Friday, February 27, 2009

The Mad Scientist

Dr. Frankenstein’s got nothing on me.

Let me explain. A good friend of mine hosts an annual beer tasting in Hells Kitchen, and since the first one, his offering has grown in both size and sophistication. As such, I felt it was only appropriate that the dishes brought by someone who has made the 1 year mark in writing about life through food should follow suit.

So I sat and brainstormed, evaluating exactly what foods would both pair well and appeal to the masses. Of course I started with the timeless rule of “if it grows together, it goes together”, and looked at the selections of beer. Most were Belgian, as any beer aficionado would expect of a high brow tasting. My thoughts naturally ran to the grassy hop filled lands north of France and west of Germany. Images of waffles, pirogi, and all types of savory wursts danced in my head as I contemplated how to compliment these exquisite beers with a stellar dish. But none of them really moved me. I mean, who really wants to make their own sausages? Whatever this dish was going to be, it had to be filling, delicious, and heavy enough to soak up all the booze that we were sure to imbibe.

I brainstormed….I researched…I drank some beer for inspiration…and eventually, I passed out watching Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Somewhere between Aqua Teen Hunger Force and my innovative subconscious, the idea came to me – Macaroni and Beer Cheese. Eureka! But how would I make this concept into a mouth watering reality? How could I possibly infuse cheese with the tangy and complex overtones of beer without losing the wondrous creamy gooey experience we all know and love? What beer would I use? What recipe for macaroni and cheese? Hell, what cheese?! The internal debate went on like this for about 2 days. Finally, I decided if I was going to learn anything about making this recipe, I had to experiment. And so, much like the good doctor of folklore, I too set out to wield the ultimate power and give life to an inanimate creation.

The Beers
Three Philosophers – a blend of malty ale and cherry lambic with overtones of chocolate and nuttiness
Chimay White – probably the most recognizable Trappist beer, with a velvety body and hints of floral and sweet fruit
Arrogant Bastard – a strong IPA that goes great with BBQ because of the hop’s ability to cut through spice and grease to deliver flavor to your palette (always in stock in the UE’s fridge, just for the name alone)

The Cheese
Hoch Ybrig – a nuttier hard cheese, with a more bitter finish
Prima Donna – a gouda-like hard cheese that has a great creamy taste with a slight tangy finish
Fontina – everyone’s favorite creamy soft cheese

With the help of my own personal Igor, we set upon coordinating flavors of beer with flavors of cheese, testing out which combinations made the most sense. And just to add another layer of complexity, we debated using a roux base (which is mostly milk and a small bit of flour), or a béchamel cream base (mostly butter and cream). We began by tasting the beers and the cheeses, getting a sense for their individual flavor characteristics. Then we tasted them as a pair, and came up with the below grid:

Now the fun part!

We grated cheese. We boiled Macaroni. For the roux, we warmed milk in a pan. Added some butter. Mixed in the flour. BEER! A little cheese. Poured the macaroni into the pan, stirred, and placed the mixture over the rest of the cheese in the test container. And did it again, and again, and again, and again. Even threw some pancetta in one of the mixes to even out some of the bitterness from the cheese and beer. (As a side note, it is now my belief that pork is the duct tape of the culinary world – if it tastes weird or bland, add some bacon of some sort and voila! Instant delicious)

As I stepped back to watch the process, I noticed big grins on both of us. We were playing God to the macaroni world, bringing life to what was a mere concept, living out our thesis out in the microcosm of the test kitchen. I felt drunk with the power of creation, knowing that at any time I could take away the life given to these recipes with a fell swoop to the trash. The power of life giving was almost maddening, and after a short time of baking, our many Frankensteins were alive! Live you delicious aberrations of life, LIVE!!!!

Wouldn’t you love to taste the results?

-The Mad Epicurean

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Brooklyn Food Tour Revisited

I conceived Urbane Adventures as a way to combine two things I love very dearly – food and good people. I believe very much that this city offers the most unique food experiences in the entire country for the simple fact that you can have both authentic and innovative foods from all over the world within a relatively small area. Given people, such as myself, can be preconditioned to avoid leaving the safe confines of their everyday lives, I decided it was time to force them to experience the city – the food, the people, and the neighborhoods. On the first tour, 7 of my friends joined me in a hunt for good eats in Jackson Heights, Queens. This time, around 32 people decided that discovering taste was worth giving up a Saturday to travel around Brooklyn. To be totally honest, I did not expect so many people to show up, but from the moment we all congregated to the moment we ate that last bite of sinfully rich chocolate cake, it was a Saturday that I will forever remember. My deepest thanks to every person who came and walked the miles, ate the food, and made the event what it was. Without you, it would not have been possible.

Enough mushy stuff, lets get to the food!

Oasis, our first stop, is a small falafel shop on 7th and Bedford, right on top of the Bedford Ave stop in Brooklyn. I was introduced to this gem by Viridian Sun who had so graciously shared a small part of her crunchy Brooklyn life with me. Falafel, as you may know, is a dish common to many Arab countries, and is essentially a ball of fried chick peas served with various sauces. I will concede, Oasis quite possibly has the best falafel in the 5 boroughs, but that was not the source of my pride for this destination. Given their expertise with the chickpea, they also have an astounding offering of hummus. Let’s be clear, I live on hummus. Sometimes I will eat it alone just for dinner. I made it the purpose of my previous travels to seek out, far and wide, the best hummus (ok, I was really on vacation in Dubai, but you get the point). As a side for the falafel plate, Oasis offers some of the most flavorful, robust, and creamy hummus this side of the Mediterranean.
$6 / plate

Vinnie’s Pizzeria
Serendipity is defined as good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries. What more appropriate word could be used to describe the second stop on our tour? As you may notice from the map provided, we originally were to stop at Brick Oven Pizza, but apparently it doesn’t exist where it should. Thankfully, my strawberry blonde savior thought of a place to go that was near Oasis, so we doubled back to Bedford Ave on 9th St. However before we even got to that place, I spotted a pizza place that seemed good enough, so I stopped the group to take a chance on an unknown. What we discovered was an amazing hidden gem! Vinnie’s is a gourmet pizza shop, more art than slice, offering everything from tortellini pizza to taco pizza! Though the herd was rowdy from realizing we walked in a total circle, they were soon cooing with contentment at the experience of Vinnie’s Pizzeria.
Slice ~$4

Raymund’s Place
What do you think of when you hear the word “pirogi”? If you’re like me, you think “what the hell is that”? I had heard of pirogies, but never actually seen or tasted one, and since my roster of Polish/Czech/Slavic friends is relatively short, I figured we might as well crash the party and see what all the noise is about. What we discovered was that pirogi are a small fried dumpling stuffed, in this instance, with potato and cheese, served with vegetables and vinegar cured bacon bits. Now, if you are reading this blog, you probably already have a pre-disposition to food, so you understand just how ethereal bacon is by itself. To add this as a garnish to a savory, crispier version of a pot sticker is to be knocking on heaven’s door. Pay a visit if you are in the area. Not only do they have amazing pirogi, but their apple pancakes are a great comfort food, and they have a large supply of Zywiec (pronunciation here), that is crisp enough to wash food down, light enough to not overwhelm the pirogi, but still distinctly individual with a light touch of hop and spring flavors peeking through.
Pirogi Plate - $6.75

It was right about here we made the transition to Park Slope. I will take a point of privilege and say DAMN YOU F TRAIN!!!! If you went on the tour, you understand why.

Roots Café
Southern food is in my blood. As previous posts will tell you, I am from Texas – no apologies about it. However, when I think back to my roots, I never considered bologna and cheese to be a staple of that region. Nor would I consider green eggs and ham a usual breakfast meal below the Mason Dixon. Leave it to a homesick southerner to interpret ghosts from the brown bag lunches of childhood into an innovative recession friendly luxury. Roots Café was our first stop in Park Slope, and after a long journey, we were starved. This café not only offers a great ambiance similar to coffee shops in the Bay and Portland, but also some great down to earth paninis. We sampled the Green Eggs and Ham Panini, which is a scrambled egg sandwich with avocado mixed into the eggs. We also sampled the Bologna and Cheddar Panini. Both of these sandwiches were a stellar example of how down home food can still be good even if it’s made into gourmet remix.
Bologna & Cheese - $3.50, Green Eggs & Ham - $6.75

Tacos New Mexico
This was definitely one of my favorite stops on the trip. Not so much for the food, but for the humor. Tacos New Mexico is a traditional Mexican diner, serving everything from tostadas to horchata. I decided we would have a sampling of tacos, and to my excitement, their menu had 8 distinct types. I figured it would be fun to try something unusual, so I ordered beef and pork tacos. After a few minutes of waiting, I brought them out for people to eat, and as they devoured the offering, comments started circulating. “This one’s so fatty”. “That’s a unique texture”. After people had tried enough of the tacos, I dropped the punch line. Yes, these were pork and beef tacos, but specifically, they were veal brains and beef tongue, amongst the regular tacos. Tongue was a favorite on the last tour, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
~$3 / taco

Park Slope Fish and Chip Shop
You have to love the British. For all their pomp, they have given us some timeless classics. Big Ben. Tea. And on this trip: Fish and Chips. Frying foods has always been a way to make a less than phenomenal cut of meat taste great. Though there are many variations of the fish and chip, Park Slope Chip Shop offered us fried cod. Along with the accent and the fish, we partook in some fried mac and cheese – not specifically from the UK, but just too hard to pass up. This place offers both take out and restaurant seating, but we opted for the street. Granted it’s difficult to make bad fish and chips, but this place truly paid attention to the details. Our fish was fresh, the fries were crisp, and the British accents were hilarious. This place is definitely shaken, not stirred.
Fish and Chips Basket - $12, Fried Mac & Cheese - $5

Los Politos
In the food world, I often liken chicken to a blank canvas. A great artist can take control and make it into something memorable. The spit roasted chicken at Los Politos demonstrates exactly what that means. We stopped by the last savory destination on the tour quickly, grabbed the food and walked on. To everyone’s amazement, the chicken was bursting with flavor. Spit roasting had given it its juicy, tender flesh, but someone at that restaurant seasoned this chicken much like Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Magnifico!
Whole Roasted Chicken - $7.65

The Chocolate Room
If chocolate is an aphrodisiac, then this place needs to be moved to a red light district. I’ll be honest, the hour was getting late (thanks to that awful F train), and I was getting restless. I wanted everyone to be happy with the tour, and given the length of time it ran, I thought people might be getting antsy. But just as a good stew or brisket becomes more flavorful the longer you cook it, so too did our enjoyment increase over time. We had spent so much time laughing and eating together as a group, that we barely noticed the time. Chocolate Room was the last stop on the tour, so I was convinced that we should finish strong. This dessert shop is purported to have some of the most divine chocolate cake and brownies in the city. I was a bit skeptical, because nothing can ever be that good (especially when Oprah makes a recommendation), but lo and behold, when we bit into the first bit of icing on that chocolate cake, I went into full fledge shock. To this day I’m not sure if it was from diabetes or elation, but in either case, this little dessert shop lives up to the hype.
Chocolate Layer Cake - $6, Brownie - $6

All in, a delicious day, and all under $20 / person. Here’s to good eats and good friends!

-The UE

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Urbane Adventure - Brooklyn Video Slideshow

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Friday, February 6, 2009

La Inquisición de Hamburguesa

Cheeseburgers have mistreated for years.

Ok, you’re probably thinking meat, cheese, bun…not really sure how to abuse those. A Cheeseburger is a quintessential aspect of American food culture, and rightfully so. It is simple to make, filling, and highly caloric, providing everyone from the blue collar worker to the white shoe executive a fulfilling and cost effective hand held meal. But lately, I have been saddened by the wave of gourmet burger that use arugula instead of lettuce, gruyere instead of cheddar, and caramelized onions instead of ketchup!

Cheeseburgers originated from hamburgers, which go as far back as the 11th Century when the Mongols carried flat patties of meat with them on long horseback trips. The actual hamburger bun is said to be invented in 1916 by Walter Anderson, a short-order cook and founder of White Castle. One claim of inventing the actual hamburger sandwich comes from Charlie Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin, U.S., who tried selling fried meatballs at a county fair, but customers found them hard to eat while walking around the fair, so Nagreen flattened it and made it into a sandwich he called the “hamburger”. Hamburg, New York, U.S. also claims credit for the invention of the hamburger at its Erie County Fair in 1885 by the Menches brothers. Similar claims are made from almost every US state.

What is known is that the first official Cheeseburger was either created between by a chef named Lionel Sternberger in Pasadena, California, USA who supposedly passed a homeless man who suggested he add a slice of cheese to his hamburger order, or by Louisville, Kentucky-based Kaelin’s Restaurant, which claims to invent the Cheeseburger in 1934.

In any case, the Cheeseburger has been around for a long time. The option of having meat, dairy, and bread in one simple creation satisfies our most primal nutritional needs. If fried chicken was originated out of thrift and convenience and delicious taste, the popularity of Cheeseburger couldn’t be too different.

But then something happened. People started getting testy. The “regular” didn’t satisfy them anymore. The population needed something to distinguish class from class, person from person. Texas doused barbecue sauce all over the burger. California implanted avocados into our poor Cheeseburger. Soon the whole world was a mad scientist, experimenting on a voiceless subject with no regard for its soul, all for the absurd need to bring distinction to an already universally loved food product.

For years, people of the world have dressed the Cheeseburger up and down, added and subtracted ingredients, offered different gimmicks and toys to get the consumer to want and appreciate it.

But has anyone asked what the Cheeseburger wants?

Well no more! I am here to stand up for the rights of the Cheeseburger. Stop dressing it up in fancy cheeses and over-conceptualized sauces. No more will Cheeseburger Everyman be a guinea pig to the culinary whims of an ambitious chef or bored stay at home mom. Cheeseburgers didn’t make Ronald McDonald an international icon by being pretentious and overdressed. Nay, I say, learn ye how to create this delicious and universally beloved dish in the time honored tradition it was meant to be made. Stop distracting me with chipotle mayos and Cheddar-Jack-Munster hybrids that mask the demon within – bad burger making skills. If you can’t get the fundamentals of a burger right, you shouldn’t be near the bun. Give us meat, cheese, a toasted bun and maybe ketchup and mustard, or give me death.

-The UE

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It Was Only a Matter of Time

I guess it was inevitable - I got into a comment war on a food blog. Hard to believe right? Me getting into an argument with someone. And of all topics, because I commented about someone writing pretentiously about blue collar foods. And what happened to me? Hilarious accusations of my hypocrisy due to my distaste for pretense.

I think you guys know just how pretentious and not pretentious I can be. This discussion was really funny though, so I thought I should share. I actually have a draft of a post entitled "The Cheeseburger Inquisition" I was writing earlier this week, and decided it was time to stand up for the cheeseburgers. I guess not everyone shares my perspective that you cant wear heels to the beach.

Enjoy, make fun, its all good!

-The uh...Urbane Joe Six Pack

Check out the comment war HERE

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Urbane Adventures - Brooklyn [UPDATE]

To My Readers,

I hope you are all well. The food tour is a go this weekend. Lets plan to meet Saturday, February 7th at 1pm in front of the Whole Foods in Union Square. As you can see, we have a lot of ground to cover so please bring comfortable walking shoes, $20 cash to contribute to the pot, your metro card, and a BIG appetite.

I hope to see you all soon. Please text my cell if you have any questions, the weather looks good relatively speaking, so I dont expect a cancellation due to inclimate weather.


-The UE

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