June 2008

Easy Doughnuts (Sfince)

A dangerous thing to say after dinner is: “Do you want doughnuts?”

It’s a dangerous thing to say, because almost certainly the other person will say “yes” and then what do you do? Especially since most doughnut recipes require time for the yeasted doughnut dough to rise?

Here’s what you do: crack open Mario Batali’s first book, Simple Italian Food, and follow his recipe for Sfince. First of all, sfince is a funny word. It makes me think of an Andy Milonokis character who puts a “snf” sound at the start of every word. Only 1 person reading this will get that reference. Second of all, you can assemble the dough in a matter of minutes and as soon as the oil gets hot enough, you’ll be frying.

Are sfince as good as normal doughnuts? No, definitely not. But you douse them in powdered sugar and honey, and suddenly they’re very tasty. According to Mario, “this dough is caled pate a choux and it is used for profiteroles and Paris-Brest.” Anyone who read the Sunday Times Magazine section saw a whole essay about pate a choux, so you can take this recipe, fry the doughnuts, and then use them for all the things mentioned in that article. Fill them with ice cream and you have profiteroles; fill them with pastry cream and you have cream puffs. But if you want doughnuts, just eat ’em plain and tell your guest: “Hey, it may not be a normal doughnut, but I ain’t got time to make yeasted doughnut dough, fool.” They’ll appreciate it!

Reader Mail: How Did You Do It?

Every now and then I like to publicly answer reader mail, in case other people out there have the same question. Here’s a question from Jess in Grand Rapids, Michigan:

Hello, I’m an avid Food Network watcher and have recently saw your clips for The FN Dish. I became curious and looked you up online. Your website is very good, but I’m sure you know that. My question is: How’d you do it? I’d really like to know. I just recently graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in journalism, but I have also discovered that I may have wasted the 4 years and the money (a lot of money) on that degree. My true passion is food and it took me 4 years to figure that out. I’ve been working in kitchens (not in the front of the house) at 3 or 4 restaurants since I was 15. I love food. I want your job (without being threatening of course), but I don’t know how to go about doing that. I would love to write about restaurants, cook books and food stars. I just don’t know where to begin. Any pointers?

Chasing After $25 and Under (Lunch at Rhong-Tiam)

I once read that to be a successful blogger, you have to be nimble. So yesterday, while reading The New York Times Dining section $25 & Under column about Rhong-Tiam in the West Village, I was struck by Julia Moskin’s claim that it’s “one of the best Thai places in Manhattan.” And I thought: hey, I’m a blogger, I can be nimble, why don’t I go there RIGHT NOW and check this place out for myself?

Spiced Eggplant Salad

Every relationship has rules. For example, in some relationships the person who makes dinner doesn’t have to do the dishes. In others, the person who cleans the bathroom doesn’t have to take out the garbage. In my relationship with Craig, there’s one overriding rule that must be obeyed or everything will crumble to pieces. That rule is: “Adam, don’t buy any more cookbooks.”

My cookbook shelf is positively bursting with cookbooks. 60% are cookbooks I purchased before meeting Craig, but the other 40% are books that are sent to me by eager publicists who, much like my publicist when my book came out, want maximum exposure for their books. I can’t say no: my policy is, I’ll accept the book (assuming it’s a book I think I’ll be interested in) and if I like it I’ll write about it. But the truth is, if it’s a text-based book there’s no way I’m reading it before the year 2020–I’m a slow reader and for me to spend time reading a book, I have to really, really, really want to read it. If it’s a cookbook, I’ll flip through it when it arrives and if I like something in it I’ll cook it and if it comes out well, I’ll blog about it. Obviously, that doesn’t happen too often because how many posts can you recall from recent memory that I cooked from a new cookbook? I can only recall one, and that wasn’t even a cookbook: it was a promotion for an upcoming cookbook.

All of that’s to say, I’m not allowed to buy cookbooks. “You don’t need any more cookbooks,” Craig will say when I’m tempted. “Where will you put it anyway? There’s no room.”

He makes very good points. And I’ve been good, I’ve followed the rule pretty dutifully for the past year. Only, over the past few months, I slowly fell for a book I flipped through again and again in the bookstore. Finally, after months of flipping, I decided to break the sacred rule. I bought it. I took it home. I hid it under the mattress. Craig didn’t know, he still doesn’t know. Thank God he doesn’t read my blog (well he does occasionally.) What book was it that made me break my pact? You must click to find out….(unless you’re reading this in some kind of reader, in which case the answer is right below this sentence….)

Mamoun’s Falafel

It’s a shameful fact that up until last week, I’d never been to Mamoun’s Falafel. For someone who went to grad school at NYU and spent two years flitting about Washington Squre Park, it amounts to something of an outrage. Mamoun’s is an NYU tradition: cheap, fast, and flavorful falafel all just a few steps away from classes. Last week, though, I was a perfect Mamoun’s candidate. I’d gotten my haircut at my new favorite haircut secret, Sei Tomoko (not a secret anymore!), where Japanese hair stylists pound your back into submission (I started laughing the first time they “massaged” me–I felt like a punching bag) and then style your hair with exceptional skill for an incredibly reasonable $40. Afterwards, I was starving and Craig had dinner plans so I sauntered over to Mamoun’s.

Mimi Sheraton Responds To Le Bernardin, Mabel Responds To My Pancakes

In the comments of my Q&A with Le Bernardin, I noticed a response from Mimi Sheraton, former dining critic for The New York Times:

“Since when do chefs, maitre d’s, restaurateurs, etc. decide what makes a 4-star restaurant? I gave 4-stars to a few restaurants that had no dress code and would again.

Does that mean a terrific sushi place cannot get 4 stars? Or a bbq place? Or a steak house?


Meanwhile, on my Strawberry Pancake post, self-described pancake critic Mabel has this to say:

“If my pancaks looked like that i would throw them in the trash. I would never serve then to anyone.”

The internet is a harsh place, man.

Strawberry Pancakes

I never liked pancakes growing up (the syrup made them too soggy, I preferred waffles) but I like them now mostly because they’re easy to whip up on a Sunday morning, especially if you have one of the following dairy items on hand: buttermilk (most preferable), regular milk (also preferable) or, as I learned today, sour cream and half and half (not preferable, but certainly good).

Yes, to make pancakes you just mix a bunch of dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt) and then a bunch of wet ingredients (milk or buttermilk or sour cream, eggs, melted butter), and then you add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, heat some butter in a nonstick skillet and fry up the pancakes a few at a time. Only, as I discovered today, you can also add a mystery ingredient. Sometimes the mystery ingredient is chocolate chips, other times the mystery ingredient is coconut. Today the mystery ingredient was strawberries!

Funny how when you have an impulse to do something, like add strawberries to pancakes, you look for validation that your idea is ok online (at least I do). I Googled “strawberry pancakes” and saw several recipes and I knew it was ok. And sure enough, after making them and eating them, it was more than ok: it’s a terrific way to use up seasonal strawberries that you bring home from the farmer’s market and don’t know how to use.

I figure at this point in the post you’re probably wondering: “are you going to give us a recipe?” And normally, I’d say: “No, just do any pancake recipe you like and add sliced up strawberries at the end” but instead I AM going to give you a recipe in the style of Star Wars opening credits. Enjoy!

Great New York Lunches: Boudin Blanc & Beer at Cafe D’Alsace

On family trips to EPCOT, as a young lass*, I would insist that my parents visit the countries alone and let me and my brother spend our valuable time in Future World. The countries, I thought, were boring: who wants to shop around England and France, when you can ride up the giant globe with Walter Cronkite’s voice soothing you into a satisfied stupor?

[*: I only now discovered that lass means young girl or woman. I was never a young girl or woman as far as I know.]

Now that I live in New York, I’m all grown up and what I love about this city is what I hated about EPCOT: all the countries represented here, squeezed together, ready for your patronage. I may as well have been in a theme park on Tuesday when, after shooting a segment for Food Network at Serendipity on 60th Street and 3rd Avenue, I walked over to 2nd and up to 88th to grab lunch at Cafe D’Alsace. The day was bright, people paraded back and forth on the sidewalk, and the restaurant had an exaggerated quality that wouldn’t be out of place in Orlando. The food, however, would put any theme park to shame.

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