Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quote of the Week: Culinary Animals

“Humans are culinary animals: We cook our food, we mess around with it, we season it, we change it, and we have done so from the very earliest times. Indeed, cooking, like language or art, is one of those fundamental behaviors that define us as human and distinguish us from other animals.”

—Elisabeth Rozin

Saturday, March 26, 2011

J’s Oyster

I require oysters in my life. It’s just a simple fact of my existence. You could call it an obsession, a passion, a love. The world as we know it could cease to exist, but I’d still be happy if I had some oysters.

Is oysterphilia a word? It should be.

So it was only natural that, being in Maine for my birthday, that I devoured a plate of oysters by midday. We’d heard that J’s Oyster was one of the best places to get oysters in Portland, and I immediately felt at home as soon as we walked through the door. For a bar at mid-afternoon on a Wednesday it was pretty full of people downing pints and devouring seafood.

And then I saw it—the stuff wet dreams are made of for any oyster lover. A heaping pile of oysters right in the center of the bar. It was beautiful. I could hardly contain myself.

To accompany my oysters I decided to get a Bombay Sapphire gin martini with a twist of lemon. Usually I go for olives in my martinis, but the lemon twist seemed like a better accompaniment to enhance and not overpower the oysters. 

Warning: The bartenders at J’s Oyster are incredibly generous with their martinis. In addition to serving an entire martini glass filled with gin, they also give you a little carafe on ice that is filled with whatever was left in the cocktail shaker. So essentially you get two martinis. Two martinis and a plate of oysters for my birthday? Yes, please.

J’s is also quite generous with their oysters. We ordered a dozen, but I swear there were at least 15 on the plate. We were definitely not complaining about that! The oysters, interestingly, were not from Maine waters but instead hailed from the James River of the Chesapeake Bay region. I had yet to try Chesapeake Bay oysters, and I’m always happy to try out oysters from different regions and get to know the flavors associated with particular waters.

In comparison to the more salty, briny Maine oysters, those from the James River have a more subtle salinity to them. They are milder in flavor and intensity than most Atlantic Ocean oysters but I’m still a fan. And the gin martini with a lemon twist? Definitely a great accompaniment to oysters. I highly recommend it for your next oyster experience.

After the oysters we were still in the mood for some seafood so we ordered a bucket of steamers. Steamers are soft-shell clams and require a proper procedure before they can be eaten. First take the clam out of the shell. They have this little appendage that extends out of the shell and is covered by a black membrane, so you need to shuck this membrane by holding the clam and peeling it off. It’s a little weird, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Dip the clam into a bowl of clam broth to get off any extra sand, then dip it in some butter, and eat up! These steamers were delicious—I’d never experienced them before and I’m hooked. They take a little work but are definitely worth it. 

If you’re in Portland, Maine, and looking for a great, casual bar on the port with a rustic atmosphere and incredible seafood, then J’s Oyster is the place to be. Just be sure to have an oyster for me…

J's Oyster on Urbanspoon

J's Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Are You Suggesting Coconuts Migrate?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


And who says that tongue isn't tasty?

Photo Courtesy of Tara Rook.

Song of the Week: C.R.E.A.M.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Family Dinner

While in Maine I had the pleasure of enjoying a Sunday family dinner with my newly acquired Maine family. Susan, one of my favorite cooks and just an amazing person in general, whipped up a delightful Mediterranean linguine with shrimp and sausage. Susan always uses fresh, high-quality ingredients, and since she cooks everything with love, you know it's going to be a good meal. 

The pasta dish consisted of tomatoes, anchovy paste, garlic, yellow onions, Kalamata olives, hot Italian sausage, shrimp, parsley, and baby spinach, and was seasoned with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and shaved Parmesan cheese.  Can you say "amazing"?

We also enjoyed a salad with fresh greens, tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and prosciutto, served with a simple vinaigrette, as well as some satisfying and hearty bread. I wish everyone could have joined in for this delicious Sunday family dinner, but you'll just have to enjoy it vicariously though these photos!

Quote of the Week: The Soul of Cookery

"Garlic used as it should be used is the soul, the divine essence, of cookery. The cook who can employ it successfully will be found to possess the delicacy of perception, the accuracy of judgment, and the dexterity of hand which go to the formation of the great artist."

--Mrs. W. G. Waters, The Cook's Decameron, 1920

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Maine Lobstah

Who goes to Maine on her spring break? This girl, that’s who. While other people might choose to sun themselves on warm beaches and drink tropical cocktails, I headed north to Portland, Maine, to spend a week off from school with my Maine family.

The first night that I arrived in Maine lobster was on the menu. I enjoy lobster, but I haven’t really engaged in the whole steaming a live lobster. Being in Maine, however, basically requires that lobster be eaten, so it was a necessary endeavor.

We started out with live lobsters. They are such strange creatures—like giant sea bugs that just happen to taste amazing if you can only crack through their tough exterior.

Maddy was very intrigued by the lobsters…

Cooking lobsters, of course, means killing lobsters. It’s rare in this day and age to have a close experience with the food that you are about to eat. So much of our food is preprocessed and packaged—it passes through multiple hands before it actually gets to your table, which seriously deteriorates any direct connection with your food. But with lobsters it’s different. Even though it’s unlikely that you would be out on the boat actually catching the lobster, you do get to interact with it before it becomes food. And by interact I mean take away its life.

It’s not so bad really—just grab the crustaceans and throw them in a pot with a little water to steam them. I didn’t feel particularly guilty, but it was weird to lift up the lid and see the lobsters, which so recently moved around their little claws and bodies suddenly be so still. And so red. It reminds me of when Bebe in Kill Bill 2 explains how she killed her fish, Emilio—one moment he was flapping on the carpet and then after she stepped on him he wasn’t. “Is that not the perfect visual image of death?” asks Bill, “a fish flapping on the carpet, and a fish not flapping on the carpet.” The same might be said for the lobster—a lobster waving its claws, and a lobster not waving its claws.

After we were done steaming our lobsters it was time to eat, but unfortunately there were no lobster crackers in sight. So what do the men do? Bust out tools of course—all of a sudden there emerged hammers, pliers, screwdrivers…you name it. So while they bashed away at their lobsters with the tools my sister artfully and skillfully helped me cut open the lobster tail with a pair of kitchen scissors. Aren’t the social constructions of gender simply fascinating?

The lobster meat itself was delicious. I started off with the tail but soon discovered that my favorite parts of the lobster were the joints and claws. There is something about the claw and joint meat that just seems to capture the essence of the ocean a little bit better. I love the taste of the sea concentrated into food—it’s like a taste of the infinite possibilities of that mysterious, watery realm.

If you find yourself in Maine, eating lobster is a must. You definitely don’t want to miss out on devouring one of this strange yet delicious sea creatures...just don't forget the lobster crackers.

Mỹ Linh Birthday Dinner

Birthdays for me are a serious business. I’ve been known to start celebrating my birthday a couple weeks in advance and continue the festivities days afterward. That’s just how I roll. You may have seen my other posts on the wine and cheese party and birthday brunch, but there’s still more to come. For my family birthday celebration, we headed out to Mỹ Linh in Albany, New York, for what has become the traditional spot for my birthday dinner with my parents. My younger sister, Tara, was able to join us this year as well.

You know you’re in a good place when the manager hugs you when you walk in the door. I’ve been going to Mỹ Linh since I was a kid, and it’s definitely a place where I feel comfortable and welcome.

We started off the meal with Mỹ Linh martinis and some appetizers. The martinis consist of Bombay Sapphire gin and salted lime juice with garnishes of salted lime rind and lemongrass. It’s one of my favorite cocktails, and I’ve only seen it at Mỹ Linh. These drinks have a very distinctive, clean taste that enhances the flavors of the cuisine without being overpowering.

For appetizers we ordered Chã Giò, Bò Tai Chánh, and Sướn Ram. Chã Giò are lightly fried rolls filled with minced pork, shrimp, and vegetables. They are served with lettuce, mint, and cucumber. Traditionally you take the rolls and wrap them up in the lettuce, mint, and cucumber before dipping them into nuoc mam sauce. I love eating this style of fried rolls because the vegetables add a nice, fresh element to the dish. You get the crispy satisfying aspect of the fried roll juxtaposed with the cleanness of the vegetables—a perfectly balanced appetizer.

Bò Tai Chánh is a Vietnamese style beef carpaccio with lime juice that is topped with red onions, basil, and chopped peanuts. I only had beef carpaccio once before (at ALTA in New York City), and I was interested in trying a different style. The Vietnamese version was super limey, which I really liked, and the toppings added some interesting flavors as well.

The Sướn Ram are another one of my favorite Mỹ Linh appetizers. It consists of small bite size bits of pork rib simmered in a sweet, caramelized nuoc mam sauce and is finished with scallions. Do I even need to say more? I love pork, I love ribs, I love nuoc mam, and I love scallions. They are pretty amazing.

For entrees I opted for my absolute favorite Mỹ Linh dish—Vịt Rút Xương. This dish is half of a boneless duck marinated with lemongrass, garlic, and wine. The duck is pan fried until crispy and served with spicy nuoc mam, perfumed rice, and broccoli. Although I’ve tried many other Mỹ Linh entrees, I just always come back to the duck! It’s an amazing balance of flavors and the crispiness is simply heavenly. A lot of people find duck too fatty, but I think it’s fantastic, and since I don’t have it very often it’s hard to resist it at Mỹ Linh since they always cook it up perfectly. 

Vịt Rút Xương

My mom ordered the Cá Nứớng, which is grilled salmon, topped with ginger nuoc mam and served with perfumed rice and vegetables. Tara and my dad ordered the Bánh Tầm Ðồ Biển, which consists of shrimp and scallops cooked in a light coconut milk blended with nuoc mam sauce and served over large vermicelli. I took a couple of bites and can say that both these dishes were great…but the Vịt Rút Xương is still my favorite.

Cá Nứớng
Bánh Tầm Ðồ Biển

All in all it was a fantastic dinner shared in the company of wonderful people. And my birthday celebrations still weren’t over…

*special thanks to my mom for taking photos on her Iphone for me since the batteries died in my camera!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Irish Cream

What's not to love about St. Patrick's Day? Irish music, Guinness stew, soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, Irish cream, beer, and all creates the perfect recipe for a mid-March celebration. And today seems to be an excellent day for such a celebration--the sun is shining, the weather is warm, and spring is in the air.

I thought I'd share a St. Patrick's Day tradition I started a few years ago. Every year I make a big batch of home-made Irish cream. I personally think it's superior to, and cheaper than, Bailey's, but you can decide for yourself. It's pulled from the cookbook Best of the Best from North Carolina Cookbook, and it's a tasty addition to any St. Patrick's Day celebration.


1 cup Irish whiskey
4 eggs
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened-condensed milk
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coconut extract
1 tablespoon instant coffee
2 tablespoons chocolate extract

Blend all the ingredients together and refrigerate for about 12 hours before serving. I've never been able to find chocolate extract so I usually just pour in a little chocolate syrup or powdered hot cocoa mix. This year I didn't have an coconut extract, but it still tastes great.

This Irish cream is wonderful to sip on by itself or mix in with coffee. It can also be used to create delicious Irish cream milkshakes by blending it in with vanilla ice-cream.

Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, so enjoy some delicious food, drink a little whiskey and Irish cream, and dance an Irish jig! Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Quote of the Week: Lobster

"When I get finished tearing a lobster apart...I feel like I had a drink from the fountain of youth."

--Joseph Mitchell

Monday, March 7, 2011

New World Birthday Brunch

On a recent visit to Albany, brunch with one of my friends quickly turned into brunch with eight of my friends. The more the merrier! We met up on a Sunday afternoon to enjoy a birthday brunch at New World Bistro Bar. Their brunch is phenomenal. If you hit it up then you definitely need to try their bloody mary's. Amazing.

We ordered a variety of dishes, including Cage Salmon Bennies, DelawaTalian Eggs, and Lardon and Eggs Salad. As per usual, everything tasted great. Of course we couldn't pass up on dessert, and I enjoyed a ridiculously delicious orange and chamomile creme brulee complete with a birthday candle. 

If you haven't indulged in a New World brunch yet, do it. Do it now. Or Sunday, rather.

 Kickass Bloody Mary: 
NWBB House Recipe with Olives, Cucumber, and Lemon

Cage Salmon Bennie:
Blackened Organic Salmon with Green Onions and Bernaise

 Lardon and Eggs Salad:
Frisse, Crispy Bacon Chunks, Apples, and Two Poached Eggs
This salad is definitely saying, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful...and tasty."

 Vegan Tofu Scramble with
Sundried Tomatoes, Pesto, and Olive Tapenade

Jerk Chicken Waffle
Pulled and Spicy Chicken 
with a Poached Egg, Pineapple, and Scallions
 Randy loves her Basque Case pizza pie!
Chorizo, Manchego, Roasted Peppers, and Herbs.
Spaghetti for breakfast? Yes, please.
DelawaTalian Eggs:
Sausage, Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms, Chunky Tomato Sauce, and Spaghetti, Topped with Two Fried Eggs and Asiago
Seriously contemplating my birthday wish.
Orange and Chamomile Creme Brulee

Ice-Cream Sandwich 

Be sure to check out my other posts on New World Bistro Bar:

New World Bistro Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato