August 2005

The Amateur Gourmet Suggestion Card

For those of you who don’t live in the Tri-State area, here’s an opportunity to post some comments too. I may be opening up a big fat can of worms here (insert appropriate graphic)

but I’d like to open up the floor for comments and/or suggestions regarding the site. More podcasts? Less movies? More nudity? I’m all ears. Or eyes, as the case may be. Ok, happy suggestion making!

Hypotethical New York Meet-Up

This is a hypothetical question raised to the New York/Tri-State area resident readers of the site. If I were to have some kind of get-together for everyone in the near future, how many of you do you think would be able and/or willing to come? Let me know in the comments by stating your:







This is all just for my knowledge so that if one day I do plan a get-together I’ll have a general sense of how many people might show. But this won’t happen VERY soon because I start school next week!

Pound Cake and the 12 Hour Fast

After much fanfare, today I finally went to the doctor to have my cholesterol checked. An inept nurse weighed me first and told me I weighed 140 lbs which was shocking because I don’t weigh 140 lbs. Then I realized she had the marker in between 100 and 150 and the small marker on really high. I fixed it and revealed my true weight: 450 lbs. I prayed this woman wouldn’t administer the needle.

She didn’t. A nice much more competent nurse drew blood and caused me little to no pain. The results will be in on Wednesday. Stay tuned for that!

The hardest part of the ordeal came the night before (last night, to be precise). I was told not to eat after 10 pm in anticipation of the cholesterol test. That would be 12 hours of not eating. How might I endure this hardship?

I decided to race the clock and throw together a pound cake at 7 pm. If I could have the cake out of the oven by 9, I would have one hour to consume as much of it as I wanted. Plus, I had a nifty new tube pan that I bought at the Broadway Panhandlers near Union Square. I used a recipe from “The Gift of Southern Cooking” but you can use any old recipe. As Giada de Laurentis on TV taught me: the term pound cake comes from the old formula for it–a pound of butter, a pound of flour and a pound of sugar. Perfect right before a cholesterol test!

So there’s the batter in the tube pan. It goes into a cold oven (this is Scott Peacock’s method) and the temperature is first raised to 225 then, after 20 minutes, up to 300 and finally, after another 20 minutes, up to 325. This lets the inside cook before the outside. Here it is out of the oven:


I then prepared Scott’s lemon butter glaze which I spooned on to the warm cake after flipping it over.


As you can see, I’d alreay cut myself a slice since–by the time everything was done–it was 9:40. I had 20 minutes to eat it.

The reason I made pound cake, really, is because it’s a great vehicle for various toppings. I saw Giada toast pound cake and then spread with marscapone, apricot preserves and amaretto. I decided to top mine with fresh raspberries:


A delicious treat, just in the nick of time. And then 12 hours of pure deprivation: I barely made it through the night. But made it I did and the results will be in soon. Who’s betting it’ll be too high? Or who thinks I’m just fine? Wagers are encouraged.

The Grandma Proof Napkin Dispenser

Long time readers of this site will recall my classic post “On Napkins” in which I wrote:

“It’s my grandmother’s fault.

Back in the day, we would go to Wendy’s and she would say: ‘go get us some napkins.’ I would come back with two or three and she’d say: ‘No, no, no! Here, let me show you.’ She’d hold my hand and lead me over to the napkin dispenser. “Like this,” she’d say, sticking her fingers deep inside and yanking out 40 or 50 napkins. ‘That’s how we do it.'”

That (admittedly wasteful) method has served me to this day. Until the advent of this:

Is it a coincidence that my grandmother spent two weeks in my apartment while I was in Europe and that now that I’m back I see these dispensers all over Chelsea? Ok, it probably is a coincidence. But these dispensers are brilliant in how they prevent you from grabbing handfuls of napkins. Go ahead, try to reach in and pinch a cluster of napkins, you won’t be able to do it. Believe me: I tried. There’s really no way to get napkins out except one by one. The grandmothers of the world have been foiled. But not for long. New grandchildren are being grown in labs with narrow pointy fingers for this very purpose. These are the Children of the Napkin Revolution. T-shirts available shortly.

Eating at New York Burger Co. in Chelsea is like going to Rome and eating at Pizza Hut

If there were no Shake Shack, I might have different feelings about New York Burger Co. Shake Shack is on 24th and Broadway in Madison Square Park. New York Burger Co., a chain, recently opened up near me on 21st and 6th. So you see one avenue behind this facade and three avenues up is the best hamburger in New York. How can it compete?

The answer is: it can’t. I mean, it’s fine. Really. This burger, called the Chicago Burger, has Applewood smoked bacon, cheddar and 1000 island dressing. Perfect for the health conscious:


According to their informational pamphlet, “New York Burger Co. is keeping it real: starting with Coleman All Natural Beef, we’re trailblazing and doing things the old-fashioned way. No artifical anything!…Our Idaho fries are freshly cut & prepared in cholestral [sic] free soybean oil.”

Well that’s their first mistake (and it’s the same mistake they make at Good Burger): what’s the point of eating fries if they’re healthy?! Please, bring on the cholesterol (or cholestral) and make your fries better.

As for the burger, it cost $7.75 and in combo with drink and fries $10.75. Shake Shack charges $4.16 for a Shack burger which is “ground daily from sirloin and brisket.” I realize I ordered a special burger at NY Burger Co. so, to be fair, a plain “New York burger” costs $5.75. But that’s still more money than a special Shack burger and a million times less good.

If you live in an area with a NY Burger Co. and without a Shake Shack, I don’t frown upon you if you eat there. You’re doing what you must. But for me, it’s basically sacrelige. NY Burger you are dead to me. Long live Shake Shack!

Food on the Boob Tube

I’d like to share with you several food-related moments from several days of TV watching:

(1) The VH1 show “Celebrity Fit Club” is strangely enjoyable. Yes, it’s got all the markings of a crappy reality show: the panel of judges, the challenges, the weigh-ins. But at the end of the day, it takes a certain amount of bravery for a celebrity, no matter how low on the totem pole, to get weighed in every week and to get chewed out by an angry drill instructor. The moment I’d like to point out, however, is a happy moment. It’s when the Snapple Lady got weighed in the other day—she didn’t reach that week’s target of 5 pounds, but she teared up and said that running in that large plastic ball (one of the challenges) against Jacque from 227 was one the highlights of her life. See now I’m crying. Someone get me a Snapple.

(2) Nothing better than old Roseanne and this particularly episode I caught, called “I’m Hungry,” (from the first or second season) was perfect for our Amateur Gourmet audience. Roseanne goes on a diet because her pants won’t fit. She starts throwing away all the junk food and Dan says, “Whoah that’s $40 worth of food you’re throwing out” and he hides it in a cabinet saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Some of the exchanges were priceless but now I forget them. Oh, like when Becky says it’s okay for Dan to get fat because “men are supposed to get fat when they get older, but on women it looks awful.” Roseanne doesn’t take that well. D.J. tells Roseanne he “likes her mushy.” I agree.

(3) Kathy Griffin’s show (which is hilarious, methinks) had her eating miniature tacos. “My nutritionist wants me to eat carrots, he says when I crave tacos I should have a carrot but let me tell you something, I’ve had a carrot and it’s no f*ing taco.” [What’s funny is I completely made that quote up from my vague memory of what she really said. I’m a horrible journalist but that’s the nice thing about being a blogger. I get to make everything up without penalty.]

Tune in next week for more Food on the Boob Tube.

Rushing at Russ & Daughters

If you had told me last night that within a three hour period the next day I would read the Sunday Times, rush down to the Lower East Side, visit Russ & Daughters for the first time and then grab tickets for the matinee of “Oedipus at Palm Springs” (by The Five Lesbian Brothers (who are also bloggers); it closed today and it was great, sorry you missed it) I would’ve called you a liar. A dirty bald-faced liar. (Bald faced? Did I make up that expression?)

But all these things did happen today. I woke up, made coffee, read the Times in bed (a new favorite ritual) and then, noticing in the Arts section that today was the last day for “Oedipus” I rushed out to catch the F Train down to 2nd Ave only the F train didn’t come on the F-train track. The D train came instead so I got on that, figuring the D train was acting like the F train today. But it took me pretty far down on Grand and as I rushed up towards Houston I realized I’d be really close to Russ & Daughters (also Katz’s, but that was out of the question timewise.) It was like 1:33 and the show started at 2. I could grab a bagel at Russ’s—this would be my first time, but now’s a better time than ever.

I first learned of Russ & Daughters in the very first food book I ever read (and still one of my favorites) the not-so-long-ago published “Feeding a Yen” by Calvin Trillin. Have you read Calvin Trillin yet? You really should. He’s the best. (Though, did anyone try to get tickets to his walking tour of Chinatown in this year’s New Yorker festival? I was online precisely at 12 pm, right when they went on sale, and they were immediately gone at 12:01. Who got these tickets? Can I please please please have one?)

The first chapter of “Feeding A Yen” is called “Magic Bagel” and it’s totally endearing. It’s about him trying to lure his daughter back to New York (she lives in California) with the promise of tracking down a pumpernickel bagel she loved in her childhood. Here’s what Calvin writes about Russ’s:

“After spending years listening to customers tell him that he ought to move Russ & Daughters uptown, Mark Federman–the grandson of Joel Russ, the founder–was renovating the apartments above the store and expressing gratitude that his grandfather had held on to the building.

Ben’s Dairy had closed and Moishe’s Bakery had moved to a tiny place around the corner. But Russ & Daughters has been carefully preserved to look pretty much the way it did when Joel Russ himself still had his arms deep into the herring barrel.”

It’s strange because if I hadn’t known anything about Russ & Daughters and I went in there and you told me this place was built last year, I’d have believed you. But at the same time, I can believe it looks the same way it did years and years ago. Maybe that’s because the focus there isn’t the atmosphere or the decor: it’s the fish, specifically smoked fish. Men and women behind the counter slice smoked fish with long sharp knives and everything else falls into the background.

Funny enough, when I went in I think Mark Felderman (mentioned above) was there because I observed a bearded Jewish man talking to someone else and he said, “Someone’s doing a story about this place saying the smell in here is one of the best smells in New York.” (Actually, I think I’m getting that quote wrong but it had something to do with smell and New York. But the way he said it, it sounded like he owned the store.)

Besides smoked fish, though, there’s an exciting array of cream cheese:


Check out the ones on the top and the bottom: caviar cream cheese! Horseradish cream cheese! I totally have to come back and try those.

I also noticed wasabi infused fish roe and I remembered I ate that exact same thing at Le Bernardin. This place means business.

I meant business, both in a speed sense and a hunger sense, and I asked a man behind the counter for an onion bagel with smoked salmon and tomato. This is the traditional Sunday bagel combo (maybe throw in some raw onions too, if stinky breath’s your game) and I awaited it greedily. Time passed and I kept looking at my watch but the man making my bagel wasn’t dawdling. He was sharpening his knife, then he was choosing the fish, and then he was cutting thick slices, and then he found a fresh tomato and cut slices from that, and then he slowly spread cream cheese on a soft looking onion bagel. He did everythign with great care and focus and that was great. I grabbed a fresh squeezed orange juice and the grand total was $10.25. That’s almost the same as it would be at Murray’s where I go all the time.

Here’s the bagel as it appeared on my lap as I sat on a bench outside, ready to scarf it down:


Now let me tell you something. That bagel? It was pretty good. Soft, oniony, very nice. And the cream cheese? Creamy and fresh, just right. But that fish? Oh, that fish.

I’ve never had fresher smoked fish in my life. It really seemed like a salmon had crawled out of the sea, walked through a smoker like a car might go through a car wash, and then laid itself down on Russ’s slicing board ready for my guy to slice big thick slices. If the bagel in my lap were a Broadway show, that fish was Ethel Merman. It was fantastic.

But speaking of shows, I was late. I ate that bagel faster than you can say “You’ll be swell! You’ll be great!” I ran to the New York Theater Workshop (4th Street and 2nd Ave., so not terribly far) and got there just in time. And as I watched those lesbians act out their version of Oedipus, I knew deep down inside of me a happy salmon was swimming. Another jam-packed Sunday in New York.

Farmer’s Market Bounty

Some pretty pictures of the food I made this weekend after trips to the Farmer’s Market. This will be a shortly worded post (gasp! Adam write a shortly worded post?) because I really took these pictures for another project, let’s just not tell anyone I shared them here, k?

Red and Yellow Tomatoes with Basil


Goat’s Milk Yogurt with Raspberries and Goldenrod Honey


Spaghettini with Basil Pesto


Actually, screw the shortly worded thing, I’d like to speak in praise of pesto. Pesto is so easy to make and perfect for your leftover basil which I had after the tomatoes. Pesto-making isn’t even cooking, it’s blending. You need a food processor. That’s it. Drop in 1/4 cup walnuts, 1/4 cup pignolis and 4 or 5 cloves of raw garlic. Pulse until it makes a paste. Add 2 cups of basil leaves packed. (About one big bunch.) Salt, pepper. Turn the processor on and then slowly drizzle in half a cup of olive oil. This is the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, I should mention that. But I don’t think she really owns the pesto-making patent. And in the summer time, nothing tastes better–believe me–than delicious skinny spaghettini strands coated in garlicky pesto. Go make some now, you monkey.

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