Chinatown

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While most flock to Chinatown for fake Rolexes and knockoff designer handbags many still head to this over crowded mile radius for many delectible culinary delights and great produce deals. I had wanted to go to my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Pasteur. Unfortunately, it was too crowded for me to attempt it with a stroller. Still I decided to hit the produce street vendors and head over to the Hong Kong Supermarket to find some goodies for dinner.

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We might not have the village markets in NYC like they do in Europe but as soon as spring hits the produce street vendors pop up like firefies in the city, and thank the heavens for them. You can find amazing deals with these guys. On average their goods cost 1/3 the price of the same produce you would find in a grocery store. Just make sure you take the time to select them yourself. For example, I bought a bag of three romaine hearts for only $2 dollars. The same bag was $5 at the local Gristedes or $6 at the nearby Gourmet Garage. It’s a no brainer, I try to get all my produce two seasons of the year from these Produce Outdoorsmen.

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I buy some seasonal fruits and vegetables and head on over to my favorite Chinatown grocery, the venerable Hong Kong Supermarket!

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 You can find everything from live frogs to Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice at the HKS. I started coming here for condiments and bags of frozen dim sum. Now, everytime I come, I try to buy something new and stray a little further from my comfort zone. It doesn’t matter if you live in a big city or on a farm, chances are there is an ethnic market within your reach. Seek them out and  experiment a little. Whether its the Eastern European market selling sausages and giant beers or the Korean deli down the block with their homemade Kim Chi, there is a culinary world to explore at your fingertips.

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I find some chinese eggplannt, chive buds, bok choy, and a nice piece of salmon all for a very good prices. Oh and of course bags of frozen dumplings and a new sauce to try out. Their condiment aisle is sick, ten different types of soy sauce, twenty different types of chili sauce, goes on and on and on. I stuff my goods under my stroller and head on home with my baby girl happy as a clam.

By the time we got home, it was a little too late to start my Chinese feast but luckily I remembered that I had defrosted pizza dough in the fridge. When ever I make dough Ialways make more than I need because it freezes well, just remember to put it in your fridge a day or two before use because there is no quick way to defrost dough.  That’s not true, actually, you can put it in a ziplock back and run it under cold water, this works for meat as well.  Don’t ever say I told you a lie!  Anyway, it’s another quick pizza and salad night for the family.

-Maintenant Manger!

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Marriage Bureau

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Today, I went downtown to the New York City Marriage Bureau to obtain an extended copy of my marriage licence. The French Consulate made me do it in order to procure a French birth certificate for my daughter. Apperantly, my trustworthy face wasn’t enough… go figure!
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That initial Consulate trip was hard, even with my daughter’s swift and zippy Bugaboo Bee stroller (the “city” stroller!).  I made the mistake of trying to switch fom the local train to the express at 59th street… I found myself stranded in third-rail hell.  No elevators. My choices were a skyscraping escalator or  a flight of medieval-looking stairs.  Of course, safety and commonsense prevailed and I chose the stairs – but, I’m a little embarassed to admit, not without some serious back and forth trying to devise how I could safely maneuver a stroller up an escalator.

You can’t, by the way.

I picked the stroller up, baby and all and climbed the three separate flights of stairs.  In retrospect, I should have waited for the next train back and used that stations elevators.  When we finally made it to the FC, waited an hour before being seen only to be turned away because I didn’t have the ‘long form” of my marriage license.

What is the difference, you ask, betwee a short form and long form?  Six sentences, that’s what, SIX.  The extended form lists both spouses’ parents’ full names and whether the spouses were married before.  I don’t know if I’m more upset with the City Hall for not giving me those six extra sentences in the the first place when I got married, or with the the French Consulate asking me to piece together an intricite dossier with documents dating back to my grandparents’ time.   I might add that procuring the other documentation from France was still less of a hassle than picking up this extended form downtown – and cheaper.  City Hall charged me $35!

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Move over, Jolie. Daddy needs a rest!

The silver lining was since I was downtown already I could make a pit stop in Chinatown on my way home!

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More on this trip in a later post!

– Maintenent Manger!

Garlic Ginger Marinated Pork Roast with Rice and Greens

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When I do my grocery shopping for the week I usually just buy staples, starches, and veggies. Staples are your everyday must haves like olive oil, vinegar, condiments and hot sauces. Starches are your breads, pastas and potatoes. Veggies are, well.. the veggies! With all of these on hand I just need to do a small daily protein shopping for the main event.

I like to buy my protein on a day to day basis. I hate feeling forced to eat something just because it’s in my fridge. How many times have you cooked and eaten something because it was about to spoil? That’s not a way to live!

Another reason is that I like to take advantage of daily deals. Whether it’s fish, beef, pork, or chicken, chances are your local market will have one of these on sale. The best part is that you get a really nice daily surprise for dinner. For example, today I found pork roast on sale. It is a nice piece too, over two pounds and under ten dollars. You can stretch two pounds of meat into two dinners for for two adults pretty easily. In my house, we will have Pork Roast tonight and tacos tomorrow night. Roughly adding in the cost of the staples and veggies it will probably come out to $10-15 for both dinners.

Always check the sales and always buy produce that is in season. It’s cheaper and the produce in season will always tatse the best.

I expect that even if money were no object, I would still shop this same way. It’s fun and keeps you from getting into a food rut.

The next challenge is to figure out what to serve my beautiful pork with. My mind naturally went to pork and rice. It’s a classic combo. We already had some romaine hearts in the fridge so I decided to make a light salad with fresh yellow tomatoes. Salad is a great go-to veg portion for carnivores. It takes only five minutes to prepare and you can take your time and concentrate on the lovely hunk of flesh you have.

I think of Asia when I think of pork and rice so I decided to make a marinade with soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Here’s what you’ll need:

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  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 thumb of ginger minced ( about two table spoons)
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbl brown sugar

Always taste your soy sauce first. Some brands are stronger than others. Add water to dilute the stregnth if necessary.

In general, you want to be careful with marinades. People don’t usually realize that the sodium, salt, or acids in your marinade will start cooking the protein even if you have it in the fridge. The best example of this is ceviche where the fish is cooked in acid, usually tart fruit juice like lemons or lime. The longer your meat marinates, the more chance the marinade has of toughening your meat so for this pork roast I only marinated it for just under an hour. Try to marinate it in an oven safe cooking dish so you can use the same dish later. I’m not worried about losing flavor because the left over marinade will become the sauce as it roasts in the oven.

kir 016Next comes the rice. Good rice is not easy to make. I seem to have a knack for over cooking it when I try the traditional stove top method so, in the absence of a rice cooker, I use the French method. The French method lets you cook rice like you would pasta. Just pour the desired amount in a large pot of boiling water and drain when ready. Tres simple!

If you can find a pasta strainer like this one on the left, get it. These handy strainers are great because you can cook the pasta directly inside them and just pull out the strainer. Much safer than dumping out a whole pot of water and, if you are like me always forgetting to reserve a little pasta water for the sauce, this way will keep you from having to smack your own forehead as all the water swirls down the drain.

Restaurants use these types of pasta strainers to control portion size. Restaurant health rules stipulate that the pasta water should be refreshed every hour but, having worked for many years in the restaurant business, I can tell you that during a busy service, don’t count on it.

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Salt your water and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Next, brown the meat. To brown is to get color on all sides of the meat in a pan on high heat. Basically, you want to sear it on all sides to get that nice golden brown caramalized color throughout. If you don’t do this first, you’ll end up pulling a decidedly unappetizing greyish mass of flesh out of your oven at the end. Season the pork with salt and pepper before browning it. Reserve the baking dish with the left over marinade. You’ll finish cooking off the pork in the same dish.

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Once all sides are browned you can put the pork back in the oven safe dish it was marinating in with the reservered marinade.

Cook to your desired temperature.

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kir 028U. S. regulations stipulate that pork are now fed on an all vegetarian diet. So there is very little chance to contract trichinosois the way they did in the olden days when pigs were fed farm leftovers or, what they called, “slop”. Recently the USDA lowered the internal cooking temperature of pork to 145 degrees instead of the long time standard of 155. So go ahead, dont be shy, eat that piggy pink.

Plate your dish with nice slices of pork, some rice, salad, and drizzle the reduced marinade (which is now a rich sauce) over your pork.

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Spring Cassis

kir 006Spring is here and so are kirs! Whenever it starts to get warm my wife and I like to drink rosee wines or kirs. Kirs are a white wine cocktail made with one measure of Creme De Cassis and white wine. (1 part creme de cassis & 9 parts wine.) Creme de Cassis is an alcoholic liqueur made from blackcurrants. There are many different types of kirs including two from Normandy (Kir Normand &  Cidre Royale which are both made from hard cider except the Royale has a measure of Calvados added.) but the two most popular are the regular Kir (made with white wine) and the Kir Royale, made with champagne.

 

kir 005Do yourself a favor if you buy some make sure it’s from Dijon, France. I made the unfortunate decision to buy a domestic brand once and it tasted more like Dimetapp cough syrup than something you would consider toasting with.

I decided to try adding some to my vodka tonic tonight which I think is a new creation, my wife disagrees. Well, in case it is a new creation I’m going to call it the Cord’homme. If it isn’t, oh well, that doesn’t stop it from being tasty!

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When I was a kid my mother would wash out the old Bonne Maman jam jars and we would use them as beverage glasses. Ever since then I love drinking out of jars. This is a ball glass jar. I always gravitate towards it if I see it in the cupboard. It just feels like home.

I also remember in the summertimes my parents would drink these fantastic looking Gin & Tonics with fresh mint leaves and a wedge of lemon. They had these awesome looking glasses that resembled medievel goblets except these were made of glass. I’m going to try and track some down. I think they have a few left at their house in Normandy.

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Ravioli with Crispy Bacon Cream Sauce & Parmesean

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Today I am cooking the Spinach and Cheese Ravioli that I bought from Raffeto’s, a mom and pop pasta grocery specializing in pasta.  This recipe will work with all cheese and vegetable recipes.  Basically, anything you think will taste well with bacon and cream will work.  In other words, practically everything will work because very few things don’t taste well with bacon and cream.

 As a chef, I suppose I should feel a certain way about admitting to purchasing my ravioli but in my defense, I have a six month old baby to take care of and I have to do most of my cooking with her in a k’tan carrier.  She is a very diligent sous chef and hates it when I do anything without her!

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However, if you do want to make your own there are two main methods. You can make the ravioli dough yourself and use ravioli mold like this one.  For this method I highly recommend using a Kitchen-Aid mixer with a pasta dough attachment. 6138403307_3469da2c0c

There is also a ravioli maker attachment for the Kitchen-Aid but i have never tried it.  Pretty sweet, eh?  I should start dropping hints to my wife for my next birthday.

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The other method for making your own ravioli is to use wonton wrappers (see above) and a little egg wash. You can find these in speciality Asian markets.

For this recipe, gather together:

  • Ravioli (either store bought or your home made)
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 6 strips of Bacon
  • 1/4 cup of Grated Parmesean
  • Salt and Pepper

First thing you want to do is preheat your oven to 375 degrees and get a large pot of salted boiling water going.

I use the restaurant trick of cooking the bacon in the oven. This allows the bacon to cook evenly. It also doesnt smoke as it would if you were frying it in a pan. Since my little girl was born I’ve been trying to avoid cooking anything on the stove top that produces a lot of smoke. I live in a New York City apartment and because of when the builiding was constructed our kitchen wasn’t required to have a kitchen vent. So I have to create what the French call a ‘courant d’air’ to by opening my window and my front door.  Each time, I pray I don’t set off the building’s hallway  – which has happened.

Lay your strips of bacon on your sheet tray. I prefer a metal sheet tray with a metal rack but you can use just a sheet tray with parchment paper. If you dont have either just lay them out on your tray. I like using the rack because the bacon grease drips down while cooking so it’s a little healthier.

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Cook your bacon for  20-30 minutes until it is nice and crispy. Once cooked remove them from the tray using a spatula before they cool completely. If you dont they may stick to the pan and become difficult to remove.

FYI: if you are ever in a restaurant and you order extra crispy bacon they are going to throw it in the deep fryer. Restaurants cook their bacon ahead of time and just reheat it to order.

Here I made the sauce in the Pyrex dish that I would later serve the ravioli in. Just make sure your dish is oven safe.

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Heat the cream on low heat and and 1 strip of bacon crumbled reserving the rest for later. You want to infuse the cream sauce with bacon flavor here.  The remaining bacon will be added later and will be nice and crispy.

Remember when cooking with cream, do not to bring it to a rolling boil because the fat solids in the cream will begin to separate.

While you have the sauce going, drop your ravioli into your boiling salted water. Keep it uncoverd and as soon as the raviolis all float to the top, cut the heat and cover the pot with a lid. Let it stand for 5 minutes and then drain gently.

Helpful hint:  You dont want to cook your ravioli in a rolling boil because the raviloi will break apart and the filling will get everywhere. It’s messy, and a waste of your yummy ravioli. You also want to drain your ravioli gently for the same reason. If you dump it all out in your colander in one full swoop you are like to damage them in the process.

As soon as you’ve drained your ravioli go back to your cream sauce that should be simmering ever so slightly on low heat. Mix in two table spoons of your grated parmasean and gently add the ravioli. Mixing in the parmasean will thicken your sauce and, of course, add flavor. Mix everything together with salt and pepper to taste. Finish off your dish with the rest of the crumbled bacon and your parmasean.

Maintenant manger!

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Tomato Tart

Ok, you got me, Tomato Tarts are not from Normandy but they are delicious and I could eat some every other day. I’m pretty sure they come from the South of France. My Mom made it from me one day many years ago and I was blown away. It’s a light and delicious savory tart. If you are fortunate enough to find heirloom tomatoes use them. For the Quick and easy version you will need:

  • Pie Crust (store bought is fine, or you can make a pate brisee – I have a great recipe that I post about soon)
  • 1 large Vine Tomato
  • 2 small Spanish Onions (sliced – I find smaller onions to be more flavorful)
  • 4 cloves of Garlic (minced)
  • 2 tbsp of Dijon Mustard
  • Olive Oil
  • Herbs (There are no rule – experiment and find what you like.  I used Rosemary for this version but Basil is a classic choice)
  • Salt and Pepper

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Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Lay out your dough in your pie tin.  Par cook the crust for 15 minutes. This will help prevent the dough from getting soggy.  While the crust is cooking cut, sweat, and lightly caramelize your onions.  Mince your garlic, cut your tomato into thick slices about 1/4 of an inch thick.

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Spread your mustard over the surface of the pie crust.  Cover the crust with your onions.  Layer your tomatoes evenly.  Sprinkle your minced garlic and rosemary on top.  Finish off with some salt and pepper and drizzle in olive oil.  Cook for 25 minutes at 375 and finish it offf at 450 for 10 minutes to get nice golden brown color.  

Maintenant manger! 

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Pizza for a Hot Day

photo (1)April 10, 2013 and we have a high of 79 degrees here in the big apple. It’s the first day of real heat.  It was too hot to baby-wear my 6-month old in a carrier so I had to return from errand running to grab the stroller.  She seemed happy with that and fell sound asleep within 10 minutes. I took my sleeping baby to Raffetto’s on Houston St. here in NYC. One of the last remaining Italian groceries specializing in home made pastas and raviolis, it’s pretty romantic but still totally utilitarian that it actually makes a great place to bring a special someone.  It was a frequent “errand” when I was courting my wife.  Honestly, food shops like this make great pseudo-dates.  If you are in New York City and have access to a kitchen, I highly recommend stopping by and picking yourself dinner. You know a place is good if tour guides take their charges to visit.

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Source: Coco Mault

L’Epicerie Cord’homme loves and supports old mom and pop shops like Raffetto’s. Just remember to bring cash as they don’t take credit cards.  Check out their video.

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Rafetto’s website

This small shop also has amazing prices. I noticed today the Olave brand olive oil was $10 cheaper than at other well-known fancy foods grocers.  Today, I bought some Spinach & Cheese Ravioli there which I will make for dinner tomorrow night.  I also bought some assorted cheeses including some fresh mozzarella for tonight’s  homemade pizza.  I am going to give you the recipe for the quick & easy version.  Check back for the “from scratch” version in a later post.

Before you begin, let the dough defrost for 24 hours ahead of time in the refrigerator then let sit at room temperature for a couple hours before you use it.  We have a pizza stone that my wife bought me as a belated birthday gift.  I had been talking about buying one for ages.  All my gum-flapping paid off because I love it!  There are many great brands out there and I highly recommend doing a little reserach to make sure you get one that best suits your needs.

For the tomato sauce, just go for a standard, cheap brand.  Most store bought sauces are pretty much just plain canned tomato sauce with tomato puree mixed in.  It’s definitely cheaper and more fun to just add interesting ingredients out of your pantry or use leftovers from the fridge to create a unique sauce.

Mozzarella… Can’t really cheat here. The stuff they sell in the square packages at the supermarket will do in a pinch, but if you can, spring for the fresh stuff that you find in oblong balls wrapped in plastic wrap.

Now for the toppings, I kept mine simple and went with Pepperoni and Jalapeno.  Always taste a sample of your chili pepper as not to be surprised by the heat output.   Favorite toppings are like favorite colors, totally personal and totally right.  Don’t limit yourself to the classics, pizza making should be all about experimentation.  Par cook your proteins such as meat/chicken to ensure that your meats are not undercooked.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Pizza dough (For this recipe, I use frozen)
  • Pasta sauce (Again, the jarred variety)
  • Mozzerella (There’s no short cut for this.  Just get the best you can afford.)
  • Toppings and Herbs (Anything goes as long as it tastes good and nobody gets hurt!)

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Oil your pizza stone or cookie sheet. I like to use a drizzle of olive oil that I spread with a paper towel. Lay out your pizza dough and par cook it for 15 minutes. This will help ensure that your pizza isn’t soggy. Once it’s done, add your sauce, spices, mozzerella and toppings. Put it back in the oven for 25 minutes or until the chese is melted and a light golden brown. 

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Maintenant manger!