Archive for February, 2011

This month’s BATHROOOOOOM of the MONTH goes to Co. Restaurant. Not only do their pizzas get top marks, but their bathrooms top the charts this month with a pleasing combination of dark red subway tiles, random art (like a visual non sequitur) and fancy accessories (lemon scented hand soap from C.O. Bigelow). My favorite part was the paper towel cubby hole. Nice work, guys. For our full review of Co. Restaurant, please click here.

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It is often said that the best should be saved for last.   For those keeping track, we previously dissected and critiqued the organized chaos within my mom’s and my sister’s refrigerator.  Now, it is my fridge which gets subjected to needlessly embarrassing e-scrutiny.  A quick primer: Despite my unconditional love for food, refrigerators freak me out slightly.   While their record as the world’s appliance champ for keeping food fresh and instantly edible is undisputed, their vast space to accommodate goods that are new/old, “fresh”/partially eaten, spicy/sour, seems to more often than not yield suspicious smells that even Tony Montana’s nostrils could pick up on.  Seriously, every time my office manager blasts out a firm-wide email for the would-be guilty party to throw out their 4-day old sandwich, I stop drinking coffee (the milk for which is located in the office fridge) for a couple of days until the toxic fumes subside.  In light of the foregoing – I subscribe to three general rules – (1) Unfinished foods are only allowed a stay of three days, (2) milk should be consumed prior to the expiration date, (3) uncapped beer is its own animal.  Also, with respect to the freezer, I have one rule: there are no rules. So, in consideration of this, let’s take a peek:

(1) Victoria Marinated Artichoke Hearts – Of the jarred artichoke hearts, these guys are best.  They are a great side to have during the week, when there is a shortage of time to cook.  Also, they are consumed within the parameters of rule 1.

(2) BelGioso Parmesan Cheese – I made pizza over the weekend, and sprinkled this stuff onto same after removing it from the oven.  It melted before my eyes and gave portions of the crust a nice taste.

(3) Gosling’s Ginger Beer – The lone remnant of a night filled with Dark N’ Stormies.

(4)  Bottle of Corona – starring as, itself.

(5) Tuscan Fat Free Milk – The milk is now gone.  It was finished within its expiration date of February 28.

(6) Teryaki Sauce – I will often cook up some chicken or steak.  This gets applied.

(7) Brita water jug – One of my former roommates from my old apartment left me this.  It’s extremely handy. Thanks, Doug.

(8) Two unopened bottles of Tonic Water – Used for gin or vodka tonics.  Old, less than perfectly crisp tonic water is grossly unacceptable.

(9) Greenway Natural Ground Beef – For burgers, which I make for myself once every week or two.  I have perfected the medium rare burger.  I sprinkle both sides with garlic powder which gives it a snapping crust after searing it in a pan.  But then I throw the rest out.  I don’t freeze burger meat.  It loses its flavor.  Trust me.

(10) 12-pack of Corona light – with no beers left in it.  It just sits there, making it seem like I have beer while I actually don’t.  I have reached into this box at least three times in the past week searching for that last beer which is never there.  (I’ve since thrown it out and replaced it with new beer).

(11) Heineken Mini keg – I opened this thing a week ago and the beer still has a perfect amount of carbonation.

(12) Ted Williams’ head. Psyche.  It’s a black bag of ice.  I have no ice machine, so I need to buy ice every so often from the corner store.

(13) Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream – I don’t even like this ice cream.  Someone brought it over during last year’s Lost Finale and they were left unfinished.  I have since just left them there as commemorative tombstones to signify how I was treated by the show’s writers: my expectations and questions, left frozen in time.  Forever.

(14) A bottle of Svedka Vodka – to be teamed with the Tonic.

(15) Unused Pizza Dough – set aside for a rainy day.

(16) Salted Land-O-Lakes butter – the best tasting butter for your grilled cheese sandwich.

(17) Soy Sauce – I use this when making things of the stir fry variety.

Like the vintage encyclopedia Britannicas? I love seeing people’s reactions upon opening the door.  It’s priceless and functions as a wonderful gauge as to one’s character.  So, that’s it folks.  Sorry to those who were expecting some more scandalous details but, unlike mom and sis, I keep my icebox pretty tidy.  Those slobs!

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John and I decided we’ve given you enough to read this week. John even suggested that you all might be sick of hearing from me (GASP!). So, in an effort to let you catch up and also give you/me a break from what some people have called my “feverish updating of the blog,” we present you with this list of the week in review:

1. On Monday, you got to see what’s in my fridge. Many of you found this entertaining. Including my parents.

2. On Tuesday, we ate some Ossobuco with bone marrow and talked about A Voce restaurant.

3. On Wednesday I made some bread. In my bathroom.

4. On Thursday I drank some gin at the Mulberry Project in Little Italy. Perhaps you would like to go there this weekend?

We’ve got lots of good stuff coming up next week. For example, this coming Monday we feature John’s fridge. Be VERY afraid. So have a great weekend. Make some bread in your bathroom, clean your fridge (send me a photo of it) and go get some gin. Then come back on Monday and say hi.

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This past Friday I met a friend at The Mulberry Project. I haven’t been to Little Italy in a while. But the combined enticements of checking out a new speakeasy, drinking custom-crafted gin cocktails, and sampling from an inventive menu had me searching the place out.

And when I say “searching the place out” I really mean it. There’s no signage. No announcement, “hey, come in here!” (which is odd for Little Italy, as many waiters stand outside their restaurants and bars trying to encourage people to come inside). Finally, after skulking mysteriously outside what I thought was the location, I broke out the ol’ iPhone and Googled to see if any previous patrons left hints as to where/how to get inside. I found some basic but helpful instructions (“look for the green light”) and made my way toward the bar inside.

The Scene:
The underground lair is a long, narrow space with the bar on the right side and small tufted-couch booths on the left. The bar has bright red stools tucked under an inventive, peg-board style steel counter top behind which a pair of tall, lanky and ingenious tenders await my beverage requests.

The Grub/Bevvies:
Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to what I requested? Gin, of course. My first drink (pictured above) was a very light, fruity and slightly fizzy concoction. Waaaaay too easy to drink. By which I mean it was excellent. By the time my friend and my second drink arrived (a deeper drink featuring Bols Genever gin…something to sip, with a little infusion of orange peel) it was time for some food.

First up: Sweet Potato French Fries. Those of you who read this post are familiar with my affinity for sweet tater fries. Love ’em. So much I would eat them every day. Mulberry Project’s version were a balanced salty/sweet with a slight crispiness along the squared edges. Two added bonuses: delicately fried parsley leaves topped the squishier fries, and a pool of chipotle aioli was waiting in the wings for dipping purposes. We destroyed these fries.

Then we went straight for meat: with Steak Tartare and Lamb Bacon.

I happen to like eating globs of raw meat. And please don’t misunderstand, my use of the term “glob” is very positive. These fresh chunks of filet mignon were rolled around with shallots, capers and topped with a quail egg hat, resulting in a gooey, tangy and salty masterpiece. We even fought over the quail egg. A little.

So then we had some more gin (this one had ginger and some kind of floaty herb – it was my favorite drink of the evening).

And then we had the Lamb Bacon.

The thickly cut bacon was arranged into small square towers, like tiny slices of meat lasagna. In the middle, like the fountain at the Piazza Navona, was a refreshing pile of cucumber and caper topped with – can anyone guess? – a FRIED EGG!

I have already sung the praises of fried pickles (you should ALWAYS fry a pickle). I even made some of my own. Now I must move on to eggs. Lightly breaded, and still slightly soft in the center, this little gem was large enough to split (lucky for my friend). However, I would have had no problem eating the whole thing by myself.

The Bathroom:

Clean and tidy with black subway tiles and spacious mirrors, the bathroom was understated and modern. And accentuated by some very interesting art. Obviously the guy in the photo did NOT have the masterful gin drinks that I enjoyed. And does anyone have any thoughts on those polka-dotted pants? Because I may need some.

Take a stroll down Mulberry to find the Project. Walk toward the green light. And then get yourself some gin. And fries. And Lamb Bacon…

Oh yeah, and the chef’s nickname is “Kiwi”…

The Experience: Napoleon Dynamite – The Offbeat Success

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I bought the Tartine Bread cookbook. I had been eyeing it for months. Every time I saw it in a store, I’d pick it up, run my hand over the slightly puffy and spot varnished cover, flip through a few pages, sigh, and put it back. If I bought every hard cover, photo-filled cookbook that I wanted, I’d have to build a house out of them because I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent. But I broke down.

I have been experimenting with bread baking quite a bit lately:

First, I grew my own sourdough starter that is still alive (and I suspect drinking all my wine when I leave the apartment).

Then I made a travesty of a loaf of bread with said starter.

Yet, from the same starter, I managed my favorite pizza dough to date.

Following these escapades, I made some bread Jim Lahey style, using purchased yeast and a slow rise, and it was very successful.

But I wanted to get back to my starter. Tartine waxes poetic about cultivating yeast, starters, levains, leavens, etc. The book made me feel that by cultivating my own starter I would be in touch with the tides of the ocean or phases of the moon. REAL old school. Like before they had schools. This is the bread I wanted to make.

So I kicked my starter back to life, bought a turquoise kitchen scale, pastry scrapper, and clear container (for dough rising), and was very excited this weekend to put it all together.

Getting excited about stuff like this makes people question my sanity.

The night before I was going to bake, I prepared my leaven:

To prepare the leaven, in a bowl mix:

1 tablespoon of sourdough starter
200g water
200g mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flour

Cover this with a kitchen towel and let it hang out over night to froth and bubble to its yeasty hearts content.

* Note: I performed this task after returning from The Mulberry Project and imbibing some very creative gin-based beverages…review forthcoming.

In the morning (after I rehydrate myself):

Gather the following ingredients:

1. Pour the 700g water into a large mixing bowl and add 200g of leaven. Stir it up!
Note: Tartine suggests that your leaven is ready for baking when a spoonful of it will float in water. Unfortunately, I forgot about this test…

2. Add the 900g of white flour and 100g of whole wheat flour and mix well.

3. Now let the dough have a nap for 25-40 minutes. DON’T skip the dough nap. Have one yourself.

After the dough nap, add the 20g salt and 50g water. Mix the dough by squeeeeeeezing it with your hands and folding it on top of itself. Transfer the squeezed and salted dough to a clear container for the (read with echo): BULK FERMENTATION RISE at 78-82 degrees for about 3-4 hours.

During the Bulk Fermentation rise, you need to “turn” the dough every half hour. This turning involves you plunging your hand in the plastic container, scooping the bottom part of the dough and folding it onto the top part. Do this 2-3 time for one “turn.”

It was during this Bulk Fermentation that I realized my dough wasn’t rising quickly enough. You can extend the rise for as long as necessary, and dough will rise more slowly in colder temperatures.

I suspected that my cold and drafty apartment was the reason for the slow rise. Being on the first floor, I have the distinct pleasure of heating the apartments above me in the winter time. This causes me to jack up the thermostat and receive love notes from our local gas/electric provider, PSE&G. I reasoned that if I moved the dough to a warmer, less drafty spot, it would rise faster. So I put it in the warmest room in my apartment: the bathroom.

Now, don’t freak out: I haven’t fed anyone other than myself this bathroom bread. And it just sat on the sink counter, not on the toilet or anything. And it was in a container. I needed to protect the dough, people!

Anyway, after this Bulk Fermentation is finished (keep in mind I wasn’t sure if mine had risen appropriately), remove it from the container (a plastic pastry scraper helps with this), and divide the dough in half.

Once it’s divided, fold each dough portion onto itself to create a nice, round loafy-shape. Use as little flour (for dusting or non-stick purposes) as possible as you don’t want your bread to be dry. Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes. You can cover it was plastic wrap if your kitchen (or bathroom) is drafty.

At this point, they are ready for the final rise. Prepare two large bowls lined with kitchen towels (not terry cloth). Dust the towels with rice flour. Tartine does not explain why they use rice flour for this purpose, and I certainly have no clue. But I bought some like a good instruction-follower and used it.

This is the FINAL RISE. You can let these dough balls hang out at room temperature for about 3-4 hours OR you can put them somewhere cooler (like the refrigerator) for up to 12 hours. The choice is yours. I chose the fridge, as I had stuff to do.

Before you start baking, place a dutch oven/cast iron pot in your oven and turn up the heat 500 degrees. Let it heat up for 20-30 minutes. Once the pot is nice and hot, remove it from the oven (OVEN MITTS!!) and plop your dough in there.

You then need to score, or cut, the dough in a nice square pattern as seen above so that it can properly ventilate as it cooks. You are supposed to use a razor blade to accomplish this. but I didn’t have one so I used an Exacto Blade. Not very effective. Then, throw the lid back on and pop it back in the oven (reduce the heat to 450 degrees) and bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes has transpired, don your mitts again and remove the lid from the cast iron pot. Continue baking without the lid for another 20-30 minutes or until the crust gets a nice dark and golden brown.

Remove your bread from the oven and also from the pot and let it cool…if you can. Jack up the heat of the oven to 500 degrees again and repeat the process for the second loaf.

I cut right into mine, but even before I did I realized my bread was…well, it was FLAT. I just didn’t get the rise out of it that I wanted. Perhaps if I told it some jokes? It’s supposed to be much higher and puffier, etc. This is how tall it is:

The good news is that it’s tasty and somewhat airy (check out those nice holes toward the top). The bad news is that it’s not very pretty and still a bit dense (no comments from the peanut gallery, please).

Some of you may want to blame the bathroom, but I don’t think that’s the problem here. I think I didn’t allow enough time for my leaven to reach peak activity. Remember, I didn’t do the “float test”?  Next time, I will perform this test. And then maybe I can skip the bathroom fermentation altogether…

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This week’s review is of A Voce Restaurant, on 41 Madison Avenue (they also have another location as well, at 10 Columbus Circle).  Elana and I are greeted and seated immediately, despite arriving about 20 minutes early for our reservation.  They are extremely welcoming.

The Scene –  The interior has a modern, trendy sharpness to it.  Abstract artistry, colored lights and contoured leather seating gives off a very Vegas like feel.  It’s a spacious, sprawling, single level space featuring angled furniture, walls and fixtures which perfectly mesh together like well working geometry experiment.

The Grub – A Voce starts us off with some fresh, Tuscan (no, or little, salt) style bread with a dipping dish of EVOO (that’s extra virgin olive oil).  Elana and I use this opportunity to scan the wide ranging menu.  We first split an order of the Cassoncini con Prosciutto Di Parma.  The Cossoncini is a fried dumpling stuffed with piping hot mozzarella cheese and, and this case, spinach.  The fry is nice and light and doesn’t distract from a wonderful, cream spinach like inside.  The accompanying cuts of Prosciutto are of high quality.  They are perfectly moist but not too fatty or salty.

We follow this up with two pasta dishes: (1) Agnolotti – sunchoke filled pasta with brown butter, walnuts and rosemary and (2) Quadratti – gorgonzola filled pasta with savoy cabbage and truffles.   Both pastas (which are of the ravioli/tortellini genre) are of excellent construction (look at the 4 sides of the “quad” ratti.  Brilliant!).  They are sturdy enough not to leak filling, yet rolled thin so to provide each bite with loads of flavor.  The former pasta is my top choice between the two.  It’s a perfect feature of sweet and salt.  The gorgonzola pasta is darn good, but there is an ever-so-slight let down: it had been covered in truffle shavings which, sadly, provided minimal (almost non existent, actually) truffle flavor.  Nonetheless, I’m able to quickly overlook this otherwise grave mistake due the excellent quality of pasta that sits in a lemony, buttery sauce which, according to Elana is more like “cabbagey, cheetoh madness.”  I’m sure this is exactly what they had in mind.

For our main dish, Elana and I split braised veal shank Ossobuco with bone marrow and leeks.  This dish is superb.  With a gentle pull, the veal effortlessly falls off the bone and rests in a pool of burgundy, lightly salted broth.  The meat is both fatty and tender, with taste levels that are simply through the roof.  But the real treat, is found inside the bone, which is jam packed with the buttery, fatty, boogery goodness that is bone marrow.  Upon Elana making this discovery, we both shove the butt-ends of our forks to force out this glorious goop, and spread the remains on the meat.  L-I-V-I-N.

For a side, we also order Cauliflower, which has been toasted in oil, a light vinegar, and sprinkled with sea salt.  It is perfectly crunchy and lightly burnt. As is custom, Elana and I top of off our meal with some of the best Espresso in recent memory – just an absolute kick ass ying yang of bitter and smooth.  It is served with a complimentary, lemony marshmallow treat (as seen below).

Throughout the meal, A Voce’s service is quite good.  While it’s not the absolute soup to nuts flawless presentation of, say, Del Posto, A Voce has the requisite features of a top flight restaurant: a knowledgeable staff, a sommelier on site (who was quite helpful), and well timed meal arrivals (minus one or two lulls in refilling our wine).

The Bathrooms:

The bathrooms are a scene of tidy luxury – marbled sinks, upper quality disposable hand towels, and a generous reflective surface to re-set the part in your dome should it become disturbed while digging up tough to reach portions of bone marrow.  It gives you pretty much everything you need.

The Experience:

Heat – The Near Edgy Masterpiece

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A few months ago, I published an exposé on Marmo’s fridge. It detailed the questionable contents within, offered suggested methods for handling said items (HAZMAT suit), and cried out to the CDC for help.

I figured it was only fair to follow up with a detailed description of what’s in my fridge. My refrigerator is not as populated as Marmo’s (or as terrifying), but it is pretty random. Here’s a numerated explanation based on the pinpointed photo above:

1. Leftover French Toast Bread Pudding from two weeks ago: This item falls under “Stuff in the fridge you thought wasn’t good anymore but still is.” More on this later…

2. Mascarpone Cheese and Creme Freche: Shouldn’t everyone have a supply?

3. Pomi tomatoes (1/2 consumed): I cook for one so I don’t always use the whole box.

4. The Herb Garden: Currently growing basil, rosemary and sage – three of my four favorites. The fourth is cilantro. I had some cilantro in the bottom drawer, but on giving it a check up I discovered that it was not ready for it’s closeup. It was ready for the garbage.

5. Nutella and Mascarpone Mix: From this post.

6. Leftover Valentine Heart Cookies: Yup, still eating them.

7. Cheese Drawer: See photo #2.

8. My Cookie Alphabet: Made with the Chocolate Valentine Cookie recipe. I’m not going to ever eat these, but I might want to spell something with them, so I’m hanging on to them for now.

9. Ricotta Cheese: This is the honey and sea salt variety from this post. It’s awesome.

10. Leftover Red Velvet Pancakes: From my trip to the Original Pancake House in West Caldwell, NJ last week. I am working out a recipe for these.

11. Bud Light: I don’t drink this. I swear. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. It was brought to my apartment by John for my holiday party. It’s still half full and just hanging out in there.

12. Ground Flax Seeds: I stir these in my morning oatmeal.

13. Milk: I use 2%.

14. Buttermilk: For the ricotta cheese.

15. Wayward Cranberry!

The above is a photo of the cheese drawer. As you can see, there are no hard-and-fast rules in my fridge.

16: Pecorino Romano: From Murray’s Cheese

17. Ronnybrook Cinnamon Toast Butter: Dang this stuff is good.

18. Cranberries: These guys have been in here for a while. I think they might be indestructible. We are going to find out…

19. Half a Lemon: Not indestructible.

20. Camembert Cheese: I dunno. I think I stole it from a gift basket that arrived at my office.

And on the door:

21. Bailey’s Irish Cream: I should probably throw this out, it’s pretty old.

22. McClure’s Spicy Pickles: In case I want to get into a pickle…

23. Espresso: Fancy stuff I got at Eataly for an upcoming post.

24. More Beer: Yuengling and Hoegaarden this time. I don’t drink these either.

25. Wellness Doggie Treats: I swear that even in my hungriest hour, I don’t eat these. They’re for Toby. He liked them very much, though.

And finally: the moment you’ve been waiting for: Stuff In the Fridge that You Thought Wasn’t Good Anymore But Still Is:

And the winner is the French Toast Bread Pudding! The leftovers of this dish have been hanging out on the top shelf of my fridge since I made it two weeks ago. Saturday morning I woke up and there was no breakfast to be had. OK, I’m lying. I had already eaten some oatmeal. But I was still hungry, as often happens these days with triathlon training I have been doing. So I broke into these leftovers.

I was skeptical. But I was more hungry than apprehensive.

I was also, for some reason, not really into the cranberries.

It stayed surprisingly moist (at the bottom), and was still good.

I ate the rest of it.

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A week or so ago, I learned via Twitter that Eataly now sells fresh, uncooked pizza dough. Readers of this blog know that John and I like to make our own pizza dough. But SOMETIMES….just sometimes….you can’t. You might not have time, or yeast, or flour because you gave it all to the sourdough starter that is living on the top of your fridge and that you expect has been drinking all your wine because you don’t seem to have any left in the apartment…

Clearly, I digress. Sometimes you need to use someone else’s dough. I’m not here to judge you. I AM here to judge other people’s dough.

And I’m starting with Eataly’s, which I picked up in one of their numerous refrigerated sections for $3.20. Not a bad price. While I was there, I also picked up some purple potatoes and fresh rosemary which I was going to use in combination with the fresh ricotta cheese I made to top the pizza.

And one more wild card, because, let’s face it people, I’m not here to be normal. I have been wanting to try different methods of baking pizza. I have a pizza stone, which delivers great results. I have also used a cookie sheet with some success. This time, I wanted to use my cast iron pot. I thought that by trapping the heat in a smaller area (the pot) I would achieve a crispier outer crust with a more moist center. This was my hypothesis, anyway.

General Instructions:
I heated up my pot in the oven at 500 degrees for one half hour before placing the dough inside.

Placing the dough in the pot is a little tricky. The pot gets VERY HOT (please remember your oven mitts). And you have to get the dough in there, and then place on all your toppings while the dough is starting to sizzle and cook already. Kind of stressful.

But I did it. And I didn’t even burn myself (I did cut myself slicing potatoes though)! I got my dough into the pot, smeared on some ricotta cheese (the truffle salt and olive oil variety), and topped it with sliced potatoes (instructions below), olive oil, a pinch more truffle salt and some rosemary.

Then, I put the lid back on the pot and put the whole device in the oven. And then I checked it 10 minutes later. The crust wasn’t really charring, and it was cooking more slowly overall. I baked it for about 20-25 minutes (as compared to the usual 10 minutes on the pizza stone).

The crust did not char, but turned a nice golden brown. The bottom was almost like a thick, crusty bread rather than a pizza crust. This is the result of the cast iron pot. I believe I will be returning to the pizza stone (hypothesis proven WRONG).

BUT! What about the Eataly crust? How did it taste? I have to say, I give Eataly’s dough my stamp of approval. It was moist (even in the face of my cast iron pot experiment, and had a nice airy texture combined with a delicate olive oil/salty/yeasty flavor that was just right. My friend Meg ran over to my apartment when I started tweeting that there was pizza in the oven, so she can also attest to the fine flavor of the crust.

And finally, here is the recipe for the Ricotta, Rosemary and Potato Topping:

What You Need:
8 small purple potatoes, sliced thinly
Ricotta cheese (from this recipe)
Fresh rosemary (as many sprigs as you like)
Truffle salt (a few pinches)
1 tablespoon olive oil + extra drizzle for the pizza
1/4 cup water

What To Do:
Slice your potatoes (don’t cut yourself like I did).

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Place your sliced potatoes in the pan and and a pinch of salt. Toss to coat with oil and salt, and let the taters heat up. Add 1/4 cup of water to steam them a bit and some fresh chopped rosemary. Simmer until tender (you will be able to easily pierce them with a knife.

Spread the ricotta cheese on your stretched out pizza dough. Top with the potato mixture. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and add some more rosemary if you like.

Bake in the oven at 500 degrees (on a pizza stone, preferably) for about 10 minutes.

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Ever since I read Jim Lahey’s book, My Bread and baked many of the recipes, I’ve been a bit obsessed with Mr. Lahey. Nothing crazy – no stalkerish tendencies. Just a serious admiration for the man’s bread baking talent. I headed up to his restaurant Co. in Chelsea to sample his bread – and PIZZA – first hand.

On a scale of 1-1,000, can you guess how excited I was? Place your bets in the comments section.

The Scene:
Pushing away the velvet curtains at the front door reveals a delightfully warm, pizza-smelling atmosphere that fogs up the windows with bread-baking steam. All around me is friendly chatter – not too loud not too quiet. Perfect for either a friendly get together or a date.

The attentive hostess greets me with an ETS (Estimated Time of Seating) – about 30 minutes, and I take a seat at the bar to await a friend.

Caramel colored wood paneling graces the walls with an interjection of one mirrored panel leading to a window through which you can peep the wood burning oven. This same oven is projected on the wall above the tables like a movie screen – like one of those Yule Log DVDs. Customers have apparently asked to buy a copy of the recording, but it’s not for sale, as you can hear the owner cursing in the background if you listen closely. In my opinion, this only adds to its kitchy charm.

Sam and Dave are crooning on the sound system and I hum, “Hold on (pizza), I’m coming….” to myself as one of the “company people” (identifiable by their matching brown t-shirts) ambles up over to take our order. We select:

The Grub:

First things first: BEER. I’ve been dying to try Kelso beer ever since I started following them around on Twitter. Luckily, Co. happens to serve Kelso Nut Brown Lager, which we promptly ordered a growler of (growler is a new term for me and basically means a helluva big jug o’ beer). We were very pleased – it complemented everything we ordered, especially the Popeye pizza (more on that below). We easily polished off that growler.

Next up: The Cannellini Bean and the Chicken Liver Toasts.

I LOVE chicken liver. You might remember me mentioning this around Thanksgiving time. It’s a weird thing to love, I know, but I really do. Co.’s version did not disappoint: pure perfection, whipped to a frosting-like consistency while still offering that signature tangy taste. As an added bonus, the spread was very generously applied.

The cannelini beans were like a meat broth stew (minus the broth) – bean bolognese, if you will. And I did! And would do it again, please and thank you.

We selected the Margherita and the Popeye pizzas.

The Margherita was a perfect blend of tomato, mozzarella and parmesan with large basil leaves resting on top. The crust was crispy, charred and moist all at the same time, and the mozzarella had flavor – actual flavor all its own! I dubbed it King Pizza of the night.

The Popeye (pecorino, gruyère, mozzarella, spinach, black pepper and garlic) was a study in delicious contradiction. The spinach, both crispy and tender, was a perfect balance to the tangy and gooey gruyere. For added fun, the spinach seemed to have been marinated in oil and garlic.

And they have sundaes! I enjoyed a vanilla and salted peanut topped with caramel sauce, cream and pomegranate seeds.

The Bathrooms:
I was happy to find the bathrooms as orderly and well-constructed as the pizza (yes, I know that’s a weird thing to say). Clean, modern and supplied with fun extras like C.O. Bigelow lemon-scented hand soap and ART (that’s a crab in the framed photo).

The Experience:
The Shawshank Redemption – The Happy Ending

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Does anyone have a count of how many times I have mentioned how much I love ricotta cheese? I think the obsession started when I visited Anfora Wine Bar for the first time and spread some of their signature perfectly whipped, salty-sweet version on a piece of airy toast. It was a testament to the benefits of homemade: so much more flavor! And so much room for innovation.

So I decided to make my own. Because my cholesterol was getting dangerously low, and I needed to have a steady stream of cheese-related fats in order to counteract that. I looked around and found a bunch of very helpful instructions on making ricotta cheese. I was assured it would be easy.

The first time I tried it, I failed miserably. I looked away for a second and the whole mixture on the stove top boiled over and made quite a mess. Which I should be used to by now. Take away lesson: Don’t boil your ricotta milk.

Anyway, I had MUCH success the second, third and fourth times. I have created a few different variations with instructions below. There is also a helpful video that shows the EXACT MOMENT of cheese formation. Are you all a-tingle? I bet you are.

Recipe 1: Ricotta Cheese whipped with Olive Oil and Truffle Salt

What You Need:
makes about 1 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups whole milk (reduced fat just doesn’t work as well) + 2 Tbsp
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp white vinegar
Truffle salt to taste (you can use regular sea salt if you don’t have the fancy truffle variety)
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Small pot
Candy thermometer (something that reads at least up to 180 degrees)
Slotted spoon

What To Do:
Cut enough cheesecloth to cover the bottom of your colander. 4-ply the cheesecloth to make sure no actual cheese escapes – just water!

Pour 2 cups of the whole milk, all of the buttermilk and all of the white vinegar into a small pot outfitted with a thermometer. Heat this over medium-low heat and babysit it. The babysitting involves you watching like a hawk and stirring occasionally so it doesn’t boil over.

The thermometer will start to creep toward 160 degrees. This is the action zone. Your milk/buttermilk will start to separate and curdle. This is one of those rare occasions when curdling is a good thing. Stop stirring and let the milk completely separate and curdle. Remove from the heat.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curdled portion (this is your ricotta!) and place it on the cheesecloth that is sitting in the colander. Let it drain for about 10 minutes.

After draining, I transfer it to a container (like a tupperware container, as you can keep your chemistry experiment in the fridge for up to a week). With a fork or a whisk, add in your 2 Tbsp of milk, the olive oil and the truffle salt. Give it a good whipping.

I add this last extra step as ricotta can get a little dry from the draining. Especially if you leave it in the colander and forget about and say…oh start vacuuming your apartment or something. This makes it moist and flavorful.

Recipe 2: Ricotta Cheese whipped with Milk, Honey and Sea Salt

What You Need:
makes about 2/3 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups whole milk (reduced fat just doesn’t work as well) + 2 Tbsp
Juice from 1/2 a lemon, squeezed directly into the milk
Honey – a tablespoon or two
Sea Salt
Note: For this version I didn’t use any buttermilk. Works just fine!

Small pot
Candy thermometer (something that reads at least up to 180 degrees)
Slotted spoon

What To Do:
Cut enough cheesecloth to cover the bottom of your colander. 4-ply the cheesecloth to make sure no actual cheese escapes – just water!

Pour 2 cups of the whole milk and lemon juice into a small pot outfitted with a thermometer. Heat this over medium-low heat and babysit it. The babysitting involves you watching like a hawk and stirring occasionally so it doesn’t boil over.

The thermometer will start to creep toward 160 degrees. This is the action zone. Your milk will start to separate and curdle. Stop stirring and let the milk completely separate and curdle. Remove from the heat.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curdled portion and place it on the cheesecloth that is sitting in the colander. Let it drain for about 10 minutes.

After draining, I transfer it to a container. With a fork or a whisk, add in your 2 Tbsp of milk, honey and sea salt. Give it a good whipping.

Here is a video that demonstrates the heating and curdling process:

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