Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The First Lamb Jam Masters - Do EWE love Lamb?

You could say I'm developing a flair for meat-centric events. First there was the Duckathlon in May, then Meatopia in July and now you find the CL at Lamb Jam in September. What can I say, I like meat! 2011 marked the first year that the winners of regional Lamb Jam competitions came together in New York City to compete in the first Lamb Jam Masters competition. Hosted by the American Lamb Board, the lamb-tastic event was held at City Winery on a muggy Sunday afternoon. The finalists from competitions held earlier this year in BostonDCSan Francisco and Seattle came in with their best lamb forward. 

Sunday was my first visit to City Winery, but I doubt it will be my last. The warm spacious venue uses wine for its decor; the walls are artistically covered with wine glasses, bottles and barrels. It was the perfect place to hold Lamb Jam because it allowed the fans of lamb to graze the event at their leisure. The atmosphere was livened, also, by the musical stylings of Gotham City Bluegrass Allstars. In addition to the four chefs serving, each dish had a local (to them) wine, beer or cider pairing. Locally, the Meatball ShopPeraDickson's Farmstand and The Little Cakes showed up to celebrate the goodness of lamb. The Meatballers served lamb meatballs (naturally) with basil pesto and a corn and tomato salad.  Dickson's sliced up some lamb charcuterie to taste. Little Cakes had adorable lamb cake pops but sadly I didn't get one in time! They were presented on the cutest little patch of green grass. And finally Pera had a perfect little piece of lamb adana/kebab spiced with sumac and rolled in a freshly made lavash which was like biting into a tasty thin pillow filled with warm and gently spiced meat. Memorable. There were also some specialties from farther afield by way of Louisville's Jefferson's Bourbon Coke Slushies (dangerously good) and the Hudson Valley's Old Chatham Sheephearding Company's Camembert. 

Of course I had to taste each lamb dish from the competitors and vote for the People's Choice. We'll lead up to my favorites:

First Chef Jason Santos from Blue Inc. in Boston, MA served poached lamb loin with black truffle, cauliflower espuma, bee pollen and fried garlic. The dish was served in little plastic shot glasses, presumably in its poaching liquid. The taste was good but the little cup was so hot it burned my hand to hold and I also detected some plasticy taste which was unpleasant. Had the lamb in such hot liquid been presented differently, or even just in glass instead of plastic shot glasses, I think the flavors would be have been much better and I'd have been less distracted by the technicalities of presentation. 

The poached lamb loin was paired with Harpoon Brewery IPA or UFO White. I tried some of the UFO White and really enjoyed it. It is similar to a Blue Moon but it has a nicer finish and there is no bitterness to it. It is a beer I could see myself ordering next time I am at a bar or bringing to a party. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

$5 Challenge and Melissa Clark's Genius Ratatouille

When I heard about the Slow Food USA $5 Challenge I immediately started thinking of what I might be able to make and what I could easily share with friends on September 17th. I knew whatever I made would be primarily vegetable based and that meat would probably not be included. Soups, salads, pastas and sandwiches all came to mind and then passed. When the October issue of Food & Wine arrived in my mailbox I flipped through it like I always do but was stopped short on Melissa Clark's "Speedy Ratatouille with Goat Cheese" because it looked so enticing I wanted to eat it off the page. At this point, it was less than a week away from the 17th and I realized how perfect ratatouille would be to for the $5 meal; all the vegetables it uses would be in season and at the market, I knew just who to buy goat cheese from at Union Square and a lovely locally made baguette would go great with the stew.   Also, since I wanted to picnic in the park, for serving, ratatouille would travel well and be easy to serve alfresco. I had found a winner! 

Saturday morning I headed to the Union Square Greenmarket in the crisp pre-autumn air to find all the ingredients I needed for the ratatouille. After dropping off my compost I tend to start out on the Saturday market by heading directly to Migliorelli for some zucchini, maybe some radishes or greens and then carry on. From Migliorelli I bought the eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, plum tomatoes, and basil. 

Next I made my way through the crowded market in search of those elusive red bell peppers. I found a good one at S&SO Produce Farms and the onions I needed, too. (And filled with the excitement of fall's onset I picked up a small acorn squash which got curried for dinner this week.) Next I needed some goat cheese so I headed straight for Patches of Star Dairy and picked up 4 oz. of lightly salted chèvre (which FYI is seriously amazing). At home I already had garlic that I probably bought from Paffenroth at Union Square and the only two non-local (but still pretty "slow") ingredients I used were olive oil I'd bought at Stew Leonard's and a lemon from Fairway Market. On my way home I picked up a baguette from Bread Alone at the East 82nd street greenmarket (they are at Union Square on Fridays). 

When it was time to start cooking I took everything out of the fridge and set out to do a complete mise-en-place. Melissa Clark's recipe is so wonderful because she cooks all the vegetables in shifts to keep them bright and fresh tasting and only at the end does everything stew together for about 15 minutes. So it was very important that I had everything set-up to go into the pot one at a time.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Freerange Nonfiction Presented "A Night of Food Writing": Four Books You Should Check Out

This past Wednesday night I attended the Freerange Nonfiction Reading Series event at Pianos on the Lower East Side. Freerange Nonfiction is a group supporting and preserving the art of nonficition by nurturing writers and holding monthly readings. Recently they started doing more thematic readings and kicked off Wednesday with the theme of Food Writing. I heard about the event from Jonathan Dixon's Beaten Seared and Sauced Facebook page and decided to check it out. 

Four authors would be reading from their own books of food/drink-related nonfiction. Naturally, Jonathan Dixon was there to read from Beaten Seared and Sauced, Max Watman read from Chasing the White Dog, Lauren Shockey read from Four Kitchens, and Danyelle Freeman read from Try This. You know by now I loved Dixon's book but I have also been meaning to read Shockey's Four Kitchens. I had heard of Freeman's book but did not know much about it and I hadn't heard of Watman or his book before the event. I was looking forward to an evening of good readings and more titles to add to my constantly expanding list of books to read. That was just what I got. 

Being at Pianos I felt a bit out of place, not quite trendy or "hip" enough to be there in my all black ensemble. The crowd was small, mainly due to the never-ending rain we'd experienced all week, but they were happy to be there. Mira Ptacin got the evening going with an introduction to the evening and Freerange Nonfiction. Then Max Watman started the readings with an excerpt from Chasing the White Dog.

Watman's book is about his journey through the world of Moonshine. He read the chapter titled "Skillet's Place." From the moment he finished reading the first page of his selection, I could tell Watman was a great writer and that his book would be a joy to read. In this part of the book he's exploring the nip joints where moonshine is served and trying to see if he can go to one or at least acquire some moonshine that is sold in one. The descriptions he gives of how he imagines them, the realities he discovers, the people he meets (and the dialogue with them) and finally the moment he tastes some nip joint moonshine are vivid, entertaining and intriguing. You want to know more. Even though I had not heard of Watman before Wednesday night, he is on my radar now and I plan to read his book even though I'm not very interested in moonshine. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop & Lexie's Birthday!

Yesterday I finally got down to the brand new Big Gay Ice Cream Shop to celebrate the birthday of my friend Lexie (you know her from her blog belle nana sans banane)! The highly anticipated permanent location for NYC's favorite ice cream opened last Saturday. As Doug stated the goal of the shop is to be an emporium for special frozen treats in the city, and they accomplish it well. The menu is overwhelming, but Doug tweeted me some good advice yesterday: "I usually tell people to stop thinking so hard about the menu. Just pick whatever catches your eye, then come back again." 

When you get inside you'll be greeted by a super friendly and helpful staff- eager to help you make a selection, answer questions or (probably) chat about the lovely unicorns all around (please don't rub against the pretty unicorn on the wall! she wants to stay BE-dazzled not DE-dazzled!). The shop is petite. On Saturday it was without a bench, seats or bar to lean on. On Lexie's first visit she remembered some sitting or leaning furniture so hopefully that will return. There are also Big Gay Ice Cream t-shirts available to buy and some olive oil, too. It smells sweet inside and makes you hungry for some treats. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Follow Fridays: #Favorites

We have come to the final post in my Follow Friday Series. We've talked about my top tweeters for #Reading, #Activism, #FoodJobs, #Friends, #Shopping and now we come to my overall #Favorites. Some of these accounts are just things I really love, some not even related to food. Others are food related favorites that really don't fall into the other categories but I want you to know about them because I think they are great. 

Each week I change up who I put in my #Favorites tweet but I usually cycle through the same batch of people depending on what I've been thinking about during the week. So here is my last group of Follow Friday (#FF) accounts, #Favorites

@chefludo - Of course Chef Ludo is on my favorites list! I talk about him nearly as much as I talk about macarons! Follow him on Twitter for tweets with fun photos (lots of coqs), menu items for LudoBites and information on Ludo Bites America

@frenchchefwife -Krissy Lefebvre keeps the business side of Chef Ludo's work in order and takes to Twitter to keep a lot of things in order. Hoping for a last minute reservation opening at LudoBites? Better be following Krissy on Twitter. She also tweets pictures of Chef Ludo you just won't see anywhere else, like him eating a just-killed-buffalo's heart (Warning!: not for the squeamish). 

@mylastbite - Jo Maxwell Stougaard of My Last Bite is a wonderful food blogger based in LA. She is well-known for her informative Twitter feed that has over 87,000 followers. She is one of the main LudoBitches and I found her from retweets of her tweets by Krissy and Chef Ludo. After reading this LA Times article about her, she quickly became one of my favorite food bloggers and tweeters (she's also the one who I learned about Google Reader from- which has changed how I get my food news). She has a fabulously positive outlook on life and like her website states: "MyLastBite shares just the positive and never the negative. If I like it, I share it… If I don’t, I don’t!" She's a must follow for anyone who loves food. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Follow Fridays: #Shopping

The beauty of being a food-lover is that there is always something to shop for and literally always something you need: food! But paired with those raw ingredients are the cookbooks, food memoirs, tableware, flatware, and the aisles and bins of kitchen appliances and tools. Dangerously for me many of my favorite places to shop for all these items are active tweeters. And fortunately, most of them are willing to lend a hand to check if something is in stock or in season before I make my way to their store or call to place my order. 

These are my crème de la crème of places to shop so I suggest checking them out not only on Twitter but on their websites or in their stores/markets as well. My Follow Friday (#FF) sources for #Shopping: 

@omnivorebooks - Somewhere amid tweets, retweets and new followers I learned about Celia Sack and her wonderful store (which I've yet to visit). Omnivore Books is a culinary book store in San Francisco. A bookstore filled with books on food? How could I not love it. Celia also specializes in antiquarian and collectible food/cookbooks she collects from multiples places, travels and encounters. Her shop is also the hub for book signings by chefs, food writers and gastronomic enthusiasts.  Every tweet about a great book event makes me consider moving west more and more. She has become my source for signed cookbooks for friends and for myself. This month I'll be ordering the Chez Panisse 40th Anniversary book, signed by Alice Waters, for keeps. I can't wait to get to SF someday to meet Celia and browse Omnivore's full inventory! 

@kalnyc - My very first culinary bookstore and source for cook books and food writing is NYC is of course Kitchen Arts & Letters. I'm not sure how many months passed until I realized just how close I have always lived to Nach Waxman's shop on Lexington Avenue. My belief is fate made me call the Upper East Side home, just to be close to the store. In the past year the store, or rather Matt, has started tweeting. It was a joyous day for me when @kalnyc joined the Twitterverse! Now I get to peep when chefs stop-by the store, when new shipments arrive and tips on what to read. Matt is also very helpful for checking inventory and holding items for me because I don't get out of work until just before they close during the week. Currently you won't hear much from them, the store closes for vacation for a few weeks each summer. Set to re-open September 6th. 
Don't miss my coverage of their excellent book sale they had this spring: Kitchen Arts & Letters Book Sale! 

@fishseddynyc - I love books but dishes, glasses, special spoons, fun mugs and stunning cake stands all hold an equally special place in my heart. Fishs Eddy is this amazing little shop by Union Square chock-full of bright, fun and beautiful kitchen wares. Their tweets are always tempting and it is very easy to get lost while browsing their website. Shopping there and looking around on line make me yearn for the day when I have a house to fill with things like this deep blue pitcher or these pretty pink tea cups. Just try to look on their site without finding something you feel a cosmic connection to and must have immediately. Lucky for us they are expanding and to move some inventory during construction are having a great sale. No matter where you are in the country (or world!) you can get your hands on their unique goodies.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Brown-Bag Lunch Challenge from FN's Healthy Eats & Day 1: Eggplant Parm Pizza

In the spirit of back-to-school Food Network's Healthy Eats blog is challenging us to bring a healthy lunch to work everyday for the month of September. This challenge really speaks to me because it is something I struggle with every work day. Hopefully, together, we can explore some great ideas for what to take to lunch and overcome the obstacles that keep us from making lunch the night or morning before work and find us spending $10 and extra time during our lunch break to buy lunch out. 

My lunchtime story goes like this: most days I buy lunch, spending as much as $60 a week on food (a BIG chunk), the days I bring lunch I am excited about what I brought and looking forward to eating it 50% of the time, the other 50% of the time I either don't eat it or have to supplement my meal with a snack bought at Duane Reade or Starbucks because I didn't pack enough food to fill me. My main hurdle in my food not being appealing 50% of the time is that my office does not have a microwave, let alone a lunchroom or cafeteria. I work by Central Park so I usually sit on a bench to eat my homemade lunches, but some days eating cold food, especially in the colder months, has no appeal to me whatsoever. I am constantly on the lookout for delicious, filling meals to take at lunchtime that I'll still want to eat by the time 1:30pm rolls around. It is a real challenge. 

Fortunately I've gotten the month started off right. Today I will be enjoying a homemade pesto and eggplant parmesan pizza. Its homemade in every which way; I made the pizza dough last night, the pesto last week and the eggplant parm is leftover from a dinner I made. Last week I made a similar pizza with the same dough, same pesto and mushrooms and sauteed onions instead of the eggplant. Happily, I brought it three days in a row to work and was not sick of it! It's a keeper. My trick to enjoying it cold? I take it out of the fridge one hour before I plan to take lunch, this gives the crust time to warm up and soften. 

Are you taking the Brown Bag Challenge? If so leave me a comment! 
What are your favorite lunches?
Any tips for what to eat and enjoy without use of a microwave?