Archive for April, 2007

Restaurant Review: Wille’s Dawgs

All the cool kids eat at Willie’sIs there any way that hot dogs can be good for you? I think we all know the answer to that question. But Willie’s Dawgs, located in a cheery sliver of space on 5th Avenue in Park Slope, is doing its best to change the frankfurter’s reputation.

Willie’s opened back in February and has been attracting the young (and the young-at-heart) ever since. The orange-hued dining room hosts an amusing, celebratory hot-dog mural, while a walk to the back leads to an outdoor eating area that’s just perfect on sunny afternoons.

The main attractions, of course, are the dawgs, and Willie’s offers 6 varieties, served on fresh-baked, hand-made rolls. When was the last time you had a hot dog on homemade bread? Yes, I remember, never. 

The house dawgs include the Mutt, described as an all-beef frank in natural casing ($3); the Bird, composed of turkey or chicken ($3); and the Downward Facing Dog, made from tofu ($3.50). Associating yoga with hot dogs is pretty risky, but so is eating hot dogs from a street cart. I’d take Willie’s anyday.

I ordered the Mutt, and then considered Willie’s combinations. If you’re the independent sort, you can top your dog with whatever you like. But Willie’s has invented some compositions that shouldn’t be missed.

I went with the Daisy, which paired my Mutt with sweet pickle relish, mustard, and cheddar cheese on a multigrain roll ($3.50). Jim also got a Mutt, but Spike(d) it with red onions and jalapenos ($3.50). We both agreed that we had expected a little more snap! from our hot dogs when we bit into them, but these franks were really quite tasty. Jim’s dog was spicy while mine was sweet, so we had it all covered. 

I also sampled some fries, which could have been a little crisper ($2.50). The onion rings were nice and crunchy though, and we wondered if they were breaded with panko, our new favorite bread crumb ($2.75).

Willie’s Dawgs can’t totally change the historical perception of the hot dog; there’s just too much there. But I am willing to test history more than once and return. And hopefully our little friend in the photo will too (even though he didn’t eat his Beenie-Weenies! ($2.50))

351 5th Avenue (between 4th and 5th Streets in Park Slope, Brooklyn) 718-832-2941


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How I Became a Thief

blog-stuff-003.jpgI think I’ve invented a recipe. But I have to be honest. First, I stole it from my cousin. Then, because I didn’t like her version so much, I changed it. Now I’m wondering if I can truly be credited for the recipe, or if I have engaged in some sort of familial plagiarism. It’s too much to handle right now, so I’ll just figure it out later.

When my cousin Lucy visited us from Italy this past Christmas, she set a day aside and cooked a rustic, multi-course feast for my family. I immediately focused on the primoorrechiette with a pureed broccoli rabe, lentil, and ground sausage sauce. I expected to love this dish, as I have rarely encountered a pasta I didn’t like. But, sadly, the sausage added too much heft to what should have been a pleasing combination of two of my favorite vegetables. The orrechiette struggled to breathe under the thick of it all.

Two months later I found myself in my kitchen, trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I actually had some orrechiette on hand, as well as a slightly wilting head of broccoli rabe. I checked inside the pantry, where a container of lentils, half-full, waited to be emptied. Whenever I can finish a container of anything from our overstuffed pantry I get very excited, so I struggled to contain myself for a moment.

And that’s when my moment of thievery occurred. I started cooking lentils and washing and chopping broccoli rabe while the water boiled for the orrechiette. As the pasta cooked, I sauteed some garlic and red pepper flakes in a large pan with olive oil, and then added the broccoli rabe until it was cooked through and (even more) wilted.

When the pasta was done, I mixed everything together and happily observed the resulting earth-toned palette. The orrechiette did double-duty as little cups, providing easy access to the lentils, those meaty bits of protein, while the bitter greens imparted a sparkling bite of color and crunchiness. This interplay of textures, missing from Lucy’s version, was what I enjoyed most. Also, the lack of sausage helped create a lighter and fresher dish.

This lentil-and-broccoli combo has already become part of my pasta rotation, and last week I added some sauteed grape tomatoes, just for fun. They added an undercurrent of sweetness into the established mix, as well as a nice splash of color.

So, while I borrowed freely from my cousin’s recipe, I did my best to make it my own. I prefer to say I was “inspired” by Lucy’s recipe. Now I am wondering what I can learn (steal)  the next time she comes to visit.

Here’s the recipe, for those who wish to become partners in this crime:

  • 1 lb. orrechiette
  • 1 head broccoli rabe, washed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed
  • 12 or more grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • red pepper flakes
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
  • Grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese

Start cooking the lentils while water boils for the pasta: add the lentils to a pot, cover them generously with water, throw on a lid, and bring to a boil. Once the lentils are boiling, stir and then lower the heat. They should only take about 15-20 minutes to cook. When they are done, drain and set aside. It’s ok if the lentils sit for a little while while you finish the rest of the recipe.

Once the pasta water is boiling, salt the water and add the orrechiette. Heat a bit of olive oil in your saute pan, and add the garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Once the garlic is sizzling and starting to turn color, add the tomatoes. When the tomatoes have started to soften, add the broccoli rabe and a pinch of salt. Cover with a lid but stir occasionally. Cook the greens until they are just wilted.

Drain the pasta when it is done. Then throw in the lentils, broccoli, and tomatoes, and mix it all up. Add a splash of olive oil, as well as some pepper and salt. Top with some pecorino romano or parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

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Panko and Membranes

After a weekend of gluttony where Jim and I ate out on both Friday and Saturday nights, then warmed up some frozen (but homemade!) ragu for an easy pasta dinner on Sunday, Monday I redeemed myself and cooked us one of the most unhealthy dinners we’ve ever had at home.

Courtesy of my holiday-gifted subscription to Food & Wine, I indulged with their recipe for Asian Baby Back Ribs with Panko-Crusted Mushrooms. I even started marinating the ribs on Sunday night. I’m making this thinking-ahead thing into a habit.

One thing puzzled me though–the bit in the recipe about removing the membrane on the underside of the ribs. What the hell is a membrane doing on my ribs? Jim, ever close with our butcher, had promised me he would ask about it when he bought the ribs. Going to the butcher is such a joy for him, I don’t like to intrude.

But, unexpectedly, when Jim received the ribs, they were frozen. I’ve often wondered why the butcher keeps some meats frozen and others not. A question for our next Saturday visit, I suppose. In any case, Jim figured that the membrane, whether there or not, could not be removed from frozen ribs. The problem became ours to solve.

Helpless as always with meat, I just couldn’t figure out if the membrane was there or not. I stood at the counter, lifting the rack this way and that, cutting slashes through some white stuff that could have been membrane. We scraped at the meat with a spoon, as Jim had seen on America’s Test Kitchen. (Yes, it’s his favorite show.) Was it there? Would it kill us if we left it on by mistake? Jim finally went on the trusty Internet, and after finding some pictures, deemed that from the looks of things, said membrane must have already been removed. Also, some other site said the butcher usually does it. That’s all I needed to hear. I threw the ribs in with the marinade, and settled in front of the television. Good night.

So that was Sunday evening. Monday was a new day. While the ribs cooked in the oven, I moved on to phase 2 of the recipe: the panko-crusted shrooms. I am embarrassed to admit that my parents knew about panko before I did, but it’s true. My parents are cooler than I am.

But the panko worked wonders on the fried little guys. Even after swimming around in oil for a few minutes, the crumbs were still very crusty in the end, like crunchy bits of confetti. The ribs were good too, fairly juicy and light, with a nice bite of rice vinegar. I did make our usual arugula salad, as I felt so guilty about all the meat and fried bits. Fried bits tend to do that.

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Risotto Memories

RisottoWhen I was growing up, my southern-Italian mother never made risotto. To this day she vehemently refuses to eat it. Some sort of southern pride thing, I think. I didn’t even know what risotto was until I spent a semester in Padova, located in northern Italy, over 10 years ago. But once I settled into my new “home,” I was inundated with it. Whether cooked with seafood, mushrooms, or greens, risotto was served all over town.

In addition to my high level of risotto ignorance, I had barely ever cooked anything before arriving in Padova. Luckily, about two months into the semester, one of the host mothers offered a one-day cooking class. That afternoon my schoolmates and I learned how to make penne amatriciana, eggplant parmigiano, torta di mele, and risotto ai carciofi (artichokes). It was one of the turning points in my young life, where I learned some crucial tools that helped me fend for myself. Risotto, in a way, helped me grow up.

Unlike my mother, I became quite fond of this creamy, luxurious dish, and over the years I’ve created many variations, using ingredients such as porcini mushrooms, butternut squash, fennel, and even apples.

But sometime along the way I stopped making it. I don’t really know what happened. Jim, without trying my version, didn’t think he liked risotto very much. Maybe I tired of all the stirring. Risotto requires a bit of work for a dish that doesn’t translate into leftovers very well. And then I just forgot about it for while.

But this past winter I picked up the riso arborio again. I began a renewed quest to vary our dinner menu, and I was more than willing to build up my arm strength in exchange for some culinary variety. So, on Wednesday I made a parsley risotto topped with roasted mushrooms from Jamie’s Italy (yes, I know, again with Jamie. But I can’t stop.) The combination of the sprightly parsley and woodsy mushrooms created a pretty darn satisying meal, and Jim is now among the converted. A simple mid-week dinner infused with memories of my personal growth is never a bad thing. I’m sure we’ll see much more risotto, in diverse incarnations of course, at our dinner table. Sorry, Mom!

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When a Recipe Goes Bad

What do you do when a recipe just doesn’t work out the way you expected? I’ve been on a roll lately. Last week, soggy sweet potato fries. Last night, undercooked sausage. When will it end?

This weekend I made Nigella Lawson’s one-dish chicken, sausage, and sage bake from last month’s Food and Wine magazine. It was supposed to be so easy: marinate a cut-up chicken in olive oil, lemons, and sage overnight. I had ample time to set this up on Saturday afternoon, so no problem there. I felt so proud of myself to actually be thinking 24 hours ahead for once.

On Sunday I threw the chicken in a pan with some sausages, added some fresh sage, and baked it for an hour at 425 degrees. I even carefully turned the sausages over after half an hour, so that all sides would cook evenly and oh-so-beautifully. I was ready for a no-stress, hearty dinner that would last me at least 2 days this week.

Well, when I took the pan out of the oven, the liquid marinade increased to half the depth of the pan, as if the tide had suddenly risen. I don’t marinate that often, but I don’t remember such an event ever happening before. And the sausages were pink, inside and out. The rational part of my brain said this couldn’t possibly be true; the little suckers had been cooking for an hour! But my anxious mind wouldn’t let it go. Guess which side won?

I made Jim spit out his first bite of sausage and worried aloud that with that one bite of possibly undercooked meat, he might die. I put the rest of the sausages under the broiler for a while, but even this extra step couldn’t assuage my raw-meat fears. The chicken came out fine–nice and lemony. But I was too stressed out by the sausage to enjoy it.

I don’t think it’s the fault of the recipe, but I am guessing there’s something going on here that I just don’t understand. It sure wouldn’t be the first time. To add to my general lack of success, I can’t even find the recipe on the  Food and Wine website. Wish me luck on the leftovers.

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