Thursday, January 23, 2014

Circo - Bollito Misto Week

Is it old man winter or return of polar vortex that is causing this unbearable weather?  Another snow storm arrived Tuesday evening.  As much as I don't like the bitter cold and threat of snow, I'm getting fed up with it.  As the winter months grow longer, I'm feeling braver to venture out in a snow storm.  I don't want the weather to stop me from enjoying a good meal with good company especially when I'm craving comfort food such as hearty stews and soups.  I simply can't get enough of it so when I was invited to Circo for their preview of Bollito Misto week; I was excited to try this rustic Italian comfort dish.  I braved the storm to join my fellow food troopers (Arlyn Blake, Jackie Gordon, Jean Lee, Judy Kim and Matt Bruck) for a delightful meal.

If you're not familiar with Circo, it is an Italian restaurant in midtown owned by the Maccioni Family who owns Le Cirque.  Bollito Misto is one of Sirio Maccioni's favorite dishes. Every winter they offer it on the menu at Circo.  Bollito Misto means 'mix boiled' which is a very traditional northern Italian dish. It consists of various cuts of meat simmer in a vegetable broth until the meat becomes tender.  Then it's usually sliced thinly then serve with a variety of condiments such as mostarda, coarse sea salt and salsa verde.  This year Circo is launching Bollito Misto week which starts Monday, January 27 to Friday, January 31.  They will be celebrating this comfort dish by offering a 5 course dinner for $49 per person.  Don't miss your chance to taste some of the traditional Italian dishes that are favorites of the Maccioni family.  Most of these dishes are prepared using Mamma Egi's recipes, and I was delighted to meet Mamma Egi.  Marco Maccioni, one of the sons and owners, also joined us while we previewed the five course tasting dinner.

The highlight of this menu for me was of course the Bollito Misto, but I also really enjoyed the Antipasto Platter specifically with the house made panzerotti bread and Mamma's Tortellini.  Mamma Egi told us other than the brisket and capon, she also added house made chicken and beef sausages to the Bollito Misto. The sausages were so tender and delicious.  The broth was flavorful and well seasoned.  Chef Alfio Longo, the Executive Chef, is offering five condiments to pair with the Bollito Misto which includes mostarda, coarse sea salt, salsa verde, mustard and spicy tomato sauce which I love since I love a little spiciness in my food.  I also enjoyed the mostarda with the sea salt (a little savory and sweet).  Marco also told us his favorite condiment which is the salsa verde; so there really is something for everyone.  He also proudly told us that he is a big fan of his mamma's tortellini which I too enjoyed very much.  They are the cutest and tastiest little dumplings ever.  I could eat bowls of those too. To pair with the whole meal, we tasted some delicious Lambrusco. We started out with the lighter Lambrusco di Sorbara then the bolder Reggiano with the Bollito Misto.  Finally, for dessert, we had a sweeter wine of Brachetto d'Acqui which I also enjoyed very much.

All in all, it was a fabulous way to spend a cold snowy evening.  You could experience this tasty 5 course menu for a limited time starting Monday, January 27.  I highly encourage you to take advantage of this great price, and warm your heart and soul with this delicious five course dinner.  Enjoy and Buon Appetito!

Antipasto Platter of Culatello di Zibello, Mortadella di Bologna, Parmigiano, Panzerotti and Mostarda
Mamma Egi's Tortellini with Broth
Pumpkin Cappelaci with Butter Sage and Saba Wine Sauce
Bollito Misto of Capon, Beef and Housemade Sausages with 5 condiments

Red Wine Pached Pear and Zabglione
Group Photo op missing Jean Lee who is taking the picture featuring: Bruno,  Matt Bruck, Mamma Egi, Chef Alfio Longo, Marco Macchioni, Judy Kim, Me, Arlyn Blake and Jackie Gordon
Disclaimer:  The dinner was hosted by Circo.  All opinions are my own, and I did not receive any compensation for this post.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fennel Flower Crystals Dusted Shrimp, Roasted Fennel with Saffron Vanilla Sauce

Sweet to Savory is the recipe contest that Marx Foods (a specialty fine food store based in Seattle) is hosting.  They reached out to me to ask if I would like to participate.  I have entered a few of their previous contests and always had a great time so naturally I said yes.  Days later I received a box of ingredients.  It contained vanilla beans, granulated honey, coconut sugar and fennel flower crystals.  The rule is to at least use two out of the four sweet ingredients to make a savory dish.  I've heard about fennel flower crystals, but have never used it before so I tasted it and it's got a slight sweetness. It has a concentrated anise flavor with a floral component.  It has a crunchy texture.  I figure I would use it in a marinade as well as to finish a dish.  I also thought I would use the coconut sugar, but then I realized I've already used it in the Coconut Caramel Pulled Pork Empanada recipe in a previous contest.  The vanilla is a tricky one because not many savory dishes contain vanilla unless it's used in a sauce.  I remember making a saffron vanilla sauce in school, so I decided that I'd use the vanilla and fennel flower crystals together.

As to the protein I chose shrimp because I think the shellfish would go well with the sauce besides I already have some in my freezer.  I often have shrimp in my freezer because I love shrimp plus it makes for a quick weeknight meal.  I also like to save shrimp shells to make shrimp stock.  I just love the intense shrimp flavor you get from the shells.  If I'm making shrimp I often use some shrimp stock to make a sauce to add another layer of the shrimp flavor.  If you don't have shrimp shells to make stock, you could substitute it with some store-bought seafood stock.  To tie the dish together with the fennel flower crystals, I also made some roasted fennel to give it another element of the fennel flavor and texture.  

Fennel Flower Crystals Dusted Shrimp, Roasted Fennel with Saffron Vanilla Sauce - Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as main course

Fennel Flower Crystals Dusted Shrimp
12 colossal shrimp shelled and deveined
1 tspn of fennel flower crystals divided (use half in the marinate then half to finish the dish)
1 tspn of salt
1/2 tspn of black pepper
Juice of a lemon

Roasted Fennel
2 fennel bulbs cut in quarters
6-8 gloves of garlic
3-4 springs of thyme
2 tspn of fennel fronds reserve for garnish
Salt & pepper for seasoning

Saffron Vanilla Sauce
1 1/2 cup of shrimp stock (recipe to follow)
1 vanilla bean
4 tbsp of unsalted butter (cut to small pieces)
1 tbsp of heavy cream
1/2 tspn of saffron threads

Shrimp Stock (optional as you can substitute with store bought seafood stock)
3 cups of water
2 cups of shrimp shells
3-4 pieces of ginger cut 1/2 inch thick
3 pieces of scallion (green part cut in 2-3 inch pieces)

Put all the ingredient for the shrimp stock and let it simmer for about 45 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Let it reduce then strain.  It'll yield approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups of stock.  This can be made ahead and set aside for the sauce.

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut off the stalks from the fennel bulb, save about 2 tspn of the fronds for garnish.  Trim off the outer tough parts of the bulb.  Cut the bulb in half then trim off the core as it could be too tough to eat, then cut the rest of the bulb in quarters.  Season with salt, pepper, drizzle with olive oil then add the garlic and thyme and roast it for 30-40 minutes until fork tender.

For the sauce, split the vanilla in half then scrape the seeds into a small saucepan.  Add the vanilla pod, shrimp stock and saffron.  Simmer and reduce to half.  Strain the sauce then add the heavy cream.  Simmer for a few more seconds then whisk in the butter a little at a time over medium heat.  Keep whisking until the sauce thickens.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Keep warm until it's ready to serve.

Season the shrimp with salt, pepper and fennel flower crystals.  Add olive oil to coat and let it marinate for 15 minutes.  Heat a skillet until it's hot, then add olive oil to coat, then sear the shrimp 2-3 minutes on each side until the flesh turns pink.  Turn off the heat then add lemon juice.

To finish the dish, spoon the sauce onto a plate, then put the roasted fennel and shrimp on top.  Sprinkle more fennel flower crystals and garnish with fennel fronds.

I really love the sauce as you can taste the vanilla flavor, but the saffron gives it a great balance of the savory element as well as the vibrant color of the sauce.  The fennel flower crystals give a burst of anise flavor and floral note to the dish.  Thanks again Marx Foods for thinking of me for this contest.  As always I have fun with the ingredients.  Until next time...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Get Ready for Pig Island 2013

25 chefs 80 local pigs is the theme of each year's Pig Island event.  This year is no different. Yesterday, some of the chefs gathered once again at the Union Square Greenmarket to pick up their pigs from Flying Pigs Farm so they can start preparing for the event on Saturday.  I am always excited to hear what the chefs will be making, and I'm eager to taste all of the dishes.  Luckily I only have to wait a couple of more days.

Other than all the various pork dishes, there will be a vegetarian station.  I spoke with Tim Cavaretta of Bittegreen, and they'll be making a kohlrabi rainbow carrot slaw, poached apples, celery root with maple spiced pecan.  Greenmarket Co. is donating a portion of the produce from local growers.  Other than all the amazing food, there will be beer from Sixpoint Brewery, New York State wine from the North Fork and the Finger Lakes.  Live bands, live butchering and cooking demos.  All inclusive tickets are still available so come have a great time on Pig Island in Red Hook, Brooklyn; and support our local farmers, chefs, brewers and vintners.  You can get your tickets here:  In case you still need convincing, here's my recap of last year's Pig Island to get a glimpse of what to expect for this Saturday.

Chef Danny Mena of Hecho en Dumbo will be making a Yucantan Style Relleno de Negro.  Posing with the host Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's No. 43 and Food Karma Project
Billy Fletcher and Pit Master Matt Fisher of Fletcher's Brooklyn BBQ is making a Ginger & Soy Pork with Chick Pea Salsa 

Chef Michael Jenkins of Butter NYC - He and his team made a delicious Bacon Caramel Cookie last year, and this year he's planning to make another dessert.  Can't wait to try it!
Chef Will Horowitz of Ducks Eatery is making Crispy Pig Ear Lettuce Wrap with Smoke Liver and Fermented Chow Chow
Chef Joe Dobias of Joe & Misses Doe is making his version of a Burrito
Chef Evan Hanczor of Parish Hall had me at Pig Skin Noodles!
Chefs Zarela Martinez and Tyson Ho (Arrogant Swine) will be partnering up to make a stuffed whole pig in the style of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca.  This is going to be a treat!   

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Garden Restaurant at The Four Seasons Hotel, New York City

This past Sunday, I was invited to brunch at The Garden at the Four Seasons Hotel in NYC.  It was such a lovely way to spend the afternoon tasting delicious food with some of my food blogger friends.  The brunch was organized by the Food and Beverage Director Simon de Swaan and Ken Leung.  The Executive Chef John Johnson created a delicious and playful menu that highlights local and seasonal ingredients available right now in the green markets.  Many of the ingredients he uses are sourced locally.  The brunch menu changes every few weeks which gives Chef Johnson the opportunity to be creative and playful. Currently, Chef Johnson is featuring some beautiful tomatoes and stone fruits. He's doing a wonderful job accentuating these seasonal ingredients.
First up we tasted three boozy cocktails featuring tomatoes.  There was the Tomato Watermelon and Cucumber Vodka, Classic Crushed Jersey Tomato Bloody Mary with spicy Brooklyn Pickles and Clear Tomato Martini.  It was definitely a good start to this tasty brunch. I enjoyed the essence of the tomatoes in each of the cocktail particularly in the Martini.  The flavor of the tomatoes was so clean, light and refreshing. Immediately followed by the cocktails was a whimsical take on crudites.  It includes baby carrots and radishes in olive soil. We were all very curious as to how the soil was made as by first glance it really looks like dirt.  I thought how odd that we were given baby vegetables in dirt to start our meal.  We eagerly waited for Chef Johnson to tell us the process of making the olive soil.  He explained the process by first dehydrating the olives in a low temperature oven, and then tossed with some almond flour to create the texture which results in a delicious olive mixture that resembles soil.
Another playful dish was the lemon ricotta pancake pigs in a blanket.  The pancake was so fluffy and tasty, and I'm always a fan of savory with sweet so I love the saltiness of the sausages with the pancakes as well as the sweetness of the Duchess County Maple Syrup. 

The grilled terrine of Hudson Valley Foie Gras with apricots and local strawberry mostarda was probably one of my favorite dishes.  Again love the savory and sweet contrast.   Another highlight was the lobster hash cocotte with choron sauce.  Oh and did I mention the gorgeous local heirloom tomatoes simply dressed in a 50 year old sherry and basil, soooo good.

Even though I don't have a sweet tooth, I couldn't resist the stuffed blueberry French toast with the whipped Nutella.  As to desserts, we tasted the Green Market Crisp with apricot and peaches and cinnamon ice cream as well as the chocolate hazelnut napoleon.  Both were so good, and I couldn't stop eating either of them.

I knew I would be in for a great treat as soon as I started talking with Simon, Chef Johnson and his team as they are extremely passionate about food.  They took pride in the menu they created based on the locally farmed and sourced ingredients as well as the commitment to highlight the seasonal aspect of the menu.  I truly enjoyed all the dishes that are featured.  The service was wonderful and the decor was soothing.  It is definitely a great place to spend a weekend afternoon enjoying brunch with friends and family. 

Disclaimer:  The brunch was hosted by The Garden at the Four Seasons Hotel.  All opinions are my own, and I did not receive any compensation for this post.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Apple Butter Bacon Doughnuts

Apple Butter Bacon Doughnut
Have I mentioned I love summer?  Maybe it's because I was born in a summer month and grew up in a warm climate.  I love the heat and the sun so I'm especially happy when summer is near.  This weekend is Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., many will spend their long weekend outdoors.  Your ovens may be taking a break from the heat too as many head outdoors to grill and cook their meals.  I wish I could be one of those lucky people.  I don't have a grill so grilling at home is out of the question, but it doesn't mean I can't enjoy making something that I can bring to a picnic or a barbecue.

So when Musselman's Apple Butter reached out to see if I would do a post about summer cookout menu using their apple butter, I thought even though I can't grill I could make something that could be enjoyed in the summer.  Summer also reminds me of festivals and amusement parks.  When I go to street festivals, I almost always get myself some fried dough covered with powdered sugar.  As some of you may know, I don't have a sweet tooth, but I love fried desserts especially doughnuts.  I remember I have taken a bacon lovers cooking workshop at ICE, and one of the dishes we made was the Maple Bacon Doughnuts.  I've wanted to make them, so when I received a jar of apple butter from Musselman's, I thought the apple butter would make a delicious glaze; and since I like my sweets with a salty element, the bacon would go really well especially with the apple butter.  By the way for those who are wondering, apple butter has no butter in it.  Apple butter is more concentrated and caramelized version of apple sauce.  It's spreadable like butter hence the name apple butter.

Apple Butter Bacon Doughnuts - Yield about 12-14
Doughnut Recipe - Adapted from Alton Brown's Yeast Doughnut recipe
12 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup of milk
3 tbsp. of warm water
2 1/2 tbsp. of vegetable shortening  
1 package of instant yeast
2 tbsp. of sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
Vegetable oil for frying

Apple Butter Glaze with Bacon
1/2 pound of powdered sugar
1/2 cup of Musselman's apple butter
1/2 tbsp. of vanilla extract
Juice of one lemon
4 strips of crispy cooked bacon, crumbled 

Start with putting the milk in a saucepan and heat until warm.  Pour the milk in a bowl and add the shortening until it melts.  While the milk mixture cools, in another small bowl; add the yeast powder and warm water.  Dissolve for at least five minutes, Put the yeast mixture into the stand mixer bowl, and add the cooled milk mixture, sugar, egg, salt, nutmeg and half portion of the flour.  Fit with the paddle attachment to the mixer; combine on low speed until all ingredients are incorporated then turn the speed up.  Beat until well combined then add the remaining flour.  Repeat with low speed then turn the speed up to medium for a couple more minutes.  Then change to a dough hook attachment, set to medium speed until you see the dough starts pulling away from the bowl and a ball is formed.  Put the dough into a well-oiled bowl.  Cover and let rise for at least an hour until it doubles the size.  

Roll out dough to 3/8 inch thick on a well-floured surface.  Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter.  If you don't have a doughnut cutter, you may want to get one.  I found them in Sur La Table for $4 and it really makes cutting out the doughnuts super easy.  Place them on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a towel and let them rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or a Dutch oven to 365 degrees. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, a few at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side. Transfer to a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 10-15 minutes before glazing.
For the glaze, whisk the apple butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and lemon juice together until smooth.  Once the doughnuts are cooled enough to glaze, immerse each top half of the doughnut into the glaze.  Once all the doughnuts are glazed then crumbled bacon all over the top of the doughnuts.

I love the sweetness of the delicious apple butter. The lemon juice adds a little tartness and brings out the apple flavor, and of course I love the saltiness of the bacon which balances really well with the sweetness of the apple butter.  The doughnut is light and flaky.  This is definitely a delicious treat to eat any time especially at picnics and cookouts in the summer.  Hope you enjoy these and have a wonderful holiday weekend!  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Spring Fever for a Worthy Cause - NYWC

Last Friday night, I attended the Spring Fever fund raising party for the New York Writers Coalition.  This wonderful non-profit organization was founded by a good friend Aaron Zimmerman.  NYWC offers a wide range of free writing workshops throughout New York City.  It provides a safe haven for those who normally don't have a voice in the society.  To really understand the impact of NYWC and their mission please watch the wonderful video above so you could learn more about the amazing work they are doing.

I volunteered to be a hosting committee member for the Spring Fever party because I really believe in this wonderful organization and I want to help as much as I could.  Therefore, I volunteered to secure some beverage and food sponsors.  First I want to thank my friend/colleague Greg Barnard for introducing me the contact to our beverage sponsors.  I owe you one!  Iceberg Vodka and LiBella Wine by Steve Shaw Junior provided some of the party's beverages, and I was so impressed with our in-house mixologist, Renata, who came up with such delicious cocktails inspired by Iceberg Vodka.  I also would like to thank Jarlsberg Cheese and Woolwich Dairy for donating a generous variety of cheeses for all to enjoy.  After all, how could you have a great cocktail party without cocktails and cheeses!

There was also a silent auction where many donated their arts, jewelries, services for guests to bid on.  I donated a three-course private dinner for two for the auction.  I had the pleasure of meeting the winners prior to the announcement.  They had such great energies, and were thrilled for me to cook for them.  I can't wait to plan the menu, and I know for sure it'll be a fun night.  The party was a success as many volunteers, friends and staff came together to make it happen; specifically Rose Gorman of NYWC who is a super woman that organized if not all then most of the details of the party.  Great night!

Now that you've learned more about the NYWC, I encourage you to support them.  They are always looking for funding opportunities. You could also support them by purchasing tickets and attend some of the upcoming events or simply help me spread the word about their efforts.  They need all the support that they can get and would be happy to have yours.  Please feel free to share the video to your friends and families to spread the word about NYWC. 
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