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A Pollen-y Analogy

11 Aug

Thinking about that meal at Volt, I remembered an article I read not too long a few months ago about the popularity of pollen in dishes. The article itself was on Tasting Table, though I found it because of an installment of What We’re Reading from the NY Times Dining Section. I’m not sure that the link would have even caught my attention had it not been for the analogy :

Tasting Table: Dill pollen is to fennel pollen what Neutral Milk Hotel was to Nirvana. — Jeff Gordinier

Thanks to my music-snob boyfriend, I had a vague sense of what that was supposed to mean. (Or, more accurately, I was very pleased with myself for recognizing that Gordinier was referencing two bands.) At any rate, the Tasting Table article basically introduces dill pollen as the new, cool flavor enhancer.

What does this have to do with Volt, you ask? Well, check out this picture (again):

Notice those breadsticks sitting in front of my music-snob boyfriend? Yep, they’re dusted with fennel pollen.

Guess Bryan Voltaggio didn’t get the memo about which pollen the cool kids are using.

Lazy baking and Red Lobster

28 Feb IMG_3278

I don’t think I’ve used a baking mix since I was in college. Senior year, when I was living with Mags and Shivani, we made brownies probably once a week, and since our priorities back then involved watching CSI marathons were more studying oriented, our most frequent baking endeavors involved opening a box of mix, adding the requisite eggs and milk and throwing in half a bag of chocolate chips.

Similarly, I probably haven’t been to a Red Lobster* in at least six years. I see their commercials now and shudder- I don’t know how they manage to pack so many calories into a single lobster tail. And yet, when I saw America’s Most Wanted Recipes sitting on the shelf at the library, my first instinct was to check out the recipe for Red Lobster’s biscuits.

Lobster lover's dream (image from redlobster.ca)

You see, before I lived in an adorable town with some great restaurants within walking distance of my apartment; before I lived in Brooklyn and my favorite restaurants were on the way home from the subway and served schwarma and pumpkin curry; before I attended college outside of DC and learned the joys of tapas and Middle-Eastern cuisine, I lived in a small town in western Ohio. And when you live in a small town in western Ohio the dining choices are Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel or, you guessed it, Red Lobster. A 15 minute drive will expand the choices to include Friendly’s, Applebee’s, Tuesday’s and a few non-chain-but-still-not-particularly-exotic restaurants. A 30 or 40 minute drive to Dayton will yield many more chains (hello Olive Garden, Max and Erma’s, Friday’s) but still, not a lot in the way of interesting new flavors.

And so, because the soup and salad lunch is convenient and one chain is as good as another (unless you listen to my father and boycott companies for their political contributions), Red Lobster was a fairly frequent mid-shopping lunch stop for me and my mother. Now, years later, the flavor of those hot, buttery biscuits lingers in the back of my mind, taunting me and my chain-shunning elitist tendencies.

Which brings us back to the baking mix. The recipe called for ‘2 cups biscuit mix.’ I have never owned a box of Bisquick, but I now have one sitting rather forlornly in the back of my refrigerator. I have a feeling I will end up using it exclusively to make these biscuits. Regardless of whatever other feelings I might have about Red Lobster, these biscuits are pretty tasty!

I use Smart Balance 50/50 blend, so it's not as bad for me, right?

Red Lobster Cheddar Biscuits

(adapted from America’s Most Wanted Recipes)

Ingredients

2 cups biscuit mix

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2/3 cup milk

4T butter

1/4 t garlic powder

finely chopped parsley**

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Stir together the biscuit mix, cheddar and milk until a soft dough forms. Beat with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds.

Spoon onto a greased cookie sheet. Smooth down the tops to prevent hard points from forming.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the tops are brown.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the garlic powder.

Once the biscuits are out of the oven brush the butter on the tops, sprinkle with parsley and serve hot.

*Red Lobster is a registered trademark of Darden Restaurants, Inc.

**The recipe called for parsley flakes, but I had fresh parsley and it made me feel less guilty about making such a lazy recipe.

A New York weekend, by the food

25 Jan steamed pork buns 2

Oh my poor, sad neglected blog! I could blame a weekend in NYC for my absence, but even then I managed to try out WordPress’s mobile blogging app for one post. No, it was a cold-induced lethargy that made stringing together coherent thoughts seem far too challenging last week. Happily, I have emerged from my Sudafed-aided stupor and I’m ready to attack the posts that were languishing as ‘saved drafts’ while I was consuming plenty of fluids and watching old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (seriously, my brain was not functioning).

So, like I said, last weekend Adam and I were hanging out in Manhattan. While the main focus of our trip was visiting with friends who we don’t see nearly often enough, I did get to fit in a little New York food fun. Here’s a look at some weekend highlights, by the food:

photo from the Market Basket website, not my S.T.J.

Now, normally, I would never mention New Jersey in a post about New York City. I know that New Jersey is not “pretty much New York.” But Adam’s parents live 30 minutes from the city, so a trip to NYC mandates a trip to Bergen County. And, of course, a trip to Bergen County isn’t complete without a stop at The Market Basket. So for lunch on Friday we met up with one of Adam’s high school friends and enjoyed delicious sandwiches. I have no picture of the amazing S.T.J.(smoked turkey, melted Jarlsberg and creamy honey mustard on a croissant) that Adam and I split, but it was delicious enough to warrant a shout out. Market Basket, you make me dislike Jersey a little less.

fried calamari- good for soaking up alcohol

From Jersey we headed to Shivani‘s apartment on the Upper East Side. Friday night involved a couple of midtown bars: dinner at Opal (a trio of sub-par sliders: chicken cordon bleu, angus beef, and “portobello ‘shroom”) was followed by drinks/fried snacks at a bar whose name escapes me- the evening was clearly not memorable for the food. In the morning, however, we got homemade blueberry pancakes- necessary preparation for a day wandering the cold, snowy streets of Manhattan.

I'm not used to someone else making pancakes for me!

I only had one thing on my to-do list for the weekend: get steamed pork buns at Momofuku. Before we got to New York, I had checked in with one of my favorite Frederick tweeps who had been to NY recently, to see if there were any food places I just couldn’t miss. The response was quick: “Momofuku,esp SSam Bar/Milk Bar(get there near 5),Halal carts,grazing @ Chelsea Market.Meat to bring home from @themeathook Brooklyn.” I’m so glad I thought to ask for suggestions- I had completely forgotten that I’d been meaning to try Momofuku for more than a year- basically ever since I moved back to the DC area. I’d had my fill of Halal carts while living up there, and we didn’t make it out to Brooklyn this trip (sad, because I’ve really been wanting to try Liddabit Sweets) but now it was my weekend mission to try those steamed buns.

The tweet had immediately reminded me of an NPR story that necessitated a phone call to Maggie- that’s how amazing these buns sounded. I think it was this line, from chef David Chang, that really got me: “It has a burst of fat flavor from the salty pork belly, and then it’s got this cool, crunchy texture from the pickled cucumbers and the sweetness in the hoisin sauce.” Salty and sweet, yet still light and crunchy? This was something I just had to try.

I was not disappointed.

The menu states, "We do not serve vegetarian friendly items." As if the buns weren't enough of a reason to love this place!

The steamed buns listed on the menu are filled with pork belly (brined and roasted, based on recipes I’ve seen that attempt to replicate the legendary snack), scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce. I’d only had pork belly once before and the experience was not a great one: the meat was kind of chewy and flavorless. I couldn’t believe that this was the same cut of meat! The meat was perfectly cooked and full of flavor, like an amazingly subtle, soft, yummy piece of bacon. As a whole, the elements balanced each other beautifully, just as Chang had promised on NPR.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was a ‘special’ bun: crispy pork belly with avocado, radish, basil and a spicy mayonnaise.

the 'special' Momofuku bun

Once again, the texture of the meat just blew me away. This time the pork belly was more reminiscent of bacon, since the ‘patty’ had a nice, crispy crust on it. That texture had a nice contrast in the creamy avocado, but this bun was a little underwhelming for me as a whole. The flavor of the supporting components didn’t have enough punch of its own to suitably complement the pork belly. (Maggie went a few days later and got beef brisket buns as the special- I would have loved to try those!)

I have to say, these steamed buns are going to be a new frequently-craved food for me. Maggie and I had recently been having a conversation about how much we wanted duck pancakes from Chinatown: these buns have pretty much all the same elements- perfectly cooked flavorful meat, crispy refreshing greens, and a sweet tangy sauce. Luckily, it seems that many other people have this obsession, so there are plenty of recipes for when I decide I need to attempt this myself.

Speaking of crave-able foods…

Having indulged my desire to try Momofuku, the rest of the weekend was about hanging out with friends (and satisfying some other NY-centric food cravings). After watching the Ravens lose, Baltimore-native Sam was especially in need of some sugary comfort. The closest available cupcakes were at Magnolia Bakery‘s Grand Central location, so we headed there for a little sweet treat.

So many choices!

I’m not a huge Magnolia fan (I think their cupcakes are just too sweet: by the time I finish one I’m sweating), so that wasn’t really the most satisfying snack for me. On the way home, though, I got what I’d been waiting for all weekend:

New York pizza!

I just can’t get enough of the salty, tangy deliciousness of a slice of New York pizza, even if it does send a trail of bright orange grease running down my arm.

And finally, on our way out in the morning, Adam and I stopped to stock up on bagels, smoked whitefish salad and olive cream cheese. Weekend accomplished!

Blockheads and Mobile Blogging

15 Jan

image

Adam and I decided pretty last-minute that we wanted to come to the city this weekend. We were planning to come up sometime this month, but found out Tuesday that Maggie would be here this weekend, along with one of our other college friends, so decided to just go for it. Our ‘plans’ all revolved around meeting up with friends; no shows or restaurants or sightseeing, just people. Since Adam grew up outside the city and I spent a post-college year living in Brooklyn we don’t really feel the need to do the tourist thing.

And that’s why, Thursday night, after an afternoon of driving, we wound up in a steamy little restaurant on the upper west side. Two of my high school friends from Ohio are living in the city and, given that we’re all fairly recent college graduates with degrees in things like theatre and dance and sociology, we wanted to meet some place fairly inexpensive. Of course, Adam reminded me that ‘cheap drinks’ in NYC are still expensive compared to what we’re used to; that’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by the $3 margaritas on the Blockheads menu.

I’m not trying to do a restaurant review here. Just saying that it was great to get to hang out with old friends, and it was just a bonus that there were free chips and cheap margaritas.

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