The Next Wave for Oceana

The restaurant Oceana in NY always held a special place in my heart. NYT Off the menu reports it has moved! When I was in culinary school, I approached then sous chef Michael Schenk at a food fundraiser and asked if I might be able to do my externship at Oceana. He said that they were highly coveted positions and they usually asked people to 'stage' first before setting it in stone. Stage is a time for a young chef to test a place out, and vice versa, for free. Still a common practice and very necessary. The very next night I walked into the teeny kitchen at Oceana. I didn't dare tell anyone it was my first time in a real restaurant kitchen. My nerves were so shaky I could barely plate the hearts of romaine caesar salad. Being German, Michael Schenk gave lessons on how to pour German beer in between expediting orders. The kitchen was run by uber successful Rick Moonen. It was intense. Everything smelled delicious. They took pastry so seriously there was an entirely separate kitchen for it. It was brand new to me. It was surreal.

I persevered for over a month, about 4 nights a week. I learned to chiffonnade. I made taramasalata but never learned how to spell it. It was the age of 'everything' crusted tuna loin and I was in awe that someone worked inches from a deep fryer all night. Everything had to be perfect. They cared. They taught. They were never degrading. In the end they weren't enrolled in my school's approved program and I had to leave for another restaurant. I bought Paul there for dinner, it was comp-ed (yay! $$$) and the head waiter said he recognized only my eyes, which he would see peering through the service window. They used the old school method of head waiters and side waiters. The head waiters were all in their 50s and did not tolerate the 'can't have garlic, onions cut crosswise or greens that have not been pre-chewed for me' crowd.

My time there was my first exposure to late night imbibing with the guys - this was my first experience as the only female in a kitchen, one that would happen too often. Monkey Bar across the street, still there, still notorious for changing owners more often than the bar mats - was divine.

In school I won a contest to choose the name for the new student newspaper (a la carte) and won a free dinner to any restaurant I chose. Paul and I went back to Oceana and racked up a $300 bill. I ordered calvados with an apple tart for dessert and got a rewarding nod of approval over the reading glasses of the aging waiter. To this day when we encounter a similar method of approval, we call it the 'calvados nod'. We also went there for a few anniversaries. This is how I remember white asparagus is in season in late April - it was always on the menu at that time.

The inside of Oceana was made to look like an ocean liner. The walls decked with murals to make you think you were on the open sea. They were best known for a copper fish that hung above the second floor bar, all nestled in a narrow but tall townhouse. I don't doubt that the same quality will endure in the new location. Oceana attracts and develops culinary talents (Christopher Lee before he was a somebody!) and will continue to do so. Translating the character of a townhouse with a restaurant with so much history will be hard to mimic in a modern, redesigned space. Rose just let go of Jack and he is sinking to the ocean floor.


Recipes that work, really

As a rule, I don't believe in paying for access to a website. I pay for Internet service, and that's plenty. Even for the once yearly, research only, porn search - there's plenty to be had for free. Same with recipes. Cook's Illustrated is different. Their content is worth paying for. Videos, recipes, product and cookware testing - Cook's Illustrated satisfies the annoying 2 year old inside that only asks, "Why?".

Until July 31st yearly access is 50% off. I recently ditched many food mag subscriptions because I found that I toss them into a pile that I intend to read, but don't get to. I use this website more than any mag, and this is cheaper!

Go. Really. Celebrate Christmas in July and buy yourself something useful. Now.
Cook's Illustrated


Crab Eggs Benny

I love poached eggs & hollandaise sauce should be a food group. On a rare weekend when I don't have the roommate lurking to see if the coffee is ready, I am free to create and tap into the culinary skill which is easily suppressed when I'm perturbed.

Perched on rounds of toasted potato bread are lump crab cakes, poached eggs and super lemony hollandaise. It reminds me I need to make some herbed white wine vinegar - project for next week! I really do want to attempt some Scotch eggs as my next breakfast project. Soon! I can't beleive it has been more than 2 years since salmon eggs benny.


I have eaten a lot of chocolate in my time. Amedei still reigns king for me. I picked up this Dagoba bar at Whole Foods - 74% dark chocolate with dried cranberries and raisins. What surprised me most was the gold ingot format of the bars. The divisions often represent portions of bars - not here. Nearly impossible to divide the bar with these divisions other than in half. I proclaimed it, "Not terribly nuanced, but not bad for $2.99."


I hadn't had Braciole in at least 6 years since leaving Brooklyn. Then, yesterday, my new facebook food friend, Kevin D Weeks posted a recipe for it. I longed for the days of walking to Bari pork store on 18th Ave in Bensonhurst. When I gave the Philadelphia Pizza Club a tour of Brooklyn, we stopped at Bari before heading back to Philly. They have some of the best cheese and parsley sausage around, and Braciole, of course.
Yes, we all know that Braciole in some circles refers to a different kind of, um, meat. Even the Braciole wiki refers to the slang meaning. Make a dirty joke, grow up, and get over it. I've never made my own Braciole, but supermarkets in Philaburbia seem to never have heard of it. Below, my journey to Braciole.

I started with a boneless pork shoulder, great for braising.

Took the net off, letting it get room temp for easier pounding.

Making good use of the food processor, shredded provolone.

Took the crusts off a loaf of roasted garlic bread for the filling.

Chopped parsley and garlic.

Action shot! Adding oil to the breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and grated parm.

Finished filling.

Chef snack! Bread crust with filling, provolone and a drizzle of evo.

Pork fillets. Gave my butcher skills a workout.

Larger pieces about to be pounded.

Pressed the filling on.

Provolone on one side so it doesn't all fall out.

Rolled and secured with toothpicks. Use butcher twine if you're adventurous.

Fast forward, brown in pot - deglaze with red wine - add tomato sauce, simmer, cover, braise for 45 min

The finished product. Not in photo - rigatoni.

It was delicious - and I gave my husband the Braciole. ;)



Wasn't their motto, "We do chicken right"? Well, I can certainly see why they ditched it. I knew that KFC fried chicken is a guilty pleasure of Pinky's. He worked at Roy Rogers in high school and developed a taste for it, then most of the Roy's disappeared. He was kind enough to have it on nights when I wouldn't be home for dinner - and dispose of the packaging before I got home. The first time I took a bite (age 25 or so) the salt content knocked me over. Sometimes I would steal a piece of his if it was in the fridge. Luckily, it has been in the fridge less and less since we discovered I make pretty decent fried chicken (and slamming buffalo wings!).

Fast forward, present day, fast food is sometimes in our rotation after the gym. That can't make sense, can it? Well, if you're avoiding carbs, and it's 8pm - the last thing I'm doing after a long day is making dinner. Sometimes we head to Boston Market where it's easy to assemble a carb friendly meal (double side of creamed spinach or creamed spinach and broccoli or green beans), other times we might head to the salad bar of our gourmet grocery. Last night we went to KFC for their grilled chicken which is being promoted by Sandra Lee. That should have been a sign. I despise this woman mostly because she matches her shirt to the background decor on her show and it makes me want to puke. Pinky said he had KFC's grilled chicken when he was fully a bachelor one of the other million times we've tried to avoid carbs, and it was decent. Well. Last night's chicken was far from decent.

Have you ever seen a grill in a KFC? Nope. I submit that the chicken is flash grilled with the skin off for appearance sake, then frozen and shipped where it sits in a hot oven for hours until someone is silly enough to order it. If they left the skin on it would help the flavor, but not the fat content, and grilled chicken skin doesn't exactly adhere well to the meat. The piece of chicken was so small I thought they were doing a Cornish hen promo for a minute. Dry, sad, a shameful waste of an animal who gave its life for my stomach.

And the sides. Yikes. Pinky's green beans may have been green at some point, but were not when they got to his plate. Coleslaw was acceptable, and my corn on the cob wasn't awful, until they told me they only had ketchup packs of government invented margarine to smear on it. My side salad would have been acceptable if they provided anything other than a SPORK to eat it with. How very junior high of them. Wait, the food in junior high was better. The 'veal' patties weren't half bad when you piled it with every condiment available. I should have taken a cue from when I ordered the salad and they reacted as if the health department just walked in. I take it that is not a common request there. Blah.


Late Dinner

Empty out the fridge scramble: potatoes, grilled asparagus and black forest ham - scrambled into eggs, topped with crumbled blue cheese. Even better with cracked black pepper.


Taste the soup!

I love a last moment to shine. On this chilly, rainy Spring day I thought about split pea soup on the way to work. I don't like hot soup in the summer. I just can't do it. Maybe some tortellini with broth, but no chicken noodle, no kale cold remedy soup, no spicy Asian broth-y pho-like anything.

Forgive the horn tooting, but I am a master soup blender/puree-er. In a professional kitchen, when you are first relegated to the salad station, after you prep your station you get to do the tasks no one else will do. In some cases not even the illegal immigrant hires will do these tasks. Peel grapes. Surgically remove veins from raw foie gras, puree soup. Not "make" soup mind you - this is after another chef has crafted the soup it gets passed to you. First you puree the soup with a home-depot version of a hand blender, then into the almighty Vita Mix blender, strain through a chinois "chino fino" in kitchen Spanish, using a ladle to press the solids. Depending on the soup sometimes you'd have to repeat this ordeal. White gazpacho was the worst. Trying to get stale bread and almonds smooth was an uphill battle. If I never see another chestnut again I'll be OK. Later on in my past career I never worked the grill station that put out the soup so I never got to make soup and pass it to an alternate peon, but I relished being done with those tasks when I took on hot appetizers & risotto.

Translating this skill to my home cooking life, I especially love soup during a week when I'm trying to only spend $50 on groceries for 7 days, when it's cold, and when there is an odd leftover. I can build an amazingly fast soup with a rotisserie chicken, some boxed stock, carrots, spinach and pasta (a MacGuyver recipe!) but I adore pureed vegetable based soups. One I make repeatedly - sweet potato with caramelized onions. I roast sweet potatoes, slice and caramelize a load of onions, and combine them with some stock in the food processor. Swirl in some apple butter and it's an elegant first course. Simmering some vegetables with onions, maybe garlic, and stock and then pureeing is the method for any veggie soup. This works for cauliflower, mushrooms, peas, asparagus, parsnips, and carrots. For carrot soup I like to throw in a load of ginger and big scoop of peanut butter, and garnish with wasabi peanuts. Easy. Cheap. When I want a garnish for cauliflower soup I slice up some Aidell's chicken apple sausage. For tonight's split pea I made a quick ham stock with the Easter Ham bone, sauteed onions in olive oil, added the split peas, stock and herbs with a bay leaf wrapped around it and puttered around facebook while it simmered. Then I pureed it, put it back in the pot, and added some leftover ham and shredded carrots because peas and carrots are funny together.

Maybe this summer I'll work on some cucumber soups (garnish with curry-coconut sorbet??) but I am retiring the soup portion of my dijon colored Le Creuset 6 QT until the fall.

Not Pure Premium Packaging

Not many products have memorable packaging. Sunny delight does. Philadelphia cream cheese does. Bombay sapphire does. Now, imagine Philly cream cheese in a red tub instead of it's classic silver rectangle. Imagine Sunny D looking like a gallon of milk. And Bombay sapphire, imagine that as a behind-the-counter fifth of a liter instead of it's gorgeous blue glass. This entire departure from recognizable packaging is what Tropicana did. Old packaging on the left, new on the right. When I first saw the new carton at a meeting last month, I thought it was a generic brand. On it, 100% orange is more prominent than Tropicana. I likened it to a bland, white label black print store brand of canned beans. The only intriguing part of the new package was that the orange pour cap now looked like the outside of an orange. "Interesting, I wonder how much that adds to the price?" I thought.

I know, too much obsessing over a carton. Same juice and that's all that matters, right? Not to consumers. Tropicana is ditching the new packaging and returning to the familiar. Smart. Click my witty title for full, journalistic write-up.


The Curious Cheese Plate

I am not one to chat with people on the checkout line. While I am interested in what people are buying, I am not interested in talking to them. I had the most intriguing interaction last week at Whole Foods. A woman on line in front of me was buying bulk Spanish Cocktail Mix and it wasn't ringing up in the register. She looked at me and apologized for the delay. I told her it happened simply because I was in line behind her and chuckled. I told her the mix she was buying was tasty so it was OK. She looked at my items (3 gallons of milk and a few quarts of half & half) and said she should drink more milk like me. I told her that my purchase was for a coffee bar and that I am actually lactose intolerant. We giggled at the image of my buying so much dairy. On a side note, despite being expensive for many things, Whole Foods is cheaper for dairy than restaurant supply houses. They are conscience of their price of items that people know and remember the cost of.

I notice the rest of her groceries, and she had at least 4 cheeses, all with 'stuff' in them. Gouda with cumin, Gouda with mustard seed, Cahill's cheddar with Guinness and with sage. At the time I assumed she was serving them all together but as I write this I realize there may have been other plans for them. Served together they break a guideline for a cheese plate to not include more than one cheese with 'stuff' 'in it other than blue cheese. What was she doing with them? Blogging about them? Testing them as burger toppings? Giving them separately as gifts? I can't get my mind around it and should have asked her. Trivial I know, but as I don't socialize with other shoppers, this encounter sticks in my mind.