Sunday, November 29, 2009

Quote of the Week: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

"There is nothing under the sun better for man than to eat, drink, and be merry. Go, therefore, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with cheer."

—Ecclesiastes, 8:15

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Song of the Week: Eat Me!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tired of Turkey?

I know it sounds sacrilegious to most of us, but there are some people out there who, gasp, don’t like turkey—not even on Thanksgiving. Rather than berate these people for their food preferences, let’s see what we can come up with to accommodate their tastes. If you are tired of turkey, why not try this recipe for maple-glazed pork tenderloin with apple compote? It’s so easy to make that you could even cook it in addition to roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving.

Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin

1 pork tenderloin
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
3 tbsp. maple syrup
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. rosemary (dried)
¼ tsp. thyme (dried)

1. Whisk all the wet and dry ingredients for the marinade together. Pour over a pork tenderloin that is approximately one pound, and allow it to marinate in the fridge for several hours or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

3. Place the tenderloin on a rack in a shallow pan and cover loosely with foil. Bake for 20 minutes.

4. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.

5. Remove the tenderloin from the oven and cover loosely with foil. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Apple Compote

3 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 oz. spiced rum
Pinch of salt and pepper
Pinch of cinnamon

1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

2. Add the shallots to the oil and sweat for about one minute.

3. Add the diced apples and toss with the olive oil and shallots.

4. Stir in the salt, pepper, and cinnamon.

5. Pour in the shot of spiced rum.

6. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow it to simmer for at least ten minutes, or until soft.

If you’re not planning on enjoying this tasty tenderloin for Thanksgiving, I recommend serving it with roasted red potatoes with garlic and rosemary and green beans with shallots.

Quote of the Week: Thanksgiving

"The king and high priest of all the festivals was the autumn Thanksgiving. When the apples were all gathered and the cider was all made, and the yellow pumpkins were rolled in from many a hill in billows of gold, and the corn was husked, and the labors of the season were done, and the warm, late days of Indian summer came in, dreamy, and calm, and still, with just enough frost to crisp the ground of a morning, but with warm traces of benignant, sunny hours at noon, there came over the community a sort of genial repose of spirit—a sense of something accomplished."

—Harriet Beecher Stowe

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Thanksgiving Feast

Every family has its own traditions for Thanksgiving. There are several dishes that usually make it to our family table each year. During the day we snack on cheese, crackers, and veggies, plus whatever tastes we steal off of dishes while we cook.

In recent years we’ve introduced a harvest-style salad with various combinations of field greens, raisins, craisins, nuts (usually almonds
or walnuts), apples, and other delicious autumn-evoking ingredients.

We also always have bread or warm rolls with butter. Some years we have soup, such as the butternut-cider bisque I made last year for the occasion. The bisque is made with chicken (or vegetable) broth, butternut squash, carrots, celery, onions, and cider, and then finished with cream. As the soup simmers it fills the house with the scents of a satisfying Thanksgiving meal.

Other dishes that always make the table include ambrosia, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. The ambrosia is one of those classic 1950s-era dishes made with mini-marshmallows, shredded coconut, maraschino cherries, mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks, and sour cream. It may sound strange or even outdated, but I swear it’s very delicious and definitely loaded with sugar and nostalgia. Cranberry sauce always graces our table, and we tend to serve two versions—one from the can and one made from fresh cranberries. The mashed potatoes are usually made with roasted garlic and, of course, butter! They are tasty and creamy and a must have on any Thanksgiving table. Stuffing is also a classic dish, and we use my grandmother’s recipe for this annual holiday. Our version is composed of wheat bread, celery, Bell’s poultry seasoning, onions, sausage, salt, pepper, and chicken broth to keep it moist while cooking.

Of course we roast a classic turkey every year, but we have a couple of vegetarians in the family so we usually have a vegetarian option like faux turkey or chicken. I’ve taken over the turkey the last couple of years and determined how to make the perfect turkey. It involves butter, and lots of it! First take fresh herbs like sage, thyme, and rosemary and mince them. Then take a stick of butter (at room temperature so it’s soft) and mix the herbs in until they are evenly distributed in the creamy goodness. When it’s time to roast the turkey take the butter and rub in all over the skin. Then take some butter and lift the skin of the turkey and spread the butter between the flesh and the skin. As the turkey cooks the butter will melt into the meat, keeping it nice and moist and preventing it from drying out. Instead of filling the bird with stuffing, cook the stuffing in a separate dish and fill the cavity with sliced carrots, celery, onions, apples, and herbs to imbue the turkey with even more flavor. Then just roast the turkey as you normally would, let it rest, slice, and serve!

Dessert tends to change every year—there’s no one particular dessert we have, although we tend to have at least one pie. This year we’re serving apple-butter pumpkin pie, apple crisp, and cookies. We’ll also be making whipped cream with local cream from Meadowbrook Farms and sweetened with honey.

Whatever you and your family serve this year I hope you all have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Mỹ Linh

The other night I went out for a meal at one of my favorite restaurants in Albany—Mỹ Linh. It is an excellent Vietnamese restaurant with a fascinating history. The family that runs Mỹ Linh escaped from Vietnam during the Vietnam War and came to Albany in 1979. After years of saving they first opened Mỹ Linh in 1993 and still manage the restaurant.

On the night of my most recent visit I went for two of my favorite dishes: Chã Giò (fried rolls) for the appetizer and Vit Rút Xu’o’ng (crispy duck) for the entrée. We also selected an item from their new teaser plate menu—Su’o ’n Ram, which are bite-size pork ribs that are simmered in a sweet, caramelized nuoc mam sauce and finished with scallions. The pork was nice and tender, and the sauce was slightly sweet but not cloying.

Chã Giò are definitely my favorite appetizer at Mỹ Linh. The rolls are lightly fried to crisp and are stuffed with a succulent filling of minced pork, shrimp, and vegetables. The rolls are accompanied by lettuce, cucumber, carrot, and mint. You take each roll and wrap it in the lettuce and other vegetables and then dip it all in a nuoc mam sauce. The rolls are crispy and warm and the vegetables are cool and refreshing—together they create the perfect appetizer for a Vietnamese meal.

Many of the dishes are served with nuoc mam sauce. The restaurant’s Web sites describes nuoc mam as “a clear piquant sauce” and says “it is almost broth-like in its intriguing delicacy.” This sauce “does not shout at you. Rather, it speaks softly of gentle breezes and moonlit nights.” Poetry in a sauce—delicious! The Web site also explains that nuoc mam is to Vietnam as soy sauce is to China or Japan. I’m not sure exactly how Mỹ Linh creates this delightful sauce, but nuoc mam usually contains lime juice, fish sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar, rice vinegar, and garlic. The resulting sauce is light and subtle yet incredibly flavorful. You can even buy Mỹ Linh’s signature sauces on their Web site.

To accompany the tasty dishes I ordered a Mỹ Linh Martini. This drink is a concoction of Bombay Sapphire gin and salted lime juice with garnishes of salted lime rind and lemongrass. Usually this drink perfectly complements the flavors of Vietnamese food, but something went horribly wrong with the drink on this particular night. The culprit: too much salted lime juice. All I could taste was salt—it was as though the bartender had filled the glass with ocean water rather than gin. The waiter was kind enough to replace the drink with a new one, but he didn’t seem to grasp the idea that a subtle balance could be reached between no salted lime juice and too much, so I just ordered the martini minus the salted lime juice. I still highly recommend this beverage as I’ve had it before with no issues, but from now on I think I’ll ask them to go easy on the salted lime juice just to be safe.

I first went to Mỹ Linh when I was a kid, and that was when I discovered that I loved duck. I’ve had various excellent meals at Mỹ Linh, but by far my favorite is Vit Rút Xu’o’ng, which is half of a boneless duck that is marinated with lemongrass, garlic, and wine. The duck is pan fried until it is nice and crispy and served with a spicy nuoc mam sauce, perfumed rice, and broccoli. Because of the high-fat content of duck, I always believe it is best when chefs leave the skin and let is get extra crispy—Mỹ Linh always does it right.

My boyfriend got Bò Bõn Món, a dish of four different styles of beef. These four styles are beef wrapped around sugarcane and grilled, beef seasoned with lemongrass and served with green peppers, beef marinated with plum sauce and red pepper, and New York strip steak marinated with garlic and grilled with black pepper. These variations on beef were served with a spicy dipping sauce. My boyfriend enjoyed all the styles except the beef with sugarcane. I've had this dish before and think it's an excellent choice for a red-meat lover.

I highly recommend Mỹ Linh to anyone who loves food. The flavors of the cuisine are always light, delicate, and flavorful—never heavy or greasy. If you’ve never had Vietnamese food, this restaurant is definitely the place to try it for the first time. You can check out the Web site and menu here:

My Linh - A Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quote of the Week: A Respectable Bird

"I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country....The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America."

—Benjamin Franklin

Friday, November 13, 2009

New World Oysters

New World Bistro Bar in Albany, New York, periodically has special events, such as their Halloween celebration a couple of weeks ago. After viewing the upcoming specials in advance I knew I couldn’t resist a visit on Halloween night, but there was one item on the menu that really hooked me—oysters topped with Black Bullfin Caviar. I could only imagine the combination of succulent oysters and little pearls of caviar deliciousness. Thankfully, my Halloween evening included dinner at New World

The oysters were available individually, so you could order one just to taste or a few for a full appetizer. In addition to the caviar, the oysters were also topped with a little dollop of crème fraîche. I would never have thought to combine crème fraîche with oysters, as I generally just squeeze lemon on top, but it was absolutely sublime. The creaminess of the crème fraîche melted into the oceanic oysters as the black caviar popped in the mouth with little bursts of divine flavor. Accompanied with a classic martini, these oysters were the perfect treat for Halloween.

As always, I highly recommend New World Bistro Bar to any diners in the Capital Region. I wish everyone could taste these oysters, but it will probably be a while before you have the opportunity again!

Be sure to check out my other posts on New World Bistro Bar:
New World Bistro Bar
Thanksgiving Eve at New World
Thalamus Anyone?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cook or Be Cooked

Last night I saw a commercial for the Food Network’s new video game Cook or Be Cooked. It’s designed for Nintendo Wii, and you can play in multi-player mode or alone. There are over thirty recipes to cook from and Susie Fogelson, a Next Food Network Star judge, and Mory Thomas, a Food Network Chef, are there to guide you along your virtual culinary experience. You get the opportunity to slice and dice, stir and mix, and fry and bake, and then have Susie and Mory taste and critique your food.

Now, I love all things food, but this just seems a little ridiculous to me. I have to wonder who exactly is going to play this game. Can it really that fun or satisfying to play? Is it for people who don’t have kitchens or can’t afford to buy ingredients? You can’t even make your own recipes—you have to follow the ones created by Food Network for the game. You also don’t get to be in a cool environment like Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium. Instead, you’re just in an average kitchen. Didn’t video games used to be about fantasy and adventure not everyday things you can do in your home?

What makes cooking exciting is not just selecting ingredients, planning meals, slicing vegetables, and turning on the oven—it’s more about the scent of the food cooking, the warmth rising from the stove, and, of course, eating what it is created and sharing it with others. Cook of Be Cooked may be able to help some people learn some basics about cooking, but it could never really teach how to cook. Part of cooking is relating to the food—something a video game could never recreate.

I suppose it’s not all that different than watching other people cook and eat on TV, but at least when watching food shows you can get inspired by other cooks and get ideas for creating new dishes. I personally can’t wait for the next hot game coming out for Nintendo Wii—Clean or Be Dirty where you get to mop the floor, scrub the tub, and clean up after your Cook or Be Cooked meals.

You can check out the official site for the game here:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Song of the Week: Think About Your Troubles

Happy Birthday Tara! Pour yourself a cup of tea and think about the bubbles...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Quote of the Week: The Breakfast Ready

"...the iron lids are lifted: the kindling is laid in the grate: and the lids replaced: and a squirting match applied beneath: and the flour sifted through shaken window-screen, and mixed with lard and water, soda, and a little salt: the coffee is set on the stove, its grounds afloat on the cold water: more wood laid in: the biscuits poured, and stuck into the oven: all these thing with set motions, progressions, routines and retracings, of bare feet and of sticklike arms, stick hands, contractions of the sharp body: and the meat sliced and sliding, spitting, in the black skillet; and the eggs broken, and their shells consigned; and the chairs lifted from the porch to the table, and the sorghum set on, and the butter, sugar, salt, pepper, a spoon straightened, the lamp set at the center; the eggs turned; the seething coffee set aside; the meat reheated; the biscuits looked at; the straight black hair, saturated with sweat and smoke of pork, tightened more neatly to the head between four black pins; the biscuits tan, the eggs ready, the coffee ready, the meat ready, the breakfast ready."

—James Agee,
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Quote of the Week: A Recipe for an Open Mind

"So maybe that's the answer: a touch of humanity, a splash of dignity, a pinch of faith, a spoonful of hope, a cup of trust, a slice of honesty, a bowl of compassion, a sense of humor, an inkling of irony, and a mountain of love. Then take out the mean spirits, remove the carelessness, eliminate the self importance, and maybe that's a good recipe for an open mind and an open heart."