A few days in New York leaves you wondering what recession? No point in chipping up to one of the hot restaurants without a reservation. Many don’t take bookings anyway so you just resign yourself to queuing – could be half an hour or longer but you might as well chill out and accept the inevitable wait. One can enjoy the camaraderie and cheery banter between fellow ‘hopefuls’.
This time, I stayed in a newish boutique hotel down-town in the Meat Packing district in Greenwich Village. The uber-cool Standard Hotel has a procession of gorgeous young people in the edgiest new gear traipsing in and out all the time.
Hunter Wellies seem to be the hippest footwear just now; I was feeling totally frumpy having left my wellies on the back porch in Shanagarry. As ever, I ate for Ireland – all in the way of research! It was over the St Patricks Day holiday so the food and kitchen shops from posh Dean and Delucca, to the farmer’s market were selling shamrock cookies edged with glitter, scary green cup cakes and gateaux covered in Kelly-green shamrocks and cheeky leprechauns. Many sold soda bread and spotted dog. The US version of Irish soda bread usually includes dried fruit and caraway seeds as well – very delicious.
The food scene in New York is brilliantly exciting; some of the best food is found in tiny restaurants where hungry young chefs and cooks, passionate about fresh, local straight from the farm or farmer’s market are doing simple creative food that knocks your socks off. This was typified in Aldea where George Mendes daily menu has a Portuguese influence.
I had a particularly delicious lunch at Locanda Verde a new ‘haut-casual’ neighbourhood restaurant in Tribeca’s Green Hotel where chef Andrew Carmellini is making waves. People are flocking for garlic encrusted chicken for two; I didn’t try that but I loved the sheep’s milk ricotta with cracked pepper and fresh thyme leaves and a good gloop of really beautiful extra virgin olive oil. This was served with a few slices of char-grilled focaccia. There was also a slice of duck and pistachio terrine with a frisée salad, roast pumpkin and pomegranate seeds. We also tasted delicious little meat balls rolled in fresh tomato sauce tucked inside a tiny brioche bun with a little goat cheese and pickled cucumber. But the most mind blowing of all was steak tartare with truffle oil and was it gherkin? The beef was hand cut into minute 1/8 inch cubes and exquisitely seasoned. A little strip of crisp guanciale propped up against the side and a fried poached quail egg sat on the top – much of the food is served on slate or timber boards and like many New York restaurant now there’s a little café at the side of restaurant with tempting goodies to take home.
Mario Batali’s Casa Mona in Irving Place is still pulling in the adventurous eaters with its sublime tapas and small plates which might include duck hearts, cocks combs, pig’s ear, or tripe.
It’s all about meat in New York at present; chefs are going crazy doing cured meats, homemade sausages, salami… Some of the hottest new places like Minetta Tavern are leading the way. Artisan Butchers are the new heroes, cool young people are vying with each other to sign up for Butchers School and apparently most classes are over subscribed. The cool crowd and it seems everyone else as well, are on a stampede in search of the ‘smash’ burger. Can you imagine, there are blogs about burgers where people reveal their newest find and affionados are forking out up $28.00 for trendy – piled high burgers in throbbing faux ‘speak-easys’. Try the iconic Shake Shack, there are now three in town. Zaitzelf in the East Village is getting rave reviews for their glamburgers make of Kobe beef, sirloin, turkey, veggies…
BD Bistro Moderne – David Bouloud’s superbistro also serves a delish enriched burger if you have a mind to pay $32.00 for the fashionista’s favourite.
When I’m in New York if I have a craving for a burger I head to Le Parker Meridian Hotel in Midtown and slink in behind the crumby velour curtain off the lobby, there’s a ‘caf’ with Formica tables where you can tuck into maybe the best but not the most expensive burger in town. The Breslin Bar and Dining Room is another place to add to your list. April Bloomfield of Spotted Pig fame has opened a new flagship gastropub there, great lamb burgers, tongue sandwiches and onion soup laced with bone marrow. Love nor money couldn’t get me into Maialino, Danny Meyer’s classic new Roman trattoria – there are rave reviews for the food so it may be worth booking on line before you leave home and while you’re at it, book Momofuku KO – they only have 12 seats – a brilliant experience – there’s also Momofuku Ssam and Momofuku Noodle Bar – all David Chang’s brainchild.
There is so much more, Sorella, Emma Hearst’s small seasonal restaurant and winebar serves exceptional Austrian Farmers market cooking at good prices and is again in mid-town.
I haven’t even mentioned breakfast at Ino or the Grey Dog. Pack a skirt with an elasticated waist band, buy a Time Out and a Zagat’s guide to New York dining and have fun.
French Onion Soup with Gruyére Toasts
French onion soup is probably the best known and loved of all French soups and is still an enduring favourite from Paris to New York. It was a must for breakfast in the cafes beside the old markets at Les Halles in Paris and is still a feature on bistro menus at Rungis market. Traditionally this soup is served in special white porcelain tureens.
Serve with a glass of gutsy French vin de table.
1.35kg (3 lb) onions
50g (2 ozs) butter
1.7Litre (3 pints) good homemade beef or chicken stock or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
6 slices of baguette (French bread), 1/2 inch (1cm) thick toasted
75g (3oz) grated Gruyére cheese
Peel the onions and slice thinly. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the onion and cook on a low heat for about 40-60 minutes with the lid off, stirring frequently – the onions should be dark and well caramelised but not burnt.
Add the stock, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, bring to the boil and cook for a further 10 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.
Ladle into deep soup bowls; put a piece of toasted baguette covered with grated cheese on top of each one. Pop under the grill until the cheese melts and turns golden. Serve immediately but beware – it will be very hot. Bon appetit!
Hold your nerve: – The onions must be very well caramelized otherwise the soup will be too weak and sweet.
American Irish Soda Bread with Caraway Seeds and Sultanas
Try this Irish American version of soda bread the caraway seeds give a delicious flavour and its made in minutes.
1 lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon breadsoda
3 oz (75g) sultanas
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14 fl ozs (350-400 ml) approx.
First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients. Add the sultanas and caraway seeds. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up and flip over gently. Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/2 inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.
Cool on a wire rack , break in half and cut in thickish slices from the end. Slather with good Irish butter and enjoy.
Duck and Pistachio Terrine
8 ozs (225g) fresh duck livers
2 tablespoons) brandy
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper (yes, put it all in!)
8 ozs (225g) very thinly sliced, rindless streaky rashers (you may need more if they are not very thinly sliced) or better still, barding fat*.
1/2 oz (15g) butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 lb (450g) streaky pork, minced
8 ozs (225g) duck leg, minced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (Pimento or Jamaican Pepper)
a good pinch of ground cloves
1 tablespoon freshly chopped annual marjoram
2 small eggs, beaten
salt, freshly ground pepper and nutmeg
2 ozs (50g) shelled pistachios
6-8 ozs (170-225g) piece of cooked ham, cut in thick strips
sprig of thyme
Luting paste or tinfoil
3 pint (1.7 L/7 1/2 cups) capacity terrine or casserole with tight fitting lid
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Wash the duck livers, separate the lobes and remove any trace of green. Marinade in the brandy and 1/2 teaspoon of ground white pepper for 2 hours. Line a terrine or casserole with very thinly sliced bacon or barding fat, keeping a few slices for the top.
Sweat the onion gently in the butter until soft but not coloured. In a bowl mix the sweated onion with the pork, duck, garlic, allspice, ground cloves, chopped marjoram, beaten eggs and the brandy from the duck livers. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and lots of grated nutmeg. Mix very thoroughly. Fry a little piece and taste for seasoning – it should taste quite spicy and highly seasoned. Add the pistachios and beat until the mixture holds together.
Spread a third of the farce in the lined terrine, add a layer of half the ham strips interspersed with half the duck livers, and then cover with another third of the pork mixture. Add the remaining ham and livers and cover with the last third. Lay the reserved barding fat or bacon slices on top, trimming the edges if necessary. Set the bay leaf and sprig of thyme on top of the bacon or barding fat and cover with the lid. Seal the lid with a sheet of tinfoil under the lid.
Cook in a ban-Marie in a preheated oven, 180C/350F/regulo4, for 1 1/4-1 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted for 1/2 minute into the mixture is hot to the touch when taken out. If you are still in doubt remove the lid and check: the pate should also have shrunk in from the sides of the terrine and the juices should be clear.
Cool until tepid, remove the luting paste or tinfoil and lid and press the terrine with a board and a 2 lb (900g) weight until cold. This helps to compact the layers so that it will cut more easily. Keep for 2-3 days before serving to allow the terrine to mature. It can be frozen for up to 2 months.
To Serve: Unmould the terrine, cut into thick slices and serve with some crusty bread. Andrew Carmellini served it with a little frisée salad with a few chunks of roast pumpkin and some pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top.
Coffee Crème Brulee
200ml (7oz) milk
200ml (7oz) cream
4 large or 5 small organic egg yolks
40g (1 ½ oz) sugar
1 ½ tablespoons Irel Coffee Essence
Preheat the oven to 150ºC / 300°F / Gas 2
Put the milk and cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, gradually pour the boiling liquid over the egg yolks whisking all the time. Add the coffee and whisk again.
Pour the mixture through the sieve into 4 ramekins. Bake in a bain maire in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes until just set but slightly wobbly in the centre. Shallow wide dishes cook faster, 20 minutes approximately.
Cool, cover with cling film and chill. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar – it should be a thin layer, tip off excess if necessary. Glaze with a blow torch. Café crème brulee is already very rich but serve with a little pouring cream if you must.
Fool Proof Food
Makes 450ml (3/4pint)
This superb recipe has become very popular in recent years and I always have some made up. It is wonderful warm also, particularly with pan-grilled monkfish or even a lamb chop. This recipe will keep for months and is especially delicious with pâtés and terrines of meat, game and poultry.
1 1/2 lbs (675g) onions
3ozs (75g) butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
5ozs (150g) castor sugar
7 tablespoons sherry vinegar
9fl ozs (250ml) full-bodied red wine
2 tablespoons cassis
Peel and slice the onions thinly. Melt the butter in the saucepan and hold your nerve until it becomes a deep nut brown colour – this will give the onions a delicious rich flavour but be careful not to let it burn. Toss in the onions and sugar, add the salt and freshly ground pepper and stir well. Cover the saucepan and cook for 30 minutes over a gentle heat, keeping an eye on the onions and stirring from time to time with a wooden spatula.
Add the sherry vinegar, red wine and cassis. Cook for a further 30 minutes uncovered, stirring regularly. This onion jam must cook very gently (but don’t let it reduce too much). When it is cold, skim off any butter which rises to the top and discard.
Don’t miss the Waterford Festival of Food in Dungarvan from Friday 16th to Sunday 18th April. To get a taster of the exciting program of events and to book online go to www.waterfordfestivaloffood.com or phone (058) 22000 for more information.
Eat your own honey… learn how to get started on keeping your own bees, buying a hive and colony, necessary equipment, feeding and management on ‘Beekeeping an Introduction’ with Pat Finnegan on Sunday 18th April at the Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim. To book this course and to see their full course schedule visit www.theorganiccentre.ie or phone (071) 9854338