Friday, October 28, 2011

Roasty Brussels Sprouts

So I think collectively as a culture, we've gotten over our revulsion to Brussels sprouts. If you haven't, maybe it's because you haven't had them prepared the right way – boiling into oblivion is no way to do this noble cruciferous veggie justice. Roasting allows the sprouts to attain a nice texture that's tender, but not too soft, and preparing these little guys with the right mix of flavors helps bring out their natural goodness.

The technique I used with these also works well with roasting or grilling other vegetables – basically, it entails making something like a vinaigrette, then tossing the veggies in it before cooking. Emulsifying everything helps ensure a more even coating than the old "dash on some oil and vinegar and pray" approach. In this case, I'm using bacon fat, because that savory smokiness really adds something to the dish; however feel free to substitute your favorite oil if you're not a bacon fan for whatever reason.

Ready for roasting

Roasty Brussels Sprouts
(all measurements approximate)
1 lb Brussels sprouts
1 tbsp bacon fat, melted (or oil of your choice)
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp coarse-grain prepared mustard
2 tbsp apple cider (if you have it)
Healthy pinch of salt
Few grinds black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425°. Wash the sprouts and DRAIN THOROUGHLY. Trim off the brown ends if present, then split each sprout down the middle top to bottom.

Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl until fully incorporated. Add the sprouts and toss to coat thoroughly. Dump everything out on a cookie sheet, making sure that the sprouts are flat side down and not touching each other. (If there's not enough room for the sprouts to spread out, do two batches or get a bigger pan, because they won't caramelize properly if they're all on top of each other.)

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until sprouts are brown around the edges.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Liquid Education: The Manhattan at Tryst

Sure, we tackled the Manhattan here at I'll Eat You with Project Manhattan, but when I learned about a class on the classic cocktail being offered at Tryst (the bar under Le Bec-Fin, formerly Le Bar Lyonnais), I knew it would be a must-visit. I must say my that Jonathan, my partner in whiskey appreciation, and I were not disappointed in the least, and I'd recommend the rest of the classes on the course schedule without hesitation.

The presentation was done by Erik Lombardo, bar manager and chief mixologist at Tryst. As someone who got started in the business by making cocktails at home, his passion and enthusiasm were palpable throughout the evening, and I had a feeling that if not for the scheduled end time, the event would have lasted all night. He started with some historical background about the rise of the cocktail in the nineteenth century, and shot down a few of the apocryphal stories of the Manhattan's origin (including the story that Winston Churchill's mother invented the drink – which would have been difficult, since she was giving birth to the future prime minister in England during the New York party where the drink was allegedly first served).

We then got into ingredients, and a little more historical information on the rise and fall of rye whiskey in the US. Once the liquor of choice in the North, Prohibition brought production to a halt, and even following the repeal, rye never regained its popularity. Now, with the renewed interest in old-timey mixology, rye is enjoying a comeback, and a newcomer is making a big impression on the scene. I've always liked Bulleit bourbon, but now the good folks who make that fine potable are producing a whiskey made with 95% rye. It's a little spicy, nicely oaked, and served as a great all-around base for the three cocktails we enjoyed.

The first was the classic Manhattan. Whiskey, vermouth, bitters. Stirred. The details, of course, make the difference. The relative amounts of whiskey and vermouth are very important, and this one was made with a 2:1 ratio. That sounds like a lot of vermouth, but when you're using good vermouth (this was Cinzano) and not something that's been rattling around the back of your liquor cabinet since the Clinton administration, you actually want to taste it – and a complex, spicy whiskey like the Bulleit Rye is more than a match for the vermouth's sweetness. With the addition of the angostura bitters, the balance is impeccable.

The other ingredient not mentioned is water (in the form of melted ice). Shockingly, water can end up being 25% of a cocktail, so it's important to use pure, dense ice, in pieces as large as possible to avoid excessive melting. And for God's sake, don't shake a Manhattan, stir it, because you don't want froth and chipped ice in your drink, you want velvety smoothness. Trust me. I think James Bond, with his "shaken, not stirred" tagline, did more damage to the proper preparation of cocktails than he did to his Cold War adversaries.

Next, we were served a little snack of seared veal tongue served with pea shoots and a citrus vinaigrette, delicious and as pure of flavor as anything else that comes out of Le Bec's kitchens.

The other two drinks shared the same "plot" as the Manhattan (as well as New York-related names), but it was striking how different they tasted. The Brooklyn, made with whiskey, Amer Picon, maraschino liqueur, and dry vermouth, had a citrusy zing, but I wasn't fond of the sharp herbal notes from the dry vermouth. The last cocktail was the Red Hook, which seems to be a recent invention (from the mid 2000s). Made with Punt e Mes (a red vermouth already spiked with bitters) and maraschino, it had an oxidized, "brown"flavor reminiscent of a Port, and I could see serving it as a welcome substitute to that dessert wine.

Maybe this write-up was a little long-winded, but I didn't even cover all of the information conveyed during the event. If the rest of this series is like this one, I really can't recommend them enough, and at $25 they're quite a steal considering that you're getting three half-drinks, a small appetizer and a dazzling amount of knowledge. Perhaps what I appreciated most, though, was that every detail of these drinks was fussed over with the utmost scrutiny and passion, and yet Erik openly rejected any pretentiousness about the whole topic. This stuff is supposed to be fun, right? So grab some rye and stir up a Manhattan, or come out to Tryst to enhance your beverage repertoire.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Delilah's Soul Food

So I know it's not super fair to review a place solely on one dish alone, however, this particular dish was so 1) overhyped and 2) disgusting, that it is imperative that I share my dissapointment.

Here's the backstory: a few years ago, Oprah Winfrey touted on her show that Delilah's Soul Food (at Philadelphia's own Reading Terminal) made the best macaroni and cheese in the country. Mac and cheese may be my favorite food in the world, but after reviewing the recipe that included a dozen eggs and velveeta cheese, I opted to pass.

Fast forward to today. Many of our loyal followers may not know that we're expecting a new addition to the I'll Eat You family. Next February, this little culinarian will be introduced to the world, but while she's still growing, I have to respond to her every epicurian desire. She seems to have inherited my taste for the stuff, because while sitting at my desk 3 blocks from Reading Terminal, this baby demanded some mac n cheese. While deciding where to procure the stuff, I decided that if there is ever a time to try the world's best mac n cheese, it might as well be while you're pregnant and have a little parasite in your body to help you burn the extra calories. So off to the terminal I went.

The offerings at Delilah's looked good overall, especially the fried chicken and collard greens, but I was there for one purpose only. I was a bit apalled to see that this stuff had gotten so much publicity that the price for a 5 oz cup was $5.00. Upon tasting it, I can confidently conclude that this was the WORST macaroni and cheese I have EVER eaten. And that includes KFC mac and cheese (have you tried that stuff? vile.) The overall appearance was oily, The sauce had separated and was grainy. Actually, it was chewy. The smooth and creamy element you expect in mac and cheese was missing. Well, unless you count the texture of overcooked pasta, but that's really more mushy. The cheese was sour-tasting, maybe due to the use of too much asiago, or maybe just because the whole dish is ill-conceived.

Please don't eat this. There are so many better food options at the terminal. You're much better off getting BBQ chicken from the Amish stand, Mexican from 12th st Cantina, or Cajun from Beck's Cajun Cafe. As for mac and cheese, you are better served by a container of Easy Mac from CVS then Delilah's.

Delilah's at the Terminal on Urbanspoon