garces - 2 for 2

you may remember our first GLOWING review of chef jose garces' mexican themed restaurant distrito from last summer. we talk about this dining experience a lot in our normal, non-internet lives as the perfect situation one could hope for when requesting special dishes due to dietary restrictions (whether they be voluntary or involuntary, mind you!). my second go round with garces was at the new garces trading co. on 11th and locust and, let's just say the dietary restrictions are a little more lax this go round.

i was acquainted with only the shell of the soon to be bistro, as i attended an open call for new employees back in january. offered a job on the spot, i ended up turning it down as brighter prospects were on the horizon. i promised chef greg (sweetest little chef dude i ever met!) i'd come back and see him when they opened. and let me say, i'm glad i did.

take the "tour" on the website, and you'll see the welcoming open room, lined with a cheese and charcuterie counter, coffee and housemade cookies and pastries, a PLCB wine store (where you purchase a bottle and then BYO to the restaurant) and a lovely little flower shop in the foyer. as well as bottle your own olive oil station and an assortment of housemade jams, jellies and sauces.

we nabbed a table during a busy lunchtime rush but were still graced with good service. a friend of ours working the line sent us a few treats which ended up sending us into the realm of LOTS OF FOOD. however, we happily ate everything knowing that a sunny walk home would calm our bellies. the meal:

the "chef's mix" of olives

baby artichokes with preserved lemon, olive oil and date walnut cake

Kunik - a soft ripened triple cream cow and goat's milk cheese
from Nettle Meadow Farm in New York, with white sangria honey
ordered as an app, eaten for first dessert.
yes, that's right, i said FIRST dessert.

eggplant antipasti with roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes confit
aged balsamic and microgreens

my dining partner had a pretty insane duck salad
opposite me for this course that i neglected to photograph
it was pretty beautifully presented, i must say

funghi pizza with maitakes, royal trumpets, taleggio and black truffles;
this is one of my favorite pizzas i've had in the city since eating cheese.

i have no idea how we ate all this food, although i suppose i requested a small box for the last piece of pizza. after a meal that took over an hour, we relaxed and ordered coffee. i strolled up to check out the coffee bar when i discovered ::gasp:: cute little pastries! so tiny, so delicate, only two or three bites each, how could i say no? a small tart goes superbly hand in hand (fork in mouth?) with a cup of good coffee.

the marjolaine - almond daquoise, chocolate ganache, coffee buttercream

and so we ventured back into the sunshine. wallet a bit lighter, bellies a bit more distended. one hell of a lunch behind us, and no foreseeable need to eat again for the next 24 to 48 hours...


go go romesco

i'm starting to think all dressings, sauces, purees and dang near anything else that will eventually "dress" another food, should have nuts included. we've recently come into a good quantity of almonds (thanks costco!) and raw cashews (thanks even more, tffac!), and using them up has been glorious. i don't know about you guys, but nuts in this house are a major commodity - expensive, nutritious, and sure to enhance everything they touch.

lauren brought home some lovely little new potatoes from the italian market yesterday, the kind that are smaller than eggs and perfect for roasting. even though the weather has been warmer lately (praise be!), we're still a few months away from the sweltering summer when turning the oven on is nothing short of masochistic.

so we cut the cute taters in half, prepped some zucchini, onions and carrots, and tossed the whole mess with olive oil, paprika, s&p. slid the pan into a 350F oven for 20 minutes. it should always be this easy.

but naked veggies (even ones gently roasted to perfection, thank you a-very much) are for especially lazy days, and we were both feeling more motivated last night. after thumbing through a few cookbooks, inspiration struck: romesco sauce! this almond, hazelnut, and/or pine nut-based sauce is thick and robust, and a super classy alternative to ketchup to accompany potatoes. and best of all, it's so easy. don't let the fancy name or european roots of this dude mislead you; it is not one bit harder than making hummus or bean dip. romesco is a cousin of pesto and tapenade in that it wears many food hats: it can be thinned out and tossed with pasta, spread as a sandwich condiment, spooned onto crackers or extra spicy as a dip for vegetables.

or just eat it straight out of the bowl!

if you have the ingredients in your pantry (and i'd bet you do), consider making an extra large batch - some for tonight's dinner, and some to have on hand for the coming week. believe me, it will give you many happy returns when you're standing at the open fridge pondering "what little snacks await me?"

Salsa Romesco
adapted from "The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen" by Donna Klein
~makes about 1.5 cups~
~takes 10 minutes~

1/2 cup nuts - any combo of almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, or pine nuts
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small dried chili pepper or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2 medium tomatoes, fresh or canned (she says to seed them, but i don't think it's necessary)
1 tsp paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin, or not)
1-1.5 tbsp red vine vinegar (i bet red wine + a squeeze of lemon juice would be good, too)
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (fully optional)

-in the toaster oven (or real oven at 350F, if you must), toast the nuts. take care not to burn them! i used to always burn nuts when i meant to toast them. it sucks. let them cool a bit.

- put the nuts, garlic, chili and salt in a food processor and pulse til ground.

- add everything else and let the processor run until you've got a nice, red, nutty sauce. you might need to scrape down the sides a few times to make sure it's well combined.

- if you have the time, let the romesco cool, so the flavors can meld. or if you don't have time, don't worry!

- added bonus: i'm reasonably sure that a small scoop of romesco sauce atop half a roasted new potato counts as "tapas," and would be an awesome addition to an at-home happy hour!



tales of a brave band

non-food post ahoy!

sometimes, while riding my bike to work in the morning, the most random things will enter my brain. i suppose it's just a process the mind goes through - discovering forgotten pockets of memory while clearing out the cobwebs of sleep and shaking off the echoes of strange dreams.

anyway, i find myself considering people i haven't seen in years, moments from childhood vacations, a funny little joke from a movie, a headline from last week's new york times. sometimes it's a song - maybe even just a refrain or a few notes - rising up from the dregs of my unconscious.

today, i kept thinking about Ida, a band that was one of my high school favorites. i still really like them, but have less of a place in my life for pretty, heartfelt emo. that kind of music is really good for driving around on clear afternoons (which i don't do much of anymore); it is also good for singing to yourself on your bicycle on a new spring day. now, comfy at my desk, i've been listening to them all morning and am a bit surprised how fully these songs still tug on my heart strings.

go here and listen to the song "dream date" and you'll see what i mean.

i do have their newest album "lovers prayer" (artwork above) that occasionally finds its way to the turntable while i'm in the kitchen. chill music is best while baking, i find. the record is lovely, as is the band: a married couple and their friends, who've been doing their thing (they call it an "idiosyncratic style of minimalist folk rock music") since the early 90's.

when i was 17, i went with my friend blair to see Ida perform at the terrace club on princeton's campus. i didn't ask permission to drive the car that far and didn't get back til probably 4AM, when i got so, thoroughly busted. but you know what? i don't remember how sucky it was to get in trouble, or even what my punishment was. what i do remember, clear as a bell, is the dark, creaky wood floors of the club (a very cool space to see a show, btw), the softness of the lamplight, the band's quiet intimacy and impossible grace. i remember how enchanted i was, how giddy, how deep and stoned and intense it made me feel even though i was completely sober. i went up to them after the show to thank them, my hands shaking, and then fled down the stone steps and ran out across a big field of wet grass. everything was woozy and surreal under the clear university sky.


saturday night's alright for snackin'

this is snacks, a cat i've grown to love in the past few months. it's sort of food related, i mean his name is snacks!! just catsitting folks, not (yet) a pet owner...

tomorrow, emily and i are volunteering at the brewer's plate, a fundraiser for fair food. we work for 3.5 hours and then get to attend the event for free, including the vip experience. (nothing like supporting a good cause with good old fashioned muscle and elbow grease). a report will surely be in order!


hibernation - baking & breaking bread

what is it about winter that just makes us want to stuff our cheeks with food and curl up in bed for a few weeks? particularly the stuff our cheeks part. fortunately, hopefully, the end is nigh (of winter that is).

during the crazy february snowstorm, some friends and i went on a baking frenzy and made a bunch of different breads and pizzas from jim lahey's bread book "my bread". you may remember lahey from when he was featured on mark bittman's blog some years back, where he sort of messed with everyone's past notions of breadmaking (mine, for sure).

lahey says, let the bread do the work, not the breadmaker. his innovative no-knead method uses just a bit of yeast and no-kneading (obviously), letting the bread sit 12-16 (up to 18!) hours overnight, then a quick shaping and another few hours to rest, an hour in the oven and voila. best loaf of bread EVER. some of you may be saying, "but i don't have time to make bread and wait for it to rise, boo hoo". the beauty of this method is that you're asleep for the majority of the "work". and sleeping while working, well don't we all sneak naps at our desk jobs anyway?

after a few trials of the standard "no-knead bread" (recipe here) using a variety of different flour combinations and resting times, we went for a nice alternative. OLIVE LOAF!!! who doesn't love a goodwarm crispy chewy olive studded loaf of bread, fresh out of the oven?

at first glance, this recipe might look LONG and complicated. it's actually just 6 easy steps, the author is just a bit verbose, but that's to ensure that your loaf comes out looking (and tasting) stellar. so don't shy away! throw this together before bed tonight and you'll be glad you did.

Pane all'Olive (Olive Bread)
Yield: One 10-inch round loaf; 1 1/2 pounds
Equipment: A 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-quart heavy pot

3 cups bread flour
about 1 and 1/2 cups roughly chopped pitted olives
3/4 teaspoon instant active dry yeast
1 and 1/2 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees F) water
wheat bran or additional flour for dusting

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, olives and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

3. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran or (we used) flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third, and place a covered 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-quart heavy pot in the center of the rack. (Make sure your lid is oven safe!)

5. Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. (Use caution! the pot will be very hot.) Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to gently lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.