Archive for November, 2008

Knives!

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I love a good bargain, especially when it’s related to cookware; those of you who read my post about the All-Clad warehouse sale already know this about me. So while the end of November brings us Thanksgiving, it also reminds me of an important shopping event: the annual Zwilling J.A. Henckels warehouse sale in Hawthorne, New York.

The Henckels sale happens only once a year, but it stretches over two weekends. So if waiting on line and fighting the crowds for discounted, high-quality knives appeals to you, you’re in luck, as there’s one more weekend to go at the beginning of December. I headed over to the sale this past weekend and walked away with some satisfying finds in under 15 minutes. I may have thrown a few elbows here and there, but that’s all part of the fun.

My parents bought me a basic set of Henckels knives at this sale when I first moved into my own apartment many years ago. Over the past two years I’ve been attending the sale myself to slowly upgrade them. Last year I picked up a 5″ Santoku and a 6″ Chef’s knife from the Professional “S” line, while this year I bought a 4″ paring knife ($29.99, marked down from $72.00) and a 9″ bread knife ($39.99, marked down from about $100) from the same series. The discounts are deep, and the bins of each knife size and series seemingly endless. On that note, while the line to enter the sale may appear to stretch into infinity, it actually moves very quickly.

knives

J.A. Henckels recently bought Group Staub, and this year’s sale included many gorgeous items from this well-known line of cast iron cookware. I didn’t need any new cast iron pieces, but Jim stumbled across some cute, individual ceramic “cocotte” cups that we couldn’t resist ($22.00 for two). I had to hold myself back from the beautiful Staub grills, pans, and tea kettles that beckoned me from every corner of the room. The sale is also worthwhile for cheap cutting boards, various kitchen utensils such as spatulas, scissors, and garlic presses, and Henckels stainless steel cookware. So get on line early, you won’t regret it.

The J.A. Henckels Warehouse Sale, 171 Saw Mill River Road, Hawthorne, New York 10532. The sale occurs once a year over two weekends; there’s still one left from December 5-December 7. Click here for the hours.

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Taking Stock of Chicken Stock

stock

For many years I couldn’t bring myself to make my own chicken stock. I relied on cans of low-sodium broth whenever a recipe called for it, sometimes employing a bouillon cube or two mixed with water instead. Due to fear or laziness—or maybe a bit of both—there was something about saving chicken bones in the freezer and having to “skim the scum” off a simmering pot of stock that made this project intimidating to me. I thought I’d try it someday, but in reality I found any reason I could to delay the project.

Then a year ago I read this post by the author Michael Ruhlman, and felt my cheeks grow hot with shame as he railed against the use of canned broth. I hung my head and vowed to change my ways. Well, in retrospect I must not have felt so badly, because it took me a full year to finally attempt my own stock.

After Jim and I roasted and feasted upon that grass-fed chicken from Grazin’ Angus Acres a few weeks ago, I threw the bones in the freezer and waited for a free afternoon to devote to stock-making. This past windy and rainy Sunday gave me the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and cook. I threw the chicken bones in my Dutch oven with a couple of chopped carrots, celery stalks, half an onion, a bay leaf, parsley, some fennel fronds, salt and pepper, and then covered it all with water. I used a recipe from Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food as my reference, but stocks can be made with all sorts of leftover vegetables; there aren’t many rules. I brought the contents of my pot to a boil, quickly lowered them to a simmer, and kept my eye on the broth for the next two hours.

Other bloggers besides me have stated the truth: Making stock from scratch is easy. After lowering the soup to a simmer, there’s simply not much to do while it cooks. And although I diligently looked for the fatty scum to rise to the top, it never arrived. My broth simmered peacefully, filling my apartment with the comforting perfume of chicken and vegetables. After a couple of hours I carefully strained it from the vegetables and bones and figured out what to do next.

soup

I wound up using most of the stock that day, substituting it for water in a soup of kale, white beans, and crumbled chicken sausage. As I raised spoonful after spoonful of the hearty soup to my mouth, I focused on the broth, trying to see if I could tell the difference between it and the canned stuff. My homemade version was definitely a creamier, richer broth than I was used to; Jim and I both declared it a success. I was proud that I had finally put the effort into making my own stock and conquering my fear of the unknown. But I was also pleased that I knew exactly what ingredients went into my broth. There were no suspicious flecks of unknown herbs, and I was able to control how much salt went into it.

After I made the soup, I was left with about 2 cups of broth. I promptly stored my stock in the freezer, where it will wait for a future risotto or perhaps a pasta dish. I’d love to say that I’ll never use canned broth again, but I imagine I might break that vow one day when I’m in a rush. Just don’t tell Michael Ruhlman. 

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Dinner at Avec

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Yay, Top Chef is back! Last year I watched the entire season from start to finish, and I was totally hooked. So I found it appropriate that the weekend before the newest round of this culinary competition was set to begin, Jim and I took a quick trip to Chicago, where last season was filmed. We even had dinner at Avec, Chef Koren Grieveson’s Mediterranean-inspired wine bar and the more casual cousin of neighboring restaurant Blackbird. Chef Grieveson was a guest judge on Top Chef last year. (See, I told you I was hooked.)

I have to admit, I hadn’t read much about the restaurant before we jumped in a cab and sped over from our hotel. But once I started recognizing some of the faces behind the bar and made the Top Chef connection, I was even more excited about our newest dining adventure. We started with a drink at the long, stainless steel bar while waiting for seats at one of the restaurant’s communal tables. (Avec does not take reservations.) After ordering from the lengthy wine list, we observed the bustling scene and listened in astonishment to the noise emitted from the room. Top Chef notoriety aside, Avec hosted one of the most festive—and loud—crowds in town. 

After about half an hour, Jim and I were led through the narrow, blond-wood dining room to a table near the back of the restaurant, close to a glinting wall of green wine bottles. As our neighbors settled in around us, we perused the menu, which was divided into “small” and “large” plates. I suddenly understood the use of the word avec—which means with in French—as the name of the restaurant: As the menu made clear, this was food to be shared and experienced with other people. 

lemonsausage

We ordered some meaty house-marinated olives to start our meal ($5). Next, piles of deliciously oily, house-pickled sardines with shaved apples, red onion, radish sprouts, and fresh parsley tumbled over thick slices of buttery bread ($12). The contrasting interplay of crisp fruits and vegetables with the tender, salty fish created a dish that Jim is still raving about. Without a doubt, it would have won any Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef.

But the preserved lemon sausage with fresh kidney beans, one of Avec’s daily specials, was also a strong contender that evening ($8). Lemony bits of crumbled meat were gently tempered by the smooth beans, and Jim and I scooped spoonfuls onto our plates, enjoying the textural jumble of flavors. Perhaps the ultimate champion of the night was the “deluxe” focaccia, a closed pizza-like dish oozing with warm taleggio cheese, fresh herbs, and musky truffle oil ($14.50). Chef Grieveson would never lose an Elimination Challenge, not with this decadent focaccia.

focaccia

As Jim and I ate our meal, we noticed our neighbors striking up a conversation with each other. Soon these once-separate parties were sharing dishes such as the chorizo-stuffed dates and buying each other shots of limoncello. The jovial spirit of Avec is infectious, and makes friends out of strangers. Jim and I were so stuffed, we didn’t have room for dessert, but we left feeling thrilled with our dining experience. I can’t wait to return and try more dishes from the menu, as those chorizo-stuffed dates and the house-cured salumi are still calling to me. I’m certain that a second visit to Avec would never feel like a repeat of Top Chef—or any other show for that matter.

Avec, 615 West Randolph Street, Chicago 60661 T: 312-377-2002

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What a Difference a Year Makes: The Carroll Gardens Farmers’ Market

I know it might seem crazy to write about food with all this election madness going on, but I can’t help it. I just got back from voting, I’m too jittery to sit still, and I can’t bring myself to watch any election coverage just yet. So, in an effort to calm myself down while hoping for the best, I thought I’d write a post about a subject I’ve had on my mind for the past few months: my local farmers’ market.

As some of you already know, last year Carroll Gardens finally got its own farmers’ market. Starting in July 2007, a few tables of vegetables and fruit lined a short stretch of Carroll Street between Court and Smith Streets every Sunday through last November. While I lamented the lack of cheese, meat, and fish vendors, I remained optimistic for these changes in the future. I figured that once the market became more established, perhaps we would see more vendors on the block.

Well, it pays to think positively, because our little market has expanded quite a bit in just one year. Now when I make my weekly visit to Carroll Street, I bring two bags and indulge in a variety of local food products.

Similar to my shopping pattern from last year, I begin by stocking up on fruit from Fishkill Farms. While over the summer I focused on fresh plums and peaches, in October I scooped up apples and pears. My next move is usually towards the piles of fresh greens and other vegetables from Alex Farm as I supplement my CSA shipment with whatever other produce I might need for the week. Jim seems to prefer the vegetables from W. Rogowski Farm, so in the end we actually wind up supporting several stands at the market. I can’t forget my weekly chocolate croissant from Amy’s Bread, although sometimes I try to be healthy and buy a loaf of whole-grain bread as well.

But in addition to all of the wonderful produce and baked goods, we can now peruse products from various local meat, fish, dairy, and cheese vendors. About a month ago, Jim and I bought grass-fed, spicy Angus sausages from Grazin’ Angus Acres for the first time. We broiled them, sliced them up, and cooked them on top of one of our homemade pizzas. Raised without antibiotics or hormones, this beef was happily enjoyed with less guilt than usual. Grazin’ Acres’s sausages were so earthy and full-flavored that Jim and I went back for one of their grass-fed chickens a few weeks later.

I’ve yet to buy fish from Seatuck Fish Company, or pasture-raised eggs from Fishkill Farms, but both are on my list. Once in a while I’ll pick up some goat cheese from Consider Bardwell Farm, and a few weeks ago local honey was for sale. There are so many options, I find it’s impossible to try them all at once.

On another note, I’ve also enjoyed seeing how our farmers’ market has increased its role in the community. Every Sunday the lines seem to stretch longer and longer at each stand. A few months ago a chef from the soon-to-open restaurant Buttermilk Channel prepared a fresh vegetable pickle for the market’s shoppers. On this past Sunday, piles of mussels from Seatuck Fish Company were being prepared at one of the stands, encouraging people to linger and enjoy the day with each other.

So as you can see, our little farmers’ market has grown quite a bit in a year. I may not have tried the wares from every stand, but it’s not a problem; I have something new to look forward to every week. I just hope I can get through the rest of election day…

The Carroll Gardens Farmers Market, located on Carroll Street between Smith and Court. It runs on Sundays from July through November.

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