drool.  Next time I go in there, I'm definitely splurging on a sundae.  We're planning on running the Bay to Breakers in May and that will probably be our next trip up there -  so I think I will have earned it!

Read about my first trip to Humphry Slocombe here. (Sadly, I don't think the part about no line is true anymore!)

Friday, January 07, 2011

What We Did on New Year's Eve

Mr. Lobster
I'm having one of those moments/weeks/days where I'm paralyzed by all I have to say.  I realize I have to start somewhere though, and it feels like something date specific should be at least a little timely, so before the week completely passes me by - here goes!  On New Year's Eve, we hosted a dinner party for fourteen friends, and served lobster stew, caviar, and champagne. Here is the menu:   
Lobster stew brewing
New Year's Eve
December 31, 2010


Farm House Cafe Chicken Liver Mousse
with Pickled Onions and Toasted Acme Bakery Baguette
Blini with Osetra Caviar and Creme Fraiche
and
 Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche and Trout Roe
 Castelvetrano Olives
Marcona Almonds
***
Billecart Salmon NV Brut Rose Champagne

Endive and Frisee Salad with Shallot and Mustard Vinaigrette
Fuji Apples, Toasted Hazelnuts and Goat Cheese Crostini

Locke Ober "JFK" Lobster Stew
Acme Epi Bread
***
Simi Sauvignon Blanc

Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse Almond Tart
Mignardises
***
Tokaji
coffee
Andrew dishing up the trout roe
The blini with caviar, smoked salmon, creme fraiche and trout roe were stellar. I ordered the smoked salmon from Barney Greengrass, and Andrew helped procure the caviar and trout roe through a wholesale connection.  I used the Barefoot Contessa's blini recipe (using whole wheat instead of buckwheat flour and a little more liquid than called for.)  Standing at the stove flipping blini, tossing back  Billecart Salmon and popping these little lovelies into my mouth is surely going to go down as one of the high points of 2010 . Never mind the blistering burn I gave myself on my pinky during the process.  Just popped it in a glass of ice water, drank another glass of champagne, and presto!  It didn't hurt a bit.
New Year's Eve Blini with Caviar and Creme FraicheThe chicken liver mousse - procured from one of my favorite restaurants in town - Farm House Cafe - was as fabulous as always.  It's on the menu every night, and it's one of my favorite things to eat.  The salad was our first seated course - Jora helped me plate curly endive tossed with a mustard vinaigrette with a couple of leaves of belgian endive, some matchsticks of fuji apple, toasted hazelnuts and a goat cheese smeared Acme baguette crostini. 
After dinner we played charades
For the lobster stew, I used this recipe, with the addition of some finely chopped shallots, onions and garlic sauteed in a little butter and sherry.   I bought the lobsters - nice, big, feisty ones - for $13.95 a pound at Point Loma Seafoods.  I researched the best way to kill/cook them extensively, and what I saw seemed to indicate there was really no benefit to stabbing them in the head with a knife.  I couldn't bring myself to do what Andrew suggested though, and skewer them through the tails before cooking.  They were pissed off enough as it was.  Instead, I brought about five inches of water to a boil in a massive pot from a turkey fryer - so that the water wouldn't cool down when I added them - and dropped them in head first, two at a time. I cooked them for five minutes, then plunged them into a sink full of ice water straight out of the pot. When they had cooled, I cracked the shells and removed the meat, which went into the fridge, and the shells (minus the carcasses) went into a large pan with lots of cream, milk and butter. That mixture simmered for quite a while, and then went into the fridge overnight to steep.  Just before the party, I sauteed the lobster meat in butter and sherry and added it to the cream mixture to reheat.
Lindsay Shere's Chez Panisse Almond Tart
For dessert, I made Lindsey Shere's legendary almond tart - served after the first dinner at Chez Panisse - or so the story goes. It's actually a smidge underbaked here - I slipped it back in the oven to toast a bit more until it was nice and brown, and then forgot to take another picture (oops!)  This was a big hit and fairly simple to make.  It's just a cookie crust, filled with sugar, almonds and cream cooked to a caramel on the stove and baked until thickened and browned.  You just have to poke the sliced almonds down into the caramel a couple of times while the tart bakes, since they have a tendency to float to the top.  I also had some little trays with Italian nougats and fancy chocolate from Mast Brothers and L.A. Burdick to pass around.
New Year's Eve Table
I've said before that you can never have too much champagne, but I think we actually might have had a little too much this time.   We went through twenty four bottles (!!) for fourteen guests.  That is impressive, even for our friends! The plan had been for everyone to either sleep over or come back the next morning for brunch, but not everyone made it.... let's just leave it at that.  :)
new years day brunch spread
At least a few people were there though, to share in the Barney Greengrass smoked salmon and bagels - along with cinnamon rolls from Con Pane and  fresh squeezed tangerine juice. We've done this before and I can vouch that it is a great way to spend the first day of the new year - or any day for that matter.  Russ and Daughters wasn't taking mail orders the week before New Years, but Barney Greengrass came through in spades, snowstorm or no!

Happy New Year!!!

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