Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dinner | craftbar

During this past Labor Day Weekend, my college friend Krystal K. (I had gone to lunch with Krystal A. at The Wright) was visiting Manhattan for the weekend for our friend Shayna's wedding. I decided to take her to Tom Colicchio's craftbar in the Flatiron District for a reunion dinner with Ariana, another friend from college. I asked Marcus to tag along, of course :]

This is my second visit to craftbar. I've been meaning to go back for some time now, as it's the perfect place to go with a bunch of friends for great contemporary Italian food without having to spend as much as you would at his flagship restaurant, Craft. Plus, reservations aren't too hard to get at the last minute! Also, it was nice to be able to get a photo of the restaurant's banner outside, as the scaffolding that was there a few years ago has finally been squared away.

Breadsticks at craftbar.

Menu at craftbar. Nice watermark.

VIPs at craftbar, plus "date" indicating the daily-nature of its menu.

Inside craftbar. Very modern and minimalist décor. I particularly admire the framed photograph of a mushroom on the right pillar.

View of wine cellar inside craftbar.

Marcus ordered the Black Angus hanger steak with baby shiitake mushroom, market onion, and potato purée. Marcus said it was very good, except the portion was a little on the smaller side. I need to remember to steal a bite of the other dishes ordered during meals I plan to blog about! On a lighter note, I do like the simplicity of its presentation.

Krystal and Ariana each had the sweet corn agnolotti with Gulf shrimp, summer truffle, and purslane, similar to the agnolotti that Linda ordered at Maialino. I remembered to try a bite of it, and it was nearly on par with Maialino's sweet corn agnolotti (maybe close to second best than tied with). The notable differences was this was slightly creamier and softer (less al dente). Nevertheless, a great dish to bid summer a nice ode and farewell.

I had one of the specials offered that day, which I had our waiter repeat so I could jot it down quickly: housemade tortelloni with lobster meat, sofrito (sweet onions, celery and fennel) and a ragù of lobster, mushrooms, and pearl onions. The kitchen finished making it a couple hours before we had arrived for dinner, so it was fresh for that day, and boy, could you taste the homemade-nature of that pasta!

Marcus couldn't resist ordering dessert, as one of the offerings contained his favorite flavor of ice cream. He went with the warm brownie with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and cookies & cream ice cream. Can't go wrong with a warm brownie a la mode!

Ariana, me, and Krystal at craftbar taken by Marcus, who was a little, if not always, camera-shy.

Findings: I find craftbar to be a very reliable place to go with friends or take out-of-town visitors as the price point isn't too steep, the ambiance very casual elegant (and trendy), and the food is very solid, contemporary Italian cuisine. For a celebrity chef's restaurant, I didn't find craftbar to be "tourist-y" or overhyped. Rather, I found it to be very understated modern that you wouldn't really know it was an Italian somewhat tapas-style restaurant, much in contrast to the more traditional, overly elaborate Italian décor seen in restaurants lining the streets of Little Italy. I recommend ordering from its list of the current day's specials (most, if not all, are made inhouse that day) or having the seasonal agnolotti (in our case, it was filled with sweet corn for the end of summer). During my last visit, I had the pecorino fondue with hazelnuts, which was mindblowing in taste. Sadly, I didn't see it on the menu this time around, but definitely keep an eye out for it in case you plan a visit to craftbar.

Price point: $23-29 for each entrée; $10 for dessert.

--September 4, 2010

900 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Q&A | Linda

Linda, my foodie soulmate, is this week's featured Q&A interviewee! As I've mentioned before, Linda and I met in a crazy yet fitting happenstance (i.e., where all foodies should meet new friends)--at a Thomas Keller book signing! She introduced me to Maialino, one of my new favorites, and always has great suggestions for any kind of morsel marauding and tips for the kitchen. She's my "go-to" for all of my culinary and foodie inquiries--along with her in-depth undergraduate knowledge in Art History, she has also studied Culinary Arts! Look forward to an upcoming blog post about our latest visit to Michael White's Marea by Columbus Circle, but for now, enjoy Linda's appetizing responses! Thanks again, Linda! ;]

Linda having gelato in Rome.


New York, NY

Depends on the day - it's a tie right now between Per Se and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

It changes, but right now it's Maialino, Posto, and Pret (for lunch).

red wine - especially Californian and Italian

Nothing in secret - I indulge out in the open.

I love making Zuni Cafe's roasted chicken with panzanella.

My mom's eggplant parmigiana

San Francisco - best restaurants, farmer's markets, produce andcheese. Wine country is just a short ride away.

Thomas Keller, Dan Barber, Alice Waters

I guess it would be Per Se - there's nothing like the first time...

Anything gelatinous. Bivalves, except for scallops. Most offal.

The icebox cake recipe on the Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers box. Mygrandma used to make it on holidays in this particular long plate (see below),which I inherited when she passed away and reserve ONLY for icebox cake.

Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook - it's porn for foodies.

Mise en place, brulée, enophile

101 Cookbooks, French Laundry at Home, David Lebovitz

Friday, September 24, 2010

Food for Thought | Helen Mirren

Q: What do you most value in your friends?
A: “Their ability to open a bottle of wine.”

--Helen Mirren, as answered in “Proust Questionnaire
from Vanity Fair, September 2010.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dinner | El Vez

Marcus and I went to Philly last weekend to visit Dan, one of my best friends from college. Krystal had given me a Starr Restaurant gift card for my birthday back in 2009, basically catalyzing my initial interest in Stephen Starr-designed restaurants when I was trying to decide which restaurant I wanted to try with her. Stephen Starr began his career in Philadelphia in night club design and in the entertainment business. He continued down this path, promoting live entertainment, which lead him to start his own company, The Concert Company, bringing in large-acts including Madonna, U2, and Bruce Springsteen to the Greater Philadelphia area. In 1990, when Electric Factory Concerts bought him out, he used the profit to open several new venues, both clubs and restaurants alike. Five years later, he founded STARR Restaurants, his multi-concept restaurant enterprise, now currently with an existing operating portfolio of 19 restaurants spanning along the East Coast from New York City, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and Fort Lauderdale.

During March 2009, after reviewing Mr. Starr's restaurant portfolio (and much, much contemplation), I decided on Tangerine, Starr's Morroccan-themed enterprise, now closed. As restaurant-design fanatics, Dan and I had unofficially started what we called our "Starr Restaurant Tour" of NYC, Philly, and beyond. Since then, we've made it to (mostly in Philly): Alma de Cuba, Buddakan (NYC), Pizzeria Stella, Butcher & Singer, Barclay Prime, Continental Midtown, Jones (post to follow this one), Square Burger (still contemplating whether it will be worth blogging about), and related to this post, El Vez.

Marcus, Dan, and I met up with John, Marcus's college friend, for dinner at El Vez this past weekend. Dan and I had long discussed how we wanted this to be our next "Starr stop", so this was something we definitely wanted to hit up during my next (subsequently, this) visit to Philly, so here there we went. We knew Philadelphia Restaurant Week was coming up, so we thought we'd score a prix fixe deal at El Vez, but it turns out it started the next day. Not a loss though--I figured we would've gotten the "watered-down" version of El Vez if we had the Restaurant Week offerings, causing us to not have the full "El Vez" experience, so I'm glad we were able to order a la carte from the regular menu.

Entrance to El Vez.

Inside El Vez and its bar scene--really liking the kitschy use of colors, adding to the authenticity of Mexican cuisine.

More tables inside El Vez.

I've never had a bad experience with the bar/drink menus offered at any of Mr. Starr's restaurants, so ordering a cocktail was a must. I ordered (seen in front) the guava mojito with 10 Cane rum, Cruzan guava rum, pink guava purée, and lime. I asked for no mint, which made me wonder if, at that point, is it was still a mojito sans the mint. Ever since my recent trip to Hawaii this summer, I've been missing the fresh guava juice offered so casually in island-wide supermarkets as well as in select drinks at Hawaiian Jamba Juice stores! Now whenever I see guava on a drink menu, I immediately have to order it (see mimosa flight I mistakenly ordered at Jones in upcoming post).

The guys ordered a pitcher (seen behind my mojito) of the frozen blood orange margarita with silver tequila, triple sec, and fresh blood orange purée. Very strong tequila-wise, but flavor was still intact.

John ordered El Vez enchiladas mixtas, a tasting of all three enchiladas offered on the El Vez menu, with traditional garnishes. From left to right: shrimp enchilada with sweet corn, Oaxacan cheese, and roasted red pepper and almond sauce; classic red chile and chicken enchilada with crema fresca, radish, and cotija cheese; and black bean enchilada with caramelized onions, chihuahua cheese, and smoked yellow tomato sauce. A little too cheesy for my lactose tendencies, but from what John reported, they were delicious--from what I recall, he said he enjoyed the chicken enchilada the most!

Dan and Marcus had the crispy mahi-mahi tacos with red cabbage and chipotle pepper remoulade. It was probably one of the best tacos I've ever had--lightly breaded and fried mahi-mahi filets wrapped in toasted flour tortillas with some avocado and red cabbage, complemented with the remoulade, which was basically a spicy tartar sauce. Great content-tortilla ratio, which makes for a very solid fish taco! Definitely a highly recommended dish for anyone who's planning to make a stop at El Vez!

I went with the Ahí tuna tacos with mango and jicama salsa, cascabel chile and agave vinaigrette, and black bean puree, as they were dairy-free! Very refreshing summer ingredients. However, my only complaint was that there either wasn't enough vinaigrette or flavor in the vinaigrette to bring out the tastes of the tuna and salsa. This would be a better dish if the flavors were slightly stronger. The best part of this dish was probably the physical dish itself--love the unusual design!

We all shared an order of churros (fried-dough pastries or "Spanish doughnuts") with dark and Mexican chocolate sauce. They had a nice crunch and had just the right amount of dusted makara cinnamon. The chocolate sauce resembled the consistency of hot chocolate, which I found to be different from the chocolate sauce I'm used to on ice cream sundaes, and was very raw yet rich in flavor. Great way to end a filling meal.

El Vez's neon sign at dusk.

Findings: The decor and ambience of El Vez, along with most of the other Starr restaurants I've been to, largely contribute to, if not define, the overall dining experience. Mr. Starr has the flair for creating very mesmerizing and provocative restaurant concepts with a particularly meticulous design execution. Sometimes I feel the design overpowers the respective menu offerings in many instances, where the food doesn't even stand a chance. Luckily, the mahi-mahi tacos (as well as drinks we had) were worth making the trip to El Vez! All in all, I would recommend going for tapas sharing, some guacamole (which I would love to try sometime), and pitchers of frozen margaritas!

Price point: $9 for guava mojito, $33 for pitcher of frozen blood orange margaritas; $11-18 for each entrée; $7 for an order of churros (5 total).

--September 18, 2010

El Vez
121 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Friday, September 17, 2010

Food for Thought | Marilyn Monroe

“I love food as long as it has flavor. It's flavorless food I can't stand. I usually have a steak and a green salad for my dinner, also for breakfast when I'm really hungry. I keep away from pastries--I used to love them, and ice cream, too. I skip all desserts unless it's fruit. I just don't like the taste of pastries. As a kid I did, but now I hate it--and as for candy, I can take it or leave it, usually leave it. But I love champagne--just give me champagne and good food, and I'm in heaven and love. That's what makes the world go round.”
--Marilyn Monroe, as told to George Barris
from Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words, 2003.

Etcetera | morsel marauding, ad interim

I apologize for infrequency of posts this week--it's kinda been crazy on the bean counting side of my life. However, in the mean time, I just wanted to give you a heads up on what I'll be blogging about in the next few months! ;]

- recent visit to Tom Colicchio's craftbar with Krystal, Mimi, and Ariana
- upcoming visit to Stephen Starr's El Vez with Marcus and Dan for Restaurant Week in Philadelphia
- upcoming visit to Michael White's Marea with Linda
- "fondue fiesta" dinner hosted by yours truly
- Marcus's upcoming birthday dinner at 15 East
- homage to the "New York coffee cup"
- literary fare on my "must-read" list

- upcoming The Martha Stewart Show live taping with Eleanor, Kellie, and Lucyanna (finally!)
- upcoming visit to Grant Achatz's Alinea (second attempt!) in Chicago for my godmother's 50th birthday!
- upcoming visit to Daniel Humm's Eleven Madison Park with Lisa to check out the revamped restaurant, as reported by the New York Times here
- upcoming visit to Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns with my mom during Halloween

- using a soup recipe from Thomas Keller's ad hoc at home to serve as a dish at my family's Thanksgiving dinner
- overview of all the foodie literary fare that I've read from now until Thanksgiving

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Q&A | Eleanor

Eleanor (as featured in my Rouge Tomate post and Giada de Laurentiis post a few weeks back), also a fellow bean counter, graciously agreed to participate in this week's Q&A! We've been great friends since sitting next to each other in an Intermediate Accounting class back during junior year of college. Ever since then, we've made some great meals together (she's the one who recommended America's Test Kitchen to me in the first place) as well as shared lots of laughs and great meals outside the kitchen. For our next haute adventure (that's what I like to call them!), we plan on revisiting Rouge Tomate (hopefully it'll be less of a disaster on my end this time around!) to try revamped menu--now tapas-style, as mentioned in this New York magazine here. Thanks again, Eleanor!

Eleanor and me at our respective family graduation dinners at Blue Grillhouse.


New York, NY

In Weehawken, NJ: Chart House Restaurant

lunch at John's on 44th Street; dinner at Tony's DiNapoli

at dinner, a large glass of smooth Merlot; at the bar, vodka neat with a glass of water

I'm a carbavore at heart--that means rich doughnuts, cupcakes and zeppoles--and always making a little more pasta for dinner.

butternut squash soup

My boyfriend's father's handmade meatballs and his mother's apple sausage stuffing; also, my grandmother's chili, filled with tender chunks of beef in a sweet tomato sauce

The Carolinas. Food & Wine's September issue is making me crave Charleston, South Carolina--Carolina pulled pork, Sugar Bakeshop, and places like Dixie Deli in North Carolina serving hot dogs with cheddar and baked apples on a pretzel bun. And for dessert, watermelon chunks with a splash of lime juice and rum!

Giada De Laurentiis, the cooks at America's Test Kitchen

New Year's Eve at Asia de Cuba

licorice, kale

carrot cake -- the kind with raisins, lots of carrot shavings, walnuts and cream cheese icing

Cupcakes by ACP Magazines

sommelier, dash, snip, tangy

You're reading it :) as well as The Delivery Bag

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lunch | The Wright

My friend Krystal and I made a visit to the Guggenheim during the Friday of Labor Day Weekend to check out its relatively new museum restaurant (opening back in February), The Wright. Here's the "Solomon R. Guggenheim" museum name written in Frank Lloyd Wright's own "signature" typeset!

Opening in 1959, as Frank Lloyd Wright's last major work, here is the Guggenheim's (in)famous "inverted ziggurat" or "upside-down cupcake"!

Entrance to The Wright museum restaurant! I like how they used FLW's last name as the restaurant's name (very clever) as well as his signature typeset as the restaurant's logo--paying homage to and keeping it true to the museum's beloved architect!

Inside The Wright. The multi-colored yellow, grey, orange, and brown commissioned installation art was created by Liam Gillick, a British artist, entitled The horizon produced by a factory once it has stopped producing views. This installation "traces the distrinct architectural space of The Wright", as noted in the description blurb for it, as its "parrallel beams meant to be understoods as a 'series of horizons'". These parallel aluminum pieces are placed in such a way that is reminiscent of FLW's prairie-style architecture, and it definitely works very well with the space.

The Wright's bar area. As you can see the curved design of the ceiling (detail photo below) is indubitably influenced by the Guggenheim's inverted ziggurat, making this restaurant a very close extension of FLW's design of the museum. The table is placed aptly below the curved ceiling, paralleling its motion very fluidly. I'm loving the interior design of this place so much!

Detail view of curved ceiling structure.

They offered wine cocktails called Then and Now (clever!). As I've mentioned, I'm a huge fan of black currant liquer (i.e., crème de cassis) with champagne, as well as amaretto (I also like amaretto sours), I thought Then would be a great choice, combining the two essences from my favorite cocktails. Boy, was I wrong.

Then cocktail with champagne, crème de cassis, and Disaronno amaretto (see menu above). If you hated cough syrup as a kid, especially grape-flavored ones, DO NOT ORDER THIS COCKTAIL. The black currant flavor was very strong and bitter, and somehow, the amaretto exacerbated this flavor in the most horrible way possible. I immediately flashed back to the times when I had those horrible childhood coughs and all the feelings of being ill associated with it. Not good. Maybe it's the reason why they call it Then. I really wish I had ordered the Now instead.

Krystal ordered the organic chicken breast with spinach barley, green and white asparagus, and natural jus. She reported to me that it was "delish--moist and very tasty". Even though tasty is probably my least favorite adjective when it comes to describing food (I can't help it--the word's sound just makes me cringe for whatever reason), I'll take her word for it, that it was very full of taste :] it certainly looks like it was! I wish I had stolen a tiny bite!

I had the roasted suckling pig with caramelized quince (a fruit related to pears and apples), quince puree, and a mustard espresso emulsion. The pig was prepared very nicely--the meat was very tender and pieced off very easily. The emulsion and puree were both kind of potent andconcentrated for my liking. The taste combination was good, but somehow it overpowered the succulent texture of the pig. Perhaps if they lightened on the amount of the mixture or made it less concentrated, it would've been even better. The quince gave the dish a very tart taste that surprised me, in a good way, that made the emulsion easier to eat with the pig.

View of The Wright from the entrance.

Findings: Though the food was very good, I actually enjoyed the ambience and restaurant design the most. I wouldn't mind going back for the prix-fixe lunch menu (starting at $24 for two courses). It is definitely a reliable place to go to after a visit to the Guggenheim--whether for drinks (just don't order Then--make sure to ask for a recommendation if you're not sure about alternatives!) or a meal. The restaurant designers definitely stayed true to FLW's architectural forms that makes the Guggenheim so unique and noteworthy, yet added their own additional contemporary influences (i.e., Liam Gillick's installation art, very modern furniture) to bring the past (then) to the present (now)--like the drinks offered on the menu!

Price point: $12 for Then cocktail; $24-28 each main course.

--September 3, 2010

The Wright
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10128

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fresh Find | MOO cards

Before I start resuming regular blog posts (more to come shortly, I promise!), I just wanted to share a little something! The MOO MiniCards (aka miniature business cards) I ordered for Four Tines and a Napkin arrived this weekend!

Here's the one box of MOO MiniCards that I ordered. Such cute packaging!

Inside the box is a mini "filing cabinet" for my MiniCards ("MINE") and others I receive ("THEIRS").

Four Tines and a Napkin signature image on one side (haha, look familiar?)!

Here's the very important information that reads on the backside. They came out really nicely--very professional looking, if I do say so myself ;] I can't wait to start handing these out to promote the blog! I highly recommend using for all of your postcard/business card/mini business card/greeting card needs. It's very affordable (see price point below) and easy to do! They have pre-made designs to choose from for those who just want an easy template to work with. They also have the ability to let you customize your desired print-item by letting you add your own image/logo! They have many template settings for text as well!

MOO Inc.
MiniCards, predesigned or customizable
Price point: 100 for $19.99, here at

Friday, September 10, 2010

Food for Thought | Marie-Antoine Carême

“When we no longer have good cooking in the world, we will have no literature, nor high and sharp intelligence, nor friendly gatherings, no social harmony.”
--Marie-Antoine Carême

Dessert | Spot Dessert Bar

Marcus and I went to Spot Dessert Bar over at St. Mark's after our intense osso buco dinner a couple Fridays ago. We've stopped here previously to try its signature vanilla yuzu lemon buttercream cupcake, which we both found to be quite original and an overall bona fide cupcake. I wanted to go back and try something else so I could properly assess its cupcake and dessert offerings with more edible data :]!

Sandwich board outside of Spot Dessert Bar. It was slightly crowded that night, but we only had to wait 10-15 minutes for a table for two.

Dessert bar menu at Spot.

Inside Spot Dessert Bar. I love the low-lighting and the resulting intimate atmosphere created in this basement dessert shop. Very romantic--a great place to take a date after dinner or for a snack. I also liked the warm, earthy-feel created by the wood-paneled walls and modern wood tables.

Marcus ordered a scoop of the mango Thai chili sorbet, and it was spicy. That was certainly an unexpected element to sorbet, let alone dessert (as if chili in the title was there to fool us), which is why Marcus wanted to try it. If the essence of Thailand was to be captured in dessert form, this sorbet flavor would be it. The mango gave a refreshing balance against the spicy flavor from the Thai chili. Very different and interesting, but not something I would order again during a subsequent visit.

We ordered a couple of Thai iced teas as well--a favorite of Marcus's :D

I decided on the mocha Maldon salt caramel cupcake--I think having talked to Linda about the salted caramel ice cream she made a couple weeks ago had me craving some salty caramel! The buttercream was very light, not too sweet, and had the right touch of Maldon sea salt mixed in the caramel and mocha flavors. Lovely combination. The cake part was very light--not very dense at all. All in all, a very satisfying cupcake--something that seems easy to do, but can totally fail in execution. Magnolia Bakery, for example, is a sugar bomb. The cake portion is fluffy and light--what one looks for in a nice and moist cake base. However, once you take a bite of that frosting, it's like you're licking sugar, in the raw, right out of the bag. The only time I had a cupcake from Magnolia's was my last--I could only have one bite, no more. It's just a relief to know that there are other cupcakes that exist out there that won't immediately send you into a sugar-frenzied coma.

The (literal) guest check tray on which the bill was given. I subsequently found that this is sold at Fishs Eddy the following week for $7.95. Really, really cute!

Findings: Great place for dates! Spot's cupcakes have really interesting combinations (e.g., vanilla yuzu lemon, chocolate green tea fruit jam, vanilla caramel Vietnamese coffee) with Asian-influenced flavors. And from what I've tasted, these cupcake combinations are executed very well--however unlikely they seem, they make really, really delicious combinations! I would like to go back to try the other cupcakes to see if pastry chef, Pichet Ong, can uphold her awesome reputation! The sorbet was definitely interesting--I mean, how often do you have the chance to order spicy sorbets from a dessert menu?! I probably wouldn't order it again, but it's definitely something noteworthy to have had!

Price point: $3.75 for each Thai iced tea; $2.75 for 1 cupcake; $3 for one scoop of sorbet.

--August 27, 2010

Spot Dessert Bar
13 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10003

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Q&A | Marcus

A brief Q&A session with Marcus :] I couldn't get another photo out of him, so please refer to my hello-my-name-is post here for one of my (very) few photos with him. Enjoy!


New York, NY

Too hard to pick just one.
In Oregon: Mongolian Barbeque
In Philadelphia: Buddakan, Jones, Chili's, Jim's Steaks
In New York: Shake Shack, Kenka, Ippudo

Dunhill Cafe, Argo Tea, Shake Shack, Best Of New York, Au Mandarin

sweetened iced tea

McDonald's fries/nuggets -- they're so bad for your health, but I could eat them ad infinitum (until someone decides to come by and steal me away from my meaty euphoria, that is).

A more accurate rephrasing: "Dish you are most capable of preparing." In this case, the said dish would likely involve some combination of eggs, chicken, or rice. Possibly broccoli if I am feeling particularly ambitious.

waffles with chunky peanut-butter and maple syrup

I actually really like what New York has to offer. But if I had to venture outside of it, I'd probably check out Paris or Japan.

Stephen Starr


tomato sauce in pizza, overbearing onions, poorly-prepared green beans, soy milk that brings upon the wrath and fury of a thousand stomach aches

Paradise Pie from Chili's

Not sure that I have one in particular.

Mise en place, zest, itadakimasu, the famous Iron Chef battle announcement "Allez cuisine!", and certain four-lettered words repeated percussively in rapid succession.

Four Tines and a Napkin, of course.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In the Kitchen | Osso Buco

I picked up this special "Cooking for Two 2010" issue of America's Test Kitchen (ATK) during one of my visits to Whole Foods a few weeks ago, thinking it'd be useful for when Marcus and I decided to make dinner back at his apartment. Upon my first perusal, I found some pretty useful recipes in there (e.g., pan-roasted filet mignons with asparagus, pork schnitzel, open-faced poached-egg sandwiches), which were properly adjusted for the appropriate amount of ingredients needed for two. Two Fridays ago, I thought back to this initial perusal of the magazine, trying to figure out what I wanted to surprise Marcus for dinner that night. I suddenly remembered there was an osso buco recipe in there somewhere. My aunt, Cynthia, is an amazing cook, and I absolutely love the osso buco she makes on occasion. I've always wanted to learn how to make it from scratch, but she always told me it's a lot of work to make. I was up for the challenge, especially since America's Test Kitchen's aim is "to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods" by testing recipes 30-70 times (depending on the recipe), "yielding the best, most full-proof recipe"--kind of like the Consumer Report magazine for all your cooking and recipe needs. I told Marcus that what I was making for dinner that night was going to be a surprise, and that he'd have to wait until he got home to see what was cookin' ;]!

I called Whole Foods in Tribeca to make sure they had veal shanks in stock that day, and I was in luck--they did! So I made a trip up to Whole Foods for the two veal shanks, couple celery ribs, a single carrot, a vidalia onion, a lemon, and tomato paste, as I already had farfalle pasta, olive oil, low-sodium chicken broth, garlic, unbleached flour, bay leaves, and parsley (didn't want to buy fresh parsley and waste the majority of it as I probably wouldn't be using it again for a while) back at the apartment.

I picked up this dry white wine from Chamber Street Wines (on my way to Whole Foods, conveniently), as recommended by one of the wine experts there. It's a small little wine shop with a very boutique-y feel to it, as it mostly carries foreign wines. At $8-9, I couldn't really go wrong with this.

Before I started cooking, I preheated the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

The two beautiful pieces of veal shank. As I love inserting a little history/background in every post, ossobuco is Italian for "pierced or hollow bone", as it refers to the large piece of marrow in the middle of the shank bone (c'mon, look at that precious pink bone marrow waiting to be braised, cooked, and savored!). Ossobuco is actually a specialty dish from Milan, which is braised in meat broth, flavored with white wine and vegetables. Another thing to note is that the traditional ossobuco was not prepared with tomatoes (the commonplace practice today), as they were a "New World" vegetable. Instead, it was prepared with allspice, cinnamon, bay leaf, and gremolata (a mix of parsley, garlic, and lemon zest). The modern osso buco recipe now includes tomatoes and the "holy trinity" of Italian cooking: celery, carrots, and onions, seasoned with herbs instead of the aforementioned gremolata. The recipe furnished by ATK is a hybrid of both traditional and modern recipes, which I actually find to be a great balance.

This is the gremolata that I prepared, which includes: 2 tablespoons of minced parsley, 1 minced garlic clove, and 1/2 teaspoon of minced lemon zest. A tip given by ATK is to use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from the lemon and then mince these pieces using a chef's knife, all to avoid the lemon's bitter white pith. It was a great tip because it worked perfectly. If they hadn't noted that, I probably would've struggled with the lemon zester I would've used.

I seasoned the two veal shanks with some salt and pepper and browned both sides in olive oil for about 10 minutes. I removed them to a separate bowl. Off the heat, I added 1/3 cup of the white wine to the saucepan, scraping any browned bits into the mix, then poured over the bowl of browned shanks.

Finely-chopped "holy trinity" of ingredients, along with tomato paste.

I sauteéd the vegetables until softened and browned, for about 10 minutes.

I then added a tablespoon of tomato paste and 2 minced garlic cloves, and cooked for about 30 seconds. Next, I stirred in 2 teaspoons of unbleached flour and cooked for another 30 seconds, then whisked in 3/4 cup of low-sodium chicken broth, the remaining 1/2 cup of white wine, and one bay leaf. Finally, I added back the browned shanks to the pan, along with any accumulated juice/wine mixture from the bowl, bringing it all to a simmer.

I covered the saucepan and transferred it to the oven, cooking it for about two hours. During the last 30 minutes of cooking time in the oven, I made half a box of farfalle pasta (adding salt and olive oil to the boiling water) to serve along side the veal shanks.

I was supposed to follow the rest of the recipe, but I didn't have enough tools to do so. The rest of the recipe instructed that I transfer the shanks to a separate plate, strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the solids. Then I was to return the braising liquid to the pan and simmer until thickened over medium heat for about 6 minutes. It seemed to be so much work already as prepping and cooking added up to about three hours, total, so I skipped that completely.

Instead, I kept the solids and stirred in half of the gremolata, off heat, to the saucepan from the oven, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. I plated the two shanks for Marcus and me, sprinkling each with the remaining gremolata. I even sprinkled some gremolata on the farfalle pasta for some color ;]

So voilà! A lovely close-up of the completed recipe--boy, was that bone marrow so savory, rich, and everything you can ask for in an Italian delicacy!

Findings: I'm still in shock that I was able to execute this dish very well (excuse my minimal gloating, hehe)! The meat was very, very soft, literally falling off the bone. It wasn't overcooked at all, even in the slightest, which is what my main concern was, as it was cooking for 2 whole hours. But it came out so delicious (as evidenced by food coma that transpired after dinner for Marcus)!

Even though this is the first recipe I've used from ATK, I will definitely look to them for sources of new recipes, for sure, as it seems that they know what they're doing when it comes to cooking, technique, and ingredients! In any case, I would love to try the last few steps of the recipe according to ATK to assess the difference between the two ways in order to see if it enhances the dish in any way.

I highly recommend this recipe for anyone who may think that making osso buco is super complicated (don't get me wrong, it usually is), but ATK breaks it down to simple instructions and techniques that will make it hard for you to diverge too much from the recipe! This whole cooking experience really emphasized the importance of mise en place (French for "put in place"), pretty much meaning prepare your ingredients before you start cooking. One, it saves you SO much time, and two, it precludes you from scrambling in a frenzy to get everything ready while trying to execute steps of the recipe. This way, cooking will be so much easier, and you can focus your energy on the ingredients cooking at hand.

I find cooking to be very relaxing and therapeutic, especially after a long, stressful day, so the three hours of preparing, cooking, etc., was really fun for me. Only downside is that I cannot commit this kind of time on a normal basis, which works out, because osso buco is so rich in flavor that it should be enjoyed occasionally. I mean, how else can we really appreciate such savory flavors from a veal shank's bone marrow if we have it too regularly? After all, for such indulging pleasures, Julia Child said it best: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Price point: $7.99 for "Cooking for Two 2010" issue of America's Test Kitchen, which includes a little over 60 recipes for two; $8.99 for dry white wine for cooking; $15.72 for two veal shanks (about 6-8 oz. each).

--August 27, 2010

America's Test Kitchen
"Osso Buco" recipe (page 17) from "Cooking for Two 2010" issue of America's Test Kitchen magazine

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