Monday, December 7, 2009
Now for any chef, working in an unfamiliar kitchen is always daunting – you never have everything you need so one must improvise. For the big holiday, the turkey was simply seasoned with thyme, sage, paprika, black pepper, garlic, onion, oregano and celery salt. These were the spices I had at my disposal so I had to make it work – for extra flavor I added strips of bacon over the breast to help self-baste the bird while roasting. I also like to baste every 30 minutes as well to add to the juiciness.
I was more than amused and curious when Marc called out to me to check out the group of wild turkeys walking through the side yard. Not the most attractive bird, the gawky, grazing birds where an apropos addition to our holiday. The snow started to fall outside and the ground was speckled white.
Hours later, our turkey emerged from the oven with crisp, golden brown skin and the bacon was extra crispy and delicious. Thinking about that festive meal, I wanted to repeat those savory flavors and make it all over again.
Last night, I prepared a hotel-style turkey breast in very much the same style to how I made it for Thanksgiving. As the turkey convection roasted I made a quick cranberry sauce. Made with 1 cup of water, 1 cup sugar and a bag of fresh cranberries - the sauce starts by dissolving the sugar in the water as it comes to a boil. Once the sugar dissolves, add cranberries and stir on low heat for 10 minutes. Cool sauce and chill.
A savory dressing made of corn bread, onion, celery, and sausage were prepped and ready to combine. Time passed and the scent of Thanksgiving filled the apartment. I can't get enough of that comforting aroma. As the turkey rested before carving, I used the pan drippings to make a creamy, deeply flavored gravy.
When we sat down to eat I was grateful for a quiet weekend at home, for the family and friends in my life and for the opportunity to cook for someone special.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Back in the kitchen, I had about 3 to 4 quarts of chicken stock simmering and on another burner some diced onion slowly sautéeing with the addition of crushed garlic and finely chopped shallots. When the aromatics were beginning to caramelize I added a pound of Arborio rice. The key here is to sauté the grains of rice until their edges become opaque – this activates the starch in the rice to produce a creamy end result.
Slowly adding ladles of hot stock little by little, the risotto needs constant attention, adding more stock once the rice has absorbed most of the previous pour and constant stirring. The process takes about 20 to 30 soulful minutes, ah, the Zen of preparing comfort food. When the risotto was close to perfection, I sautéed bay scallops, shrimp and red pepper with bacon lardons. A splash of white wine deglazed the pan with a squeeze of lemon – spinach, minced garlic and dash of red pepper flakes complemented the shellfish.
Carefully mixing all the components together with a handful of shredded Gruyère and this simple Italian rice dish can transform simple ingredients to extraordinary heights.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
As much as I love to cook at home I find dining out equally as enjoyable. Sharing food with friends and family at the communal table is comforting and rewarding.
Our hip Park Slope friends invited us to meet them at Franny’s on Flatbush Ave for dinner. The restaurant was unfamiliar to me – and being somewhat all things food snobbish – my initial reaction to the restaurant’s name conjured up unflattering images.
We arrived a little early and the line of patrons that ran outside the door surprised me, especially for a Monday night! We edged our way in to get our name on the ubiquitous list. The airy space was filled with gorgeous scents of garlic, basil, tomatoes and baking bread. Looking at the menu the fare is simple, Italian, pizza, a few pastas, uncomplicated appetizers and salumi. The concise menu reminded me of the few days I spent in Rome and Florence where unadorned cafes served some of the best food I’ve ever had.
Back out on the sidewalk, waiting for Beaux and MaryKathryn to arrive, Marc whispered to me and told me that Maggie Gyllenhaal was also waiting for a table with her husband, actor Peter Saarsgard and their young daughter. Fellow Brooklynites, I figured, just out for a casual dinner with their friends – just like us. Like good stalwart New Yorkers no one flinched at the celebrity sightings and it was business as usual.
With the arrival of our friends, we immediately ordered cocktails, wines and some food to start. The Crostino of wood-roasted pancetta and herb butter and the Fried eggplant with cherry tomato and Parmigiano Reggiano that arrived from the open kitchen were deceptively simple, constructed of just a few ingredients. The crostino of Italian bacon and melted herb butter on thickly grilled bread was rustic and savory.
We choose the Rigotonicini with pork sausage, rapini and Provolone piccante and a brick oven pizza made with Buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, red pepper and yes, more sausage. The pizza had that wonderful crispy char from baking on hot stone in the oven. It reminded me of the pizza I had in Rome, so I closed my eyes and imagined hearing Vespas sputtering around cobble-stoned streets. The pasta was perfect, really al dente the way I like it and the wilted rapini and piquant sauce flavored with sharp Provolone were enticing.
It just proves that the best quality ingredients in the right hands can create a soul satisfying experience. As for the name…I’d forgotten about those unflattering images after sharing a bottle of complex, earthy Sicilian wine.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I stole away a Friday afternoon to have a cozy lunch at L’Ecole – the restaurant at The French Culinary Institute. It was wonderful to be back in the neighborhood but strange not to head straight to the kitchen but instead escorted to a table for two.
The seasonal lunch menu, prepared by FCI students, features three courses. The restaurant was buzzing with activity as I imagined the kitchen was too. It is astonishing to think about the shear number of people that must interact and work together to just please one guest. From expeditors to senior chefs from culinary students to other food stations from waiters to the maître'd from dishwashers to bussers. A tightly manufactured piece of machinery where the weakest cog can easily bring down the house. All of this crossed my mind even before the bread arrived.
After ordering cocktails, Marc and I took a serious look at the menu. After some slight debate and wheeling and dealing such as “if you order the tartare I will get the cavatelli and then we can share both” scenarios we decided on our courses. The Arctic Char Tartare with Walnuts, Stilton and Yorkshire Pudding and the Cavatelli with Rock Shrimp, Fava Beans and Ricotta Salata were speaking to us as "must-haves." The char tartare (say that fast three times) was silky and we both agreed the Stilton could have had a stronger presence. As for the cavatelli (the pasta nemesis from my own FCI final) was well balanced and had a good sampling of flavors.
We were eagerly excited about our main courses: Seared Duck Breast and Braised Leg with Fingerling Potatoes and Sour Cherry Sauce and the Pan-roasted Lamb Loin with Goat Cheese Polenta, Asparagus, Figs and Lamb Jus. I reminisced about the duck and lamb even before it approached the table – thinking about my own student experience preparing similar dishes at L’Ecole not so long ago.
When our entrées arrived my lamb was perfectly pink surrounded by a gorgeous pool of lamb jus – one taste and it brought me back to the wondrous and deeply flavored sauces I learned how to make as an FCI student. To say it was satisfying and nostalgic would be too sophomoric – let’s just say I was proud to know where I had come from.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Memories linger from my 4th of July holiday in Michigan and interfere with my “back to work” reality. Lazy days at our lake house are now replaced with the daily grind that is NYC. Happily over the long weekend I was able to cook casual meals for us to enjoy al fresco.
We all had a hankering for ribs, so I reached for my iPhone to reference some recipes on BigOven – my latest app obsession. List in hand we headed to a supermarket. I loaded up on all the necessary spices and ingredients to satisfy our current craving.
Back at the homestead, I mixed together a dry rub of smoked paprika, garlic, chili and onion powder, cayenne and white pepper, salt, and sugar. I generously applied the dry rub to the meaty ribs and let them relax in the refrigerator for two hours.
After kicking back on the pontoon boat for a leisure putt-putt around the lake I returned to preheat the oven to 300 degrees and to start making the saucy glaze. Equal parts of cider vinegar, brown sugar and Dijon mustard are slowly heated in a saucepan and reduced to a thick syrupy sauce. Taste testing along the way, I added more brown sugar to balance the acidity of the vinegar.
With two racks of ribs in the oven I basted them every half hour for the next three hours. The house was filled with the scent of aromatic spices and the zing of cider vinegar.
To keep my stomach distracted and my head occupied I focused on building the evening’s bonfire. S’mores are traditionally on the dessert menu and there’s really nothing like a fire-toasted marshmallow, melted chocolate and graham cracker treat.
Every visit to the oven door was in anticipation of dinner. Fresh corn on the cob was prepped for the grill with silks and husk removed. Each cob was nestled in a foil blanket with pats of butter, salt and cracked black pepper. With the grill heating up I removed the ribs from the oven and placed them on the grill with ears of corn outlining the two beautiful racks. Basting once more helped the ribs attain a crispy caramelization and I rushed them to a serving platter. The ears of corn were sweet, buttery and the kernels were slightly charred and meltingly tender.
And the ribs,… meaty, succulent, sweet, spicy, smoky, and fall off the bone perfect accompanied by sticky fingers and smiles. Memories like this will just have to sustain us until we return.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Each time we walk through the doors at No. 7 Restaurant we wonder to ourselves – why go any place else? The restaurant, perched right above the Lafayette subway station, is located at 7 Greene Ave in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. Fort Greene is home to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, known to locals as “BAM” and to a diverse mixture of people. The neighborhood exudes a bohemian, earthy, liberal air – no wonder French Culinary Institute Alum, Chef Tyler Kord, has dug his heels into this eclectic enclave.
My partner, Marc, and I settled into one of the tables in the back of the restaurant guided by a chic but approachable hostess. The room is filled with culinary hipsters, first dates, flirty gay couples, chatty women and the like.
I love that point in the evening during dinner service where you can feel the electricity and excitement in the air – it’s usually when the house is packed, the kitchen is running like a well-oiled machine and the wait staff never misses a beat. Everyone falls into this mesmerizing groove of sorts – having worked back of the house I feel that nervous thrill as dishes are being knocked out one by one and the intensity of the environment fuels every drop of adrenaline in your body. A feeling I miss from working at L’Ecole – the restaurant at FCI.
As we settle in with a cocktail, we peruse the concise menu sitting in anticipation to listen to the specials of the day. The wait staff is friendly, confident and sexy and our waiter tempts our palates with the chef’s daily selection.
We started with a snapper sashimi over Galia melon dressed with a spicy peanut, jalapeno and cilantro sauce. Each bite was savored and the various flavor notes were absolutely harmonious.
For main entrées we had the boneless pork chop that was slowly braised in a ginger broth then seared on the grill – served over Sardinian pasta called fregola the juicy chop delivered savory bites. I love their crispy breaded chicken, it is incredibly moist, rolled into a cylindrical shape – it’s a must have! The contemporary American cuisine has hints of Korean influence with pickled vegetables and kimchi pierogies.
Sitting comfortably in our seats my eyes wander to check out the bustling bar scene and the busy yet tiny exhibition kitchen. No. 7 is the kind of restaurant I would love to own someday, it’s cozy, sophisticated and always a welcoming place to dine.
The night winded down, I sip an after dinner coffee, and slide further into my chair. My body almost limp from feeding off the adrenaline rush, sated... we saunter into the night.
Friday, May 15, 2009
I love New York, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I just need to escape the city. So, I made plans to go to Charleston, SC – a place I’ve been wanting to visit for many years after listening to natives speak so lovingly about their home. I was ready to explore the city and most importantly dine on low country cuisine. We arrived in the afternoon and we parked ourselves at Pearlz Oyster Bar on East Bay Street and sampled oysters while drinking cold martinis. Sitting at the front bar, we were perfectly perched to enjoy the parade of Charlestonians and tourists alike as they passed by. The oysters were silky, briny, salty and fresh. The addition of a little mignonette or cocktail sauce complemented the plump treats.
I’m always open to recommendations so when a local suggested Jestine's Kitchen – a quirky unpretentious restaurant on Meeting Street - I rushed over. It serves the kind of comfort food you would expect in the South; crispy fried chicken, mac n’ cheese, collard greens, and more. I just couldn’t pass up these favorites and finished my soulful dinner with a peach and berry cobbler... delicious!
But I really wasn’t going to be satisfied until I had shrimp and grits, and I was lucky to enjoy them at Virginia’s on King. The shrimp sat atop creamy grits mixed with smoky sausage. I savored every bite and daydreamed about making the same dish back home with my own variation on the theme. Low country cuisine well suits the laid back gentility of this city where the air is perfumed with the scent of delicate jasmine flowers. The architecture and lush gardens are a wonderful canvas for any visitor to enjoy while dining or walking off a grand meal.
We spent languid days shopping, eating and sightseeing. Tall palmettos swayed in the breeze and mornings were spent on the loggia with freshly brewed coffee and toasted sweet black bread.
We were lucky to spend our downtime at the Joseph Aiken Mansion and sleep in one of the oversized bedrooms in “the big house." Built in the Greek Revival style in the late 1840's the stately mansion took us back to a time when proper manners and good family names were de rigeur.
My memories of Charleston and its food will linger with me like the sweet scent of jasmine hanging on the breeze.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Settling into my new neighborhood (Fort Greene, Brooklyn) I’ve discovered new restaurants, grocery stores and other specialty shops.
Last weekend the weather brought everyone outside, the sidewalks were crowded with weekend shoppers, hipsters were hanging out at cafes, every dog owner had their sidekicks in tow, you could just feel the energy of the neighborhood burst out from its winter clothes.
We took the dogs out for a long walk around the ‘hood and headed to Fort Greene Park. Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the public green space in the 1860s. The thirty-acre park is also the site of a fort and a monument to Revolutionary War prisoners, who were imprisoned on ships by the British under unbearable conditions. Both Brutus and Zachary love to explore the park and get a good workout on the footpaths up to the monument. There’s also a farmer’s market every Saturday that I plan on visiting very soon.
Our walk winds back down into the heart of the neighborhood passing my new favorite green grocer, Greene Grape Provisions located at 753 Fulton Street. Here I can find the freshest fish, seasonal vegetables and organic foods. They also carry D’Artagnan products such as fresh duck breast and duck confit.
I’ve prepared duck a few times at my new digs and I’ve followed a recipe borrowed from a Parisian restaurant that I’ve frequented on previous trips to Paris. Some people are not huge fans of duck because of the thick layer of fat that accompanies the breast. Culinary school has taught me how to tackle this issue quite simply. To render the duck fat it is vital to score the skin/fat with a sharp knife making diagonal cuts across the fat. Be sure not to cut through the meat. Once the fat is scored, sauté the breast fat side down in a preheated pan. The duck fat will melt away and will leave the skin crispy and delicious.
My favorite part of this recipe is an onion jam or confiture de l’oignons. I caramelize cipollini onions under low heat until they are translucent; I deglaze the pan with vermouth and add fresh thyme, salt, pepper and some confectioner’s sugar to boost the jammy sweetness. The crispy duck served with sweet onion jam takes me back to that little café on the Left Bank every time.
On Sunday we entertained friends for brunch and I made a strata for the first time. The strata, similar to a Spanish frittata has the custardy consistency of a quiche.
I buttered a soufflé dish and sliced brioche rolls into 1 inch thick slices. I lightly toasted the buttery brioche slices and set them into the soufflé dish. In another bowl, I mix together eggs, milk, cream with a dash of salt, freshly cracked pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and a splash of Tabasco. In a sauté pan I crisped up some pancetta and set that aside.
For the strata, I crumbled the pancetta on top of the bread slices, added diced tomatoes, crumbled goat cheese and shredded fontina. I poured the custard mixture over the top and scattered chopped basil over the mixture. Allow the bread to soak in the mixture (about 10 minutes) afterwards I baked the dish at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
The strata emerged puffed, golden and perfumed with kitchen with Italian goodness. I served the strata with baby field greens dressed with a simple vinaigrette – the dish received rave reviews. It’s an easy brunch dish that can be transformed with a multitude of ingredient combinations.
Entertaining friends at the new apartment has been a wonderful way for me to become more comfortable with my new neighborhood – as I search out ingredients and places to shop I feel more connected to the Brooklyn vibe week after week.
P.S. Here are some articles about Fort Greene, both appearing in The New York Times.
Read about the Fort Greene neighborhood
Read about the new wave of food artisans
Friday, March 6, 2009
Soon after graduation, I received requests to come back to FCI to judge midterms. Also, fellow culinary colleagues asked for my help on catering jobs that they’ve secured. It was good practice and a nice reminder to get back into the kitchen.
I missed blogging to be honest, and I’ve had some good food stories and experiences that I’d love to share since my last posting. The question remains what to do with www.anthonymanuelramos.blogspot.com? Yes, the culinary school experience is over however, what’s next could be as entertaining and as interesting to those that have followed me.
I’m thinking of expanding the blog and reinventing it to become “A Day in the Life of a New York City Foodie,” what other city’s food scene is more vibrant? So much is going on in food and drink in NY and I’d love to capture it.
Please join me on the continuation of a journey into food, read about the latest restaurant experiences, newest foods, trends, hidden gems and life through the eyes of a Chef. As always, thank you for your interest and support.