Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Heart is Melting for Melt Shop

I could also say my cholesterol is going up...but that wouldn't be as nice of a title.

Since it's such a beautiful day, my friend John and I decided to meet up at Melt Shop, a new grilled cheese mecca nestled in the little plaza that makes up the Lexington Avenue/53rd St station. John had spoken highly of a particular sandwich there, and I knew I had to try it.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Cheddar Cheese, Cheese Sauce, Melt Sauce, Red Cabbage Slaw w/Country White Bread

Okay guys. PLEASE NOTE THE ULTRA CRISPY CRUST ON THIS MOTHA! It's just gorgeous. You can tell that Melt Shop is serious about grilled cheese construction. None of the ingredients are falling out and it's super stable. The taste? Well, I think the only phrase I can use is: "it kicks you in the ASS". So many flavors and textures are assaulting your taste buds, that it's almost overwhelming. Almost. The red cabbage slaw is nice and tangy and really cuts through the richness of the sandwich. Vibrant color and crunch are big pluses, too. The chicken breast is super juicy and just seasoned enough, with not too much breading. The Melt Sauce was phenomenal, really creamy and a tad bit spicy. I think it's mayo based, but it was so good I didn't care (I'm not a huge mayo fan). A blanket of creamy cheese sauce and and exceptional sliced cheddar remind you that this is first and foremost, a grilled cheese...and you better not forget it.

John decided to not go into a food coma with me by having the cheddar and maple bacon on sourdough. The bacon actually tasted maple-y which paired perfectly with the sharp cheddar. To go with this stellar sammy, we split an order of tater tots with a side of Melt Sauce. Hot, crispy and perfectly cooked. 

Now I could only eat half of my sandwich, b/c I knew the only respite after eating that whole damn thing would be going straight home and taking a nap. But that only meant I had room for dessert. A sign next to their window said, "Check out our milkshakes!" What sort of person would I be to ignore such a friendly, cheerful sign? An ass. So I got a milkshake.

Coffee Crunch Milkshake

Their Coffee Crunch milkshake is made with delicious Stumptown Coffee, ice cream, and (gulp!), ESPRESSO BEANS! I like my shakes so thick that it gives me a headache to suck them through the straw. This was one of those milkshakes. I was in jittery sugar heaven on my way back to work.

Apparently, they're open for breakfast now, which is pretty awesome. But I really hope they look into delivery...sometimes it's hard to make the time to run up there on my lunch break. Also, I'd really like it if they were open a little later than 5 for dinner, at least for the summer. Imagine yourself relaxing in the twilight of the Citibank Plaza....with oozy cheese running down your chin. Yup, I can see it too.

Hop to it, Melt Shop!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gluten Free Adventures: Broiled Sesame Shrimp and Peppers and other Tasty Treats

Michelle and I went on our somewhat annual Best Friend Vacation to Florida a couple of weeks ago.  It was a glorious 5 days of chilling in the sun and reuniting with a good college friend of ours that lives down there. Derek went to college with us our freshman year, and even though he transferred out, we always kept in touch. After he moved to Florida to work permanently, I started making my pilgrimages to the sunshine state. Michelle joined me after my first visit after she saw all of my happy pics and stories, and she's been hooked.

After we disclosed to Derek our plans for cooking for him, he dropped a bomb: he was allergic to gluten. The last time we were in FL, Derek was complaining of stomach pains he'd been having for a while, and...other issues that are less decorous to share. The pains were complications due to his body saying "NO BUENO" to gluten.

Now, I know we hear the term gluten and have no friggin' idea what it is. Basically, gluten is a protein found in wheat that makes bread chewy and toothsome. Unfortunately there are people who are really sensitive to it, with the most severe case being celiac disease. Derek's case wasn't that serious, but, it was serious enough for him to make some changes to his diet and to start drinking gluten-free beer (my verdict: it's not bad!).

Most of the things we thought about cooking for him flew out the window. Could I make a gluten-free meal that we all (me, Michelle, Derek, and his roommate, Jesse) could enjoy? I used a couple of different resources, and I think everything turned out pretty damn splendidly.

Broiled Sesame Shrimp & Peppers

This recipe I got with the help of Tasty Kitchen's Special Dietary Needs section! They're sitting on a bed of gluten-free spiral pasta...I forget the brand name, but it's made of rice flour instead of the regular kind. I would have preferred rice noodles though..and if I had looked hard enough through Derek's pantry, I would have found them. WHOOPS. This was light, tangy/sweet, and delicious.

Orange Balsamic Glazed Chicken with Mac n Cheese and Roasted Carrots & Asparagus
Okay, I know most of people (including myself) find Rachel Ray REALLY irritating. But, she does have some really good recipes, and this one was really easy to make gluten-free. Easily found the gluten-free chicken broth at Publix, and made a substitution. Unfortunately, the mac and cheese was the Kraft kind, and Derek couldn't eat it...which is why I roasted veggies (400 degrees, toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper, and desired fresh herbs...I used thyme) on the side. Since Michelle isn't a huge veg fan, she was happy with the mac. The rest of us ate it ALL. The only thing I would change about the recipe is maybe using less chicken broth. I probably used a little too much oil in the sauteing of the chicken as well. I really wanted a tight glaze and I got a somewhat liquid-y consistency. Otherwise, this came out really good as well.

On the baking front were these two delights:

PW's Orange Marmalade Cake and Toll House Choco-Chip Cookie Bars
For the baked goods, I used two regular recipes and just substituted gluten-free flour for the regular kind. I made the cake, and Michelle made the cookies. The cake and the glaze are both made with yogurt, and made good use of the big ass jar of orange marmalade I bought. The cookies are the regular Toll House recipe, put into a rectangular pan so we wouldn't be scooping out cookie dough all night. I noticed that the flour swap made for a denser product with a slightly browner crumb, but other than that, everything tasted amazing.

And here is proof:

Please not that those chunks they cut, they thought were appropriate serving sizes. Boys are just animals, aren't they? :-)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Saturday Southern Brunch....and Duck Fat.

My friend Darrell and I have been unleashing his inner foodie for the past couple weeks, and we're really taking it to the limit. His first meal for me was roasted chicken with veggies...there was also scallion eggs, brown rice, and bok choy on the side.

Look at all that crispy skin!! Everything was roasted to perfection in his amazing cast iron skillet. Also, this was an especially plump bird, so all of the veggies got covered in chicken fat. YUM.

It was my turn to cook for him the next week, and he settled on biscuits and sausage gravy. Which I had NO problem with, since I love rustic food...covered in gravy. And on the side: duck fat hashbrowns. I found the fat at Dean & Delucca Weekend brunch is supposed to be indulgent, right?


I used canned biscuits (THE FLAKY KIND) because I didn't feel like making them from scratch. The gravy though, is a breeze once you get the technique down.You only need: sausage, flour, milk, salt, and pepper. That's it!

Since there was only the two of us, I only used half a tube of Jimmy Dean sausage. Dar sliced that half into patties, and I fried them up in his cast iron skillet until they were cooked and crisped. I love cast iron for stuff like this because it holds heat so well.

I removed the sausage to drain and left the fat that was rendered in the pat. It looked to be about 2 tablespoons worth, which was a little short of what I wanted. I added just a tipple of the duck fat.

I see you running away! Come back. This is gonna be tasty, I swear.

Anyway! I sprinkled a couple of flour over the fat and started to whisk it over medium-low heat. You want to whisk the flour and fat together, until it starts to brown a bit and smell nutty. You want to cook all of that raw flour taste right out, and since the pan was already pretty warm, it won't take that long. Then, add your milk. I started with a cup, and then added some more because I thought it was too thick. Keep whisking all throughout!

Dar crumbled up 2 of the patties for me and sprinkled them back into the gravy. That blur is me, whisking furiously.

The gravy will bubble up as you add the milk, but just keep whisking until...well, it looks like gravy. Creamy and luscious. Taste a bit and adjust the salt and pepper. Under-seasoned gravy tastes like library paste. I turned off the heat and let it hang out while Darrell made the green beans. Gravy thickens the more you let it stand, so to serve, I just turned the fire on very low, added a little more milk, and whisked it back to the consistency we wanted.

He used a piece of duck fat/skin he had left over from some Thai food, and a little ladle of the liquid stuff, to pan roast the beans.

He tossed them in the pot over high heat to crisp them up a bit, put a little bit of water in the pan, and covered it so it could soften. I think it took about 5-10 minutes.

OH THE HASHBROWNS! I almost forgot. These are so easy, it's criminal. Take a couple potatoes (we used 3-4 because we're greedy) and shred them up with a box grater. Take a bunch of paper towels or a large dish cloth, place the shreds inside, and SQUEEZE out the moisture. The drier you get the potatoes, the better. They'll crisp up better without all of its inner liquids and starch, and you'll have nicer hashbrowns. I fried these up in batches with the duck fat over medium-high heat until they were brown and crispy.

I can smell your jealousy.

Served with Brooklyn Brewery's Brown Ale. And another picture, because I'm feeling torturous:

This, I feel is the best way to spend a Saturday. A cold brew, a good friend...and eating a lot of things fried in the fat of ducks. Quack.

BLT Prime's Popovers

So, I just got called out VERY HARD for not including the recipe for BLT's popovers, so I'm correcting my mistake! Here it is, y'all. :-D

BLT’s Popovers
Yields: 12 to 14 popovers
4 cups milk (warmed)
8 large eggs
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cup grated gruyere cheese

1. Place the popover pan in the oven. Heat the oven and pan to 350F.
2. Gently warm the milk over low heat and set aside.
3. Whisk egg until frothy and slowly whisk in the milk (so as not to cook the eggs). Set the mixture aside.
4. Sift the flour with the salt. Slowly add this mixture and gently combine until mostly smooth.
5. Once combined remove the popover pan from the oven and spray with non-stick vegetable spray. While the batter is slight warm or room temperature, fill each popover cup with 3/4 full.
6. Top each popover with approximately 2 1/2 Tbsp. of grated Gruyere.
7. Bake at 350F for 50 minutes, rotating pan half a turn after 15 minutes of baking.
8. Remove fro the oven, remove from the pan and serve immediately.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Okay, so let me just say right now, this post will not contain any pictures.


My stupid phone has like, no battery power, so I couldn't be a true creeper by snapping my usual photos. Plus, the lights were dim and sexy...not really conducive to taking good photos.

BUT. This meal, this experience, was so fantastic, I think I'm more than able to describe it.

BLT Prime (Bistro Laurent Tourendel. He's got a couple of other highly lauded restaurants in the city, such as BLT Burger, which I've gone to and loved) is definitely a grown-up spot. The decor and atmosphere definitely leans toward a mature clientele, but manages to be extremely warm and inviting. Dark leather chairs, plush pillows, and candles basically just invite you to relax. I stuck to one of their house cocktails for the evening, the Ice Flower Bubbly. The mix of champagne, 
ice wine, elderflower liquor, and lemon juice make for a lightly sweet and crisp drink that was refreshing, if not a little strong. I had two of them which were sipped nice and slow.

They start you off with complimentary chicken liver pate and toast....YUCK YUCK YUCK. I hate and despise liver, but I wanted to be a good sport and try it here. Oh man, that nasty, mineral flavor will never be good to me, no matter where I have it. But then, they sent over....THE 
POPOVERS. Instead of just having plain bread for the table, they bring out these huge egg-y rolls that exhale delicious steam when you cut into them. A couple sprinkles of salt and a swipe of butter, and you basically look like a lunatic shoving this into your maw. Crunchy. Tender. Salty and savory from the Gruyere baked into the top crust. Honestly, if I had just eaten these all night, I would have been a happy camper. They even give you a little recipe card with the recipe for them, so you can recreate the experience at home. How sweet is that?

I got the Lobster Salad (referred to as Cobb style on the menu because it contains similar ingredients to the
original), and I split it because it was way more than I could handle on my own. And, I was okay with admitting that. Big chunks of still warm lobster were nestled all the way through the pile of mixed greens, avocado, and tomatoes. It was bathed in a creamy dressing (I think it had Roquefort cheese, but even though I don't usually like blue cheese, it was still yummy) and crowned with a spiral of crisp bacon. Perfect.

I ordered the rib eye (all of their meat is 
dry aged to promote tenderness and a deep flavor), and I think my only mistake was ordering it medium well. It came to the table, as all of their steaks do, sizzling in its own cast iron skillet with a pat of herb butter melting into its grill marks. Oh, and a ring of roasted bone marrow with a little spoon for me to scoop it out. Of course I put it right on top of my steak. I had no choice! Great fat marbling, crispy pieces of fat, and oozing herb butter and marrow. EFF YEAH. The steak was cooked  perfectly, and I was greeted with a slightly rosy center as I kept cutting into the beef. Since BLT can obviously be trusted to make a steak properly to order, I won't be as paranoid, and I'll get it medium next time. My sides were solid as well, a little skilled of beautiful glazed carrots, and another of Parmesan gnocchi with a fluffy mountain of the grated cheese on top.

Desert was a simple, but outstanding, show-stopper: a personal Rhubarb Tart with vanilla bean ice cream and strawberry sauce in a crumbly shortbread crust. Tart. Sweet. Creamy. It was like, a normal strawberry rhubarb pie had a dream of becoming better....and when it woke up, it looked like this tart.

So basically, just go here. Get some money and a nice pair of slacks with an elastic band. Because, my friend, you're not just gonna eat....you're gonna 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Special Treat: Jeni's Salted Caramel Ice Cream

I think everyone can agree that Mondays are the worst day of the week. It takes us away from our jubilant, relaxing weekends, and thrusts us with a cruel hand back into our workweek. I barely made it through yesterday, so I thought that I deserved a treat.

I went down into Soho to run an errand for my sister. On my way back to the subway, I passed Dean and Delucca, and obviously, I had to stop in. I wanted to pick up some duck fat for an outrageous late brunch that me and my friend Darrell and I are having this weekend, and I knew I could get something indulgent and tasty for my "Case of the Mondays" snack. My eyes locked in on this, and I knew this had to be it:

How lovely is that handwritten flavor label?

I had first heard about Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams through various blogs and had been dying to try it. The focus is on making less sweet ice creams that are super flavorful with her local Ohio fare exotic and exotic ingredients. The flavor list is pretty incredible: Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Pistachio Honey, and Honey Butter Cake just to start. She even lists a special group of flavors designed around Mother's Day and the Royal Wedding; how does one even pull off White Stilton on Toast with Champagne-soaked Bilberry ice cream??? You can order them online in fours and sixes...but I only wanted one! And I don't think I can possibly go through 4 tubs of ice cream...especially if I ended up hating it. 

Which brings me back to to D&D. Even though one tub was pretty damn expensive (11 bucks!!!), I knew I couldn't leave the store without it. All I had to say to myself is: IT'S MONDAY AND YOU NEED IT. I was pretty easy to convince.

I threw it in the freezer as soon as I got home, because I knew the there was some significant melting on my journey. After about 2 hours, it had gotten back on track.

Beautiful, no? It looks so creamy and inviting (it better be for 11 bucks)!

Now the first taste: WHOA! The caramel used to flavor this was taken right to the edge of burnt. Nutty, dark, the tiniest bit sweet. Extremely complex. And this thing was salty as hell, lighting up my tongue.This ice cream sorta intimidated my mouth; it meant business.

I also really liked how clean the finish was. Milky, but not overwhelmingly so. I hate when ice cream is just too rich for you to enjoy. The taste lingers for a while in your mouth, redolent of smoke and cream. So comforting!

Would I get it again? I mean, it was fantastic, but I would regulate this to a once in a while treat. I have an ice cream maker at home, so I can make it whenever I want with high quality ingredients that I can find here. Plus, with the price for just one...I could probably order a 4 pack for my birthday or something, and it would be a lot more cost effective.

With that being said, thanks to Jeni's for a wonderful ice cream experience. I think I'll be treating myself to you in July (my 27th birthday!), and I sure hope you still have that Honey Butter Cake...we have a date.