Ofrenda, New York, NY

There are good days and bad days. Good meals and bad ones. Truth be told, I don’t mind when the two intersect. We spent the last weekend in New York and packed a lot into the trip- a film festival, brunch, dancing, and coffee, before heading home. A good trip, but an anxious one, as exams are this week and the next and I’m up to my ears in writing assignments. But it was a good trip. I was hard-pressed to pick a highlight as we were heading home, but my stomach growled otherwise. We’d just finished a meal up at Ofrenda, an excellent new-ish Mexican restaurant in the West Village, and though I was stuffed, I was already looking forward to the leftovers.DSC_6524 Continue reading “Ofrenda, New York, NY”

Brooklyn Salsa Mole Tacos

With an enormous rainstorm and a chilly wind, we’ve finally ushered the oppressively hot summer out and have welcomed in autumn. I forgot how much I missed those good New England fall evenings. My new place is on the top floor of the building, and has an advantageous position both for a pleasant view and smoky winds, coming in from the fields and filling the place with that scent I so missed while abroad.

Last evening, the Bedfellow and I decided to mimic the smoky scents with a dinner reminiscent of that pungency, using an ingredient we picked up at the Fancy Food Show. This is Brooklyn Salsa’s newest creation, a hot mole salsa that speaks more like a sauce.  I can’t give it a higher opinion- it’s the best jarred mole I’ve ever tried, with absolutely no fatty or oily texture to speak of, with a smooth, rich flavor redolent with roasted chili peppers, sesame, and chocolate.

The tacos had equal aplomb, coated in crema, queso fresco, avocado slices, and roasted tomatoes. Color me gauche, but I love Hunt’s fire-roasted canned tomatoes. They added a decent depth of flavor without diluting the sauce, and if anything, contributed to the strength of the more roasted flavors.

With those and the aforementioned toppings piled on fresh blue corn tortillas- a pleasant and snappy diversion from the blank white corn canvases, we had ourselves a wonderful autumn meal. Making these vegetarian would likely also be fun, as I can imagine the flavors would translate well to squash or other dense vegetables.

I’m curious to try the other salsas- I’d love to see if they’re as dualistic as dips and sauces as this one was.

Sir Kensington’s Gourmet Scooping Mayonnaise (Original and Chipotle)

I told myself I’d be able to gently coax Sir Kensington’s new creamy, white sauce, known in some circles and areas of the Midwest as ‘mayonnaise,’ without any awful, bodily puns, but it appears I’ve blown my humor wad a little early. Luckily, I have four jars of this stuff to make up for it. Yes, your favorite gentlemanly purveyor of condiments has filled the condiment coffer (I assume you all have a condiment coffer) once again with their release of two mayonnaise flavors, Original and Chipotle. 

The new mayonnaise flavors are simplistic and clean in design on both the inside and outside of the package, as their original ketchup counterparts are. Minimal in ingredients, minimal in frippery. I’m excited to see a specialty food company working with mayonnaise- since Empire Mayo’s plethora of flavor releases, it’s been popular, but rarely done with other craft brands. Sir Kensington’s reputation and quality will hopefully open the doors for other companies to try their hand at eclectic mayo, too. And just in time for the Fancy Food Show (4th year running!)!

The new Gourmet Scooping mayonnaise, tested against an unnamed national brand rhyming with ‘Smellman’s,’ performs brilliantly- any pretense of awkward scooping is mitigated by the thick, creamy texture, lightly dotted with flecks of black pepper and a faint citrusy aroma. It’s the Greek yogurt of mayonnaise- a cut above the rest, with a more nuanced tang and acidity. It is also saltier than I expected it would have been. However, when analyzed on its own, the forefather of what I hope will be a golden age of artisanal mayonnaise, it falls a little short of my expectations.

I tried the mayonnaise in the two most important contexts- as a topping alongside a burger, and as a sauce for fries, the latter of which I picked up in Amsterdam, along with potential second-hand LSD flashbacks. What I liked about the European mayonnaise was that it stood on its own while acting as another way to enhance the glorious fries. It added another layer of shiny and rich to an already shiny and rich food without making it unnecessarily fatty. It’s lubricant for the soul. Did I expect that in Sir Kensington’s? Absolutely. Sir Kensington’s did for ketchup what society inexplicably did for Lena Dunham- validated the existence of a boring and overused staple of wiener-gobbling and brought out its insouciance. It was simple, but packed a punch.

While the mayonnaise was good, it had neither the indulgence of its European brethren nor the reimagined style of the brand’s initial frontrunner. It’s basic- high in quality, but essentially mayo v1.5. The chipotle is extremely well-crafted, despite suffering from the same high expectations as a result of Sir Kensington’s reinventing the wheel. Chipotle mayonnaise has been done before. That doesn’t mean that I’m not happy that Sir Kensington’s made their own version, but it does mean that my standards will be elevated when testing it. This is a clean, generously-spiced version, and is the Jekyll to the mild Hyde of the original. It reminds me of samourai sauce, and its pungent flavor lingers on the tongue and works well with the richness of the original base. Sir Kensington’s has taken a bold risk in releasing this line of spreads, but needs work before they can distinguish themselves from the crowd. As a gourmet version of a commercial brand, I’d have been content, but with a craft company as renowned as this in the specialty food world, I expected more.

Yancey’s Fancy Tandoori Gouda Cheesesteaks

A few weeks ago, I retrieved a shipment of cheese from Yancey’s Fancy (retrieved as UPS and their terrible shipping policies held my cheese random) and received a selection of delicious flavors, one of which was this amazing-looking tandoori gouda.

I knew I wanted to cook something special with it, but I wasn’t sure what would do the flavor justice. Making normal Indian food didn’t seem to fit the bill, and fusing too many flavors together would overwhelm the delicate gouda’s flavor.

A beautifully serendipitous sale on brisket gave me a great idea, though- why not make tandoori brisket cheesesteaks? The cheese is the biggest player, and I’d realized I was overdue for a good sandwich. Realizing I lack the capacity to eat an entire loaf of bread is sobering, but the bliss found at being able to make an enormous sub with baguette and eat it for dinner outside, with Red, was incomparable.

I made the brisket in the slow cooker. I want to eventually do one in the oven, but the oven in this apartment is erratic and tends to dry meat out unless I check it religiously. As I started the brisket at 4AM, I figured I ought to prioritize sleep over meat-checking, so I just popped it in the cooker and took it out at 5PM the next day. The brisket had a dry rub and a wet rub, the former a mixture of tandoori spices, curry powder, salt, pepper, garlic, and chili powder, and the latter, whole-grain honey mustard, honey, and brown sugar. This was all accompanied by a few shakes of hot sauce to balance out the sweeter flavors.

When it was done, I shredded it. It was my original objective to slice it, but it was just too tender! I popped the pan in the oven to get a bit of a crispy crust on it before assembling the sandwiches. After sauteeing some peppers and onions with a little olive oil, I was ready. Tandoori mayo, meat, veggies, and cheese went atop the bread, and the whole thing went into the oven for about 20 minutes at 350 to melt the cheese. Once finished, I drizzled the sandwiches with some of the sauce leftover from cooking and we ate them.

And of course, nothing is better than a tandoori cheesesteak, except a tandoori cheesesteak omelet in the morning. It was a really fun way to get creative with my sandwiches! I have a few more cheeses from Yancey’s to try — strawberry chardonnay and maple bacon are two that I’m itching to cook with. What should I make?

Heinz Hot Sauce: Chipotle and Garlic, Green Jalapeno, and Yellow Habanero

Yes, tomorrow is the end of the world, so you’re going to have to expect to see strange memes, awfully photoshopped photos of skulls and Microsoft Word texts from the mid 90’s, and liveblogging from the apocalypse, courtesy of the Foodette Isn’t Going Anywhere foundation, circa 2012. Incidentally, the number of strange coincidences, like France releasing limited-edition products in sets of threes, has me intrigued and slightly convinced that the world might end. I’ve been here four months already with no sign of strange things, and all of a sudden, special editions of products are popping up all over the place. 

Another thing that leads me to believe that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket: France has finally embraced the idea of hot sauces, commercially available, in stores, and made by large, familiar companies for lonely ex-pats and curious Europeans. Like Pago, and the new Red Bull, these, too, were released in three, which explains my most recent grocery bill:

Harry’s white bread: 0,98 Euro
Apricot juice: 1,8 Euro
Heinz hot sauce: 6 Euro
Apricot jam: 1 Euro
Butter: 1.5 Euro

Three new hot sauces! In three new-ish flavors! Obviously, I had to get all three of them, and prominently display them on my kitchen table next to a Parisian cinderblock and quickly overflowing ashtray. Hashtag bohemian, my friends! This appears to be one of the only markets Heinz uses for hot sauce, so I figured they had to be good. In fact, they aren’t even on the company website yet. In Green Jalapeno, Chipotle and Garlic, and Yellow Habanero, they looked both minimal in ingredients and high-end enough to accompany the pulled pork and corn flakes I’ve been noshing in the end of days.

Well, there’s some good and bad to these. On one hand, they are hot sauces, and I refuse to believe that this is the last attempt for France to jump on the “spicy good, bland bad” bandwagon. On the other hand, the perfectly-tailored John Lobb shoe has dropped, and the verdict remains that these sauces are not damned spicy. They’re trying- they are spiced, but they are not spicy, so to speak. Their quantifiers of “medium, hot, and very hot” are as useful as putting warning signs on pipe cleaners and stuffed animals. Why bother? They have the intensity of gingerbread despite a vibrant color. It’s a pity, as they are really impeccably flavored, with a very rich, natural taste and easily distinguishable between the three. Their succinct ingredients gave them a wholesome edge that allowed them to blend easily with all manner of meat, bread, or spread.

My favorite of the three was the green jalapeno, followed by the yellow habanero. Both allowed the pepper to be showcased front and center with very little additional spice or herb encumbering the vegetal flavors. Like I said, they weren’t spicy, unfortunately, but at the very least, they imparted a more developed flavor onto meat. A zesty warmth, if you will, disappointing for the habanero as we approached that with trepidation only to find that it was bland as all hell. As for the chipotle and garlic, while I liked it, it wasn’t too far from the Cholula or taco sauce I typically use back home. Tasty, but not really hot. They tried, though, and if that doesn’t say “delicious end of the world snack” to me, I don’t know what does! I’m looking forward to seeing these become a coveted item on the post-apocalyptic black market once all the Tabasco has been rationed for emergency energy supplements. Vive la France!

Carnitas Francaises, Habanero Raspberry Bergerac Sauce

I am not the most observant Jew. Case in point, posting about Franco-prepared pork on Yom Kippur, albeit two days after I actually made it, still makes me look like a halfhearted Sasha Baron Cohen progeny. Even if I told you I was fasting today, my flagrant offense of everything Jewish ever makes it pale in comparison. Still, it goes without saying that when steaks run up to $24/pound and when frozen chicken breasts swallow the bulk of your birthday money, seeing a 2 lb. pork shoulder for 4 Euro means that you put your money where your mouth is and eat like a queen for four days. Hence, Carnitas Francaises.

Two pounds, four Euro. And to think that all that I had to do was roll up my sleeves and hack at this sucker with a serrated knife like my life depended on it. After trimming and removing the skin and most of the fat and filleting the meat from the bone, I ended up with roughly 1.25 lbs of tender meat. I knew I wanted to make carnitas on the stovetop, and I also knew that I wanted to have a spicy, but distinctly French flavor profile, so I made a spice blend that incorporated all of those components.
The result, after three hours of simmering and twenty minutes of frying and chopping, was transcendental. Roddy, here’s that Franco-Mexican fusion we spoke of. Sheer, tender delight in miniscule shreds accompanied by a quick gastrique. I had every plan to make this into tacos, buy or make tortillas and eat it over the period of a few days, but its allure ensured that that never came to fruition. I ate it plain, slathered with its spicy, fruity sauce, on baguette, on white bread, but never on tortilla. However, there will be another time for this, that much I am sure of.

Carnitas Francaises
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 2lb. bone-in pork shoulder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder/1 clove of chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 tablespoon of parsley
1/4 cup of red wine (I used Bergerac AOC)

1. Trim, debone, and cut the pork shoulder into small  pieces, roughly 3-4 inches long. Heat a pot with roughly 3 cups of water on the stove on high.

2. Mix the spices together and toss to coat the pork. When the water is boiling, put in the pork and lower the heat to a simmer. Let the pork cook for 2-3 hours uncovered, or until all the water is evaporated.

3. When the water has evaporated, the pork will start to caramelize and fry in its own fat. After the pork is brown, remove it and let the bottom of the pan continue to brown. Pour in the wine and deglaze for a few minutes until reduced and toss in the pork again, allowing the wine to cover the meat. Remove the pork and shred.
Habanero Raspberry Bergerac Sauce
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 tablespoons habanero hot sauce, or 2 chopped habanero peppers
1/4 cup of red wine (I used Bergerac AOC)
1/3 cup fresh raspberries or raspberry jam

1. Let all ingredients simmer in a saucepan until reduced and thick. Stir frequently. Keep in a sealed container for up to 4 days.

El Nopal, Paris, France

Weeds is over. And thanks to the 2 kbs speed of the wireless internet here (not that I am complaining, O Benevolent French Internet Gods and Goddesses, merely explaining the Esteemed Situation for my fellow mortals) I will not be streaming it. Am I sad? I do not yet know. I will know in mid-November, when my gorgeous partner in crime, Dillinger, brings over his computer and episodes. And then, friends, will I tell you. Until then, let’s celebrate with munchies, Parisian-style. Mexican street food!

At this rate, Rodzilla is probably wondering how much longer I’m going to screw with him. Why, for the love of all that is marrow and organ-heavy, would I be eating Mexican food and drinking a Desperado on a bench in the middle of a park near the Canal St. Martin? The obvious answer is because it is awesome- I’m willing to bet an order of steak frites that these are the best tacos in Paris, despite the obvious lack of competition. El Nopal is a busy, bright building amidst laundromats andoffice buildings. It is literally bright- bright purple, that is, and barely large enough to fit a griddle and two chairs. Its three owners dance around each other like a Three Stooges routine, making homemade tortillas, frying meat, and cracking open cold beer for the line snaking out the door.

One afternoon last week, two friends and I took a trip over to the restaurant, a trip I can see myself making many times again over the fall. El Nopal has a small menu selection, and US tourists may momentarily belabor the lack of tortilla chips, an uncommon side in France, but all will be forgiven once you sneak a piece of their carnitas from your taco or burrito. This is the real deal, folks. Caramelized, crispy edges with a thick, sweet crust revealing tender meat inside. I ordered three tacos, filled with a mixture of the daily meats. In this case, three homemade tortillas crammed with chicken and chickpeas, steak with onions and garlic, and habanero carnitas. It was the latter I preferred, but all three were filling and well-balanced in spice and flavor.

With these, I had one of the best agua frescas I’ve ever enjoyed, a freshly made cucumber mint drink with fresh lime zest and pieces of cucumber. It was a really wonderful beverage, one that will go very well with the flask of tequila I bring the next time around!

Both the tacos and burritos, which my two friends ordered and adored, were served with a habanero sauce that the owners warned us about in advance for being very spicy. This sauce is a good testament to the Parisian inability to handle heat- while the sauce was very zesty and fruity, it only delivered a mild heat.

I want to tell everyone I know about this place- it’s amazing. However, if French Mexican isn’t your thing, fear not, francophones, I have a sandwich later on in the week for you that I think you’ll all go wild for. Incidentally, this week is also Retro Cereal Week, a collaborate effort with myself and four of my amazing blogosphere friends. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to foist spoonful after spoonful of vintage cereal into our mouths and write about it on the internet, not because we secretly miss Fear Factor, but because we’re amazing. We’ll be featuring reviews each day this week, so check out The Impulsive Buy, Rodzilla Reviews, Food Junk, Junk Food Guy, and me, Foodette Reviews, each day to get the scoop!

KFC Boxmaster Grande

One of my favorite restaurants in American really isn’t American at all—Marseilles, in Manhattan, is a replica of a French brasserie. So, given my love of meta-everything, it seemed befitting to hit up the least French restaurant on my second day in Paris—KFC. And yes, that’s a hostess desk you see off to the right. KFC Restaurant is extremely popular in Paris, especially among the younger set of students. On my visit, I didn’t see any American tourists, but the place was still packed. That being said, I wanted to get something a little over the ordinary on my first visit, and the Boxmaster Grande spoke to me in a way that only contextually removed “foreign” flavors can. Packed with spicy chicken, lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa, guacamole, and inexplicably, a hash brown wrapped in a giant tortilla, it seemed too good (bad?) to pass up.

 And as an added bonus, even after a short walk and a sprint up the six flights of 124 stairs (but how about that view?!) to get to my apartment, it came out perfectly preserved, looking identical to the promotional photo. If you think that our advertising preys on our emotions because occasionally Big Ronald tosses out a “happy” in front of an item to make you feel good, French fast food packaging takes it to a whole other level. Look at the word cloud surrounding Limited Edition—the color blends in with the package so that on some level, you might not even notice it.
Look a little closer and you’ll see that the Boxmaster all but promises you ultimate success, fulfillment, and the energy to live a “100% good” life, at least while you’re eating. The Boxmaster Grande is good—maybe not 100% good, but certainly a tasty and consistent fast food item. The components stay true to the Mexican theme and deliver on the spice without depending on one particular flavor. The chicken was tender, but extremely dry. Luckily, it had a real paprika-boosted kick to it and wasn’t too salty. Because it was pre-made, patches of it were soaked and mushy, an unpleasant surprise, but for the most part, it was crispy.
The accompanying toppings were a mixed bag. The vegetables, three thin slices of tomato and lettuce, were fresh and crisp and gave a nice contrast to the fried and dairy components. The cheese was undistinguished and disappeared under the deluge of bolder flavors. The two side sauces couldn’t have been more polarized. The guacamole was thick and chunky, with pieces of tomato and onion inside. It was as good as Chipotle or On the Border’s guac, and came dabbed in the lettuce like a side salad of its own. The so-called “zesty” salsa, atop the hash brown, was thin and watery and ended up tasting like a ketchup someone had accidentally dumped a boatload of paprika into. The hash brown served as a filler item, albeit a clever one, and ended up squeezing into areas the chicken didn’t cover.

 Overall, I liked getting this, even if it was just as a novelty item. Fast food is not something that I’ll be eating often, due to the aforementioned strange prices, but the KFC looks like it tests out some pretty fun products from time to time. Even if the Boxmaster didn’t quite make the mark, it was still a clever and familiar set of flavors for me. I’m looking forward to seeing KFC take a note from Burger King Japan- caviar and lobster Boxmaster would be worth the price!

Three Pepper Smoked Turkey Sliders en Papillote

We don’t have a TV. Trust me, it’s better off that way. It’s a dangerous habit to ease into the swelling waters of bayou billionaires and extravagant birthday parties. There are a few shows I love the concepts of, though, like Chopped. It’s fun to think of what a random combination of ingredients could be incorporated into a dish and how the flavors could come out in any number of ways. I did my own miniature version of Chopped the other night, using some fun ingredients I’ve received over the last few weeks. Without further ado, here are my Three Pepper Smoked Turkey Sliders en Papillote.

I came up with this idea in part in homage to a classic Connecticut treat, steamed burgers, and also as a result of having some spectacular spicy ingredients around the house. I received some spice-infused salts in the mail from The Spice Lab a few weeks ago, and picked up some fantastic Cypress Grove peppered goat cheese and parchment bags from PaperChef at the Fancy Food Show that I’d been dying to use. These sliders are small, but they’re packed with flavor and are moist and tender from steaming in the oven.

Three Pepper Smoked Turkey Sliders en Papillote
Ingredients (makes 8 sliders)
8 slider rolls
1/2 lb ground turkey
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 pimento pepper, minced
1 habanero pepper, minced
1/2 teaspoon of smoked sea salt (smoked jalapeno salt found here)
1/2 teaspoon of olive oil
1/2 round of goat cheese, approximately two ounces

1. Chop and prepare your ingredients. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the salt, sliced onion, and half of the peppers together. Toss with oil.

2.  Mix the remaining peppers into the ground turkey and shape into eight small sliders, roughly 1/8th of a pound apiece.

3. Layer the onions and peppers on the bottom of the parchment bag in a single layer, evenly distributing the ingredients. Place the patties on top with a blob of goat cheese and seal the bag tightly, crimping the edges over twice to ensure that it doesn’t open while cooking.

4. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let the burgers cool for five minutes, and open the bag from the top. Spoon burgers and onions onto buns and devour!

We served these with a cantaloupe basil agua fresca, a drink we’ve enjoyed before. It was a really refreshing treat and definitely quenched the heat these baby burgers brought! Even if the ghetto three-hour fresca drip and Death Star melon husk (pictured below) didn’t quite work out.

I’m excited to experiment with parchment bags more. Have you tried out any other interesting recipes with these? I want to go past the ubiquitous steamed salmon and asparagus. What else do you think would be fun to steam in the oven?

Frontera Limited Edition Farmers Market Salsa

I could live off of salsa and chips in the same way that Miss Love could eat nothing but pasta with tomato sauce for dinner. Many a dinner has gone by where I’ve sat, bag of Tostitos and jar by my side, all gone an hour later. That being said, that’s one of my biggest trepidations about moving to Paris this August. Yes, all the TMZ rumors you’ve heard are true, your faithful critic is shipping off to Gay Paree for six months to study abroad. But for the life of me, I don’t know where I’m going to get my fix of Mexican food. I know that any Southern readers are likely scoffing incredulously. We do have good Mexican food up here, though, I swear! It’s right near our cowboy hat emporiums and famed barbecue joints, too.

Luckily, I can order Rick Bayless’s Farmers Market (Farmers’ Market?) salsa online while I’m away. Sure, the shipping charge may deter some aficionados, but not this guy. The flavors alone are enough to keep me coming back time and time again. In October, I gushed over the Chipotle Pumpkin salsa and now I’ve got a jar of the Heirloom Tomato for my own. Well, half a jar, now. I could tell you how gorgeous the juxtaposition of the rich, maroon salsa was against the rustic label design and blab about the huge chunks of smoky tomatoes and roasted onions, but again. Half a jar. I think that hammers the point home that I loved this salsa.

Lately, I’ve discovered that although my bloggy tendencies and tastebuds love weird sauce and salsa flavors, thank you very much, in terms of a daily grazing delight, it doesn’t get much better than a classic salsa. This is an upscale version of the flavors you’ve known and loved for years- tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, and a healthy shake of cumin. No rocket science here, but it melds together impeccably with a thick, cohesive texture more akin to a simmered sauce than a chip dip. The one switch that brings this from salsa to stardom is the addition of habanero and serrano peppers as backup singers for the jalapeno. The result is a clean, sweet bite with a tangy flavor and lingering heat that seeps into all of the vegetable pieces. Deelish, although a bit more tang and heat would make this near perfect. This might be the saving grace to French cafeteria food, non?