Monday, February 27, 2012

It's getting harder to shop all the time

As time goes by, I find fewer of the foods I'm seeking in the store. I'm talking here about mainstream grocery stores. Never mind the admittedly obscure things I sometimes hunt like sweetbreads - I'm talking regular foods here. Some recent examples:
* Fresh ham (whole leg, on the bone).
* Calves Liver
* Fresh horseradish root. Found this at the 4th place I looked.
* Breast of veal (any size piece - let alone a whole one).
* Hot dogs worth eating (sometimes you (and your kids) just want a good hot-dog)
* Whole Brisket (not just a flat cut)
I could go on.

There are over 30,000 different products in a typical suburban supermarket. Where's the food gone?

So I asked around. My friend told me, "People don't cook anymore."
So, naively, I asked, "So what's the store for?"
"Packaged foods... My daughter told me the other day that they only buy it if it's in a package."
Now this is interesting to me - because I happen to make packaged food products for a living. So you'd think I'd be happy to hear this. But I still want to cook sometimes. Anybody else trying to stock their larder in the modern supermarket finding it challenging?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Race Day - Savvy Boston Marathoners chow down on deli

A little known fact, but a properly marbled pastrami or corned beef is rich in the slow-burning calories ideal for sustained aerobic exercise and also the lubrication essential to runner's knees on Boston's grueling course. And there's no more efficient or more enjoyable way to recover from the rigors of the race than to replenish depleted stocks with deli.

Best of luck to all.

Since first posting this, I've been asked where runners, race fans, or simply deli-starved citizens can obtain the real thing - NYDP artisan deli specialties - today. Please visit our friends at:
Russo's, Watertown; Fruit Center, Milton or Hingham; Idylwilde Farm, Acton; Bleacher Bar, Fenway; Deluxe Town Diner, Watertown; Cardullos, Harvard Square; Butcher Boy, North Andover; Coop Food Stores in Hanover and Lebannon, NH; Buttery, South End; and lots of other places that our distributors haven't told us about yet or our website: for more information and consumer direct sales.

More Flavor Per Pound. It's the Law.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What a Crock...

The previous post made the case that we all - producers and consumers alike - have an obligation to reach high. Such lofty sentiments and high-flown language... Make every bite a sacrament.

Well sometimes, to paraphrase Freud, a sandwich is just a sandwich. Try telling my youngest son - or most of society for that matter - that they should prepare and eat only extraordinary things. Or, failing that, at least properly regret the compromise.

To quote many a New Yorker - fuhgeddaboudit.

Impractical. Effete. Pompous. Insufferable.

Guilty as charged - and eating very well, thank you.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Adventures In Deli - Teachings of the Deli Scrolls - Book Two

Translators Note - The Deli Scrolls, though recently discovered (by me) are ancient and venerable texts that guide us in the righteous path of true Deli.

Herewith, the second recovered bits of ancient Deli Law (and commentary thereon).

Start with the best meat. Check. (addressed in Book One).

So now, how do THE DELI SCROLLS further instruct us?
Back in the day, this was no mere metaphor. Cured meats - like cheese, pickles, beer, and some of mankind's other most important achievements - began as a means of safely preserving food. And before the age of refrigeration, these techniques were critical to making the most of one's gatherings, harvest or kill - and assuring access to nutrition over time. Done right, people enjoyed delicious foods through the seasons. Done improperly, spoilage could set in. People might go hungry. Or worse - foods could become dangerous.

So when the Deli Scrolls tell us to CURE AND SPICE AS IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDED ON IT
we don't need to dig too far to understand the historical importance of this Law.
But here we are in the modern world. Today, foodie-spiritual considerations, or tailgating before a cold game aside, most of us don't eat preserved meats literally to make it through the winter. And with refrigeration and modern manufacturing hygiene, dangers of the past - though not unknown today - are statistically unlikely. So what are we to make of this Law today?

And what are we to make of BE WORTHY? Or the instruction to REVEL IN THE GLORY? It would be easy to dismiss such language as religious boilerplate - the sort of thing we see in scriptures the world over. But here in the Deli Scrolls - as elsewhere for religious scholars of serious intent - every word counts and deserves deep consideration.

Let us take these Instructions in order, the way they appear in the Text. Today's chapter will be concerned with the notion of worthiness. What must we live up to in our efforts if we are to honor the Teachings?

We are bombarded these days with guidance about our diet. Cut back on fat, salt, meat, calories, and so on is a constant refrain in the media, from our doctors, nutritionists, politicians, Bono... Deli, let's face it, isn't exactly politically correct. Done right, there will be salt. Fat. Meat. Even calories. Why not just eat rice-cakes (preferably brown) and tofu?

But we are instructed to REVEL IN THE GLORY, and try as I might, I can't manage suitable revelry with an abstemious diet. How 'bout an occasional Twinky, or hot-pastrami sub down at the corner sub-shop to break things up? We've all been there - but it's hard to make a good-faith case for worthiness.

No - given the increased awareness of diet and health, we have an obligation (religious and otherwise) to indulge with discretion and purpose. The first modern-day corollary to this scripture, the consumer's side of the bargain is this:

"If you're gonna be bad - it better be good"

Set the bar as high as you can, and enjoy sensibly. Perhaps not every day. And definitely not consuming mass quantities. REVEL IN THE GLORY - As consumers, we are instructed to enjoy ourselves, the majesty of creation, and culinary achievement with discretion, discernment, and appreciation.

The second modern-day corollary to today's portion, the chef's or producer's side of the bargain is this:

"More Flavor Per Pound. It's the LAW!"

We have an obligation to the meat, to our customers, and to our tradition - to make every bite the best it can be - a worthy celebration, not just a sandwich, but a sacrament.

Words to consider at this time of year as we approach next week's high-holiday:
Thursday, January 14th is National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day.

Only the best,

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Adventures In Deli - Teachings of the Deli Scrolls

Translators note - The Deli Scrolls, though recently discovered (by me) are ancient and venerable texts that guide us in the righteous path of true Deli. As with translations of other Holy Writ, one is tempted to translate the beginning of essential received laws as "Thou Shalt..."

However, we have dug a bit deeper to capture the subtle variations essential to properly understanding how the Deli Mavens of old thought about these matters. Herewith, then - the first recovered bits of ancient Deli Law (and commentary thereon):

The N* Commandments of Deli

(*ed. - We don't actually know how many commandments there are yet - we're still working on it.)
ahem - So to the text...

First, use only the best meats.

Editor's Note: This simple directive is harder to adhere to than it seems. Take pastrami, for example. The traditional cut of meat for pastrami is richly marbled beef navel plate. It's a funny name. It sounds odd - but it's just the part of the steer adjacent to the brisket as you move toward the belly from the breast area. In terms of weight, the section in question is about 1% of the steer's meat. So this is a scarce commodity to begin with. Then, it turns out that there are a number of other applications for the navel cut. Our Korean and Japanese friends, for example, are also very fond of this meat. And the export markets pay well. Especially when the dollar is low (which was the case in the recent past). What's more, these other markets have a fondness for richly marbled beef (think of Kobe beef, for example) while the domestic beef market has for some years sought ever leaner beef. And finally, the part of the plate that goes to make a proper pastrami is only a portion of the larger primal cut - the entirety of which is purchased by the international buyers. Taken together this all means that the vast majority of well-marbled beef plates are sold in primal form before they ever have a chance to be trimmed for use in pastrami.

For these - and other reasons I'll go into another time - domestic beef packers today tend not to offer graded navel plate to the market. When purchasing ungraded beef, the packer is confronted with a mix of quality ranging from low to high. But mostly not high. And you'll never get a great pastrami unless your meat is well marbled.

Most deli manufacturers don't even try to produce quality navel plate pastrami any more. If you look at the pastrami available from your local deli or supermarket, chances are the majority of what they sell is round, followed by brisket. Navel plate - the only legitimate cut for old-time pastrami - is a tiny fraction of the market today. And what's out there is ungraded and thus inconsistent.

So - this simple directive, is not so simple after all.

But - it's the Law. So, at Deli-Arts, we've found a way.
It's Artisan Deli. It's Deli-Arts.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Manhattan Deli-Arts

Well, it's official. lives.

We've just launched the website for Deli-Arts (and Manhattan Deli-Arts in particular).
I have refrained from writing about my commercial endeavors here until now - and honestly I'm not sure yet if I'll continue that policy in general - but as I've been absent from this blog for a long time, I figure I owe an explanation.

I've been busy starting a business. In fact, we've been making and selling our Artisan Deli Classics for about a year now. But we've been slow to the web.

Please stay in touch with the blog going forward as I'm renewing my commitment to writing Noshstalgia - cheering for the heroes who bring us great things, and sharing some of the challenges and lessons learned in bringing old-time product to market.

In the meantime - Thanks to all who've contributed to taking some of my Noshstalgia out of the blogosphere and into the real world: Family, Investors, Suppliers, Distributors, Retailers, our fine Restaurant accounts, deli-mavens who support our efforts, and my partner John O'Brien who brings decades of experience in the deli products business to the team.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Forest Cafe - and online restaurant commentary

Last night, we had dinner at The Forest Cafe - a now venerable Cambridge institution. This place, for those who don't know it, is a neighborhood bar and Mexican restaurant. It's never been a fancy environment. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it was for a long time an absolute dive. But that made it all the more interesting when Jim Fahey started cooking sophisticated Mexican there some twenty two years ago. In the interim, Fayhey left, and has since returned. The decor has been somewhat updated, and we've become stuck in Iraq. But that's another story.

Anyway, for the record, our dinner last evening was enjoyable. The thing I wanted to write about here is not our dinner, or even this restaurant per se - but the peculiar phenomena of the write-ups this place has garnered on the web. Before going over there last evening, I chanced to read through a bunch of diner-generated comments on Yelp . I was astonished at the number, variety, and vehemence of the comments about this place. I can't recall seeing another restaurant that's attracted such a varied lot of comments. I would love to hear from anybody who can help me understand how it is possible for people to be so broadly distributed and impassioned in their perspectives on an inexpensive neighborhood joint. Any insight would be most welcome. Thanks.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

To Roast a Chicken

A friend who had joined us for a roast chicken dinner here at Chez Noshstalgia recently asked me today to share the recipe. Truth be told, we don't to it the same every time, but there are certain basics and a couple of main variations that tend to hold true.

Basic principles:
1) Buy the best. Recently, we've been buying Eberly's Organic, Free Range Chickens and we've been very pleased.
2) Unpack, remove excess fat, wash, and dry the chicken well in advance of cooking it - at least a couple of hours, and up to 12 hours before cooking is even better.
3) Once washed and dried, season the bird - again, more time with seasoning in place is better. 2 hours is good, 12 is better. If you won't be cooking the bird within the next couple of hours, once seasoned wrap it loosely so it can breath and put it back in refrigeration.
4) When applying seasoning, apply it inside cavities, under skin directly on the breast, leg and thigh meat as best you can, and all over the outside skin. Try not to puncture or tear the skin in the process and by all means do not remove skin when cooking a whole bird.
5) Allow the bird to come up to room temp (or at least to come well up from refrigerator temp) before starting to cook it.
6) Most of the time you'll want to roast the bird on a rack, not directly on the bottom of the roasting pan. There are exceptions but they are just that.
7) Do not overcook the bird. If you have purchased a bird that provides one of those pop-up timers, you probably have the wrong bird, and you will certainly overcook it if you wait for the timer to pop. These devices are intended to prevent lawsuits relating to food poisoning, i.e. to be sure that every potential pathogen has been well and truly killed - They are not there to assure you of a delectable meal. So, how can you tell when it's done? People talk about the leg moving freely (hard to tell if bird is trussed as it should be). People talk about the juices running clear and this is a good indication if you understand what they're telling you to look for. If I can't tell any other way, I resort to an instant read thermometer in the inside of the thick part of the the thigh. But whatever you do, don't dry it out.

From here on out, we branch to various modes of (oven) roasting:
A) Very high heat, short duration. (500 or even 550)
B) Start high, then settle to moderate oven. (450 for ten minutes then down to 350)
C) Continuous moderate oven. (350)
Certainly there are other approaches in the oven, but they tend to other than "roasted" treatments and so are beyond the scope of this posting.

Our oven is a commercial convection oven and so is very fast in general. Accordingly, I will not post our times as you're not likely to see similar performance in any residential oven. That said, if you go for the high heat option you will be amazed at how quickly you can roast a chicken - and at how succulent a quick-roasted bird can be. I recommend people take a look at Barbara Kafka's excellent book "Roasting, A Simple Art" which presents a number of variations on the quick roasted chicken theme (and many other fine recipes as well). I favor the high-heat method myself, but there are three important caveats -
1) Do not attempt this if you don't have very good ventilation. It will produce smoke and may result in your fire alarms going off if you're not exceptionally well ventilated at the oven location.
2) Do not attempt this if you have not allowed the bird to come up to (approximately) room temperature before putting it into the oven. A really cold bird won't get properly done inside before the outside burns if your oven is up that high.
3) Not recommended if you've got fresh garlic on the outside of the skin as it may burn and produce off flavors at these temps.

OK - I guess now we can get on the recipe I was asked for originally.
Prepare the bird as described above with a rub of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper (or better - a pepper melange*), fresh garlic, sweet paprika, thyme**, good Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and either freshly grated lemon zest or a drop (absolutely not more) of pure lemon oil. Truss the bird. Quick roast at high heat (make sure fan is running)

*(Pepper melange - an example: In a spice- (or coffee-) grinder, process 4 parts whole black peppercorns, 1 part white peppercorns, 1 part allspice, a little fresh nutmeg (I cut a 1/4" slice off a nutmeg and use about 1/2 of that slice), a couple of cloves (if they're fresh - more if older))

**If memory serves, on the occasion of my friend's visit, we might have had some fresh thyme on hand and so would have inserted a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme under the skin of the bird so it was in direct contact with the breast meat.

Serve with a nice salad and some crispy roast potato wedges - rubbed with the same rub, cooked in the same oven but under foil for about half the time so they don't burn. You want the high heat to crisp them at the end, but not burn them before they have a chance to cook through.

An earthy Pinot Noir would be ideal with this.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Malts, Frappes, Shakes - and now a scary one

We've been making a lot of malted shakes around here lately. Secondo - approaching 7 requests them after dinner most nights. And why not - they're so good. I remember malts from my childhood and - as Noshstalgia demands - we've been working to recapture the magic here. Secondo has, perhaps, appreciated this particular aspect of our culinary archeology more than some others. Forays into pickling tongues, for example don't so immediately elicit such enthusiasm as our walk down malt-shop lane.

So much for the preliminaries - If you're going to make a malted, you've got to have malt. Many people use the supermarket distributed malted milk products out there such as those from Carnation, but we begin with a visit to the brewing supply store. There you can find actual malted barley, concentrated malt syrup or powdered dry malt extract - all in various shades of toast. Some sources I've seen on-line suggest that only the lightest of malts are appropriate to use in shakes - but we've tried various types with fine results.

Tonight, Secondo requested that we create a shake that "tastes scary" - when you're 6, almost 7, scary is cool. But how to make a scary shake - and one that actually ends up being enjoyed rather than thrown away? Working with available ingredients, here's where we ended up:

3 parts vanilla ice-cream
3 parts whole milk
1 part espresso ice-cream (Double Rainbow Coffee Blast)
2 tablespoons Munton's Extra-Light Dried Malt Extract
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Be patient with the blender - Blend to thick-smooth consistency

So, was it scary? Did anyone drink it?
It was, slightly. And absolutely - It was delicious.

The white pepper contributes a slightly dank and mysterious note in addition to the obvious slightly winy heat. The espresso (in low proportion as used here) created a sort of edge and shadow. The malt a viscosity, depth and dwell. All together a slightly creepy complexity and intrigue.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Super Bowl Disappointment - but not all is lost

As some of my readers may know, I'm a transplanted New Yorker - but after 25 years in Boston my allegiance (at least where sports teams are concerned) is clear. And like everyone else in New England I was very disappointed with that game. But for those of you who made it to John Dewar's, Newton on Saturday to try (and as so many did - buy) our pastrami - and especially for all those who served it during the game, not all was lost.

Those of our customers senior enough to know said they hadn't tasted anything like our stuff in 50 years. And that's a lot longer than we've had to wait between shots at a Super Bowl Championship so...

At Chez Noshstalgia we enjoyed our Super Bowl pastrami (even if not the game) as one of four smoked meats in a multi-meat jambalaya extravaganza. Smokehouse of Boston provided their excellent barbecued ribs, smoked wieners and smoked duck sausages. The pastrami was julienned and incorporated into the rice, bean, onion and pepper base. The peppers included colorful sweet peppers as well as fire-roasted and skinned poblanos. Please pass the hot sauce!

Warms (or is that burns) the heart just thinking about it.

Please stop by our next Deli Arts(TM) pastrami tasting at Savenor's, Charles Street, Boston on Saturday, February 16 from 2 to 5PM. See you there.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

NOSH-IN Alert...Pastrami Tasting This Saturday

Hello Deli Lovers and fellow Noshstalgics. Shameless commercial plug time:

I'm pleased to announce that we'll be providing free samples of our Deli ArtsTM Hot Pastrami at John Dewar's, Beacon Street Newton location this Saturday from Noon to 3 PM.

It's well known, there's no place better in Metrowest Boston to provision your weekend - and especially your Superbowl Sunday than John Dewar's.

Less well known - but equally true - our artisan Pastrami, fresh out of the steamer - not chicken wings - is actually the ideal football food. Nothing else so distills the essentials of football sustenance - Beef, Spice, Warmth, Smoke, and Beer Affinity.

Please come by and try a taste and invite your foodie friends - especially those who are serious about their deli.

If you're in the Cambridge area, and just want to stock up, our pastrami is available right there at world-famous Savenor's on Kirkland Street. And for those in the Back Bay or Beacon Hill, look for us on Saturday, February 16th at Savenor's Charles Street location from 2 to 5PM.

Well that's the end of the commercial plug.

And now on a personal note - I really love feeding people. It makes me feel good. These events are great fun for me. So thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Feedback on pastrami day at Savenor's and a lovely dinner out

Yesterday's pastrami tasting at Savenor's was fun for me.  It's very gratifying when people enjoy what you've created.  Even more so if they buy some - and quite a few did just that.  I look forward to subsequent events like this at a number of venues around town.  And next time, I'll try and post notice in advance.
Now as to dinner - after feeding people all day, I wanted to be served last night and we found our way to Nancy's Airfield Cafe in Stow, MA.  What a delight to find such warmth, hospitality and good food in such an out of the way and unique setting.  Our hosts, Don and Nancy, and our server Sharon could not have been nicer and the meal was very good.  
They were doing a South American themed series of specials this weekend in addition to their regular menu.  We started with a sampler of two empanadas - one meat, one cheese.  I confess, I never did get to try the cheese - so it must have been good.  Certainly the meat item was enjoyed - a savory filling of beef and pork.  I moved on to their muqueca - a Brazilian fish stew.   White-fleshed fish (barramundi?) and shrimp in a tomato based broth with a bit of coconut milk and palm oil.  My wife had the orange-ginger salmon (a regular menu offering).  We finished up with a shared chocolate bread pudding and espresso.  A thoroughly enjoyable visit. Nice people and good food.  And for those that are still paying attention the prices were very reasonable.  I can't recall having felt better served or having been provided with value as good out in this area.
If you're in the neighborhood, I recommend you try it.  Dinner is served only on Friday and Saturday nights.  Otherwise it's breakfast and lunch at Nancy's - which I'm sure would be terrific, plus you'd get to see the planes coming and going at the airfield right out the picture windows from the dining area.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Debut Performance - Pastrami Tasting in Cambridge Today

Well, after way too long I have some news to report.  Our obsession with pastrami has turned into a product.   

We're conducting a pastrami tasting - free to the public -  today (1/19) at Savenor's Market, Cambridge, MA.   Savenor's is a famous place - long recognized for their supreme quality and full-service meat department, and their specialty foods leadership.  Some readers may remember the name from many years ago when Jack Savenor was famously Julia Child's butcher - and sometimes appeared on Julia's show.  Jack's son, Ron has carried on the family tradition and expanded the business.  Today, Savenor's have locations in Boston as well as Cambridge and they also supply many fine restaurants with the very best meats.  I am very proud that Savenor's has chosen to carry and showcase our product. 

We have also picked up some additional foodservice and retail accounts and will announce subsequent tastings or other events as they are scheduled.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hash... and eggs

I almost never post photos here, but I came across these in the course of emptying out the camera. So here's what breakfast tends to look like when you're in end-stage cured meat obsession.

A hash in the pan.

Flanken and musings on exercise, values, and food prices

With all the attention I've been giving to brisket, corned beef, pastrami, and now flanken it would be understandable if readers supposed we eat nothing but the heaviest of meats around here. Not so, we actually include lots of lighter fare in the mix - but these items have been the topic of study around here for the past few months. And I admit it's a lot of heavy meat.

So that got me thinking about a piece I saw on tv a while back - I think it was on PBS. They were profiling a guy who had set up his office so he could do all his work while walking on a treadmill. He had no desk or chair. His phone and workstation were mounted for use while walking on the treadmill. Throughout the day, as he did his work, he was walking continuously. He seemed happy. And healthy. I bet he could eat whatever he wanted with impunity.

So now I'm wondering (if only half seriously) how I could install a section of moving sidewalk in my kitchen work area. A challenge to be sure. The way my kitchen is set up, I have a number of workstations. While working at any one of these, the treadmill set-up could work. It's the moving from one to the other that's going to be hard. Hmmm.

Well anyway, until such time as I figure that out, let's talk flanken. Now flanken is a great cut of meat for braising.

But wait - first, stream of impending unconsciousness-wise - I've got to tell you, I just stepped over to my (still stationary) kitchen and sampled some experimental corned beef that's been steaming most of the afternoon. This steaming was actually the second phase of a multi-step cooking process that began early this morning. Wow! This is the tenderest piece of corned beef I think I've ever had. Not falling apart. Not dried out. But buttery soft. And I have to tell you there were times earlier in the day when I was sure this piece of meat would never be any good. Long, complicated procedure but a startlingly good result. Have to try this again tomorrow and see if it comes out the same. And then of course there's the question of economics. Will anyone be willing to pay a fair price for all the time, handling, and energy necessary to this process?

Ok, back to flanken. Talk about stick to your ribs. So I'm working with this stuff because I recently showed a customer a braised kobe brisket product that they went crazy over - except for the price. So now I'm trying to come up with something more affordable for them and that brings us back to flanken. This is a value cut with which you can obtain luxury results. I've prepared it many ways over the years, and it's pretty hard to go wrong as long as you go low and slow. Braised with some wine and aromatics, deviled, tagine with prunes or olives, whatever. Great stuff. I recommend you play with some this winter. There's plenty of good recipes available online.

So before I go, let me pose this question. Where chief-value meat ingredients and prepared foods are concerned, why is the variation in pricing allocable to quality (worst to best) so comparatively small? Certainly where some other kinds of products are concerned the spread is wide. Consider cheese. I can easily find domestic cheese offerings ranging from $2.00 to $32.00 per pound (16X). How about domestic wine? $2 to $200 per bottle is not a stretch (100X). In neither case are these fashion items or branded goods with large marketing budgets. They're just products that vary in quality and price where connoisseurs are willing to pay for what they like.

What about meat (or fish)? If you've been shopping in mainstream supermarkets lately, you must have noticed that run-of-the-mill steaks might cost you around $7 a pound. And, in many stores are likely to be graded "select" (feh). Not a high-quality piece of meat there. In a specialty butcher shop carrying high-quality commercial beef, and perhaps even dry-aging it, you might expect to pay 4 or perhaps 5 times that. Never mind the mail-order guys asking still more - that's a topic for another day. But the bricks-and-mortar retail spread from low to high for a given nominally identical cut of beef spans perhaps a multiple of 5 times. Why not more? I'm not arguing that we should all happily pay more - I'm just wondering why we do it for cheese and wine, but not for meat.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

11/17 Tonight's Dinner with friends from the neighborood

Mediterranean Meze featuring:

Crudités, Marinated Olives, Baba Ganoush, Assorted Dolmas, Eggplant and Pepper Salad, Muhammara, Tomato & Pickled Pepper Salad, Feta & Pepper Crème, Patacabra cheese, Three breads,
And Libations from the Martini Bar

Kofta & Shish Kebabs of Icelandic Lamb
with Basmati Rice
Cotes du Rhone, Cairanne

A highly distinguished Dessert TBD
Domaine Castera, Cuvee Privilege, (Moelleux) Jurançon

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thanksgiving Variations

The Boston Globe food section a few days back did a story on chef's improvisations on Thanksgiving themes. Here, some further, Noshstalgic thoughts on this topic -

For many families, Thanksgiving dinner is a more than a Noshstalgic tradition - it has become a ritual or even a fetish. No variation is permitted. The list of compulsory elements turkey, stuffing, potatoes (often more than one kind), cranberry sauce, a family heirloom recipe or two that makes their Thanksgiving theirs alone, etc. can be long. And, sometimes - at least for the cook - the joy of the holiday and gathering can become mired in the inevitability of the proceedings.

At Chez Noshstalgia - here in the home of someone who's seriously dedicated to preserving culinary tradition - we try hard to approach Thanksgiving as a fresh opportunity for invention every time. We have tended to view the rigorous form of holidays like Thanksgiving as a platform for a special kind of variation. The trick is to somehow hit the compulsories with just the right degree of imagination and flair to satisfy traditional expectations and excite people with something new, delicious, broadening, and (though novel) profoundly comfortable all the same time.

The other thing about Thanksgiving here, is that while we always have family about, we often include others as well. And even within the family, our ethnic diversity gives rise to a big range of traditions and tastes. There may be no other occasion where thoughtful consideration of ones guests is more important in composing a menu.

On a number of occasions over the past few years, our guests at Thanksgiving have presented a challenging array of allergies or other dietary restrictions. Celiac - no wheat, no gluten from any source. Eggs - allergic. Nuts and nut oils of any kind - lethally allergic. Chestnuts - not sure they say, but the word nut sounds possibly lethal, so no thanks.

Here's where the turkey ended up on a couple of such occasions:

Tuscan Roast Turkey with Polenta, Sausage, and Mushroom Stuffing
Roast Turkey with Cornbread, Butifarras and PX Sherry Macerated Figs Stuffing

I confess, those butifarras with figs went on to become something of a fetish around here. Making those sausages and soaking those figs really gets me going.
Same thing has happened with a mango/cranberry chutney side that started out as a response to some menu exigence or other. Funny how invention is the mother of tradition.

What to do this year? Feeding about 20 this year - and about the most traditional 20 I know. Hmmm -

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Follow up on Andy and Vicki Dinner

So, how'd things work out?
A minor disaster along the way notwithstanding, quite well.

Appetizer - Pumkin Ravs, buerre blanc, fried sage + 2000 Boglietti Buio
Everybody loved this course. Even Secondo went for seconds. He never made it to the main course. Disaster disclosure - a momentary lapse of attention cost me an extra bottle of white en route to the buerre blanc. Set the schedule back of course too as I had to reduce another. But this is a mere trifle. The results - even though later and more expensive than planned were stellar. And that Nebbiolo - WOW! Hadn't tried this wine for a while and it has grown into its very considerable self in the interim. Highly recommended.

Main - Venison Roast, Guanciale, PX Cippolini and Peppers, Roast Potatoes + Carlo & Julian Pinot
Mixed results here. Venison was very good, but along the way I found that I had underestimated the intensity of the guanciale and so had to adjust from the intended "robe" to a mere few jullienned strips draped criss-cross over the loins. A minor matter that resulted in no disappointment for anyone other than myself who had entertained a different image. No matter - the roast was very nice. The venison was decidedly not gamy and everyone managed to enjoy it despite some in the group having fond feelings toward Bambi and friends. The cippolini were terrific. The potatoes alas, were the real casualty of the first course buerre blanc delay. Not my best potatoes. Nobody really cared. A good thing, I guess. But it does make you wonder if any of the trouble is worth it. I mean honestly, if people aren't going to complain about defects - how much pleasure can we take in their praise of the good bits?

And then there was the Pinot Noir. I had selected it because I wanted some funk - but this was too much . Actually quite skunky - or maybe I should say rubbery - on opening. Resolved a bit over time - but not an attractive start. Slightest spritz too. Clearly something amiss. I have had this wine before - in a restaurant - and enjoyed it thoroughly (hence the case now on hand). Hope the rest of the case is ok. I'll report back.
And then people refused to go for a walk - and demanded dessert instead! None planned, we fell back on the fortuitous presence of ripe bananas, ginger root, Goslings, molasses, sugar, some good vanilla powder, fire and rich vanilla ice cream. Festive, fun, exothermic, and delicious.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Uncle Andy and Aunt Vicki visit - Menu for tonight

Pumpkin Ravioli (roast chicken demi glace-beurre blanc and fried sage)
2000 Enzo Boglietti Buio, Langhe

Roast Loin of New Zealand Venison with Guanciale robe
PX Sherry glazed roast cippolini & red peppers, crispy savory roast potatoes
2005 Carlo & Julian Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette

Simple green salad

Take a walk.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pastrami, Corned Beef, Noshstalgia and more ...

To any readers who may have noticed my relative silence over the past several weeks - I apologize. I've been busy, and I'm about to tell you why.

If you've been reading Noshstalgia for a while, you know that I'm more than a little obsessed with pastrami. Corned beef too. I've tried most every reputable brand, deli or restaurant offering here in Boston, down in New York and anywhere else my travels take me. Certainly there are places offering enjoyable products - some of them truly great - but still, I've never been entirely satisfied.

And so, I set out to see if I could produce something myself - something that did it. Yes, it's magic meat we're after. Time travel inducing sandwiches. One bite and you're back. Back where it all began - where indelible sense memories were planted.

Well, as other intrepid neophytes to making pastrami have oft reported - getting this stuff right takes some work. But after many months of effort, I'm pleased to report that I've got a repeatable, reliable, artisan quality - but commercial scale - process for what I believe is the best there is. More recently, I went to work on corned beef too, and now I think we're almost there with that also. I've served many people at this point - and they have been unanimous - There's magic in that meat.

Amongst other things, what I've discovered in this exploration of deli meat production is that while tradition and deep memories are essential to informing the process, selective use of more innovative, modern methods can yield great - perhaps greater than ever before - results.

Emboldened (maybe even intoxicated) by the the aromas, flavors, textures, and rave reviews from hundreds of consumer taste tests, I began working on a business plan to try and bring these products to market. I'm pleased to report that - although it's nearly impossible to make money on really high-quality meat - I think I've found a way to at least get started and share the deli high.

Once having tasted the pastrami, there was no stopping my pursuit of other "great lost tastes" - so now there are several other Noshstalgia-inspired products also in the works that I'm not yet prepared to discuss publicly. Honestly I haven't even determined yet what to call my fledgling venture (royalty-free suggestions welcome) - nor have I resolved how, if at all, this blog relates to it. But I felt I owed any readers who might have been wondering what happened to me an explanation. I will try to make time, once again, to post more regularly, and I will try and keep readers up to date with developments on this new business venture.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ethnic Foods Dining Out Meetup at Taiwan Cafe

Had dinner tonight with 7 strangers at the Taiwan Cafe on Chinatown's Oxford Street. This place has been praised by many on line reviewers. Some people who say they know claim it to be authentic Taiwanese food. I don't know Taiwanese food, so I can't say one way or the other.

The good news - A nice group of people arranged through There were 18 RSVPs for the event, but only 8 of us showed. No matter, a perfect number for one large round table and a good size for conversation. I enjoyed meeting these folks. And I learned things. More diversity of age than I had anticipated.

Now as to the food - I was disappointed.

We had two dumplings - one pan fried and one steamed. The dipping sauce supplied carried more vinegar and malt and less spice than I would have preferred. Not bad, but not balanced and not exciting. The dumplings - both types - also failed to deliver any real excitement. Copious filling, but not much flavor.

We ordered 7 assorted entrees - Pork with Yellow Chives, Eggplant with Basil, Braised Spareribs in BBQ sauce, Squid and something, Jumbo Shrimp in Chili Sauce, String Beans with Dried Shrimp, and Spicy Salt and Pepper Chicken. Every item with the possible exception of the string beans was either way salty, way sweet or both. None exhibited any real clarity of flavor. The great thing about good chinese food is the way it allows the flavors of ingredients to really pop. None of that here. Frankly, the particulars don't even merit detailed analysis. I will however call out the string beans - which may not have been too salty (who can even tell at a certain sodium saturated point?) for some special attention. They had a generally dimpled appearance I associate with less than fresh vegetables and a musty character that I found unattractive. I've had the dried shrimp treatment before and don't recall feeling similarly, so I'm not sure what accounts for the mustiness.

Overall, well - nice people. Meetup Group seems like a good thing.
Taiwan Cafe - well...I'll try somewhere else next time.