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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Barbuzzo Review

At the heart of Barbuzzo is a blistering wood burning oven where temperatures soar and pizzas sizzle. Barbuzzo's cuisine is deeply rooted in modern Mediterranean flavors that take inspiration from Italy and Spain.

Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran own the block. Walking down 13th St between Chestnut and Sansom your eye catches seven separate shops/restaurants, and guess what? They are all owned by the same two people who also reside on the block. That is crazy!

Walking into the casual dining room the open kitchen hangs on your side and provides you with a well orchestrated show for entertainment. Watching talented cooks in action, for me, is better than any other Broadway Show I have seen.

What comes out of the wood burning oven is nothing short of spectacular. The pizzas are incredible, the crust is doughy, crisp, and light. The Margherita pizza utilizes tomatoes with the perfect amount of acidity that balance out the rich homemade Fior Di Latte. Basil, plucked straight from the garden, rounds out the best pizza I have had to date.

Margherita : San Marzanos, House Stretched Fior Di Latte, Basil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A second pizza was equally as ambrosial. The guanicale, cured pork jowl, added an appreciated depth of porky flavor that complemented the earthy notes from the truffle and brussel sprout leaves. Does putting a runny egg on anything ever fail to delight? I don't think so...

Uovo Pizza : Brussel Leaves, Guanicale, Caciocavallo, House Stretched Fior Di Latte, Truffle, and Farm Egg

Orcchiette were surprisingly over-cooked and mushrooms had an off-putting stringy texture. However the house-made ricotta cheese was delicious, the texture and flavor were just right.

Orcchiette with Olive Oil, Wood Fired Hen of The Woods, Wild Arugula, Preserved Lemon-Walnut Pesto, and Ricotta

Barbuzzo delivers on so many levels - price, food, atmosphere, etc. My big complaint about my meal at Barbuzzo is that I did not get to try "The Caramel Budino"!!! It has received so much acclaim, and just sounds so tasty. Why couldn't I convince my dining companions to get dessert?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Kanella Review

Konstantinos Pitsillides, the chef at Kanella, is a very passionate, highly talented professional. He trained in 3 Michelin Star Restaurants like La Tante Clair and The Connaught Hotel, but as many chefs come to realize they are most passionate about cooking the food of their childhood - and in his case rustic Greek fare.

Walking into Kanella you feel like you are in Chef Pitsillides's childhood home in Limassol, Cyprus - a coastal city that boarders the Mediterranean Sea. From the rustic wood tables to the comforting brick wall you immediately feel relaxed in this laid-back and buzzing atmosphere.

Bread Service at Kanella is made in house and varies from day to day. The offering presented to my table was a multi-grain loaf served with tahini sauce. The bread was warm and very chewy (the chew is developed by the formation of the protein matrix gluten), but the exterior of the bread was burnt. I know the burnt surface looks rustic, but it simply does not taste good.

A plethora of appetizers were ordered and the majority of them were wonderful. Grilled Duck Hearts were plump and meaty; the addition of sweet grapes, salty olives, and pungent onions greatly enhanced the flavor of the duck. A mouth-watering sausage was served with a tangy tzatziki that excited my palate. To the contrary, a perfectly cooked octopus was lacking salt and had way too big pieces of peppers that were left unpeeled.

Grilled Duck Hearts with Grapes, Olives, and Braised Beans

Sheftalia: Grilled Cypriot Hand Rolled Sausage Served with Tzatziki

Grilled Octopus with Pepperonata and Capers

For my main course I ordered Braised Pork Cheeks. The cheeks themselves were melt in your mouth tender and had a great flavor from the braise, yet some cheeks were still cold. The first couple bites were very enjoyable, but the monotonous texture became very boring. I do not enjoy eating baby food.

Braised Pork Cheeks with Cinnamon and Sage

On a more "tasty" note my brother's Crispy Duck Leg was fantastic. The duck was flowing with moisture and had a perfectly crisped skin. The potato puree was silky smooth and the fresh dill added a beautiful brightness to the dish's rich counterparts.

Papia: Roasted Duck Leg with Pomme Puree, Baby Greens, and Pomegranate Demi-Glace

Service, while not technically perfect, was extremely friendly. Our server was bursting with intensity and had ample knowledge of the food being served from the kitchen. A forgotten appetizer was graciously served with main courses free of charge, which was very kind of the staff. Some minor mistakes included bread being served before plates were set and tables not being fully cleared. However, I really enjoyed my waiter's dedication to making his customers feel happy and comfortable.

I truly recommend Kanella to anyone who lives in or is traveling to Philadelphia. Great food served at cheap prices in a great atmosphere, what is better than that?

(I am sorry for the quality of the pictures, hopefully I will buy a high-quality camera soon)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pork Belly With Rutubaga, Tarragon, Pork Jus, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli Stem (CHARCUTEPALOOZA)

After my trip to Bar Boulud I wound up in the Whole Foods Market in The Time Warner Building. Surveying the selection I spotted some pork belly and thought what the hell, why not? Living in semi-rural New Jersey it is nearly impossible to procure this incredible ingredient. If any one is reading this and thinking to themselves, "pork belly - that sounds gross", I have a question for you, do you eat bacon?

Making bacon seemed to be the obvious root, so I opted for making something more original and interesting. Please do not take from this that making homemade bacon is boring, it is a craft I would love to master, but I just wanted to do something different.

I cured the pork belly in garlic, ginger, sage, shallot, salt, cinnamon, coriander, lemon zest, black pepper, and homemade apple/maple syrup (I reduced down apple juice until it coated the back of a spoon and then added in some maple syrup). All of these flavors together smelt stunningly savory. I let the pork belly cure for one week in my refrigerator. Some people say that if you put meat in the fridge it is not considered curing, but I would beg to differ. You still get the same flavor from the cure, but with the added bonus of a reassurance of safety. You do not want to poison your guests!

When meat gets cured a ton of chemical and physical changes take place. The salt draws out moisture from the meat (osmosis + diffusion) making it more tender and giving it a more concentrated flavor,similar to a dry age. Also, salt kills all of the disease causing microbes (the addition of nitrates are also needed), as well as break down some of the compounds in the meat by denaturing the proteins into glutamate, a common source of umami.

After a week of staring at my pork belly it was finally time to cook it! I got my Dutch Oven super hot and added in a little bit of grapeseed oil. I use grapeseed oil when cooking because it has a very high smoke point and a neutral flavor. If I used olive oil for this preparation the oil would break down and give off of an almost fishy flavor, which is very unpleasant. I seared off my pork belly developing a nice golden crust.

After the pork belly was seared I added fresh garlic, shallot, a cinnamon stick, tarragon, red wine vinegar, and homemade chicken stock infused with smoked pork neck and brought it up to a slow simmer. Once minute bubbles started to form I put my Dutch Oven, covered with parchment paper, in a 275 degree oven for five hours.

Next, I took out the pork belly from the braise and removed the bone. I strained the braising liquid and chilled it rapidly, so bacteria would not have a chance to prosper. The excess fat that rose to the top of the braising liquid I reserved for later use. 

I took some of that fat and glazed it on top of my pork belly and put it in the fridge over night. The next day right before serving I placed the pork belly in a 500 degree oven to roast and get crispy. This smelt and looked incredbile!! I was so excited to dig in.

Rutabaga is one of the most underused root vegetables and I do not know why, it puzzles me. James Tracey, the chef de cuisine at Craft, says he has trouble serving it at his restaurant and it gets him a little angry because if people would just try it they would love it. Rutabaga is very similar to a turnip in flavor, but has a different color flesh. 

I cut the rutabaga up into a large dice and reserved the scraps for a puree.

I took the scraps, which were relatively the same size, and blanched them in salty water until tender. I pureed them in a blender with cream, lemon, chicken stock, the pork fat, pepper, and tarragon. My blender has no where near the power of a vita prep so I was not able to get the luxurious mouth feel I was hoping for.

I used a fine mesh sieve as a "ghetto tamis" to try and improve on the texture.....

If I was going to make this puree again I would either go out and buy a vita prep and a tamis or I would put the rutabaga through a food mill first. The flavor was great and there were zero lumps, but the mouthfeel was not perfect.

Commonly when brussel sprouts are prepped the outer leaves are removed and discarded, but I saved them and used them as a garnish. In restaurant kitchens when you blanch vegetables you bring a huge pot of water with a ton of salt up to a rapid boil so when you add the vegetables in the water it does not stop boiling; this technique was made famous in "The French Laundry Cookbook" which of course was written by the culinary god Thomas Keller. The reason behing doing this it to make the vegetable as green as possible. 

After removing the leaves from the water you must dunk them immediately into salted ice water to retain their freshness and brightness.

Another under-appreciated ingredient is broccoli stem. Typically it is either thrown away or cooked with the broccoli floret, which is a crime. The broccoli stems are much sweeter than the florets and have a better texture. You may not like the stem because the only time you have eaten them was when they were attached to the florets - they both cook at different rates because they are completely different! Would you cook pork belly the same way you would cook pork tenderloin? No way!

I peeled off the outer layer of the broccoli stem and cut them into matchsticks. I cooked them in the same manner as I cooked the brussel sprout leaves. These by themselves were so tasty, it was hard not to keep eating them. They would make a great healthy side dish....

I pan roasted the brussel sprouts and rutabaga with a little butter and salt. When they started to turn brown I tossed in some of my pork sauce and called it a day.

The pork belly itself was mind-blowingly delicous; it was melt in your mouth, luscious, and so flavorful. The crispy and fatty textures were sensational together, I was in heaven and so were my friends. The vegetable garnishes were tasty, but could not live up to the superior belly. If I was to make this again I would keep the belly, brussel sprout leaves, broccolli stems, and the puree. I might add some fried broccoli florets......That would be tasty!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hot Milkshake

When I experiment with cooking I always try to twist the classics, so they are both recognizable and unrecognizable. Here I take the simple chocolate milkshake that is usually served icy cold and transform it so it can be served piping hot.

I blend together 3 cups skim milk (only type I had), 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 3/4 cup powdered sugar, salt, and 3 eggs until it is completely homogenized. I use powdered sugar because it blends easier and the cornstarch in it will help thicken the mixture. Then I put this in a pot over medium heat until it is very hot, but not boiling (boiling could both curdle the milk and eggs + mess up the ratio). Make sure that you continue to blend the mixture while it is heating - it should start to foam.

Next, strain the mixture and put it into an iSi Creative Whip and charge it with nitrous oxide. Give it a very good shake and serve immediately.

If you do not use up all of the hot milkshake just put it in the fridge for the next day and you will have a cold milkshake.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

Would you rather go and eat at Per Se or get "The Modernist Cuisine"?

Which would be of more value in regards to learning?

Hopefully I am going to find a way to do/get both, but if not I am going to need help deciding.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fresh Pasta is King

Fresh pasta is king in my world, the textural chew puts dry pasta to shame. Don't get me wrong dry pasta can be delicious, but if I had to choose between the two I would choose fresh every day of the week. The recipe I use comes from "The French Laundry Cookbook", thank you Chef Keller. The pasta dough itself is very high in percentage of egg yolks, which adds a great richness and a gorgeous golden hue. 

8 oz Flour, 6 egg yolk, 1 egg, 1 TB milk, 1 1/2 tsp olive oil

To start the dough pour your flour out onto your cutting board and make a well. Add the remaining ingredients and mix (I like to use a fork) the wet ingredients together slowly incorporating some flour. Do not break the well!!! If you do the egg mixture will spill out and make a massive mess. Once all of the flour is incorporated the kneading begins...

If you want to knead the dough by hand it will be very laborious and time consuming, so I opted for using my Stand Mixer. Once the dough developed enough gluten, this is what gives the pasta it's chew, I let it rest overnight before rolling the dough hand.

I do not have a pasta machine.....I should get one. Rolling out pasta by hand is not custom anymore, but I had to work with what I had. I used a rolling pin and rolled out the dough as thin as possible and then squared it off and cut some pappardelle.

To cook the pasta bring a gallon of water to boil and season HEAVILY with salt, you want the water to taste like the ocean. This is the only chance to season the pasta in the inside. Cook for about 2-3 minutes until the pasta is almost al dente. Strain the pasta and put it in the sauce you made for a minute or two, make sure you throw some of that starchy pasta liquid into your sauce! The sauce I used today consisted of sweated onion and garlic, reduced chicken stock, lemon, butter, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. I garnished the pasta with some seasoned ricotta and that was it. Simple food done great really cannot be beat. What a success this was, I will be making this more often.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Aerated Dark Chocolate Mousse w/ Apple Caramel, Chocolate Crumbs, Fresh Apple

Caramelize Sugar, Add Apple Juice + Salt + Butter + Cream

Remove the Caramel and Let it Chill

Flour, Cocoa Powder, Sugar, Salt

Bake and then Break Apart

Melt Chocolate in Cream Over Double Boiler and Charge with N20; Chill Thoroughly Before Serving

This dessert was outstanding! The mousse was incredibly light, and had the perfect amount of bitterness from the dark chocolate. The apple caramel was to die for, as were the chocolate crumbs. The sliced apple gave a nice fresh element to the plate. Everyone who ate this loved it, in fact they ate it so fast I was not able to plate one up and make it aesthetic for the blog (The picture above is from one of my friend's plate). If anyone is interested in exact recipes comment below and I will add them.