Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bread and Oscars

Bread + cheese = award winning combo. At least that's what I think. And at least that's what I brought to my friend Laura's annual Oscars Party. Laura, a consummate hostess, gets very into the Oscars: not only does she do a themed menu, she does a three-plus-course, three-plus-selections-per-course themed menu -- it's practically a Top Chef finale. So to complement a menu that included chips and salsa, raw veggies, chutney, turkey chili, naan, jambalaya, cheeseburgers, sausage and kraut, German chocolate cake and milk and cookies, I brought an homage to the best picture nominee Milk: a round of cranberry pecan sourdough bread from Our Daily Bread, stuffed with melted double cream brie and topped with extra dried cranberries and chopped pecans. Served with slices of honey crisp and granny smith apples from Terhune Orchards, it took less time to assemble than most award acceptance speeches. And, come to think of it, barely lasted longer than one once I put it out on the coffee table.
Easy Baked Brie
I cut the rind of the brie before cutting into cubes and found a serrated knife did the trick.
1 round loaf of bread (sourdough or other flavored bread recommended)
1 T. Olive oil
12-14 oz. of brie, cut into rough cubes
1-2 T. of chopped nuts/dried fruit/herbs, to complement your flavored bread
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Slice off top 1/3 of round; hollow out remaining loaf leaving 1 inch border all around.
Eat small amount of bread right away. Cube top of loaf and "innerds" for later dipping.
Drizzle Olive oil inside of bread bowl. Add herbs if using.
Stuff brie into bread bowl, packing down to get as much cheese inside as possible.
Place bread on cookie tray covered with an extra large piece of foil. Bake, uncovered for approximately 35 minutes or until cheese is oozing but not browning. If exposed edges or cheese appear to be burning, cover loosely with foil.
During last 10 minutes of cooking, top with nuts and dried fruit, if using.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Someone Else's Cooking: Defonte's in Gramercy

Despite being in the 40s, it's a very spring-like day in NYC. And walking through the Union Square Green market, it's clear spring is on its way...but not quite here yet. My haul today consisted of a bag of onions from Mignorelli and two loaves of sourdough from Our Daily Bread (my contribution to an Oscars party tomorrow night. Sourdough = San Francisco = tribute to best picture nominee Milk, get it?). But having $7.50 worth of bread in my shopping bag didn't stop me from popping into Defonte's during their soft opening this afternoon. The Defonte's of Brooklyn in Gramercy is an outpost of the famous Italian deli located in Red Hook, Brooklyn. And it's a welcome addition to the neighborhood, given the past tenant in the location was a very skeevy Blimpies. For the soft opening, all sandwiches were priced at $5, which is a pretty nice discount compared to the official menu (let's just say they don't sell $5 foot longs). They were out of most ingredients for cold heros, so I ordered two hot sandwiches to try -- the #23 The Jerry Lewis (mozzarella, fried eggplant, and tomato) and #28 Deli King (corn beef, swiss, coleslaw, mustard). Why those two? No idea. It was a madhouse so I just ordered the first things that caught my eye. #23 (which I received sans tomato) was thin and crispy. The fried eggplant, which Defonte's is supposed to be famous for, was more about the "fried" and less about the eggplant. Sliced very thin lengthwise, the eggplant was most likely dredged in egg and some kind of flour mixture before cooked. My great uncle used to make zucchini this way, so I know it can be delicious, but in this case, the eggplant had practically vaporized in the fryer. All that was left was the crispy coating and a few seeds to prove that the vegetable had actually once been there -- but no eggplant taste. My take: treat the fried eggplant as a topping for one of the meat heroes or as a side dish. In fact, I picked the eggplant off the bread and ate it plain. The #28 was visually more impressive - a towering pile of fresh sliced corn beef with spicy brown mustard and the house coleslaw. But although it was marketed as a hot sub, by the time I got home (and I live really close) it was cool, so I heated in in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the cheese. The combination of flavors was nice, although the corn beef was slightly chewy (I don't think Katz's has to worry). All in all, pretty good for a soft opening, and props to the staff for staying cool given the unfamiliar menu and hungry crowds. I will definitely be back to try a cold hero. So maybe it's for the best that spring is still a few weeks away -- more time to work off lunches like these!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

More 'Props for Fingerlings

I actually ended up watching the Super Bowl alone this year. Well, “watch” may be the wrong word. I had it on in the background and would stop and watch a commercial or a play every so often. What can I say? I am not a big football fan. But I did feel honor-bound to eat football party food for dinner. Digging around in the fridge and freezer, I found fixings for Ellie Krieger’s Buffalo Chicken Salad recipe. While not quite the same as a greasy batch of chicken wings, it was actually a good substitute, particularly as I have never been a fan of skin-on chicken on the bone, miniature or otherwise.
To accompany the salad, I whipped up a personal sized batch of potato skins, using Russian Banana fingerling potatoes from the Union Square farmers market. Since I was already trading salad for wings, I couldn’t really justify frying potatoes, so I baked them instead, using a technique recommended by Elise at Simply Recipes. Even with low fat cheddar and Oscar Mayer ready serve bacon, the end result was gooey and delicious – so worth the minimal effort.
Better than Foam Finger[ling] Potato Skins Adapted from Simply Recipes
By nature, a fingerling potato has very thin skin. Ironically, I found it easier to scoop out the smaller fingerling potatoes, so try to choose ones that are uniformly narrow and scoop out “flesh” using your smallest measuring spoon.
Ingredients 3 fingerling potatoes (I like Russian Banana fingerlings) 1 t. olive oil Coarse salt 1 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded or finely diced 1-2 strips bacon, diced 1 T. finely chopped scallions Method Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare fingerlings for baking (scrub, prick with fork, rub with oil and salt); bake for 20 minutes or until soft. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise across narrower side to ensure maximum surface area for toppings. Scoop out most of potato “flesh,” rub interior with a little oil and return to oven. Bake another 10 minutes or until interior starts to brown and crisp. Sprinkle with cheese, bacon and scallions; return to oven until cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream or blue cheese dressing (like the one from Ellie Krieger’s Buffalo Chicken Salad).