Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Colorful Side of New York

Photo courtesy of  SEANQ6

New York is always deeply colorful.  The color can be literal, such as in this outstanding photo from SEANQ6's blog, or as in having a lot of character, but maybe not so "pretty" as some may define.  Mark and I appreciate both types and I realized after coming home with a selection of snapshots, that we focused in on just that - the true character of New York and how it speaks to us, be it from the food we ate, to the sites we saw. 

We only had a couple of days, but managed to pack a bit in, although comfortably.  On our first evening, we headed to a standby for us, the Waterfront Ale House.   I always find the menu there quite interesting.  They have the basic bar/pub fare, but then will throw you with a twist on their specials.  On tonight's menu, Ostrich Burger with caramelized onion and balsamic relish, amongst other items.  They also had an Ostrich steak, but I opted for the burger.  Ostrich meat is a red meat that is lower in calories, cholesterol, and fat than skinless chicken and turkey, while remaining high in iron and protein.  It supposedly has a sweeter and richer taste than other meats, but in all honestly, I couldn't tell much of a difference.  Maybe with the steak, it may have been different, but the burger tasted like a regular burger.  I was a bit disappointed.  Mark ordered the Niman Beef & Oyster Stew, which was quite flavorful and filling.  I should comment that the main reason this is a standby for us is due to their enormous and well put together craft beer menu.  They always have something interesting on tap to try.  I went with the Goose Island Honker's Ale and Mark had a Duvel Green
With our bellies quite full, we headed to the subway station on our trek out to Brooklyn (Lorimer St Station).  I wanted to take a minute to comment on the subway.  The sounds and sights of this underground world are mesmerizing to me.   I'm sure a lot of it has to do with being from San Diego where the thought of public transportation is unheard of, but even though I've ridden the trains several times, I still find the whole process an experience to be enjoyed.  
I recently saw the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three movie (and the remake - don't bother watching the remake), and it was thrilling to see a train pass by that actually said Pelham!  Even a little spooky, I might add, which probably only makes sense if you've seen the movie.  

Upon reaching our Lorimer Street stop in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, we headed into one of Mark's favorite places, Barcade.  What could be better than craft beer AND classic video games?!   As you walk into the open freight door, there is an eye-capturing wall, adorned with bottle caps of all different colors and grouped in interesting patterns - some even representing video game characters.

Loaded with a full beer and a respectable stack of quarters, we wandered around making stops at some of our favorite games.  Tempest, Q*bert, Galaga, Joust, and ultimately, Robotron 2004. 

Maybe this is a good time to mention that Mark holds an official World Record on Guided Missile, documented by Twin Galaxies (official supplier of Video Game Scores to the Guinness Book of World Records).  It actually might last since there are probably very few Guided Missiles (circa 1977) in existence, let alone, functioning!  So with knowing that, you may not be surprised to know that we have a collection of classic arcade games in our garage, one of which is Robotron 2004.  One of the hardest games, I've ever played, but ever so addicting.  Maybe there's another world record in Mark's future :)

Here's another aspect of New York that you just don't see everywhere else.  This was the woman's bathroom ceiling in Barcade.  Those are actual wads of paper (toilet paper, I presume, and yes, unused) that have been stuck to the ceiling.  Not necessarily pretty, but definitely colorful in character.  Although I have to admit, I'm always nervous one is going to fall on me. 

On our next evening, we spent a vast majority of it simply enjoying the evening lights from our room with a view.  Since having a late lunch, we hadn't planned on eating dinner until much later.  When that time came at 11pm, we ended up at a Greek restaurant, Pylos, in the East Village.  I was blown away at the amount of people still capturing all they could out of the late evening.  The restaurant was full, romantic, and the food, delicious.  Please forgive the lack of pictures, but the atmosphere just didn't lend itself to me snapping flash-filled pictures of our food.  I sometimes feel uncomfortable, like I'm infringing on other patron's enjoyment of the experience, and this was one of those times. 
The next day we were headed to the airport, but not before an early lunch at Mario Batali's Otto Pizzeria in Greenwich Village.  I had actually been there at a work function earlier in this trip, but fell so deeply in love with their Olive Oil Coppetta dessert, that I couldn't leave without having Mark share in this experience.  To start with, we ordered both a Carni and a Formaggi plate.  The cheese plate comes with three accompaniments, of which I have to highlight one - honey with truffles (the dish of golden honey with the black specks of truffle above).  It is nearly impossible to imagine the taste of this, but it literally does taste like honey infused with truffles.  An amazing sensation for the palate.  
Finally, we've come to my new favorite dessert, Olive Oil Coppetta - olive oil gelato, candied clementines & kumquats, lime curd, tangerine sorbet, and fennel brittleFennel brittle?  Seriously.  I know some folks are probably still stuck on the olive oil gelato, but who would have thought to put fennel seeds in a brittle?  This dessert had such a burst of flavors, that it was actually overwhelming at first.  However, once you figure out the tastes, the savory and the sweet, and let them all infuse together in one bite, it is a beautiful symphony in your mouth. 

Until next time, NY!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Our St. Patrick's Day Celebration!

I thought it would be fitting to start out this St. Patty's post with a picture of alcohol.  This isn't just any ol' picture of alcohol, but actually what I used in the making of this meal.  Interestingly, no one drank any beer, but I did cook with it!
So what did we drink?  Some of us drank wine, but us hard-core Irish folk had a Wild Irish Rose. The Wild Irish Rose is a whiskey based drink, mixed with lime juice and grenadine and then topped off with ginger ale.  I realize grenadine isn't alcohol, but as an integral part of the drink, I felt it warranted a spot in the booze line up.  It was quite refreshing and not overly sweet.  I personally like the taste of whiskey and would rather taste my alcohol than have it overpowered by something sugary.  We did tweak the recipe slightly and added a bit more whiskey and about 1/2 the amount of grenadine.

For appetizers, my friend put out a lovely plate of french bread, Kerrygold cheese, and strawberries.   My contribution to the mix were Emerald Eggs, or as I called them (since I have a 6 year old), Green Eggs and Ham.  This recipe is a twist on deviled eggs.  Yolks are pureed with mayonnaise, scallions, tarragon, and watercress.  The flavors were light and the tarragon shown through.  They needed a little more punch, so when I made these a second time this week, I added a bit more salt and also 1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard.  The recipe also calls for placing a piece of ham in the egg first and then topping with the yolk mixture.  It was a little awkward to eat.  This time around, my artistic director, Mark, came up with the brilliant idea of rolling a piece of ham and sticking it in the middle.  Worked like a charm!
Picked by my very own beer connoisseur, I used a full 22oz bottle of Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager as simmering liquid for the corned beef.
I pretty much stuck to this recipe I found, Slow Cooked Corned Beef.  Six pounds of corned beef were braised in beer and water, with one spice packet, a couple of bay leaves, peppercorns, and a whole bulb of garlic. Not a pretty sight, but completely delicious.  The recipe called for 1/4 cup of peppercorns, which I did use, but next time will reduce the amount.  It was great the first day, but as leftovers, the pepper continued to permeate the meat as it sat.  I let it simmer for about 5 hours, took it out and kept it warm, and then added carrots, red potatoes, and cabbage to the liquid.  Once they were tender, dinner was ready! 
On the side, I made a horseradish sauce that consisted of equal parts of sour cream and horseradish, combined with about 1 cup of the braising liquid that I reduced down first. 
The other component of the meal was Irish Soda Bread.  The bread was amazing and comforting.  I was hooked when I saw the article in the recent issue of Bon Appetit for Mrs. O'Callaghan's Soda Bread.  Just the picture of her alone was so authentic and rustic, that I was drawn in and set on using that recipe.  I didn't adjust any ingredients, but added a few oats to the top and cooked it on a pizza stone.  Besides taking much longer than the 40 minutes it said to cook it, the flavor and density was perfect to soak up juices, spread with butter, and drizzle with honey the next morning for breakfast. 

So far, from the line up, we've checked off grenadine, whiskey, and black lager.  The remaining spirits are in the dessert!  I found this recipe on Cat's blog, Neo-Homesteading.  She came up with her own take on a traditional Scottish dessert called "Millionaires Shortbread". 
Cat's recipe for Homestead Shortbread includes a scrumptious shortbread on the bottom, layered with a mixture of dulce de leche, brandy, and chopped pecans, and then topped with melted chocolate combined with orange-flavored liquor.  More pecans adorned the top.   It was hard to eat just one of these multi-layered treats!  Hope everyone had a great St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 15, 2010

My blog is now Carbon Neutral!

This program was recently brought to my attention by both La Jolla Mom  and Bird Rock Fabrications. I wanted to jump on board since being green is the only way to go.  I'm happy to say that I've really embraced my green side (a lot in part due to Mark) from recycling everything like the cardboard toilet paper holders, to dropping off my plastic bags at the recycling center at the grocery store (I recommend this to everyone since it's so easy).  I am proud to say that today, on my trip to Vons, I brought reusable bags.  No more plastic for me!

The “My Blog is Carbon Neutral” program was started by the Make it Green Programme in Germany. In the US, they work with the Arbor Day Foundation, a non-profit conservation and education organization. The Arbor Day Foundation’s goal is to reforest 5,500 acres, destroyed by fires, of the Plumas National Forest in Northern California with 792,000 trees.

You can help this initiative by making your blog carbon neutral. A Harvard physicist determined that a blog with 15,000 monthly visitors generates about 8lbs of carbon dioxide emissions per year. This is from sources such as computer usage, servers and cooling systems. It’s difficult to say how much carbon dioxide one tree absorbs due to species, age of tree, latitude, soil conditions and more. However, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) assumes a yearly absorption of one tree at approximately 22lbs (10kg) of carbon dioxide emissions. To be conservative, the Make It Green Programme assumes 11lbs (5kg) for the “Make Your Blog Carbon Neutral” initiative.

This means that ONE TREE neutralizes the carbon dioxide emissions of your blog, assuming you receive about 15,000 visitors or less per month.

Here’s how you get a tree planted in the Plumas National Forest:

1. Write a blog post about the program including the “My Blog is Carbon Neutral” button.

2. Email the link to CO2-neutral@kaufda.de

3. A tree will be planted for you

It's that easy!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Pearl Hotel

Photo copyright of The Pearl Hotel

The Pearl is truly a gem.  A diamond in the rough.  This hotel used to be much of nothing several years ago, when it was under different ownership.  I remember back when my parents had their business just a couple of blocks away on Rosecrans street in Point Loma.  The area of Point Loma, known as Shelter Island, is very charming, but some of the hotels right on Rosecrans leave much to be desired.  Not The Pearl. 
 Photo copyright of The Pearl Hotel

Mark and I started coming to The Pearl shortly after he moved out from back east, about a year ago.  There are so many "happenings" here, that we haven't experienced them all; at least not yet.  If I recall correctly, our first outing to this fine establishment was for their Groove 24/7 Brunch.   Bottomless mimosas and an entree for $20!  Don't be thinking basic entrees either.  The Pearl features California Coastal cuisine and they use seasonal, local ingredients.  After our relaxing, delicious, and fun brunch experience, we came back a few different times during happy hours, late evenings, etc.  We keep trying to make it to their Thursday Bingo Nights, but have been unsuccessful with our schedule.  The dinners have always been amazing.  Our recent trip this week was for Bistro Mondays - a French-American themed dining experience complete with a French movie showing on their outdoor movie screen and excellent French music. 
The meal was $25 for a 3-course meal.  In addition, it was happy hour all night.  The place was busy, which was great to see, and we sat outside by the pool and under outdoor heaters.  Everywhere you look at The Pearl, it is apparent that they spent a lot of time and effort to get the detail just right.  The pool is filled with floating balls of different sizes, the lighting creates a beautiful glow, and there is a living wall covered with vertically-planted succulents.  These are just a few of the treasures that you can find as you stroll around the grounds.

Moving onto our meal, Mark and I shared one 3-course meal (better for our budget and our health!) where we first chose the Croque Monsieur.  A generous amount of emmenthaler cheese and prosciutto on perfectly toasted bread, served with whole grain mustard.  A wonderful starter with my margarita and his Lost Abbey beer.
Onto the main course, we selected the Seasonal Vegetable Quiche that was stuffed with locally grown mushrooms and chevre cheese.  The crust was divine and it was served with an arugula salad and drizzled all over with dijonaise-like sauce. 

For our last course, Mark and I wholeheartedly agreed on ordering the crepes filled with apples and cinnamon.  The crepe was as light as air and melted in our mouths.  I even ate the mint leaves they garnished the plate with.  A perfect ending to the meal. 

I know this might seem strange to end on discussing the bathroom, but as my friend Heather knows, from our childhood days of exploring the bathrooms of every single restaurant we visited, they always peeked my interest, and still do today.  Maybe it's because the rest of the establishment you can see, but they are hidden behind a door just waiting to be opened.  The bathrooms at The Pearl are a thing of beauty!  Again, they continued on with a precise level of detail that lets you enjoy even the ambiance of the bathrooms.  The lighting sets the room aglow, but the magnificent piece is the sink.  This isn't your ordinary sink, but rather a rectangular slab that is grooved just right to resemble a shell or possibly waves in the ocean, and miraculously guides the flow of water to delicately make its way to the drain.
 Photo copyright of The Pearl Hotel

We've been going to The Pearl Hotel for over a year now and felt it was time to share with others.  Even though selfishly, I would rather keep this hidden gem to myself, I do want people to share in this wonderful experience.  Hopefully someday, we will actually stay at the hotel and play tourist in our own city!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My 1986 bottle of J. Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon

A few evenings ago, it finally occurred to me...why am I waiting for a special occasion to enjoy a fine wine?  Isn't life special enough to live every day to the fullest?  This bottle of wine had traveled with me from the various apartments and houses that I've lived in, for probably close to 10 years now, if not more.  Tonight was going to be "it's" night, my 1986 bottle of J. Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon.  I know what pushed me in this direction - I was out of wine.  This was the only bottle of red wine that I had, and I wanted some.  I also wanted to add a splash to a chicken dish I was cooking.  I can see you wincing, but honestly, it was just a splash, and I'm a firm believer of never cooking with a wine you wouldn't drink. 

I opened the bottle, the cork started to crumble, and I thought for a minute that it might have turned.  I mean, why wouldn't it have!  This fine vintage has been housed in completely different ends of the temperature spectrum, exposed to light every day (I know, more wincing), and probably hasn't been laying to rest at the appropriate angle for all of these years.  I gently wiggled out the cork and took a whiff of probably the smoothest wine aroma I had ever inhaled.  My anticipation was growing, so I poured a small glass and sipped.  Ahhhhh....my nose was happy, my mouth was happy, and I was happy.  I immediately had to share a sip with Mark, but I honestly thought it would end there.  As most of you may know, Mark is an avid craft beer drinker. He definitely has the palate to appreciate a good bottle of wine, but normally only sticks to a couple of sips here and there.  I didn't expect he would be hooked.  He was already in "beer mode", having had a Karl Strauss Fullsuit Belgian-style Brown Ale, so I never expected what would come next.
Mark was so overwhelmed by the smoothness of this full-bodied cabernet, that he asked for his own glass.  It didn't stop there either.  His enjoyment continued on until we finished the bottle together. For dinner that night, I made a simple tomato sauce and simmered drumsticks in the sauce as it cooked down to a thicker ragu.  No pun on the word, but I did honestly use Ragu brand pasta sauce.  I had a jar of Ragu chunky tomato garlic and onion sauce, so I doctored it up with more onions, Italian seasoning and a splash of...yes...1986 J. Pedroncelli Cabernet.  The flavor turned out absolutely amazing, I served it over pasta, and everyone at it up, including the kids.

I'm so glad tonight was "it's" night.  I'm glad I didn't wait for one of those over-rated special occasions.  I couldn't have been happier enjoying the bottle with my man, eating dinner with my family, and appreciating life to it's fullest.  Hopefully I don't have to spend $100+ each time I want to have Mark partake in a bottle of wine with me, but this evening was delightful.