Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hercules Fancy Grocery

Mabel and I went to Grand Sichuan for dinner tonight. We got this somewhat scary Spicy Fish Soup where the soup is so spicy that you're not supposed to drink it.

And we discovered that they have Red Pork. This is the Mao's Red Pork dish that we love so much. It wasn't as good as when we make it, but it was still great. And it beats having to spend an afternoon cooking it.

Anyway, there was a light snow and it wasn't ridiculously cold, so we decided to walk around after dinner. I wanted to head up to Gourmet Garage to buy some maraschino cherries and junk food. But on our way up 7th Ave, we spotted this place:

Hercules Fancy Grocery. I figured that they might have what we were looking for.

Well, they didn't. But they had lots and lots of beer. And lots and lots of Belgian beer.

This is an awesome store. They don't have any fancy groceries that I could see. Mostly just beer. I was marveling at their selection when Hercules himself, behind his refrigerated counter, asked if I needed any help.

I said that I just stumbled in and was looking around. And he said he had lots of Belgian beers. And I said that yes it looked that way. Then he pulled out a St Bernardus Prior 8 and asked if I'd ever had this beer. And I said, well, yes I've had that beer, and it's a very good one. And then he put it away and pulled out a bottle of Nostradamus beer and asked if I'd ever had that one. And I said, well, no I have not.

And then he pulled out a bottle of St Bernardus Christmas Ale.

And he said this beer, they no longer make this beer. And I said, you mean for the season, right? And he said, yes, for the season. And then I asked what the prices were. And then I chose the Christmas Ale.

He rewarded my choice by saying, "You getta-this-beer, you no meaga-mistake." What a salesman! I like that!

When we got back home Mabel said, "I guess we have to go there from now on."

Hercules Fancy Grocery
27 Morton St (btn 7th Ave and Bedford St)
New York, NY 10014

Two Weeks of Bistro Cooking

So I've been on vacation for these past two weeks. I lolled around, watched internet TV, and ate bonbons. But then I decided to return to an old project I had forgotten about - going through Patricia Wells' cookbook, "Bistro Cooking."

The first recipe I cooked was one I had tried before: Potato and Celery Root Gratin (Gratin de Pommes de Terre et de Celeri-Rave). Celery root is this prehistoric looking root vegetable that Dave and I found once at the Farmer's Market. It is very knobby on the outside and difficult to peel, and it has the texture of a radish but tastes like celery. This recipe incorporated tomatoes, creme fraiche (one of my favorite ingredients) and Gruyere cheese. The celery root lightens the gratin.

We had it with a simple salad of chicory dressed with red wine and olive oil.

I then tried Tante Paulette's Chicken Stew with Fennel and Saffron (Bouillabaisse de Poulet Chez Tante Paulette). I didn't quite realize I was making a poultry version of a bouillabaisse, even with such an obvious title and even after I made the classic accompaniment, a rouille, until Dave looked at the stew and the condiments and thought aloud that this was all very reminiscent of a bouillabaisse. It was the first time I cooked with Pernod, a licorice-flavored aperitif. I was a little afraid to use it as it smelled a pretty strong from the bottle, but it mellowed out nicely after cooking and reinforced the chopped fennel bulbs that were in the stew. The rouille, a red aioli that turned out yellow for me, was made of garlic, olive oil, saffron, cayenne, salt, and egg yolks. While the chicken stew is very nice on its own, the truth is that it is a great excuse to eat lots of garlicky aioli. We smeared it on toasted baguette slices and flavored the soup as we dunked the bread into the broth.

I was looking for a way to use the rest of my creme fraiche from the gratin recipe, and came across Chez Toutoune's Mussels with Cream Sauce (Moules Sauce Puolette Chez Toutoune). This recipe is a winner. It involves steaming mussels the usual manner with white wine (we used vermouth) and herbs, but the final sauce involved whisking a combination of egg yolks and creme fraiche into the liquid released by the mussels. We ended up using half a baguette to soak up every drop of that sauce.

Patricia Wells described one of her recipes as "The family's favorite. So far...!" So how could I not try making Duck Stew in Sauternes (Civet de Canard au Sauternes). The recipe she describes is a skeleton that she uses for many of her other poultry recipe involving browning the meat and then simmering it for 40 or so minutes, and then using the simmering liquid as the final sauce. I thought the dish was okay, but I would like to try it again after reducing and better seasoning the sauce. Her suggestion to drink a young Sauternes with the meal didn't make any sense to me at first. Sauternes is a dessert wine. But I tried it and I realized that the dish, which wasn't as sweet as I first thought it would be despite 2 cups of Sauternes and several Golden Delicious apples, for that reason went very well with a sweet Sauternes.

I have always wanted to cook bacalao, or salt cod. So I tried Le Cameleon's Codfish With Herbed Tomato Sauce (Morue A la Provencale Le Cameleon). I had to soak the salt cod for a day or two and change the water several times. After I drained it, I had it simmer/soak for about 15 minutes in water, thyme, bay leaves, and garlic. Then it was just a matter of tearing it into bite size pieces and mixing into a nice homemade tomato sauce. Crystal and Susie helped Dave and me eat the dish with potatoes and the rest of that garlic aioli.

Finally, the last hurrah of my vacation was the Oxtail Stew (Daube De Queue De Boeuf). This was a great way to get rid of our $3 buck Chuck red wine, which we had bought a case of from Trader Joe's a while back and with which we had become disenamored. I was able to empty 3 bottles of the stuff into our largest Dutch oven, add a variety of vegetables and spices, and 5 pounds of oxtail. I let it marinate for a full five days. I then simmered it for 3 hrs and let it cool overnight.

Our first meal with the oxtail stew was a little unsatisfying as it took a lot of work to get the meat off the bones. So the next day, I boiled the heck out of it for a hour or so. This time, the meat was soft and falling off the bone and quite satisfying with the red wine sauce. We had it with buttered Savoy cabbage on the side.

Food Shing

Mabel and I just got back from lunch at Food Shing.

She has been going through the Times' $25 and Under articles and found this one from 2007.

We both got Beef soup with Hand-Pulled Noodles. With a fried egg on top.

On the walk back from the subway Mabel said, "That was good soup!" It was.

Food Shing
2 East Broadway (near Bowery)
New York, NY 10038

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Momofuku Ko and the Elusive Green Checkmark

David and I have had several food revelations at David Chang's restaurants, including Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar. So when Ko opened up, we were pretty excited. Unfortunately, we weren't organized enough to visit before Frank Bruni's positive review.

So we joined the masses in trying to obtain one of the 12 spots available at Ko for dinner. The on-line reservation system opens everyday at 10 am, and green checkmarks denote spots free for the taking. I knew my computer wasn't fast enough, but I tried sporadically anyways in hopes that someone would sneeze during the crucial moments or hesitate the split second that I needed to nab one of the spots.

It was 10:15 am one day, and I already knew that all the dinner spots were gone. I checked anyway to kill time. Ko had begun to offer lunch spots a few months ago. I dispassionately checked those, as well. When I checked the second week, there was one lone friendly green checkmark glowing in the middle of the website. I could not believe my eyes. It was just me and that green checkmark - no one else in all of Manhattan knew about its existence, and I simply could not believe the sheer luck that allowed that to be.

So I grabbed the spot, gave them my credit card number, and agreed to pay a penalty of $300 if I didn't show up. I left the reservation website feeling like I had found Willie Wonka's Golden Ticket. Dave and I will let you know how the factory looks from the inside.