Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Growing up in new york city, my childhood was punctuated with outings to the second avenue deli. Although my family is half chinese and half eastern european jewish, chinese food was disproportionately prominent in my diet. So trips to the deli were where I first became familiar with and learned to love the cuisine of my other half. When the deli closed down in 2006, after surviving the still unsolved murder of the long time owner, and having been in business for just over half a century, it was somewhat devastating. Even though it has since reopened in Murray Hill, I still feel a little sick every time I pass the shiny new chase bank now located in its original location on second Ave and 10th street. There is a brief history of the deli on the restaurants website, but for a more in depth and fascinating look at the man behind the deli, check out this article.
Much as I loved the food, these visits were also the source of anxiety for me. I was terrified of one waitress, who was visibly irritated and impatient with any kind of indecision, something that always plagued my meals there. The sandwiches, thinly sliced fatty meats towering between two thin slices of rye bread, are of course the star of the deli experience. But I’ve always been a soup lover, and the chicken in the pot - clear flavorful broth, seasoned with dill and full of small square noodles, ladled over half a chicken and a matzoh ball, was also a huge temptation to me. So usually I’d waiver between the soup and a corned beef sandwich until the last possible minute, when under her withering glare, I’d panic and order whichever I happened to look at first on the menu.
Now that I’m older, I’m not any more decisive. Therefore my first thought when the March charcutepalooza brining challenge was announced was that I would make deli sandwiches and serve them alongside bowls of matzoh ball soup, waistline be damned. Fortunately I had the good sense to scrap that idea after seeing the amount of meat we procured from the butcher - close to six and a half pounds all together (four lbs of brisket, two and a half of tongue). That seemed like more than enough to feed a party of four, even after taking into account the very healthy appetites of all involved. If common sense hadn’t stepped in, practicality would have put an end to my soup plans, as the tubs of brining meat left so little free space in the fridge that any additional cooking would be near impossible.
(I'm afraid I need to apologize in advance for the following picture. There's really no way to photograph a raw tongue without making it look obscene:)
After brining for four days, followed by a slow simmer which made me salivate all day, the brisket came out beautifully, fatty and flavorful. My complaints with the tongue are minimal. Based on the coloring, I believe it should have brined for more time. Also, it was a little bit too chewy, and should have been cooked longer. The next day though, after a couple more hours of cooking, the tongue was perfectly tender.
To accompany the meat, we made mustard following Hank Shaw's recipe from his blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, and russian dressing. All between two slices of Ken’s freshly baked rye bread, these sandwiches were top notch. The soup wasn’t even missed.
One added bonus of our family trips to the deli was that this was one of the few times I was allowed to drink soda. On each visit I would savor a can of Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry soda, while eyeing the similar green cans - the Cel-Ray soda with revulsion. Celery flavored soda would probably seem a little odd to most people, but to the celery-hater I once was, the idea seemed particularly vile.
Since then, my feelings towards celery have changed drastically. Ironically it was another self-proclaimed celery hater who instigated my conversion. Long before I “read” food blogs, I was reading Carol Blymire’s. In fact her former blog, French Laundry at Home is probably the start of what has since become an obsession with online food writing. It was this particular post, regarding peeling celery which caused my 100% reversal on the subject. After reading the post, I knew I had to try it out myself. The first thing I noticed was the smell which becomes more distinct during the peeling process. Celery has a light, refreshing, and almost floral scent which lingers on your fingers long after the celery has been prepped and put aside. And the celery itself, usually just a watery stringy stem which made me gag, suddenly became crisp and refreshing if still somewhat bland.
I have the tendency to get obsessed with things, and this discovery was no exception. I hopped on the celery peeling bandwagon with near evangelical enthusiasm. During that time I could not be in the same room as celery without looking for a peeler. I preached over crudite, was indignant at every bloody mary garnished with its signature stalk of (unpeeled!) celery. I was completely insufferable, and am pretty thankful to have any friends left - one in particular (you know who you are...). So my obsession since then has cooled, but my fondness for celery has remained. Therefore, when I decided to come up with an accompaniment for my deli sandwiches, my thoughts immediately turned to that increasingly appealing lime green can of Dr. Brown's soda.
I decided to make my own celery soda, by slightly adapting this Alton Brown recipe. The primary change being the addition of fresh celery in order to get more of the lovely fresh celery fragrance I became so infatuated with. The result had a startlingly distinct celery flavor, refreshing if a little odd to an unfamiliar palate. However, everyone who tried it found the syrup to be overly sweet and so the recipe below is adjusted accordingly. We use the same ratio: equal parts sugar to water, for ginger syrup to make homemade ginger ale and cocktails, and find that the proportion allows you to add enough syrup to get a strong flavor without too much sweetness. I can see this celery syrup working well in a light summery cocktails as well.
Homemade Celery Soda
adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe on Food Network
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoon ground celery seed
3-4 stalks of celery, roughly chopped (peeling not necessary!)
1. In a saucepan, over medium heat, dissolve the sugar into the water.
2. Once fully dissolved, remove from heat, and add celery seed and celery chunks. Muddle the celery lightly to release their juices. Allow to steep for an hour.
3. Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer. If you have the patience and the inclination, strain again through a coffee filter (while still hot) to ensure no grainy celery seeds in your final product.
4. Put a couple tablespoons of celery syrup in a glass with ice. Fill with seltzer, and stir. Adjust syrup according to your own taste.
Note: make sure the seltzer you use is highly carbonated. The one we bought initially wasn’t nearly fizzy enough, and it made a huge difference to the final product.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
This past valentines days, I had a terrible idea. Probably the worst food related idea I’ve ever had. To give myself a little credit, I can honestly say that some of the fault lies with ken. Not only did he supply the kernel of inspiration on which I built this idea, but he was also complicit in allowing it to be brought to fruition. Our plan for that night was to make a pasta, because, well, because we like pasta. But it wasn’t going to be just any pasta, it would be the ultimate valentines day pasta. The idea was to make chocolate ravioli with a pretty pink beet and ricotta filling. With the benefit of hindsight I now see how bad this combination sounds, but at the time I was seduced by the idea of chocolate and picture perfect pink valentines day noodles.
These ravioli were indescribably bad. When I came up with the idea to make these, I convinced myself that the sugar in the beets would be enough to compensate for the otherwise bitter chocolate in the pasta. I was horribly mistaken. The pasta was so bitter that it overwhelmed all sweetness from the beets (and richness from the ricotta), leaving only the earthy dirty beet taste, a taste which had caused me to despise beets for the first 22 years of my life. There was absolutely nothing appealing about this dish.
So why am I writing about my horrible failure of a pasta? Well, because the experience made me realize just how amazing pasta really is. Consider this: there are a huge variety of noodles from around the world, and all are made using the same basic ingredients: flour, water, and the optional egg. Of course there are slight differences between them, but the foundation of each is the same. And if you are as lucky as I am to live with someone who can take those basic ingredients, and turn them into a pasta without the need of a recipe, then any failed pasta dish can be salvaged. Using his amazing pasta making skills ken managed to do just that by adding flour and eggs to the leftover filling, and making a delicious beet ricotta gnocchi.
Tossed with butter, grated cheese and a little lemon zest, this dish made a tasty (if not the prettiest) accompaniment to the rest of our valentine’s night meal of scallops, leeks and romanesco. The meal was a success and the experience, a perfect valentines day reminder of why I love pasta and my pasta making boyfriend.