I created a new domain for the blog. Instead of the rather nonsensical, eating-disorder provoking “stricteating,” the new URL that you should all have on hand is http://everythingbutthebaa.wordpress.com
See you on the other side!
Good evening, everyone.
I accomplished something today. Hat tip to my Uncle, who invited my family and me to my new favorite spot in New Brunswick, NJ. It’s called Costa Chica restaurant located at 314 Handy Street. It’s in a relatively hidden location, so only the motivated will find it.
This place produces awesome Mexican food. Not Chipotle, not Taco Bell, or Qdoba Mexican food, but legit Oaxacan-influenced food. The menu includes everything from tamales to tortas, burritos to tacos, to full on entrees like grilled chicken or beef with salsa and plantains. Each meal starts off with complimentary tortilla chips (we even got a free refill) with three different condiments. One was a salsa verde, which had a bit of heat to it. The other was a salsa rojo, which had a more intense, smokey heat. The last was a more typical tomato salsa that I actually didn’t try.
We also ordered some guacamole to go along with the chips, but I wasn’t as impressed with it. It seemed to be lacking some acidity, and was almost too creamy for my liking.
In any case, the chips were an awesome free appetizer.
Now. I mentioned in the title that a milestone had been reached. Today, for the very first time, I tried tripe. Not only did I try tripe, but I had beef head and goat tacos. The tortillas are clearly made in-house, and they were very well done. They, my friends, were epic.
The beef head meat was fatty, meaty, and all-around succulent. It melted the minute it hit the tongue, indicative of careful, slow cooking. Mixed with cilantro and salsa verde, it was the perfect blend of savory, zesty, and spicy.
Just take a moment and really look into that taco below (the pictures never format properly with this layout….). Looks a little bit like bacon, no? Look.
Tripe is not scary. People, particularly in this country, tend to harbor the notion that with industrialization and thus, civilization, comes the privilege of no longer eating certain parts of animals. Gone are the days when every part of the pig, cow, lamb, or chicken need be cooked. Why, with the advent of packaged, portioned, processed, and unapologetically adultered foods that are now staples in most Americans’ homes, who should give a second (or even first, for that matter) thought to the foods that lay the foundation for every culture?
Anyway. This tripe was cooked the RIGHT way. Whatever way that was. I assume it was boiled for a long period of time to soften it up. Then, it was chopped and fried to crispy perfection. I thought it had great texture and was not at all chewy, as most would expect. It did not have a gamey flavor, and with some salsa verde (which was my favorite salsa, if you couldn’t tell), it was absolutely delicious. If you have tripe prepared properly, the texture will not throw you. Neither will the taste. It is all about the preparation, and I’m very….VERY happy that this place introduced me to tripe.
Finally, the taco de barbacoa, or goat taco. Here’s a bit of an analogy for you: duck is to chicken as goat is to lamb. Goat is fattier, darker, and much tastier than lamb. Just like duck is to chicken. The goat was hearty and well-seasoned. It had clearly been braised for a while, and was then shredded (or pulled, if you prefer). Again, accompanied simply by cilantro and some onion (and salsa verde, but you probably guessed that much by now), it was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.
And that was that. That was my experience. I encourage you all in Central Jersey to check this spot out. New Brunswick is full of awesome places like this, and I’m really interested to explore the area a little more thoroughly. However, this is my new go-to place, and they even deliver and do take out. So seriously, check out Costa Chica.
Anyone who reads this blog may know that I am a devoted fan of Anthony Bourdain. While he’s viciously uncensored and dripping with sarcasm, I love him, his show, and books.
Yesterday, he was doing a book signing at the Borders in downtown Manhattan, so I went.
As he strolled into the signing area with a beer in hand, he smiled and waved at everyone there to see him. He was really chill, friendly, and seemed to really enjoy bullshitting with his fans. His fans, by the by, are a weird sort. A mix of young and old, they appear to cleave onto everything Bourdain stands for: brutal honesty, which can at times be quite humorous.
I realize that he is just another person, like you and me, and that there was no real reason to be totally tongue-tied. However, once I approached the table at which he sat, all logic and reason left me. I went from being a composed, articulate individual to a stammering idiot with a flushed face. That’s okay, though. He greeted me with a huge smile, a slightly nervous hello, and he shook my hand. We talked about his beer, and the moment that I spent 2 hours waiting in line for passed in mere moments.
Sure, I could have asked him about being a chef. I could have asked him where and what to eat when I’m in Sydney. Hell, I could have even asked him if he’s heard the latest New York Dolls album. Instead, we talked about the stupid beer, smiled, I giggled, we posed, and finally said our goodbyes. Ah well. It still made my day.
After the signing, my mom and I went to Les Halles. Bourdain was formerly executive chef at Les Halles, though not at the location at which we ate. Nevertheless, the food surpassed my expectations and their fries are to die for. In his Les Halles cookbook, he gives the recipe for the fries in case anyone reading this wants to go for it.
What did I have?
These mussels were DELICIOUS. And the portion was very generous, as well. I had my mussels in a tomato-garlic broth with cilantro and chorizo. I could’ve bathed in it.
These french fries were expertly fried. They were very salty and crunchy on the outside, but warm and fluffy on the inside. These people know what they are doing. And I got a heaping plateful of them with my mussels.
Finally, for dessert, my mom and I split cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream. I gather they make their own ice cream because it was VERY VERY vanilla. I loved it. I usually hate vanilla ice cream, but this was done so well. It was creamy, but not heavy. There were specs of seeds from the vanilla bean, indicating that this was not store -bought shit. And the chocolate sauce they serve on the side was divine. Not heavy like a ganache, just light and frothy enough to drizzle over the pastry. It was bittersweet chocolate with a hint of cocoa. Whew.
It was an awesome day – probably the best this summer (so far?).
It seems as though I never write anymore! Unfortunately, my schedule for the summer is almost more intense than my school-year schedule.
A few weeks ago, my mom and I went to a cooking class at Classic Thyme in Westfield, NJ. The subject was “Supremely Simple Seafood,” which it was. It was as delicious as it was simple. My mom and I recently recreated this menu, and it took us a fair bit of time, but there are a lot of dishes involved.
There were about 15 people in the class, and each group of people was charged with prepping a specific portion of the meal. The first dish of the night was pan fried oysters atop a green salad with creamy garlic and peppercorn dressing. Mom and I got to drain and dredge the oysters. They were huge, freshly shucked oysters and were, admittedly, a little gross to handle raw. Believe it or not, I have never tasted an oyster before this. If I didn’t like clams so much, I would say oysters are my favorite!
The oysters were soaked in a mixture of buttermilk and cajun seasoning, and then dredged in cajun-seasoned panko breadcrumbs. Then, they were fried in oil (not deep fried, just pan fried in enough oil covering the oysters halfway), and dropped on a paper towel to drain while cooling. The oysters take very little time to cook – about 2 to 4 minutes. They had a great crunch on the outside, and were absolutely luscious on the inside. A perfect contrast in textures.
The oysters were placed atop a salad with a creamy garlic dressing. The dressing was really fragrant, and had so many different flavors happening. The dressing involved sauteing some shallot, garlic, and peppercorn melange in some extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Once the garlic browned and the shallots were translucent, 1/2 cup of white balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon of worcestershire sauce were added. This mix was reduced by half and cooled completely in the refrigerator. Then, in a blender, that mix was first thickened with some olive oil, and then mayo, dijon mustard, and some herbs were added.
Initially, I was very skeptical about the orange in this dish. I am not a fan of orange-flavored things, and really favor lemon with my fish. However, the orange just…worked. It completely won me over. The fish was lightly breaded and then quickly pan fried, leaving the interior delicate and flaky. White fish has a very subtle flavor, which the orange lifted to another dimension. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, as well. It was seasoned with salt and pepper, and seared in butter (delicious). It was meaty, but not chewy (as overcooked shrimp so often is). It was juicy and succulent; the orange tasted really good with it as well.
This was an excellent side dish. Not only were the mashed potatoes decadent and creamy, but the scallop was seared to perfection. The trick to getting the most flavor out of these potatoes is to salt the boiling water with enough salt so it tastes like the ocean. Once the potatoes are cooked, mash them with butter, horseradish, and heavy cream. That is all it takes, and the result is DIVINE. I love horseradish, it adds a kick of heat without being overwhelming. The scallop was seasoned with salt and pepper, and then seared quickly over high heat so it caramelizes. Searing it on high heat ensures a deep caramelization without overcooking. After removing the scallop, some shallot, garlic, and leeks were sauteed with some lemon juice and butter. This “confetti” of leeks and shallots was placed on top of the scallop. That aromatic and savory confetti balanced the luscious, velvety interior of the scallop.
At this point, you are probably wondering if there was dessert. After all these savory dishes, what sweetness was to be had?
These oat bars were dessert. I am not going to lie, I felt a little ripped off by this. Don’t get me wrong, the bars were really good. Interestingly, the bars never cooled completely, so we had them while they were warm and gooey. But after that intense meal, this dessert did not seem to suffice. I like granola bars as a snack between meals, or even for a quick breakfast if I’m not all that hungry. Dessert? Not quite. They probably should have been served with vanilla ice cream or something to make it more desserty, but oh well. Served warm and gooey, these really quenched my craving for something sweet after all the garlicy-savoriness.
I have cooked a few things recently because I have been home in the evenings (at least part of the evenings), so more updates to come (in a timely manner).
Hopefully you’ll forgive me for my disappearance.
I really haven’t cooked at all since I’ve been back home, with the exception of Mother’s Day. Within the last year or so, my Dad and I have successfully joined forces in the kitchen to make good food for my Mom (hi Mom!) – whether for her birthday or Mother’s Day.
This year, I unfortunately had to work the evening of Mother’s Day, but we made an awesomely huge lunch to make up for it.
First up is grilled lamb chops. Yes, lamb. As many of you may have observed, this blog is called everything but the baa. I’ve undoubtedly explained this in the past, but will reiterate here. I try to avoid eating lamb. Not because it tastes badly, but because of how much I enjoy living lambs. I make exceptions for occasions such as these, because lamb is one of my Mom’s favorite things.
Having said that, here is roughly what we did.
I have to say, I highly prefer grilled lamb over roasted. Then again, I find I tend to have a preference toward almost anything grilled. I enjoy the smokey flavor. Initially, we thought the sauce’s recipe called for too much lemon zest so we halved it. Personally, I would have appreciated the full amount, but even with half it tasted wonderfully. The lemon serves two purposes here. The zest functions as an aromatic enhancement, while the juice brightens the intensity of all the herbs. I thought the combination of mint and rosemary with lamb seemed a little tired, and was so happy to find this recipe. The thyme and parsley pair quite well with lamb.
We decided to go with a surf-and-turf theme and make some serious crab cakes. Seafood is one of my favorite food groups (in fact, I think it may be THE favorite), but I make it a point to avoid restaurant crab cakes at all cost. In fact, you should avoid commercial crab cakes as well. It’s well-known that the cakes are nothing but filler (be it bread crumbs, crushed crackers, or whatever other non-crab ingredient they throw in there). I actually quite pride myself on these cakes, adopted from here.
I only had 1 lb. of jumbo lump crab meat, so I adjusted the recipe accordingly. The bottoms were a little crispy, at which I initially freaked out. However, it worked out well, because crispy crab meat is delicious. After they came out of the oil, I set them on a plate lined with two paper towels. Do this, otherwise the oil will sit in the cakes and make them soggy and greasy (and who wants that?). Next time, I would probably increase the amount of Worcestershire sauce a little bit, as well as the mustard. I love the taste of crab (more than lobster, if I’m honest), but I wanted some more of the other flavors in the cakes. Nevertheless, these cakes were great because I was able to control how much filler went into them. Once you make these, there is no going back to those….excuses you get at most restaurants.
And finally, for the vegetable component to the meal, I blanched some green beans and tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper. Simple, but so good with lamb. The beans were so crunchy and full of vibrancy. In fact, a squirt of lemon juice over them would’ve been great.
And that is that! I made blackberry souffles (first try ever!) for breakfast, but never took pictures. They turned out nicely, but I wasn’t that enthusiastic about them. I guess I expected something different (I’ve never had a souffle before).
Oh, fun fact. I turned 21 this past Tuesday, and to celebrate, I got cannolis instead of a birthday cake. If you are in the Central Jersey area, PLEASE go to this bakery. They have a location in Brooklyn (which is what the site links to), and one on Middlesex Ave in Metuchen. They have some of the finest cannolis I have had the pleasure of eating. Good bakeries are dying out, so SUPPORT THEM (but leave all the cannolis for me)!
The end of the semester was quite busy, and the beginning of the summer is proving to be no different! I do have some food to post, so fear not! I will update soon….
Thanks for staying tuned!
For the first time since beginning college, I went home for Easter. Although Easter does not seem to hold quite as much importance to our family as does Thanksgiving or Christmas, it still meant a lot to come home. Of course, it means a lot any time I go home.
While most of my Easter memories involve a honey glazed ham of sorts, this year we decided to go with pork shoulder. My appreciation for pork is growing (I never used to like it), and this recipe pushed me over the edge in to full-on pork love.
I spotted the recipe here and thought it sounded delicious. It involves braising the pork in a champagne vinegar mixture. To be honest, I have never heard of champagne vinegar so this recipe was exciting. New ingredients are always exciting. I won’t bother reposting the recipe, as you can just follow the link over to Food & Wine.
As you can probably tell, the pork was damn good. Perfectly cooked, if I may say so (I had nothing to do with the cooking, which is probably why!). It was moist, tender, and fell apart when sliced with a fork. For whatever reason, there ended up being about a half a gallon of sauce (yes, a half a gallon!) which is rather excessive. Nevertheless, it was a delicious sauce. I was wary of including the grapes, and we toyed with omitting them. In the end, I’m glad we kept them in. They added a subtle sweetness to the pork. I personally hate the honey-glazed ham crap because I think it’s too sweet, so this was just the right amount of sweetness for my liking.
With the pork, my mom and I tried our hand at making dinner rolls. We dug out the bread machine to use to make the dough. To the original recipe, we added some thyme and tarragon so they would have a nice herby feel.
They came out really well for our first try at making them. They were soft, and the egg wash made them look store bought (at least, I thought so). They had a slight sweetness to them, which was really nice along with all the savory food. The recipe was out of a cookbook we have at home.
In addition to the rolls, we had prosciutto-wrapped roasted asparagus with a citronette found here. The original recipe calls for pancetta, but we opted for prosciutto. This side dish could not be easier, and can be prepped the night before if need be. All you have to do is wrap the asparagus in some prosciutto and keep them covered in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them. The citronette was actually really, really good. It was a little sweet, and the citrus really balanced the intense salty flavor of the prosciutto well.
It has become a rather well-known and accepted fact that my mother makes the best deviled eggs, and these were certainly no exception. Alex never had deviled eggs before visiting for Easter, and I would argue that these were probably the best introduction to this side dish. Although deviled eggs are commonly had during the summer for picnics and such, we had lots of eggs and who doesn’t love deviled eggs?
For dessert, we bought a cheesecake. It was really good, but I’m a little biased.
I think I can safely say that this was the most delicious Easter I’ve had yet.
Last night, I went to an event hosted by the Metropolitan College at Boston University. It featured Judith Jones, who was discussing her latest cookbook The Pleasures of Cooking for One. After she lost her husband, she wasn’t sure how she would be able to cook again. Cooking was an activity she and her husband did together; an activity they honored together. She decided that although she would now be eating alone for the most part, she wanted and deserved to have good food each night.
The entire night was, if I may indulge myself here, very inspirational. Admittedly, it is a struggle to always be creative when cooking for yourself so as not to lose interest in the art completely. Her message is simple:
If you like good food, why not honor yourself enough to make a pleasing meal and relish every mouthful? Of course, we want to share with others, too, but we don’t always have family and friends around.
Yes. It is about honoring yourself, isn’t it? After all, when you are cooking, you’re really creating something substantial. It is an art form unto itself. Why lose the inspiration you have around others when it’s just you?
For some, it’s less about losing inspiration and more about portion sizes. How can you possibly cook for one when you are forced to buy more than you can use at the grocery store? Well, this book is her strategy for “beating the system,” as she puts it. She offers a compendium of strategies for making the most of your leftovers. She teaches how to make the ingredients you buy work for a variety of meals. Most basically, she teaches the lone cook how to enjoy food once again.
At this seminar, there were cooking demonstrations of three recipes selected from the book. I must say, it was a very enjoyable meal despite lamb being involved (I try to avoid lamb at all costs).
The first course was corn and salmon pancakes with sauce gribiche. She explained she was rummaging through her refrigerator one night trying to find something to have for dinner when she spotted leftover salmon and corn. She thought it would be an interesting combination, and as it turns out, she was right. I would never have thought to pair these two ingredients together, but for some reason they just work. Salmon is one of my favorite fish, and the sweetness of the corn adds something to the rich salmon flavor. The dish came together in all of 5 minutes making it rather well-suited to most lifestyles. It could be a meal unto itself if paired with a hearty salad or couscous.
The second course was braised shoulder lamb chops. This cut of lamb is fairly inexpensive, and is ordinarily tough. She recommends putting parchment paper over the lamb before putting a lid over the casserole dish you use to roast them in to keep them juicy and tender. This is more of a weekend dish because it involves slow roasting in the oven for a long period of time (which means you have a lot of idle time to do other things while the cooking perfumes your house). The meat literally fell off the bone, there was absolutely no need for a knife. It was very well done. I have never had fava beans before, and I fell in love with them last night. I will definitely be cooking with those more often!
Finally, the night ended with a panna cotta with maple syrup. I am not a huge fan of custardy desserts (except creme brulee, perhaps because it’s a rather firm, thick custard) but this was good. Vermont maple syrup is used, and as anyone in the Northeast US knows, people in Vermont take their maple syrup seriously. Probably more seriously than Canadians take theirs. I’ll give it to them, their syrup is very very good. Ohhh…warm maple syrup…..Anyway. Because they multiplied this recipe by 80 in order to feed all the people who showed up for this event, the custard came out a little runny. It needed more gelatin, which the culinary students admitted. Nevertheless, it tasted so good! It was a light finish to a very fulfilling night.
I will definitely be cooking from this book over and over again, so expect to see some recipes in the future. The Metropolitan College has events like this fairly often, and I believe most are open to the public. There is usually a fee for the seminar, but I feel it’s completely worth it. I’m disappointed I didn’t start going to these sooner (especially since Julia Child made some appearances). Then again, I probably would not have appreciated them as much as I do now.
Food is an important part of culture, and I find it interesting when a staple from one society is incorporated into another. When I think about the universality of food, pizza comes to mind. Originating in Napoli, pizza has been integrated into food cultures reaching from the US to Japan, leaving no one unaffected by its perfect blend of cheese, sauce, and above all, bread.
I’m originally from New Jersey (central Jersey, if you please) and I know what good pizza (in the US) is. I’ve spent time around Manhattan-made slices, and I think New Jersey has excellent pizza-making skills as well (the secret is in the water!). With that said, I love pizza.
Ohhhh, yes. Pizza. Cheesey, crispy, pizza.
In this country, there is a huge disparity between New York-style and Chicago-style pizza. New Yorkers (and anyone with good sense) prefer a thin, well, crusty crust. A crust that doesn’t succumb to the weight of sauce and cheese. A crust that doesn’t flop around, spilling your toppings everywhere. On the perfect slice, there is neither too much, nor too little sauce. And the cheese: a nice mix of peccorino and mozzarella. Yes, the combination of carbs, dairy, and–dare I say–vegetables gets me every time.
Well what, you ask, is Chicago-style pizza? To put it simply (and nicely), an oversized casserole of bread, sauce, and some cheese. I cannot be impartial about this.
Regardless of what your preferences are, pizza is ubiquitous throughout this country, as well as many others.
Purists believe pizza isn’t pizza unless it’s a margherita pizza. Other non-traditionalists feel there can never be too many toppings.
Some people are sauceophobes, preferring white pizza to the norm.
White pizza typically involves ricotta, mozzerella, pesto and some olive oil.
And then, there is Sicilian-style pizza.
Unlike traditional Neapolitan pizza, the cheese is placed under the sauce. It is also square, and of a fairly thicker crust.
Pizza always was, and continues to be, a comfort food. Pizza unites. When there is pizza around, people are usually enjoying themselves. Little kids have pizza parties for birthdays or other celebrations. Student organizations on campus almost always provide pizza at their meetings. It’s everywhere, and god damnit, I love it! Whenever I go back home to Jersey, one of the first things I try have is a good slice.
Alas, the weekend is over and we must begin another working week. I find that my stress abates when I cook. Unfortunately, due to the ridiculous quantity of leftovers I’ve managed to collect, I’m going to have to limit my cooking this week. I seriously hate wasting things, especially food. I also have no more storage space for more food. Ah, the challenges of cooking for yourself and sharing a refrigerator with another person (yes, I live with another person and no, we do not cook for each other).
The Khoresht Karafs was never made, and I’m going to scrap my cooking plans for the better part of the week. I do have leeks that need to be used desperately, so perhaps toward the end of the week I’ll make a leek and mushroom soup with some of that awesome new chicken stock I have.
Although I won’t be cooking anything per se, I will be fashioning new dishes out of old ones.