September 2004

Best Of Atlanta 2004

Yay! Thanks readers of Creative Loafing for voting me Best Local Blogger! I love living in Atlanta and plan to live up to my title!

[Psst…nobody mention the whole I don’t live in Atlanta anymore I live in New York now thing, ok? That’s our little secret.]

Gourmet Survivor 2004: And Then There Were Five—“Missionary Veal.”

Like angry bowling pins that refuse to topple they remain: Dallas, Harry, Andrea, Michelle and Nick. Who will be the next to fall? On to our next challenge…

I like to call this challenge: “Missionary Veal.” (Get it? Like missionary zeal?) Anyway, here’s what you gotta do. Introduce us to someone you know who hates a certain food. “Marvin hates onions.” “Nancy hates cabbage.” You get the idea.

Your challenge is to sell them on the food they hate by preparing that ingredient in ways that might convert them. Should you fail, you may still be rewarded for your creativity, humor and effort. The readers will be voting immunity this round, so crank up the charm. The photo policy is the same as last round—as long as you post it to an outside server I’m happy to link to it—and all entries are due Sunday by 9 pm.

Good luck!

Gourmet Survivor 2004: The Fourth Vote-Off

Aww this one makes me sad. I’ll miss our friendly neighbor in the north… Farewell, Wendy! You’re my favorite Canook. (Next to Martin Short, that is.)

Wendy –> Michelle (“If she goes, she’ll be missed…”)

Dallas –> Michelle (“Roses are red/ violets are blue/ yams are veggies/ but tomatoes are fruit. You’ve been a tough competitor.”)

Michelle –> Wendy

Andrea –> Wendy (“Sorry, Wendy, but it’s got to be somebody.”)

Harry –> Wendy

Nick –> Wendy (“My heart is heavy, and bleeding.”

Double Immunity and Mass Controversy

Political intrigue and international espionage taint this round of Gourmet Survivor. For the specifics, read the comments to the last post. After much reflection I have decided to have the operation. You will now refer to me as Cindy.

Harry and Dallas have immunity this round. I feel this is fair because Clotilde’s logic for choosing Dallas was that the readers wouldn’t vote Harry off. But the readers don’t vote. That’s the rub. And since the consensus was that Harry’s was the best (based on comments and Clotilde’s post) it would be ridiculous not to grant him immunity. Plus this is all silly nonsense and you should all concentrate on more important matters like your daughter’s school play which you missed to read this. Shame on you. Shame!

[Contestants please e-mail me your vote by 11 tomorrow. To keep things fun your votes will be published for all to shake their fist at. Ciao!]

Gourmet Survivor 2004: Fourth Challenge Fulfilled, “Vegetables for Dessert.”

This round, guest judge Clotilde (of Chocolate & Zucchini fame) compelled our remaining six contestants to use vegetables in a dessert. The results are simultaneously thrilling, terrifying and occassionally disgusting. Clotilde will be judging immunity this round but perhaps your comments will influence her. Since 5/6 of the contestants created webpages for their entries, I’ll post the links below instead of the actual text (except for Harry who has actual text AND a link.) As per usual, these are posted in the order I received them…

Wendy’s Entry: I’ll Sauerkraut You Good!

Michelle’s Entry: Tomato Devil’s Food Cake with Yam Ice Cream


Harry’s Entry: I’ll Have The Eggplant Please


I recently read the book Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods. The author spent a full year eating food that was grown, raised or created within a 150 mile radius of his home in Arizona. He discovered an amazing amount of foods and traditional uses of wild herbs and cacti that are indigenous to his home. I found this book incredibly inspiring and I promised myself that I would make an effort to purchase as much locally grown foodstuff as possible. Granted, my country is the size of New Jersey so this task didn’t prove too difficult. Israel is a country where local foods are treasured. Virtually every city has an open air market where locally grown fruits and vegetables, fish caught daily in the Mediterranean, fresh meat and dried herbs are regularly available. The produce is always of higher quality and substantially cheaper than the supermarket. I decided to keep things local in this challenge. Every product used in this recipe was purchased in the open air market of the city of Ramle and grown or produced within 50 miles of my home.  

I once ordered a croissant at a coffeehouse. It came with a confiture which, at the time, I thought was plum. It was quite delicious so I asked if they sell it – which they did – but the waitress corrected me and said that the jam was actually eggplant, not plum. To be honest, I wasn’t that surprised. Eggplant is perhaps the most versatile vegetable I have ever come across. Here in Israel I have seen it smoked, grilled, in numerous salads, as a caviar substitute and even the key ingredient in vegetarian chopped liver. I have not however, seen eggplant as a dessert. In the eggplant’s versatility I found my muse.

I decided to make candied eggplant. This recipe is influenced by a Lebanese method of candying.  

On to the recipe.

I sliced the eggplants and cooked them in boiling water for about five minutes. While the eggplant was cooking, I combined water with sugar and threw in some cloves and ground cardamom for added flavor.  


Once the eggplant was cooked I placed it in the syrup and let the eggplant “candy” in the fragrant liquid. I slowly brought the syrup to a boil and brought it down to a simmer for about 40 minutes. I then threw in some fresh lemon juice and about a teaspoon of rose water and let it simmer for another five minutes or so.

I served the candied eggplant with fresh Malawach which is a popular multilayered fried flatbread brought to Israel by Yemenite Jews. Malawach is usually the size of a large plate but, for the purpose of this dessert, I cut it in uniform circles the size of the eggplant slices.

Traditionally, Malawach is served with pureed tomatoes, a hard boiled egg and Zhug which is an incredibly hot condiment made from fresh chilies and coriander. Because Malawach is equally delicious with a dollop of nutella and a generous amount of powered sugar, I knew it would go well with something sweet.  

I placed the candied eggplant on the Malawach and threw on a generous scoop of homemade honey halvah ice cream (did I mention homemade?). See photos for details. I also added a light sprinkling of sesame seeds. The result? Interestingly delicious. The ice cream was the perfect topping for this hot dessert. The sweet natural taste of honey halvah ice cream complimented the flowery taste of the rose water for a unique blend of earthiness. The melted cream on the hot eggplant and Melawach was perfect; it was like a Middle Eastern Pie a la Mode. The end result was very, very sweet but that’s the way Middle Eastern desserts are supposed to be. To put the texture in a frame of reference: it was like an oversized piece of Baklava and had a similar consistency. If I were to make this again, I would probably put a little less rose water. Even thought it’s an acquired taste that I have acquired, it can easily overwhelm whatever it’s used in. This dessert should always be accompanied by a bitter cup of Turkish coffee or tea with mint. Ah, the glories of local food indeed.

Dallas’s Entry: Caramelized Yams with Almond Brittle


Nick’s Entry: Yam Cheesecake


Andrea’s Entry: Carrot Rugelach


The Hurricane Dining Sessions: BLT Steak

Seems that God (or whomever it is that controls the weather) (Al Roker?) must be a fan of this website. As my parents are propelled North to escape the mighty winds of a series of successive hurricanes, I get to eat out a lot and you get to read about it. Score!

Last night was a bit of a compromise. Dad likes steakhouses, I like gourmet food. Alas, there’s the new BLT Steakhouse—the perfect answer for our convoluted needs. (Mom has needs too, but they’re not so much content-based as context-based. BLT fit her trendy quotient).

There are two ways to read our evening.

1) We are nice humble people and arriving 30 minutes early we were treated terribly by waitstaff who refused to seat us for 20 minutes despite the fact that we called first and they said its ok.

2) We are bad evil people who showed up 20 minutes early and demanded a table despite lack of availability.

Either way, we were sat by a freckly redhead and were soon greeted by a rather stiff waiter. We asked for help with the wine list and after mom asked, “How’s this?” pointing to a red that looked nice, he shrugged and said: “That’s a good one.”

We were served chicken liver mousse. (No picture taken, but this was nice. Foie gras-ish with a red wine layer on top.)

Then killer pop-overs:


These were mighty filling but mighty enjoyable. Mom snatched dad’s away so he wouldn’t ruin his dinner. I exhibited self-control and only ate half.

My appetizer was the waiter-recommended figs wrapped in ham with goat cheese:


Rich and delicious. Notice how the presentation echoes presentations at Jean-Georges and Per Se. This is a Frenchified steakhouse—very formal, very pristine. Dad ordered a lobster salad and mom tuna tartare. All of us were equally satisfied.

Then for the steak. Mine came out beautifully:


Mom’s was a bit more problematic. She ordered it medium rare (“red center,” she told the waiter when she ordered) and, cutting into it, saw gray and pink. Not medium rare at all; not even medium.

She called a waiter over and she said, “This isn’t medium rare.” And he said, “It isn’t?” as if to challenge her. But he caught himself mid-argument and agreed to remove it to the kitchen since for the money we were spending we should get the food that we ordered. Soon he returned with a properly cooked steak. Mom was happy.

I’ll be honest, the steak was just fine. Not terrific. What upped the ante, though, was a series of dipping sauces that came with the meat. I ordered two: horseradish and red wine. Dad ordered peppercorn and mustard trio. Mom ordered Bernaise. The dipping sauces added a lot to the steak, but the steak itself could have been more flavorful.

As for sides there was creamed spinach, Hen of the Woods mushrooms, and onion rings:


All expertly done but not as thrilling as the first course. Maybe because steakhouse food is so standard that even the most glorious preparation will always seem somewhat uneventful. I’m not sure. But there’s talent in the kitchen at BLT Steak, that’s for sure.

Next hurricane, we’ll have to try Peter Luger’s…

Vanilla Bean Loaves (via Amanda Hesser)

When I read “Cooking For Mr. Latte” there were many recipes that I carved into my brain with the label: “To be cooked one day.” One such carving was a recipe for “Vanilla Bean Loaves” adapted from Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Everything about the recipe seemed wonderful, except the potential expense. 4 vanilla beans would be required. Unless you live in Madagascar, vanilla beans are mighty pricey. This vanilla bean loaf would have to go on the back burner.

But then I was having company over on Saturday–more playwrights to watch movies for class. And I was in Whole Foods anyway, and there were the vanilla beans. These were a bit cheaper–sold in bottles of two instead of one. How could I resist?

Should you ever feel a similar impulse, here’s how to proceed. [Quoted directly from Ms. Hesser without persmission—don’t sue!]

“You will need:

3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature.

2 1/2 cups vanilla sugar (1 split vanilla bean stirred into 1 pound of sugar; let sit for a few days)

(I let it sit for a few hours and that sufficed, I think.)

1 vanilla bean.

1 Tbs vanilla extract.

8 large eggs at room temperature.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour.

1 1/2 tsps baking powder.

1/2 tsp salt.

For the syrup:

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped.

1. Heavily butter two 8X4X3-inch (or similarly sized) loaf pans and preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Using a paddle attachment in your mixer, cream the butter and vanilla sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy.


Scrape the vanilla bean and flick its seeds into the mixer, along with the vanilla extract and eggs. Beat to mix.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add this to the batter and mix just until smooth–a few turns of the paddle should do it. Take the bowl off the mixer and use a spatula to scrape the bottom and fold the mixture a few times, to make sure everything is blended. Divide the batter between the buttered pans:


Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the pans around, and bake until a cake tester or skewer comes out almost clean, another 25 to 40 minutes.

3. While the loaves bake, prepare the syrup: in a small pan, dissolve the sugar in 1 cup of water over medium heat. Add the vanilla beans and stir a little so their seeds and fragrance disperse. Take the pan off the heat:


4. When the loaves are done, cool for 10 minutes on baking racks, then turn them out of their pans and set back on the racks. Place the racks over parchment paper or a baking sheet and brush generously all over–bottoms, tops, and sides–with the syrup.


Brush a couple of more times as they cool. These cakes store well. They may be wrapped and frozen, although I can’t imagine not eating one of them right away.”

Honestly these cakes are awesome:


I popped one in the freezer and served the other to my guests. The air filled with a loving vanilla smell. Sure, it was Yom Kippur and I was supposed to be fasting, but this is a recipe that’s worth going to Jewish Hell for…don’t you think? L’chaim!

Panini at Murray’s Cheese Shop

Murray’s Cheese Shop is awesome. There was a huge article about it in the Food Issue of The New Yorker a few weeks ago and I think it’s safe to say that Murray’s is one of our nation’s greatest purveyors of cheese.

Of course, it’s rare to be walking through Greenwich Village on a hot day and say to oneself: “I could really go for a slice of Gouda right now!” So I’ve walked past Murray’s many times peering through the window, admiring the displays and scurrying on by. I almost did that today:


But then I noticed, in the window, a sign that said they also sold paninis. I was hungry. It was lunch time. So I got the Italian panini with prosciutto, mozarrella and Italian dressing. It rocked!


The bread was great, the meat was great, the cheese was great. All in all, it was great.

Next time I’ll go with the intention of buying a block of new and exciting cheese. Then I will eat it and tell you about it. For now, though, please accept my panini post.

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