Monday, January 16, 2012

Skyline Chili

After visiting Cincinnati first when I was about ten, my memories are scant. I remember the riverboat ride and I remember... the Cincinnati chili. I remember being skeptical about chili over spaghetti, but was excited about the mountain of shredded cheddar on top. In the end, it's a great combination! After an awesome meal, we bought a postcard with the recipe on it and continued to have this at home at least once a season.

It's been years now since I've had this chili, but I was recently in Cincinnati for an awesome research week, and went one night to Skyline Chili to taste the old classic. It was delicious, a one-of-a-kind flavor, though incredibly filling.

Since it's winter, I've been diving into all of my comfort foods, and this one is a perfect example. This chili freezes well and is more sweet than spicy.

Cincinnati Skyline Chili

1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
1 29 oz can peeled whole tomatoes
1 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 small white onion, diced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp all spice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp chili powder or cayenne pepper
1 tbl white vinegar
1 large clove garlic
3 bay leaves

1. Brown the meat in a frying pain. Add onions partway and cook fully. Drain grease.
2. In a large saucepan, place meat and onions along with the rest of the ingredients.
3. Cook over a low heat for 4-5 hours, covered until the last 20 minutes or so if you'd like a thicker chili. For a thinner chili, leave covered.
4. Remove bay leaves and garlic clove before serving
5. Pour chili over a bed of spaghetti and serve with shredded cheddar cheese.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cider-Braised Pork (Porc au cidre)

I had a lot of memorable meals in Paris. Luckily for me, many of the venues were just a short walk from my apartment in the 10eme arrondissement. One of my favorites was the understated Le Scherkhan on the Rue d'Hauteville ( I went for the first time with my friend Noelle when she was in Paris for research, and then again with two of my fellow Terra fellows from the previous summer, Dominkia and Allie. And a few other times besides. This restaurant is small, chill, and serves delicious food (with a cool old dumb waiter that opens up from the floor to reach the kitchen below). Easily my favorite dish here is the porc au cider, a small Le Creuset pot of tender pork medallions braised in cider. The sauce was as good as the meat, and I probably devoured an entire baguette by myself lapping up the delicious juices. On one occasion, I was raving so voraciously about this dish that the waitress brought the chef out to chat with me. I asked him how he made this dish, and he gave me a great description, which alas did not quite stick to my conscious memory (or perhaps I did not understand the French as well as I thought I had...). Still, I decided to see if I could emulate this dish in my own kitchen. Given the lack of Breton cider here (which is much less sweet than American hard ciders), I could not get an exact match, but I came pretty close.

I discovered a new meat market in the process of collecting the items needed to prepare this dish. I constantly complain about the expense of grocery shopping in New York City, with the Amish Market and a Food Emporium as my two closest grocers. Since they are further afield, trips to the Fairway or Trader Joe's have to be planned. However, neither the Amish Market nor the Food Emporium had a cut of pork that I thought would be suitable for this dish. Pork chops are already so tender that braising them would make them fall apart. I found another butcher on 10th avenue, but alas they did not take credit/debit cards, so I went back to my apartment empty-handed. I fished around on the internet hoping I would not have to take a break-the-bank walk up to the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. And I discovered what will be a long-term relationship... with the Big Apple Meat Market ( In addition to groceries, they have a large meat locker that you can walk through to select cuts of meat that have been just wrapped and placed on the shelves. The butcher that I spoke with was knowledgable and nice as he helped me choose between the larger pork shoulder and the slightly smaller pork butt, both cuts being good for braising which makes them tender. In the end, I definitely overcooked my meat, which left it dry, but the sauce was pretty near perfect. I served this with mashed potatoes and bok choy (blanched and then sautéed with a little bit of salt and nutmeg).

Cider-Braised Pork

a 2 1/2 -3 lb cut of pork
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, one sliced the other diced
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves, ground or whole
2 bay leafs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper (I dropped my pepper grinder irretrievably behind my oven, so have been using white ground pepper, which is delicious)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp herbs de provence
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 22 oz bottle hard cider
2 cups of water
1 tbl cornstarch
1 cup water

1. Pat the pork dry with a paper towel.
2. Make small slices into the meat and tuck slices of garlic into those pockets.
3. Rub salt and pepper and herbes de provence into the pork.
4. Heat a thick pot and place 1/2 tsp of olive oil in it.
5. Brown the piece of meat on all sides over high heat, rotating it frequently with tongs. This will take 10-15 minutes.
6. Remove the meat from the pot and sauté garlic and onion until soft.
7. Add the spices to the mixture. This list is only a suggestion - I put a little bit of many of the spices I have in my cabinet - trying to balance between sweet and savory spices. Without Herbs de Provence, use thyme or savory blend.
8. Add the cider, bullion cube, and 1-2 cups of water to dilute the sweetness of the cider.
9. Once the mixture is bubbling, turn the heat to low and put the meat back into the mixture. Timing is a bit difficult, but it probably should have been about an hour and a half at most for this size meat at a slow simmer.
10. Once the meat is fully cooked, remove it and mix in a cup of water with 1 tbl cornstarch dissolved into it. Turn up the heat to thicken the sauce.
reheating is easy and delicious!
11. Leave the meat for 10-12 minutes to set before slicing.
12. Serve over mashed potatoes with a green vegetable.

Toffee Heaven

My aunt, my mom and I have been making the same toffee recipe for years. And I still love it. But recently I decided to experiment with a different toffee recipe that might even yield superior results. It is based on a recipe meant to emulate Enstrom's toffee, which I've never actually tried. My friend who has had Enstrom's said that this one is quite different, but still delicious! Compared with the sinful toffee bars, the almond toffee is definitely more labor-intensive and time-consuming. So, take your pick, and know that you'll have delicious results either way!

Sinful Toffee Bars
40 saltine crackers
2 sticks butter
1 cup brown sugar
12 oz chocolate chips
1 cup ground nuts (or 1 tsp sea salt)


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Then place the crackers edge-to-edge in rows.
3. In a saucepan, bring butter and sugar to a boil, stir for three minutes until thick.
4. Pour mixture over crackers and bake for 5 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over toffee.
6. Return to oven for 30 seconds
7. Spread chocolate over crackers and top with ground nuts (or, my preference, large grains of sea salt)
8. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
9. Bring to room temperature for about 15 minutes before reaching or cutting into pieces.

Almond Toffee

 2 3/4 cup sugar
1 lb salted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 12 oz package of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup powdered almonds (use a blender to grind whole almonds)

1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add regular salt. As soon as the butter is almost melted, add in the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon using slow, figure-eight motions.
2. Once the sugar and butter have become completely absorbed and smooth (about 10-15 minutes), add the slivered almonds.
3. Continue to stir for another 10-15 minutes until the toffee reaches a dark color caramel. Using a glass of cold water as a tester, aim for the hard crack phase (according to the Joy of Cooking, this has occurred with the droplet turns into a brittle thread into the water). If you have a candy thermometer, aim for 290 degrees.
4. Spread mixture on a large cookie sheet and place on a cooling rack to cool for 30 minutes.
5. After the toffee is hardened, melt half of the chocolate over a double boiler and spread a thin layer over the toffee. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp sea salt and 1/4 cup powdered almonds.
6. Let cool and then flip the toffee over in the cookie sheet (I had no problem with sticking and did not grease the sheet). Melt the rest of the chocolate, and spread a thin layer over this side of the toffee. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp sea salt and 1/4 cup powdered almonds.
7. Place in the refrigerator to cool for at least 2 hours before breaking into pieces. Because this toffee is thicker than the sinful toffee bars, I find that it breaks much more easily while maintaining its layers.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lobster Roll Heaven...

I believe in traditions and love to learn about other people's favorites. My friend Galina has been indulging in a Lobster Roll at the Pearl Oyster Bar ( in the West Village for years, and when she invited me to come along, I jumped at the chance. Having never heard of a lobster roll, I'd skeptically envisaged a Chinese fried egg roll with lobster bits inside. Or like a sushi roll with lobster meat - not so exciting. As Galina and another colleague explained to me what a lobster roll actually entailed - large chunks of succulent lobster meat in a light mayonnaise sauce served in a hoagie - I was much more intrigued. 
Decadent Lobster Roll with
shoe string fries
And, at the Pearl Oyster Bar, I was absolutely not disappointed! We had delicious meal - all three of us ordering the lobster roll - and a long conversation over delicious wine. The lobster roll exceeded my every expectation (especially in comparison to my original egg roll misunderstanding!). And the shoe-string fries were the perfect blend of soft and crunchy and blended nicely with the lobster roll. In addition to being an amazing meal, the servers were incredibly flexible in letting our conversation dwell until they finally were putting out the trash to close for the night. I would happily eat here again!
at Pearl Oyster Bar with Galina and Ally!

Crimson and Clover Cocktails...

Thalia's Crimson and
Clover Cocktail
Almost every day, I walk past Thalia's (, and almost every time I notice the big sign in the window announcing $1 oysters... and salivate. Finally I had the chance to check it out, over dinner with my mom to celebrate an early New Year's eve. The decor is lovely with a chic atmosphere with low level lighting. The bar area even has dark black leather couches which look incredibly comfortable. I had a great time with my mom, and had one of the most interesting cocktails I've ever tasted. Called Crimson and Clover, the cocktail is made from beet vodka, with a splash of beet juice and then coupled with goat cheese stuffed olives. To top it off, the glass was not only salted on the edge, but a beet was run along the edge first so each sip was enhanced by a salty, beety flavor. Yum!

beet happy!
great posters!
That said, in spite of the distinctive drink, cheap oysters, and great atmosphere, the food was pretty lackluster. Mom's crab cake had more breading than crabmeat, and my entree, a risotto with Mayan prawns had been kept under the heater so long awaiting my mom's dish that it was crusted over on the top and over done. For the price, disappointing. And the woman next to us ordered the salmon, which I had been considering, and would not stop singing its praises. Mom also enjoyed her lamb, which was very well prepared. In spite of these celebratory responses, my experience concluded that this place is a great spot for drinks and some oysters after work, but I would not return for a full meal.

$1 oysters
Mom with a crab cake

the dining room after it
cleared out

Restroom review: 1 1/2 tiki torches. It was a cool set up with little lights above the doors announcing whether or not the rooms were in use. One would think that the dark lighting and the black everything inside the bathroom would hide any number of sins. However, the bathroom was not well-maintained. The room I entered someone had clearly peed all over the floor. Gross. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Urban legend cookies

Back when forwarding was in, one of my favorites was a story about a woman who was obscenely overcharged by requesting a cookie recipe at Nieman Marcus. Thanks to the urban legend researching website (, it's clear that this is not a true story, but, I have to say that these cookies are absolutely delicious. Perhaps my all-time favorite. It's something about the oatmeal and chocolate chip combo (Potbelly Sandwich Works sells a gorgeous oatmeal chocolate chip cookie that I find difficult to resist). Anyway, here's the recipe, with a few of my own twists:

Santa gave me a cookie scoop
for Christmas
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups oatmeal, blended into a powder
12 oz chocolate chips
4 oz Hersey Bar (or, what I prefer to do is to coarsely chop Hershey kisses)
1 tbl sea salt

You can also put nuts in this cookie. Given the prevalence of nut allergies, and the fact that when I was in college, I made these cookies and some kid ate one without realizing there were nuts in it and needed to go to the hospital, I make these without the nuts. I don't think they need them!


Preheat oven to 375.

Cream the butter with the sugars. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Sprinkle and mix in flour, oatmeal, regular salt, baking powder and baking soda. Gently fold in chocolate chips, chocolate chunks, and nuts if you're using them. Use a cookie scoop to place balls of cookie dough about 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle sea salt on top of the cookies. Bake for 9-10 minutes. Enjoy!

Yuca Bar Happy Hour

Erica and me, chez moi
Amy, me, and Barrie at UVA on the Upper East Side
My favorite kinds of friends are the ones that I feel like I can just pick right up with, even if I don't see them all the time. And when we do see each other, it's even better when we can combine our lovely conversation with great food. Yuca Bar in the Lower East Side was perfect for catching up with my friends, Erica, Amy and Barrie. We happened to hit them on a Tuesday night, when they have half price tapas and $6 mojitos. Needless to say, the food, mojitos and conversation were prolific. Even though it was pouring rain and freezing outside, we were quickly warmed by the chill atmosphere and delicious food at Yuca. I consumed amazing pomegranate mojitos. Even though it's not included in their half price special, we split their tapas plate, which included an amazing array of both vegetarian and meat options - fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, hot fried plantains (swoon), mushroom quesadillas, empanadas, fish croquettes (affectionally called fish balls), and delicious yuca fries. And for good measure, we split some coconut shrimp (fresh and divine), crab cakes (more breading than crab, alas), and fish tempura tacos that took me right back to Duke's, off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. This is a great restaurant with attentive service and a fun atmosphere... I would definitely go again!

Restroom Review: 2 tiki torches - it was fine, but too small for the crowds of people using it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dinner out at Diner...

New Years resolution #47: keep up with my blog! Since I'm also trying to finish my dissertation this year, I'm not sure I'll be able to follow through. But I'll try, and also want to work in more restaurant reviews as I've been making my way across some of NYC finest! And I'll retroactively fill you in on some of my Paris faves.

As soon I heard about Diner, a tucked away tiny diner-turned-fine-dining establishment near the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, I knew I had to check it out. No set menu, only about 20 tables, sounds like my kind of place. The restaurant met and even exceeded my expectations. It was cosy with low light levels and crowded but we didn't have to wait for a table.

Everything I tasted at Diner was simple delectation. My friend started with the turnip soup with bacon, and it had the richest smoky flavor. I began with a beet salad with fennel, grapefruit, and Parmesan cheese. The fennel shavings offered such a complex layer to the flavors, and I think I am going to start using it in my own salads at home.

For the main course, I ordered breast of guinea hen, cooked medium rare. It was served with a cauliflower puree and roasted sprouts and squash. This may have been the first time that I've had guinea hen, and it was moist, rich, and delicious. My friend had a piece of tile fish, which had a nice flaky texture, and while alone it had a bland flavor, coupled with the curried lentils and cauliflower puree it became an event on the plate. I later saw a complete tile fish at the Lobster Place in Chelsea Market, and was amazed at its coloring and large scale!

Restroom review: 1 tiki torch - it was tiny and so cold I thought I must be in a port-a-john outdoors in the winter.

We left no room for dessert! After this one glorious meal there, I'll need to visit it at least once a season. At least. :-)