Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Italian Family Classic
Minaste & Beans

This is a family classic. Something my Italian grandmother made, my dad made and something I made weekly for my mom when she was anemic and didn’t want to eat red meat in order to build up the iron in her body. It worked.

When I brought it in one day for lunch, a co-worker called this a "poor man’s Italian soup." It is not really soup, but I will say it is definitely economically feasible. It is increasingly hard to eat healthy for a low price, but four servings of this dish will cost you a total of about $5.

With only six ingredients it is easy to prepare. It is also extremely nutritious without sacrificing great taste, which we all know healthy dishes do sometimes. The spinach and beans will load you up with energy-providing protein and iron and your body will thank you for the amount of vitamins A, C, E and calcium you are getting with each spoonful.

It is hearty and best served on a cold winter day with buttered pieces of a baguette or semolina bread.

3 to 5 cloves of garlic
(The amount depends on your love of garlic; use a minimum of three average sized cloves – I love garlic, so sometimes I use five.)

2, 10-ounce packages of frozen whole leaf spinach
(I know this isn’t fresh spinach and I know you’re going to cut it as it cooks, so why not buy frozen cut leaf spinach or use the fresh version? You can do that, but it won’t taste the same. This recipe has been through decades of trial and error. I highly recommend sticking with the frozen whole leaf spinach.)

1, 15.5-ounce can of cannellini beans

Olive oil
(My grandmother, Philomena, didn’t keep measurements of ingredients like this one. Following her lead, I don’t either. I use enough olive oil to sauté the garlic; maybe cover the bottom of the pan. I do recommend the following as a caution: you can always add more olive oil, but I’ve never been successful at taking it out once I’ve added too much.)

Black Pepper

Putting It Together:
Peel and chop the cloves of garlic

In a two-quart saucepan, in between low to medium heat, sauté the chopped garlic in olive oil with some salt and black pepper (you can also add crushed red pepper flakes here for some heat)

Add the frozen spinach once the garlic is sautéed. As the spinach cooks, flip the frozen blocks over occasionally and cut the leaves with food scissors. Continue cutting the spinach as it cooks.

Add the cannellini beans once all of the spinach is no longer frozen. Look for movement or simmering in the pot then put it on low heat and stir occasionally for 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Note: This tastes great when it is first cooked and it gets even better as a leftover after all the flavors have spent a night together in the refrigerator.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

1st Williamsburg Cask Ale Festival

On a blistery Friday night, in the greatest city on Earth, OC (Original Crunkster) Oliver Crunk, new friend Mike Z. and myself, met up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn to actively participate in the 1st Williamsburg Cask Ale Festival. The fest featured 15 or so cask ales. For those of you unfamiliar with cask ales, you can read all about them, right here. Cask ales tend to pack quite a wallop, so it may not be the best idea to arrive an hour before your drinking buddies and get started by yourself, ie: me. By the time O Crunk and Mike Z arrived I was in rather good spirits.
Although the details of what took place in the next few hours are still a little hazy, one thing that is without question, is that the beer selection was excellent.

Here are a couple descriptions that I wrote in my "notes" on the good ol' Iphone,
  • Dogfish 75 min.- Milton, DE- 7.5%, delicious
  • Ridgeway Reindeer Droppings- West Sussex, England- 4.7%, meh, tastes just like the name.
  • Eerie Railbender Ale- Eerie, PA- 6.8% Scottish 90/wee heavy- very mellow, chocolatey, smooth, delish
  • Brooklyn Backbreaker Ale-Brooklyn, NY Initial smell was like the reddish, purple Tootsie Pop, flavor is not as intense, but still very good. Never heard of this before
One of the standouts of the night was the Shawnee Bourbon Barrel Aged Entire. This beer was very unique and here is a review from Mr. Crunk himself:

The CT Cafe Pick of the Night was, drumroll please.............Stone Brewing Co.'s Sublimely Self Righteous Ale. This beer was the unanimous favorite. Hand's down. Hoppy, smooth, and motor-oil dark. At 8.7%, this brew will take you down if you let it hang around for a couple rounds, which, based on flavor, would be very easy to do.

That's it for the 1st Billyburg Cask Fest. Hopefully, we'll see you at the 2nd.

The CT Cafe wants to remind you that if your driving, don't drink and if your drinking, give us a call.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Coleslaw with a Soulful Kick

Easy to prepare, healthy eats are something people are searching for, but without a guide to the new age of nutrition it can be a failed pursuit. Even when that hunt for good health food is a success, finding a dish that also tastes great is the next challenge.

Here is an easy colorful side dish with a subtle sweet flavor followed by spicy kick. It is made up of nutritious vegetables that will go great with your next grilled chicken dinner (it is probably good for a barbecue and with fried chicken or diner-style cheeseburger and fries, but this is an attempt at eating healthy).

Carrot-Cayenne Coleslaw comes from “Vegan Soul Kitchen – Fresh, Healthy, And Creative African-American Cuisine” by Bryant Terry, an award-winning Oakland-based eco-chef.

I made the dish recently to go with a grilled chicken panini sandwiches on whole wheat rolls that were topped with mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes and fresh organic baby spinach.

This is a good beginner dish for those looking to get into raw food. Or it can be used to replace the fat-and sugar-laden traditional coleslaw made with refined sugars and mayonnaise.

It is also easy to prepare. I was able to make it with a toddler opening kitchen drawers into my knees, repeatedly telling me to “get out of town,” as I chopped the cabbage and grated the carrots.

Here is Bryant Terry’s recipe with my alterations in italics.

½ small green cabbage head, cored and sliced thinly
Chopped a third of a regular green cabbage
2 large carrots, grated
¼ small purple cabbage head, cored and sliced thinly
Chopped a third of a regular purple cabbage
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup champagne vinegar
Used 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon agave nectar or organic raw cane sugar
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Did not use the sesame seeds
*used additional mustard, agave nectar, salt, cayenne by eyeballing since I was using more cabbage than the recipe called for

Putting it Together:
Place the green cabbage and carrots in one bowl and the purple cabbage in a separate bowl.

In an upright blender, combine the mustard, vinegar, agave nectar, salt and cayenne. While blending slowly add the olive oil. I put them all in a blender at once and used regular speed.

Add half the dressing to the green cabbage/carrots and add the remain dressing to the purple cabbage. Massage them both until wilted, about 3 to 5 minutes each. Cover, and refrigerate them for at least 1 hour or overnight. Remove at least 15 minutes before serving, combine them, add sesame seeds and mix well. Did not use the sesame seeds.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cellphone Retrospective: Winter Beer

Below is the first in a series of beer retrospectives based on a selection of pictures found on my phone.

For most of us it's easy to relate winter with comfort food. Warmer, richer, hardier. Beer is no different. In beer terms this translates to higher alcohol, fuller body, bigger, toastier, spicier flavors or any combination. This leads to Porters, Stouts, Browns, Tripels, Barley Wines, Strong Ales and imperial versions of just about anything. My personal favorites can be sipped slow at warmer temperatures. Proper sitting position displayed here. Got the vibe? Good.

Life & Limb | Sierra Nevada / Dogfish Head | 10% Dark Ale

If you've missed the buzz, this brew is the first batch of the first collaboration between Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada. Made with maple syrup from the Colagione family farm, estate barley from Sierra Nevada and a blended yeast from each brewery, this beer packs a punch at 10%.

Limb & Life | Sierra Nevada / Dogfish Head | Small Beer

As a "Small Beer" , this batch was made from the second runnings of Life & Limb. Limb & Life is a 5.2%, lighter version of the same brew.

Pumpkin Porter | My Kitchen | 8% Porter

I boiled fresh pumpkin for about a 1/2 hour, smashed it all up with a potato masher, added my grains into that mix to make a partial mash then brewed it with small amount of clove, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon and fresh ginger. Shout out to nerf football decapper in the background courtesy of Beer Tap TV

Santa's Little Helper | Port Brewing | Imperial Stout

A heavy weight, 10.5% imperial stout with big roastiness. Depending on your family, this strong sipper can be a great "helper" to get you through the holidays.

Ten Fidy | Oskar Blues | Imperial Stout

Once the initial shock of seeing this thick black beer pour like motor oil from the can, you are left with a beer that is strong but well balanced. Perfect for sipping slow. The picture above was taken on Thanksgiving Eve w/ pumpkin porter homebrews in the background

Monster Ale | Brooklyn Brewery | Barley Wine

A real nice cold weather brew. Not the biggest barley wine by any means but the alcohol is apparent and its a nice break from some of the hop bombs out there.

Black Orchard | The Bruery | Belgian Dark Ale

Tastes like a belgian, looks like a porter. Easily the lightest on today's list, a true belgian yeast flavor with a nice spiciness that works for me. Why didn't take a picture of the actual beer!?!

Oaked Arrogant Bastard | Stone Brewing | American Strong Ale

Not sure if this is a winter beer, but it's in my phone and I've been enjoying them lately, so here. The oak monster is out BIG TIME in this version of Arrogant Bastard so I can't say it's a
particularly well-balanced beer, but it's undeniable that it tastes delicious.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Little Stevie Wonder

Who needs breakfast when you have this to start your day?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Korean Fried Chicken

There's a lot of hype in the food universe these days about Korean Fried Chicken. Some call it Korean Fried Crack, others just say it's damn delicious. The other day, my chef at work was singing the praises of KFC, Korean not Kentucky , so I decided to do a little investigation. As today was my day off and I had no interest in completing my Christmas shopping, I decided to see what all the hubbub was about and try my hand at some of this Korean goodness.
After some Googling, I found enough info to come up with a good game plan. First, I had to get some chicken. Drumsticks and wings were my cuts of choice, due to the fact that breast meat has less flavor and a greater chance of drying out, in my opinion.

Next I made a marinade of 1 sweet onion, 10 garlic cloves, 2 T of ginger, 1 T of sriracha, salt, pepper, & a little oil.

Blast that shit in the processor until it looks like this,

Now we get our hands dirty. Pour this marinade over your chicken pieces and rub it all over. Get it under the skin, but be careful not to rip the skin away from the chicken. It will leave you with a funny looking finished product and the crispy skin will not completely encase your chicken.
Also, for those who don't like getting their hands dirty, invest in some latex or nylon gloves. They're inexpensive and save you the time of washing your hands. Here's what your meat pile should look like

I put this beautiful bowl of pungently garlicky chicken in the fridge for 1 1/2 hours to let the flavors develop. You could let it sit overnight if you want, but I have a pregnant wife who was gonna be home soon looking for dinner, so I went with the minimum.

Fast forward 1 1/2 hours and the smell that hit me when I opened the fridge was what I would image God's farts smell like. Unbelievably delicious.

I quickly washed off the marinade. I did this because if I fried the chicken with the marinade still on it, the marinade would burn way before the chicken was done and give the chicken a burnt taste. That would be bad. After washing off the marinade, I dried the chicken on a towel, laid it on a wire rack and salted the skin.

The salt on the skin draws out the moisture. This makes for a crispier finished product. Once I saw the moisture develop on the skin, I dried it with some paper towels and resalted. I repeated this process 3 time before dredging the chicken in Wondra flour. Wondra flour should be called Wonder flour. It is great for pan frying fish, thickening sauces, frying Korean chicken, etc. A must have in any kitchen.
To avoid a dusty, floury mess, I use a big ziploc bag to dredge my chicken.

After all my chicken is coated, I remove it from the bag, shake off any excess Wondra and return it to the wire rack.

Here is where I let it sit for about 20 minutes. This lets the flour stick to the skin and form what will be the first layer of our crust. After the 20 minutes I flour it again and fry at 350F for 10 minutes. This helps to draw the rest of the moisture out of the skin, helping to achieve the crispiness which KFC is known for.

After 10 minutes drain the chicken on some paper towels. We will fry it one more time before we chow down.
Here's what it should look like after the first fry.

Turn the temp on your oil up to 375F for the final fry. Once you are up to temp, fry your chicken for about 1 more minute, until a nice golden brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
Here is where the magic happens. I've kept this quite until now, but this is THE key piece in this recipe. It's called the Octo Vin. Make this before you start the chicken. It is from Momofuku and their $100 fried chicken dinners.
When your chicken is drained and still hot, toss it in the Octo Vin. Be warned, the smell may make you pass out from sensory overload. The hot chicken and the soy/vinegar sauce make for one of the best combinations I have ever smelled/tasted in my life. Here's what it looks like.

I served the chicken with a slaw of cabbage, green bean, clementine, sriracha, rice vinegar, honey, coconut milk, salt & pepper.
Awesome meal. I think next time I would use just the chicken wings. As good as the drumsticks were, they were not as flavorful as the wings. Buffalo wings have nothing on Korean fried chicken.

.......& Music

As much as we love our food & drink here at the CT Cafe, we also enjoy ourselves some music. Just as great grub and brews are best enjoyed with good friends, so is music. Here is a link to our old friend Oliver Crunk's site. He is one of the interwebs foremost conniseurs of horseracing and great music. Hopefully, we can get him to hit us up with some music posts in the near future. Stay tuned!