Sunday, March 20, 2011

Buffalo Wings + A Poem

Last Wednesday I had some Buffalo wings after a four-month wing time-off, which reminded me of a poem I once wrote on the subject for my de facto Buffalo wing partner-in-crime Dan. Wings were first introduced into my life at the infamous Chuck's Spring Street Café in NJ during undergrad. Once in NY some friends and I survived a wing road trip to Buffalo, NY. Our goal was to try four different wing places in a day, and we succeeded...our first bouts of heartburn notwithstanding. These days I still believe any food is best the closer you are to its source, yet I also admit that good wings can be found even in LA if you look around long enough (thanks Hot Wings Café, and ok thanks even to you Hooters). Yeah I think about wings a lot; hence the poem.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Dreaded Vegetable?

There's been a lot of fattening blogging going on around here. That's why this week I'm turning to a more healthy alternative (thanks Steph), even though it's a thing most often met with dread when mentioned. I'm referring to...Brussels sprouts!!! [Sound effects: scary howling noises, people screaming!]

(Something I noticed when proofreading restaurant menus was part of my job description is that the word most commonly misspelled on menus today is Brussels sprouts. I can't tell if this is in direct relation to people's dislike of it, or that it's just a weird thing to spell.)

Like many, the first time I tasted Brussels sprouts was horrifically bad. It was in the lunchroom of a publishing company I worked for in Princeton. The company was so wealthy (and generous) that two staff chefs cooked for us minions Monday through Friday. One day lunch consisted of poached chicken breast and boiled Brussels sprouts. Yuck. The vegetable was bitter and bland at the same time. Because I don't like wasting food, I ate every bit of the big heap of sprouts they ladled onto my plate. It was many years until I'd try them again.

But here's a fact. Once people get over their fear of their first misguided taste of this cruciferous-family (related to cabbage) vegetable, Brussels sprouts are long as they are eaten in any way other than boiled.

At some point after the boiled Brussels sprouts incident, I was lucky enough to find a recipe for "Hashed Brussels Sprouts" in the cookbook of New York's famous restaurant Union Square Café. If anyone knows how to bring out the best in vegetables, it's this place. You slice the sprouts, sauté them in olive oil, add lemon and wine and voila: a fantastic version of Brussels sprouts (and here is the recipe).

Even more irresistible—and more findable in restaurants—is this side dish offered on most Tom Colicchio Craft restaurant menus: "Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon." This is the version that created a Brussels sprouts-loving monster out of me, and I haven't doubted the vegetable since. Therefore, I strongly urge any Brussels sprouts haters to try them prepared in this way. To get you started, here's a version of that recipe.

Finally, I read about this uncooked Brussels sprouts salad in a 2005 issue of Gourmet magazine. It comes from the kitchen of the famed Jonathan Waxman, who was recently a contestant on "Top Chef: Masters." Mr. Waxman cooked in the 70's at Berkeley's famed Chez Panisse—where they say California cuisine was born—and today he cooks at the amazing Barbuto in New York City. His "Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Fresh Walnuts and Pecorino" is now my favorite incarnation of this "dreaded" vegetable, hands down. It's a marriage of I-can-eat-this-forever and healthy, as long as you're all in for eating the good fats in olive oil and walnuts, and don't over-do the shredded cheese (which is very easy to do).

So think about trying Brussels sprouts next time you see them on a menu, or give one of these recipes a try. If a food is this good for you and can be something you crave, it should be celebrated.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ben & Jerry's Love Affair

I consider myself an active consumer of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. When I had an NYC job and commuted from NJ, on off-nights I'd sometimes turn to my "vice kit," which equated to some bad take-out, an alcoholic beverage, and a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Funny, back then I could easily eat a pint in one sitting.

My long-time love of Ben & Jerry's—the ice cream brand with a quirky-casual attitude featuring kooky, exciting flavors—instilled a dream in me to some day visit their Vermont factory. One time after moving to Brooklyn an ex-boyfriend swept into the city the week after 9/11 to take me on a road trip. We drove to Canada for a week, and on the way back he surprised me by driving to the place I wouldn't stop talking about when we were together. So we got to visit and take a factory tour! (That's us at the factory eating our free samples above.)

Throughout the company's history, when new flavors come out I get real excited, then at other times I get perplexed and sad when a flavor is discontinued, only to be sent to the Ben & Jerry's flavor graveyard. Standouts that are sorely missed include:
  1. Festivus (brown sugar cinnamon ice cream loaded with gingerbread cookies & a ginger caramel swirl) named for a famous Seinfeld episode. The flavor's ardent fans still mourn its demise.
  2. Tuskegee Chunk (a rich peanut butter ice cream with chocolate chunks), named in honor of America's first black military airmen.
  3. Rainforest Crunch (a joy-inducing jungle of vanilla ice cream with untamed chunks of cashew & brazil nut buttercrunch), where the environment popped up in a flavor. And how often do you see Brazil nuts in ice cream?
    But enough of the past. New flavors are upon us! In fact, Ben and Jerry themselves appeared on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" to announce their new flavor, Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Snack, for now only available at scoop shops. So yesterday at the mall I picked up 3 "scoop-shop"-only flavors to taste-test with my ice cream taste-tester friend. We tasted:
  1. Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Snack (vanilla bean ice cream with a salty caramel swirl & fudge-covered potato chip clusters)
  2. The hilariously-named Clusterfluff (peanut butter ice cream with caramel cluster pieces, marshmallow swirls & peanut buttery swirls)
  3. The been-around Coconut Seven Layer Bar (coconut ice cream with coconut & fudge flakes, walnuts & swirls of graham cracker & butterscotch)
The verdict? They were all good (and after racing through a hot car to the freezer kinda looked the same). Coconut Seven Layer Bar was good but too sweet, making me miss their now-defunct Coconut Almond Fudge Chip (coconut ice cream with fudge chips & roasted almonds). Clusterfluff was tasty but the peanut butter flavor seemed to overwhelm the other things going on. Our favorite of the bunch was Late Night Snack. Sure, there's a lot of caramel availability in B&J flavors, but this time the caramel is salted. Plus, biting into crunchy chocolate-covered potato chip bits was so inventive and satisfying. When they start selling this flavor at supermarkets, you know where I'll be.

Until we eat again,