And the winner is…

KIM!

She hit the nail on the head with: “New England Clam Chowder, from Pearl Oyster Bar.”

New York Magazine writes: “Keep your elbows in and your chin down, all the better to acknowledge a clam chowder revved up with bacon….”

Kim, e-mail me privately to claim your prize of $5.50. Go enjoy some clam chowder with our blessing.

Identify This Soup

Let’s play a game. If you can be the first person to correctly identify this soup—both what kind of soup it is and where in New York it comes from—I will buy you a bowl of it. No, silly, I won’t eat it with you—I never mingle with the masses. Instead I will send you its monetary value and you can go buy yourself a bowl. It’s a lovely arrangement.

“But Adam,” you might say, “How can I identify a soup based on a grainy unfocused picture? And how in the hell am I supposed to know where in New York it comes from?”

Settle, now—I will give you some clues. Here they are:

– The soup comes from Lower Manhattan.

– I ate it at the counter.

– When this place is written about, they often mention the soup. (I have a stack of magazines to prove it!)

– The monetary value of the soup is $5.50.

Ok, that’s enough. Either: (1) this is crazy hard or (2) crazy easy. Either way, here’s the soup! Good luck!

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Posts I Start Posting And Change My Mind About

Some bloggers suffer from lack of inspiration. I actually suffer from the opposite: too many ideas. Sometimes I have to stop myself if I feel like what I’m writing is going to rowl people up in the wrong way. What follows are things I started and then stopped for fear of upsetting you fine people. In fact, I almost deleted this post just now after rereading what I wrote, but no…I will press on…you have the right to know!

– Cooking with Pope Ratzinger

– Race and Food. Why aren’t there any black food critics? (I stopped this one because apparently there are a few, but I’m still interested in how race and food culture intersect. Just never know how to approach it.)

– Let’s Talk About Eating Disorders (I started this one but Pancetta stopped me.)

– National Tomato Sauce Day (Actually, I may still do this.)

Ok, that’s it. This is your content for the day. I am busy with my last week and a half of school, so please be forgiving. All my best. – TAG

Shank Bones and Gefilte Fish: Chronicle of a Second Night Seder

How many Jews we got up in this piece? And by “up in this piece” I mean “reading this blog”? Are you baffled by the idea of a seder? Am I about to blow your mind right now with news of an ancient Jewish ritual, commemorating our flight from Egypt into the desert? Are you going to close the window and find porn instead?

Welcome to the second seder chronicled at The Amateur Gourmet (last year’s was very last minute) and my first seder chronicled as a new New York resident. (I grew up in New York but I wasn’t new then so it doesn’t count.)

Tonight’s seder was hosted by Billy and Kate. I met Billy and Kate through Annette who I went to college with and who is now living with Lisa. Let me show you a picture of the people involved:

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On the bottom row is (from left to right, the non-Hebrew way): Annette, Lisa and Kate. On the top row is David (Annette’s beau), Billy (Kate’s husband) and Kevin. (Kevin is someone’s husband but his wife is in Japan right now.)

These details are important so you can track the intense drama that follows. By the end of this seder there will be catfights, duels, passionate love-making and a sex change operation. We Jews are a very dramatic bunch.

When I say “we Jews” that might imply that everyone in this picture is Jewish. But they’re not! In fact, this was David’s first seder. You non-Jews reading this and David have a lot in common. Let’s explain some things, shall we?

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That, above, is a seder plate. It holds the basic trappings of a seder. Think of it like the props in a musical laid out on the stage before the show starts. Eventually, as you work your way through the haggadah (prayer book) each prop gets used. The parsley gets dipped in the salt water; the haroset (the delicious apple mixture) gets mixed with the horseradish (the red stuff); the egg is eaten and the shank bone is…umm..admired?

Why do we do these things? It’s a ritual! Jews have celebrated Passover for thousands of years. If you’ve seen The Ten Commandments you know the basic story. The term Passover refers to the 10th plague, when God slaughtered the first born of every child in Egypt and Jews marked their doors so the angel of death passed over their houses. (Hence the name Passover.) This is a non-sequiter, but here’s another plate with stuff on it:

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Passover isn’t the most serious Jewish holiday–(that’s Yom Kippur)–but it’s not NOT serious. It resonates for us today because of the parallels between our persecution in Egypt and our persecution in the 20th century. Tonight’s haggadah, for example, made direct reference to the Holocaust and quoted Anne Frank. We dip bitter herbs in salt water so as not to forget the bitterness we suffered; so as not to become complacent.

Bummed you out yet? Let’s play a chopped liver game. Which of these is my mock chopped liver and which is real chopped liver? 30 seconds players!

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(Ok, it’s pretty easy—mine’s on the bottom. But it still looks good, doesn’t it? I like Kate and Billy’s dishes.)

The seder begins when everyone sits down and pours themself a glass of wine. The traditional Passover wine is Manishevitz. I like it because it’s sweet and grapey but many people hate it. This seder, for example, offered various other red wine alternatives. I stuck with the real stuff.

Billy was kind enough to print out Passover haggadahs at work on a color laser printer so they were fancy and colorful and easy to read. Here we are working our way through it. Annette is laughing at the part where God tells Moses to “raise your rod.” How inappropriate!

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One interesting part of the reading happens when you dip your finger in the wine and drop it on your plate for every plague that befell the Egyptians:

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Everyone’s plate offered a different personality profile: as you can see, my wine drops are neat and ordered. Kate’s were blobbed together and messy. Lisa’s wer shaped like a giant tortoise. (That means she’s wise and patient.)

Annette warned us not to lick our fingers after dropping plagues on our plate because it’s bad luck. We wiped our plagues off on our napkins.

The best part about Passover—and I mean the BEST part—is the haroset. What’s not to love about Haroset? It’s apples, cinnamon, raisins, walnuts and all your favorite appley Jewish things. It’s supposed to represent the mortar with which we built the pyramids. Here’s Annette with some mortar now:

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Haroset’s enough to make Jerry Falwell reconsider his religious predlicitions. (Although, maybe haroset only tastes good because it comes after bitter herbs and salt water?)

Here we take a detour into the dark and slimy path of gefilte fish. If you’re not Jewish you may not be familiar with it. When I was younger, I went to Jewish camp, and one day I went fishing with my counselor and he said, “What kind of fish do you want to catch, Adam?” And I said: “Gefilte!”

See, you can’t catch gefilte fish. (Well, it depends who you sleep with.) It’s really just a ground fish patty that’s not so different from what you might get in Chinatown. Kate and Billy got theirs from Zabar’s:

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Many people (and I mean many people) find gefilte fish to be disgusting. I can only eat it with bountiful heapings of horseradish sauce. Kate and Billy, on the other hand, find it to be an aphrodisiac. Gefilte fish keeps their marriage alive:

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Remember that group picture I posted at the top? Remember Kevin? He’s been pretty absent so far during our seder. He’s also a non-Jew: this is very exotic to him. What could he offer us—we the Jews who know what we’re doing on this night that’s so different from all other nights.

Well, Kevin’s got something up his sleeve—and I think it’s a cherry tomato:

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Seriously, rumor had it that Kevin is a dynamite cook. Kate let me know: “Kevin’s amazing.” I had my doubts but then Kevin presented his mind-blowing chicken soup:

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Please tell me that didn’t come straight out of the kitchen of D.B. Bistro Moderne or Jean-Georges or whatever fancy shmancy dream kitchen you might fathom… This soup was amazing! Kevin made the stock from scratch. The matzah ballls are mixed in with chicken balls (flavored with garlic and nutmeg) the cherry tomatoes are blanched and peeled and add an exciting flavor component that makes everything explode in your motuh. And as if that weren’t enough, it’s all garnished with fried onions or chives or something, I don’t know what, but Jesus this soup was beautiful. [OH NO! I SAID JESUS! IT WAS A TRICK…. KEVIN USED HIS SOUP TO GET ME TO BETRAY MY RELIGION.]

Lisa, sadly, couldn’t eat the chickeny soup because she’s a vegetarian. Here she is enjoying her own homemade veggie friendly matzoh ball soup:

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After the soup course, Lisa and Annette unveiled their entrees (and their undergarments). Lisa made a noodle-free eggplant lasagna and Annette made a slow-cooked cumin-scented brisket with apricots and prunes:

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The brisket was amazing. Annette’s mom made brisket her whole life so she coached Annette through this recipe. I asked Annette if she would e-mail it to me and if she does I’ll post it here for all of you to see. Here’s my juicy plate with brisket and my spinach on the side:

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Aren’t you full from reading this? I’m stuffed and exhausted. All that food and wine, there’s barely room for…

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Oh no, Kevin, you didn’t. Flourless brandied chocolate cake with syrup and whipped cream and…

I think I’m going to explode. Soon we’re back in our seats, our pants bursting, ready to finish the seder. Billy hides the Afikomen (that’s the middle piece of matzoh) and Annette finds it. She wins $4.

We say some more prayers, drink some more wine, then crank up the music and digest.

From Egypt to Hell’s Kitchen, we Jews have come along way. I hope this has been educational, edifying and perhaps even lip-smacking. Seders may be an ancient ritual but if anything, they’re delicious. AMEN.

Potluck Passover Preparations: Mock Chopped Liver and Nigella Lawson’s Spinach

As you will soon read, tonight I sedered at Billy and Kate’s. The rule was: everyone brings something! (This is known in Judaism as “potluck.”) So I scratched my head and did some investigation (what were other people bringing) and settled upon mock chopped liver and Nigella Lawson’s Passover spinach.

I can’t type “mock chopped liver” without thinking of my grandmother. She LOVES the stuff. She buys kegs of it at Whole Foods and does mock chopped liver keg stands with grandpa watching. For a woman who decries regular chopped liver an “organ meat” as if to say it’s poison, mock chopped liver is the perfect solution. Grandma is to mock chopped liver what that Campbell’s soup lady is to Campbell’s soup. She thinks it’s oy oy good.

There are two recipes for mock chopped liver in Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America”: the one at the front of the book and the one in the back of the book. The one in the front of the book comes from Mandy Patinkin and Isaac Bashevis Singer (they had a cooking show together: “Mandy and Isaac”) (Just kidding–I think think they’re both mentioned as liking that recipe) and the one in the back of the book has no celebrity endorsements. The one in the front of the book requires that you cook 5 onions for an HOUR until they’re golden. The one at the back of the book lets you cook the onions until translucent.

I made the Isaac/Mandy recipe two years ago for a seder I went to. It was a hit but caused much shvitzing with all the onion-chopping and sauteeing and rendering. I wanted to avoid that today so I went with the easier back-of-the-book recipe. I’m glad I did!

I doubled the recipe because the original only makes one cup. So here’s the doubled recipe and you can halve it if you want to make a cup (and honestly, I made too much so maybe the halved recipe is better).

I took two small onions and roughly chopped them. (I chopped them big so they wouldn’t dissolve in the food processor.) I took 1 lb of mushrooms (about two cartons) and also roughly chopped them. Put 6 Tbs of vegetable oil in a large sautee pan and heat. Add the mushrooms and onions and cook until the onions are translucent:

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Then put 2 cups chopped walnuts into the food processor. (I put whole walnuts in and pulsed a few times before adding the other stuff.) Then add the other stuff (all the cooked mushrooms and onions) and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (be generous, it helps!) and 2 Tbs of water.

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I pureed it but not too much—you need that chunky consistency to make it feel livery. Here’s the end result:

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You have to admit it looks like chopped liver, no? And it’s healthier and easier to make. (Plus it was a hit at the seder! People really liked it.)

Now as for Nigella Lawson’s spinach recipe. It’s in her “Feast” cookbook under PASSOVER. I chose this because there was a need for side dishes and this seemed simple and unusual (you add pine nuts and sultanas—golden raisins.)

Spinach is an economist’s nightmare. For this recipe I bought 5 bags–count ’em, 5 bags–of baby spinach at $3 each. That is so expensive! I also sliced an onion:

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You sautee the onion (which you slice into half moons) in 2 Tbs of olive oil until golden and soft.

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Then you add two Tbs of white wine (it sizzles and deglazes) (I opened a whole new bottle for this because I thought it would be worth it, but I’m not sure it was!). Now you add all that spinach:

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Isn’t that a ton of spinach? You push it into the heat and eventually, miraculously, it begins to wilt. “I’m wilting! I’m wilting!” it might say if it were in The Wizard of Oz.

Once it’s wilted and you cook off the water you add 1/4 cup of sultanas which you soak beforehand in boiling water. (I didn’t find sultanas but I found green raisins.) You also add 1/3 cup of pine nuts which you’ve toasted in a skillet.

Here’s what you’re left with:

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It’s pretty, yes, I know–but think of all the spinach that went in there! And look how little there is now!

But it tasted good. A little watery, I must admit. I should have let the water cook off for longer. Anyway, this was popular too. Jewish Popeye was very grateful.

Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Non-Observant

I am a bad Jew. Or, at least, a stupid Jew. Maybe just a non-observant one.

Anyway, Friday night I started to crave chocolate chip cookies. I searched in my archives and found a comment someone posted linking to the Doubletree Hotel’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Here’s the link!

I was intrigued because the recipe called for: (1) rolled oats; (2) cinnamon; (3) lemon juice. Isn’t that unusual? So I made them:

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They were DELICIOUS. Best ever? Oh who knows. I mean, look, if you mix together butter, flour, sugar and chocolate chips and bake it it’s going to taste good, ok? Sure, there’s issues of texture and the chip to dough ratio—these fall into the chewy chippy camp—but in the end hot chocolate chip cookies are fantastic. I liked the complexity that the oats and cinnamon offered here, not sure what the lemon did.

And for any judgmental rabbis reading this, I gave a bunch of cookies to my doorman and haven’t eaten any since late last night!

Pre-Theater Bites: Island Burgers and Shakes + Afghan Kebab

&tBefore moving to New York my idea of a pre-theater meal was a giant feast with my family at Carmine’s, Ollie’s, or Virgil’s (all owned by the same people, maybe?) Italian, Chinese or Ribs: that’s the sort of stuff you need to nourish you through the fifth reprise of “Do You Hear The People Sing?” in Act 7 of Les Miz.

But now that I’m “in the know” and I go to school for theater and I’m surrounded by theater-folk, the place to go before a show is 9th Avenue. That’s where to go because there’s great variety and it’s cheap.

So Thursday last week I went with my class to see “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” with Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin. (The play is one of my all-time favorites but the production lacked lots of zing. I think it may have to do with the size of the theater and the spaciousness of the set.)

Beforehand, Dan suggested we go to Island Burgers and Shakes on 9th Avenue. (Oh, Dan has a theater blog–check it out: Venal Scene.) We worried that Jason, the vegetarian-vegan, wouldn’t have anything to eat. But we didn’t worry too much.

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This was a good place for us because there was space, the food comes fast, and it’s easy to talk loudly without bothering people. (There were, like, 6 of us.)

James Felder (of the category “James Felder” and the website Snapshot Artifact) espoused the wonders of the black and white milkshake. “The perfect black and white milkshake is made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup,” he explained, “in every sip sip you taste all the chocolate and vanilla separately and you can appreciate them both.”

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I was so moved I ordered one myself. I really enjoyed it.

The burgers at Island Burgers are, if anything, creative. There are two giant lists on the menu of various topping and bun combinations. I chose the Saratoga (I think?) that had a burger on sourdough bread with horseradish sauce and cheese and bacon.

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I like the idea of this burger a great deal. In the taste department it gets a good grade, but in the eatability department it fails. The bun disintegrated¬†as soon as I lifted it. I couldn’t get my mouth around the burger and so I had to cut it with knife and fork. Big bulky burgers like this are hard to eat and not my cup of tea.

Apparently, they’re not James Felder’s either. He wrote me the next day:

“Those burgers blew ass chunks last night.”

I’m not sure about that. I think it’s a good place to know about for pre-theater burgers (though The Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien gets my award for best Midtown hamburger.)

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Last night Lisa and I tried to get student tickets for a bunch of shows. This is a bad plan for a Saturday night—-we were rejected across the boards. So we stumbled up 9th Avenue and there I was again, in front of Island Burgers.

“Hey I just ate here!” I said. “Next door is an Afghan Kebab place. Let’s try that!”

I had a really good Afghan Kebab experience with Jason a few months ago, also on 9th Avenue. But I think it was a different place. This place was pretty good. Lisa had pumpkin and I had lamb:

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It came with lots of food: bread, rice, salad and the meat and/or pumpkin. We left very full.

At one point, a party of ten tourists from middle America came in and took up a bunch of tables. The male head of this group wandered from table to table and said with a drawl: “Make sure you take the opportunity to go to the bathroom at some point during your meal. Then take a peek into the kitchen—you can see how Afghanis cook their food.”

We thought this was funny.

My Favorite Kind of Failure: Another Caramel Corn Catastrophe

If I were to move to France, study under Alain Ducasse for a year, then intern for Thomas Keller in California, getting my master chef certification the next year, I would still suck at making caramel corn. It is the bane of my existence. When it comes to caramel corn, I am cursed.

So why oh why oh why do I keep doing it? Isn’t this a psychological thing—the same sort of logic that sends the battered wife back into her husband’s arms? What makes me want to make caramel corn when I know it won’t come out?

I’ll tell you what. HOPE. A DREAM. A dream of fresh homemade caramel corn. It started well enough…

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Sugar, water, boiling away. I used Gale Gand’s recipe from the Food Network site. I won’t link to it because it didn’t work, but I used it with the very best of intentions. (Which, incidentally, the road to hell is paved with…)

Then I added the homemade popcorn and toasted pecans. Stirred it around. Poured it out on my Silpat sheet:

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I was buzzed with excitement. This would be it—the perfect recipe, the perfect caramel corn. Then I went to break it apart—it wouldn’t break. I flipped it over:

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A giant blob of caramel and a lemon. THAT LEMON WASN’T THERE BEFORE I STARTED.

Luckily, I was able to break little pieces away and they tasted good. Maybe some day all the pieces will break away and they’ll all taste good. A man can dream, can’t he?

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