© Courtesy of Fuego
Element by Fuego grill
© Courtesy of Fuego
© Courtesy of Fuego
Element by Fuego grill
© Courtesy of Fuego
Wendy G. Ramunno, a freelance writer and one of our fabulous freelance copy editors, was a finalist in Artisanal restaurant's recent grilled cheese recipe contest. Her report:
When I found out about the grilled-cheese recipe contest sponsored by Artisanal in New York City, I thought it would be fun to switch up my standard sharp-cheddar-and-tomato combo. At the last minute, I threw together a Spanish-inspired sandwich, with young Manchego cheese, chopped Marcona almonds, honey and pimentón, and sent in the recipe.
Turns out my recipe made it to the semifinals, and then the finals, after some spirited online voting. (Disclaimer: I wasn’t a ringer snuck into the contest by F&W—I’m an independent freelancer, so I work for a variety of publications.) The restaurant rep e-mailed, Would I be able to attend the finals on April 29 in person? I looked up the contest rules: The top six recipes would be judged by a panel of food-world VIPs including Artisanal chef-owner Terrance Brennan and über-chef Eric Ripert (we were later told he couldn’t make it because he had jury duty; no less of a culinary genius FCI’s Cesare Casella filled in for him). I immediately broke out in a cold sweat, wishing I’d spent more time on the recipe—after all, just watching the Top Chef judges’ table from my comfy sofa makes me nervous.
When I arrived at the restaurant, I was surprised by all of the video cameras and flashbulbs. I was seated with three other contestants at a round table facing the judges’ tribunal. The sandwiches were prepared behind-the-scenes in the Artisanal kitchen and brought out one by one. When I saw mine, I was concerned—it didn’t look like what I’d remembered making—it appeared thick and dry, and I couldn’t see any oozing cheese. The judges tallied their detailed scorecards, and I was right: For whatever reason, the gooey, salty-sweet masterpiece in my apartment didn’t quite translate to the judges' table. The winner was Eric Zawacki, with his stellar Taleggio, cherry mostarda and arugula entry (I knew the rest of us were in trouble when I saw the professional chef–cred burn marks up and down Eric’s arms). As part of his prize, Eric’s sandwich will be featured on Artisanal’s menu.
Suddenly I fully understood the pain of the reality show contestant. “Wait,” I wanted to say, “I can do better—I’m more than this sandwich, really!” But I walked out happy with my $50 Artisanal gift certificate and knowledge that I’d faced the judges and lived to cook again.
F&W called out the chefs-as-butchers trend back in January, and the New York Times just published an excellent piece on it (by former F&W staffer Jane Sigal). But in case anyone needs further proof of the trend, I just tried calling Vie in Western Springs, Illinois, to speak with Paul Virant, a Best New Chef 2007, and got this response from the host: "Is this time sensitive? He's currently butchering a cow."
The upshot of the trend is that we're introduced to delicious, unexpected and often more affordable cuts of meat we'd otherwise not know about. Aiding the cause: a new generation of butcher shops buying locally raised meat and butchering by hand.
Here, some great recipes that use lesser-known cuts of meat:
*Smoky Tomato-Braised Veal Shoulder with Potatoes
This morning I had had breakfast with writer Anna Watson. Anna used to be a peripatetic editor at the brilliant but sadly shuttered Culture + Travel magazine. These days the La Varenne–trained foodie has been spending her days in the kitchen, on a mission to try and eat extraordinarily well on a budget. She recently launched a new blog called The Recession Cookbook, where she shares her cost-saving strategies (steak dinner and a bottle of red for two for under $35), excellent recipes and genius ideas for turning leftovers into delicious meals. I know I’ll be regularly checking in for value-minded dinner party inspiration.
Our awesome kitchen assistant, Brian Malik, is also a total film buff. Here, he gives a glimpse into the best recent tag sale for food lovers:
This weekend I decided to trek down to Williamsburg because I heard there was a liquidation sale of props and set dressings for the upcoming film, Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep as the late, great Julia Child and Amy Adams as blogger Julie Powell. Housed in a seedy warehouse on Dobbin St., the sale consisted of clothes, copper cookware, books, chinaware and stoves, plus boxes upon boxes of whisks, measuring spoons and spatulas that were all part of the film’s many set dressings, including a recreation of Child’s home kitchen in Cambridge. (The real one is exhibited at the Smithsonian). I spoke briefly with Gay Howard, the film’s art department coordinator, who told me that the hardest part was finding the right vintage stoves to match the film’s many time periods—some were shipped from as far away as France. I made one purchase: a copper jam funnel for $10, and upon returning home I discovered it is currently retailing for $89 on Amazon.com. I’ll be clutching it with pride next year when Ms. Streep picks up her third Oscar.
Easter is this Sunday. This means that my mother has started baking her annual batch of pizza rustica using a recipe from her aunt, a stubborn woman who, because of a lamp, did not speak to her sister (my grandmother) for six years. Per this aunt's instructions, my mother will whisk six eggs and some flat-leaf parsley with half a pound each of fontina and Parmesan cheeses before adding six pounds of ricotta and half a pound each of cubed salami, soppressata, prosciutto and ham. This will make three to four double-crust pies. Clearly, we’re not light eaters.
Curious about its origins, I discovered that pizza rustica is an Easter staple in Naples. Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of Cucina del Sole, has heard of it among the Pugliese and the Abruzzi and confirmed that it’s pretty widely eaten in the whole southern Italian boot. In my house we actually call it “pizza gain”, a phrase that’s an Italian-American corruption derived from pizza ripiena or piena, meaning “stuffed” or “full” in Italian. In short, piena, or chiena in certain dialects, became chien', then “gain” as it got passed down across generations (and an ocean). These pies, most made from some combination of cheese, meats and eggs in a sweet crust, are meant to break the Lenten fast by offering many of the rich treats given up as a sacrifice.
And break the fast it does. David Greco, who runs the Arthur Avenue Café and Mike’s Deli in the Bronx, makes a Neapolitan-style rustica based on his maternal grandmother’s recipe that’s very similar to my mother’s – and one that weighs in at a little over three pounds a pie. He’s been selling 200 a day for the past week. His secret is a touch of lemon zest in the crust. He also makes a Calabrian version from his father’s family with chunks of soppressata and thinly-sliced prosciutto baked into an eggy focaccia. Frank Generoso of the Royal Crown Pastry Shop in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn says the key to his rustica is using the best quality ricotta that’s firm but still creamy. A thick ricotta, he says, will hold up and not run all over the place.
My mother's is still the best, especially a couple of hours out of the oven. I should start fasting now to heighten the enjoyment of that first bite.
Last night, Electrolux hosted a demonstration of their dreamy ICON kitchen equipment at their new showroom, the Desiron Gallery in Soho. River Café chef Brad Steelman cooked an early spring dinner on the induction cooktop, convection oven, warming drawer and high-speed oven—four impressive appliances.
I loved learning how the air in the small high speed oven circulates at 60 miles an hour to bake the molten chocolate cakes in a mere 8 minutes. “I admit the desserts are a cliché,” said Steelman. “But they’re always delicious and impressive.” (True and true: In fact, our own Grace Parisi created amazingly gooey variations on the cakes here).
But the thing I learned that I could take to my own kitchen (the ICON equipment, while beautiful, is a bit out of my price range) is to make risotto with water…at least partially. Since good chicken stock is gelatinous when cool, it can quickly help turn your runny, creamy risotto into a thick, gluey mess. Steelman said he likes to lighten risotto by using water most of the time and adding stock toward the end to enrich its flavor. A great tip, I think.
Oh, and for those curious about the fate of the horrible bitter taste caused by evil pine nuts, it is thankfully, gone! Just in time for the Best New Chef party.
We at F&W pride ourselves on our prognosticating powers. And we especially love when we're called out for it: A recent New York Times article mentioned the biggest trend we see for 2009—the increasing desire to cook at home. While the piece stated that home-cooked meals are typically more healthful than those prepared at restaurants, just how much more depends on who's doing the cooking. A Cornell University study looked into the habits of nearly 800 family cooks and found these five distinct cooking personalities. Take the quiz to figure out your personality, then follow the delicious recipes below:
Giving Cooks stick to tried-and-true, classic comfort food. Try cheesy baked spaghetti and chicken potpie with cream biscuit topping.
Methodical Cooks rely on recipes and love the orderliness of following them step-by-step. Try our Recipe of the Day tool for daily recipes like battered cod and a spicy, soothing chicken-and-rice soup with shrimp.
Healthy Cooks tend to cook fish and use fresh produce. Try pan-seared monkfish with a garlicky tomato sauce and halibut with a green-papaya slaw.
Competitive Cooks are all about impressing their guests. Try impressive hors d'oeuvres like flaky cheese-and-leek-filled phyllo rolls and Wolfgang Puck's potato pancakes with smoked salmon, caviar and dill cream.
Innovative Cooks are into experimenting with different cooking methods. Try avant-garde chef Ferran Adrià's ingenious spin on spaghetti (he toasts it) and Michel Bras's roasted bananas with candied nuts.
What happens when you put six star chefs in the same kitchen? In the case of Seattle's Thierry Rautureau (Rover's), Maria Hines (Tilth), Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez (The Harvest Vine), Johnathan Sundstrom (Lark), Jason Wilson (Crush) and Holly Smith (Cafe Juanita), you get an ingenious musical-chairs-like dinner series called Seattle Chefs Table 2009. "The idea—six chefs and six courses at six restaurants—was born in the face of this horrible economy," says Rautureau, who hosted the first dinner a few weeks ago at Rover's, taking care of the hors d'oeuvres, while the other five chefs handled the remaining courses. This evening, the chefs are convening at Tilth, where the menu includes dishes like vanilla-scented lobster by Jiménez de Jiménez, handmade garganelli with uni by Sundstrom and almond financiers with Meyer lemon preserve by Hines. The dinner series ($90 per meal) have been such a hit that the chefs have just announced a second night of dinners. Here, the remaining dinners:
The Harvest Vine: April 13 (2701 E. Madison St.; 206-320-9771 or harvestvine.com)
Lark: May 19 (926 12th Ave.; 206-323-5275 or larkseattle.com)
Cafe Juanita: September 22 (9702 NE 120th Pl., Kirkland; 425-823-1505 or cafejuanita.com)
Crush: October 19 (2319 E Madison St.; 206-302-7874 or chefjasonwilson.com)
Undisclosed location: mid-November for a "Holiday Feast" celebrating six different holiday themes.
For those unable to make it to Seattle for one of the dinners, create your own with these superb recipes:
Hines's Salmon with Oyster Mushrooms and Peppers
© Chris Quinlan
Michael Symon with the new Calphalon Sear Nonstick pan