making food from anywhere, with anything

new jersey restaurants

yet another milestone has been reached

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.

tortilla chips with guacamole

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.

taco de cabeza

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.

taco de tripa

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.

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to learn to cook

Hello everyone.

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.

pan fried oyster topped green salad

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.

sauteed flounder ala orange topped with seared shrimp

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.

pan seared scallop with horseradish mashed potatoes

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?

almond, walnut, chocolate and caramel bars

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).


Embarrassment.

Hello everyone.

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.

grilled lamb chops

with a bright lemon-herb sauce

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.

UBER crab cakes

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.

crunchy green beans

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)!

screw cake


18,250 days

Last night, my family and I celebrated my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary at one of our favorite restaurants: Girasole.  Girasole is located in Bound Brook, NJ, and is an exceptional Italian restaurant.  We’ve been frequent guests there for, well, years.  The food is always good, and they serve cannolis of unparalleled quality.

salmon cake with an aoli sauce over veg

My meal started off with a salmon cake dressed with a lemon and horseradish aioli over a bed of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions.  The cake was akin to an oversized fritter.  It was crispy and lightly breaded on the outside, but smooth on the inside.  The filling was salmony and creamy (with no breading or other filler to be found), a texture that contrasted nicely with the crunch of the cucumbers.  The aioli itself was very nice.  It tasted largely of lemon, but had subtle undertones of garlic and horseradish (two flavors I thoroughly enjoy).  Overall, this appetizer set the tone for the rest of the dinner.

seafood plate

My entree consisted of three seafood items: salmon, shrimp, and lobster.  Although I tend to favor crab over lobster, this tail half was well done.  I find it is sometimes difficult to cook lobster, as the meat gets tough easily.  This, however, was easy to cut through, and had a great charred flavor from the grill.  Shrimp, similarly easy to overcook, was well-seasoned and tender.  The salmon was moist and lightly flavored with some lemon.  The fish has such a great flavor on its own, little more need be added to it than some salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.  All of these items were set on top of a bed of wilted, garlic-infused greens (which, if memory serves, consisted of arugula).  The sauce accompaniment was a creamy lemon sauce infused with parsley (or was it cilantro? I’ll admit I wasn’t paying as much attention to the food as it deserved), which paired well with everything on the plate.  It was very good and on the whole, well done.

What you are about to see is photographic evidence of the greatest cannoli known to Central Jersey.  Others from the area may fight me on this, but I stand firm on my position.

the best cannoli i've ever had

Behold: the best cannoli I’ve ever had.  The filling is what makes this cannoli so damn good.  Sure, it may look like an ordinary cannoli, but it’s so much more than that.  This cannoli is made according to Sicilian tradition.  It’s got the ricotta and milk base filling studded with tiny pieces of candied citron and miniature chocolate chips.  Just the right amount of chocolate chips and citron are added so as not to overpower the delicious cheese filling.  The filling itself is thicker than that of other cannolis I have tried (which is what I love about this one so much – I can’t stand a loose, creamy filling) and is sweetened ever so slightly.  Not only is there an outpouring of filling from either side of the crispy (but not over-fried) shell, they give you a bonus dollop upon which the cannoli is placed.  I could honestly bathe in that filling.  I want a vat of it so I can have spoonfulls of it on demand.  It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted (seriously, cannolis in Boston do not compare.  Yes, even the cannolis from the very overrated Mike’s Pastry.).  It is the only dessert I get at this restaurant anytime I go (usually accompanied by some espresso).  Hats off to the pastry chef.

So, there you have it. The best dinner I’ve had in a long time.  Although others were less impressed with their food, I was quite satisfied with my meal, and I’m quite sure my grandparents loved their food as well (my grandmother is a huge veal fan, and maintains that no one does veal like Girasole), which is really all that matters.  I believe Anthony Bourdain said it best: The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself.

Get excited, readers.  I’m home, which means I’m reunited with my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Tonight? Roast duck, Julia Child style, with clams and asparagus.  We even picked up a triple berry pie for dessert (good thing I had sushi for lunch and am planning on going for a run after I finish this!).  Yum.