End of the Fork SABBATICAL

Sometimes professors take sabbaticals, sometimes chefs take sabbaticals… you may have noticed that I have been a little M.I.A. from this blog. While my fingers were not necessarily resting from the keyboard, I was still busy eating and cooking, from coast to coast. I delved into the wonderful world of twitter and have shared extensively about my eating experiences. I have also started to blog under the name “On Kappy’s Plate” on http://www.RachaelRay.com. I hope you have enjoyed what was a short lived blog. And, I hope you continue to read about my endeavors on rachaelray.com. In the meantime, for up-to-the-meal info, you may follow me on twitter; http://www.twitter.com/onkappysplate (@onkappysplate)

Where Oprah, Burgers and My Childhood Come Together

Today I ate a hamburger from HB Burger, a semi-new burger joint here in Manhattan. It wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had, but I enjoyed eating it. It was cooked on a flat grill (like a griddle) and served on a soft bun. On my walk back to the office after that lunch I had an ah-ha moment (this is where Oprah comes in – she has recurring ah-ha moments). I remembered one of the first burgers I ever ate. One of the finest burgers I ever ate. It was from Harry’s Grill in Deerfield, IL. Harry’s Grill has had at least four name changes and six different owners since I was a kid, but that’s beside the point. Harry’s Grill was our neighborhood…I’ll call it “diner,” for lack of a better term. Everything was cooked on a flat grill at Harry’s. The burgers would sizzle away as you sat at the counter and watched. When they were done, the cook would toss the burger on a plate and slide them across the counter to you. If you didn’t stop the sliding plate, the burger would be on your lap. This was one of my first burger experiences, one that I have not thought about in a very, very long time, until today.

Over these last 20-something years, I have tried a variety of burgers, from Mushroom Swiss Burgers from Murphy’s in Champaign, IL and burgers from Free State Brewery in Lawrence, KS to Duck Burgers from Cindy Pawlcyn in Napa to Cuban Chorizo Burgers in Miami, and even my first Lamb Burger with Goat Cheese from Green Street Café in Coconut Grove, FL. While the toppings on burgers seem endless, the cooking methods are, well, flat grill or char grill. There have been magazine articles heralding the top burgers in the country (and I’ve enjoyed many of them) along with television shows about burgers; people who blog solely about burgers and books about the history of the burger. Where will this burger frenzy end? Will it end?

Now, fast-forward from when I was child sitting at the counter at Harry’s Grill to now. One of my favorite burgers of all time, hands down, is at Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. It’s simple. It’s a thin, freshly ground burger cooked on a flat grill and served on a soft potato bun. I love it. It gets me every time. Long lines, hype and awards aside, I have a crush on this burger.

Today at around 2:10pm EST, it all came together for me. I was walking down 43rd Street wondering why I liked that burger form HB so much. It wasn’t all that amazing, but there was something about it. That’s when the ah-ha moment happened. It reminded me of the burger I used to eat at Harry’s Grill as a kid. Now wait, why do I love Shake Sh…. AH, THEIR BURGER IS COOKED ON FLAT GRILL TOO. AND, SERVED ON A SOFT BUN. It all came together in the blink of an eye.

While I love a good char burger, I guess it’s true: a burger cooked on a flat grill really does it for me. This is not right or wrong, but like many childhood experiences, mine and burgers came together and made their peace today.

What Pisses Me Off?!? A Lingering Turn Signal…and a Bad Burrito Wrap

You may not know this, but I see you struggling. When your Chicken Caesar Wrap falls apart, you’re annoyed. When your burrito has a rip, it sucks. When your spring roll wrapper tears, it’s a bummer. Let’s face it, a bad wrap can ruin your meal, whether you realize it or not.

I’m a fan of things wrapped. It took me a while to order them because I really didn’t get the whole wrap craze. It must have been a bad wrap experience some time ago. These days, I’ve been known to wait for a certain worker behind the counter because I know they wrap better than others.

When Momofuku Ssam first opened, you may recall their shtick was these Japanese Burritos called Ssams (these are no longer on their dinner menu). Basically, a bunch of Asian-inspired ingredients were wrapped in an oversized mu shu pancake. This was a great idea. I headed over to Momofuku Ssam on one of the first nights it was open and gave it a whirl. David Chang took my wrapper out of a warmer…he passed it to a guy who added some rice and beans…that guy passed it to the next one, who added some Berkshire pork and kimchi. As my wrap slid down the line, I couldn’t help but notice the master wrapper at the end, and I couldn’t wait for him to get his hands on my wrap. But as the concoction slid toward him, he turned away and an amateur stepped in. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The amateur wrapped it and I could tell this was a recipe for disaster. But how could I intervene?

I sat at the bar to enjoy my ssam, and as you might suspect, I didn’t. It fell apart about three bites in. My wrap had turned into a Ssam Bowl.

I recently recalled this story the other day when I went to one of my favorite lunch spots, Chop’t. I always get a salad wrap from Chop’t, and they have some pretty solid wrappers there. On this trip, as the man wrapped my sandwich, I saw the wrap rip in front of my eyes. Not a little rip, a three inch long rip. I had some crazy flashbacks. Listen, if I’m going to pay for my salad wrap, I want a good wrap. If it‘s going to fall apart and I’ll need to eat it with a fork, I’ll order a regular salad in a bowl. So I asked the gentleman for a rewrap. A short sigh later, he did so and wrapped one of the tightest wrapped salad wraps I have ever experienced. Perfection. Thank you, Mr. Salad Wrapper Guy!

On your next wrap or burrito outing, don’t be shy. Take a cue from me and ask for a good and tight wrap.

Creamy Nougat Goodness

Fried Mars-close 2What’s your favorite – Mars or Milky Way? Truth be told, the UK version of the Mars bar was produced to be a sweeter version of the American Milky Way, so they are quite similar. Originating in Scotland and served in fried form at A Salt & Battery in the West Village, this treat will warm your insides like a hot mug of eggnog on a winter’s day. I was skeptical about this treat when my British mate described it to me, but when I headed to A Salt & Battery (112 Greenwich Ave, 212-691-2717) for a taste of their fish and chips, I had strict orders to not leave without trying one, even if I only had one bite. I ordered it at $3.25 a bar. It came out blistering hot and was a little intimidating at first; this was different than the fried Twinkies and fried Oreos I’ve heard about. I took a bite. I cannot remember the last time I had a bite of anything that compared to that bite. The thin, crisp tempura-like batter cooked to golden brown perfection collapsed into the creamy nougat goodness of the bar and tore off oh-so-gently without leaving a caramel string across my chin. I can chew gum and walk at the same time, but standing there, stopped in my tracks by that first bite, I realized that a fried Mars bar is worthy of full and absolute attention.

Fried Mars-bite

One Truck, Two Truck, New Truck, Food Truck

From the Skillet Airstream Trailer in Seattle, WA to Torchy’s Tacos in Austin, TX and from Jin’s Chicken and Fish in Madison, WI to the Jamaican Dutchy in New York City, the prized “food truck” is the hot (semi) new way to experience great cuisine. It seems like every day a new one is popping up on a different corner in New York City; pizza, dumplings, Taiwanese fried chicken, tacos, cupcakes…you name it, trucks are putting out our favorite foods. But is the food really up to par? Or is it just “cool” that the food is coming out of a truck and I never know what block it will be parked at? Has the curiosity hit me so deep that it leaves me chasing these trucks around the city?

I thought of many different directions to take this post, such as the geographic locations of trucks, the variety of foods they offer, the lines that wrap around the block, the Wall Street worker turned truck owner, etc. My point is this: trucks should not overlook the importance of quality and consistency. To any future “Truckapreneurs,” I don’t mean to sound bitter, but here’s the thing: if you plan on starting a truck, please give us something a little better than average, at least. You go through this whole process, blogs hear about you, you hit the streets, and all of a sudden a sub-par product is all the rage.

Please tell me you agree with me. If you go to a truck that sells one item such as, oh let’s say, a cupcake – am I wrong to say that it better be a damn good cupcake? In fact, I think it should be one of the best cupcakes I have ever eaten. After all, you don’t have a whole bakery and multiple items to maintain, you have one thing to excel at, and that is a cupcake. Are my expectations too high? If you’re going to prep and cook an item and sell it for a few hours or more a day, don’t we as customers have the right to get a tasty, delicious, and well thought out item? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of darn good food from a truck, but I’ve also had below average as well. Is a quality cupcake too much to ask for?

Now, part of my commitment to writing about food overall is that I don’t like to dwell on the negatives; rather I like to shed light on the positives. After all, I’m a product of the restaurant industry and I only wish it great success. On that note, it seems the next truck on my radar is the La Cense Beef Burger Truck. The burgers are made from all grass-fed beef and I can confidently say that with Adam Perry Lang developing the burger recipe, mark my words, they will be putting out a tried and true good quality burger. So on that note, get ready to hit that “follow” button on Twitter to see exactly where it’s parked.

Truck off!

  

Skillet:  http://skilletstreetfood.com

Torchy’s Tacos:  www.torchystacos.com

Jin’s Chicken and Fish:  http://jinschickenandfish.com

The Jamaican Dutchy:  www.midtownlunch.com/2007/06/13/the-jamaican-dutchy-a-midtown-cart-on-island-time

La Cense Beef Burger Truck:  www.thrillist.com/new-york/burger-truck

CURRY FRIED CHICKEN GOODNESS

Two friends recently invited me to their “Furniture-Warming Party.” Not a “Housewarming Party,” but a “Furniture-Warming Party.” They figured that they had lived in their apartment for a while already, so it was already warm. Little did I know that, as a guest, it was literally going to be warm.

Why? Well, when you decide to fry in Manhattan-size apartments, there’s really no place for the hot air to go. But here’s the thing, I am not knocking this. Rather, I’m applauding them for this. I knew that my friend Kara was making curry fried chicken. On top of that, she was making sliders, Mexican-style corn with the real-deal seasonings and Cotija cheese, and God knows what else she would decide to whip up.

Getting off the elevator, I already smelled the chicken cooking. I was slightly sweaty because I had walked faster than I thought I was walking to their apartment. I felt a blast of fried chicken air hit me as I opened the door, but soon cooled off with a couple glasses of sangria. Kara doesn’t cut corners when it comes to cooking, and she likes a lot of flavor in her food, so I was excited for whatever was to come.

I first noticed little slider-size burger buns. I’m always down for a good slider. She used some coarse ground beef and mixed in some garlic chives to make the burgers, then topped them with fresh mozzarella, burst cherry tomatoes, brown sugar pepper bacon (Bacon Candy) and sautéed ramps (wild leeks). This slider was pretty damn good. I didn’t have just one…I didn’t have just two…well, I’ll stop there.

Slider Preparation

Slider Preparation

 Along with the sliders was the much-anticipated curry fried chicken. This was not your basic fried chicken. It was broken down into eight pieces and marinated overnight in Greek yogurt and plenty of Indian spices: cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, a dash of allspice, ground ginger, some curry powder for good measure (even though she knew that the blend, itself, was already curry powder) and some chili powder. Half of the spices were toasted in a pan first and then added to the yogurt. The other half went in the flour. After the chicken had marinated overnight, she took off some of the yogurt, shook it in a brown paper bag with the seasoned flour, then fried it to golden brown perfection. It was super–delicious, and while you could taste the curry flavor, it wasn’t overwhelming. She served it with lime wedges to squeeze over the top.

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken

I brought along a Jalapeño Bacon Cole Slaw. After all, what better side to go along with some fried chicken than cole slaw? (recipe below)

We weren’t done. Last, but certainly not least, Kara and Jeanette put their friend Mandie up to the ultimate test: a dessert that is not a cake, cookie or pie. Mandie shocked the house with a beautiful, fresh meringue. We were treated to a Pavlova, the Russian meringue dessert. With a consistency and sweetness that was just right, it was topped with fresh berries and almond whipped cream.

Dessert

Dessert

As for the fried chicken, I’ll be making more of that at home, before the summer heat sets in.

Jalapeño Bacon Cole Slaw

Serves 4-5

1 cup mayonnaise

2-3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, to taste

2 teaspoons sugar, to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 package (14 ounces) cole slaw cabbage mix, store-bought or fresh cabbage, shredded*

1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped

6-8 slices bacon, cooked and rough chopped

In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar to make a dressing and season with salt and pepper. If you like your slaw more vinegary, by all means, go for it. If you like it less sweet or more sweet, adjust the sugar, to taste.

In a larger mixing bowl, add the cabbage, chopped jalapeños and the cooked and chopped bacon. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Let the slaw sit in the fridge for a good hour or two to let the flavors come together. It’s even better the next day!

* If you are using fresh cabbage and shredding it yourself, you can use one small head of white cabbage and one half small head of red cabbage. You can add one shredded carrot, too.

What the ‘F’ is a Bulgogi Dog?

It’s nice to know that I have a loving family. So loving, in fact, that my brother, who lives in Chicago, sends me blog postings that I’ve missed on New York-based food blogs. The most recent post happened to be The 2009 Hot Dog Hootenanny! Nevermind the name – any hot dog themed event, I’m in. This event was hosted by Ed Levine of the popular food blog Serious Eat (http://www.seriouseats.com), as well as Bruce Kraig, author of the book Hot Dog: A Global History. (http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Dog-Global-History-Edible/dp/1861894279/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1242399796&sr=1-1)  

As I walked into the event, I was already overwhelmed. They were handing out FOUR different styles of hot dogs – we’re talking full hot dogs. The first one I tried was from Crif Dogs (http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/crif-dogs) in the East Village. They were serving their Chihuahua Dog, which is a bacon-wrapped hot dog with avocadoes and sour cream. I tried not to act surprised and kept my cool. Truthfully, it was the hot dog being wrapped in bacon that kept me there.

Chihuahua Dog

Chihuahua Dog

 

Next stop was New York Hot Dog & Coffee (http://www.nyhotdog-coffee.com). The funny thing is, there are over 30 of these stores in Tokyo, but this is the first that’s actually in New York! They were sampling their Bulgogi Dog, a hot dog with thinly sliced Korean BBQ beef, lettuce and pickles on top. This was a little weird for a guy who grew up on the classic Chicago-style dog. I’m open to all new foods, well, most new foods. Was it good? Yes. Would I get it again? Eh, I’ll probably try another one of their crazy varieties, such as the Kimchi-Bulgogi Dog.

Bulgogi Dog

Bulgogi Dog

After that, it was New York’s own Papaya King (http://www.papayaking.com), a long, skinny hot dog with sauerkraut, New York-style sautéed onions and a brown mustard. Sabrett makes these hot dogs and supposedly there is a special spice that they put in this hot dog for Papaya King, but no one really knows for sure.

Papaya King

Papaya King

 

The fourth dog in the room was my hometown favorite: a Chicago-style dog from Vienna Beef (http://www.viennabeef.com). I was a little hesitant to indulge in my hometown dog while in New York, so I resisted the temptation.

After scouting the room, I went into a tasting room for a 30-minute seminar given by Chicago’s own, Bruce Kraig. Bruce talked about the history of the hot dog, the different styles of hot dogs and how hot dogs get used and abused. I will not go into too much detail, but we sampled hot dogs from companies such as Thumann’s, Usinger, Oscar Meyer and more. The only one that shocked my taste buds was Koegel’s Pickled Red Hot. Koegel is made in Flint, MI, and this hot dog really does have that vinegary pickled kick that you’re thinking of. It was definitely interesting, and good, I might add.

Oh yeah. My ability to resist the temptation to eat the Vienna dog? It didn’t last. I had one on the way out!