Archive | December, 2009

The McGriddle – an extreme American breakfast sandwich

The McGriddle – an extreme American breakfast sandwich

A modern breakfast burger for the caveman in all of us: eggs, sausage and a pancake. Meet Mickeydee's McGriddle.

A modern breakfast burger for the caveman in all of us: Eggs, sausage and a pancake. Meet Mickeydee's McGriddle. (Photo: Joel Meares)

By JOEL MEARES

What is it?

The McGriddle, introduced by McDonald’s in 2003, shows that a dish doesn’t need to feature tongue, bat or bug to be Survivor-level weird. A close cousin to the more sophisticated McMuffin, the McGriddle sandwich is bookended by two soft and soggy pancake-like buns and comes in three varieties: Bacon, Egg & Cheese (420 calories); Sausage, Egg & Cheese (560 calories) and plain old Sausage (410 calories). Those dark tablet-looking bruises in the griddlecakes are bursts of maple syrup.

Where do you get it?

Anywhere you see the famous golden arches, before breakfast hours finish.

Where does it come from?

Where else but America? Although, you can now find McGriddles in McDonald’s restaurants in Germany, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Guatemala and Singapore.

How much is it?

The prices vary store to store but a single sandwich will set you back a little over $3. But when Kyle Griffin, 23, went to buy a single McGriddle at his local Harlem Mickey D’s, he discovered it was actually cheaper to buy two. The store was offering two Sausage, Egg & Cheese McGriddles for just $3 – the cheapest way to down 1,120 calories this side of the Hudson. Griffin scarfed two and says he felt sick the rest of the day.

Who eats it?

Griffin and everyone else who likes to mix the sweetness of syrupy hot cakes with the saltiness of squidgy yellow Mickey D’s eggs. One famous eater is Morgan Spurlock, who pointed out in his anti-McDonald’s documentary, “Supersize Me,” that the company launched the McGriddle at the same time it kicked off a healthy eating campaign. At least one of the initiatives was a success. Months after the McGriddle launched, the fast food chain’s sales rose 11 percent in the USA, with the company attributing some of that success to the new breakfast sandwich.

Tastes like: A perfectly good English breakfast dunked in a vat of syrup.

How do you cook it?

You don’t have to – leave that to the pimply teenager out back. All you have to do is peel away the greasy paper wrapping, open your mouth and pray you make it through this alive.

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Care for some brains?

By SONYA REHMAN

“Katakat” (pronounced “Ka-ta-kat”) is a popular offal Pakistani dish served at Kabab King Diner in Jackson Heights, Queens. It’s a tantalizing, spicy mutton dish that is an assortment of kidney, brain and lamb chops, and the meaning behind the name, Katakat, is an interesting one.

As the offal is sliced and diced swiftly, the sounds that the knife makes as it hits the cutting board makes loud and clear “kut, kut, tuk, tuk, kut-a-kut” sounds.

Spiced with coriander, red chili powder, salt and green chilies, and fried in oil with onions, ginger and garlic, Katakat resembles a plate of fine mince once prepared and ready to eat.

Served with soft naan bread and fresh salad, Katakat remains a favorite Eastern delicacy among locals and foreigners alike.

Address:

Kabab King Diner
7301 37th Road.
Jackson Heights, NY 11372

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Quail prosciutto for cooking in Chinatown

Quail prosciutto for cooking in Chinatown

By CAROLINE SHIN

IMG_5074

A whole cured quail hangs from a ledge at the Bayard Street Meat Market.

The Bayard Street Meat Market has been selling whole dry-cured quail, a prosciutto of sorts, for as long as Michael Huang can remember.

Now the manager of his parents’ store, Huang, 21, came to the U.S. from China when he was 9 years old. He sells about 50 of these quails weekly for $7 apiece to Chinese immigrants, his main consumer market. Why is the quail cured? “So it doesn’t go bad quickly and you don’t waste it.” He said his supplier does the dry curing.

Huang said Chinese people value the quail for “health” and “medical” reasons. Chinese cooks at the restaurant or at home serve the quail in soup, but they don’t actually eat the bird because its protein has already simmered into the broth. They also fry or steam it in soy sauce.

But, Huang says, “I don’t eat quail. I’m almost ABC.” As an almost “American-born-Chinese” person, he does not know how to cook it nor does he eat it nowadays.

While Arthur Schwartz, cookbook writer and former food critic of the Daily News, says that food is one of the mainstays of an immigrant culture, one can also wonder which dishes get lost between generations.

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Pasta with… Flying Fish Roe or Sea Urchin

Pasta with… Flying Fish Roe or Sea Urchin

By CAROLINE SHIN

Basta Pasta bustles at the open kitchen and dining room.

Basta Pasta bustles at the open kitchen and dining room.

Toshi Suzuki opened up a replica of his Tokyo-based Italian restaurant, Basta Pasta, about 20 years ago on 17th Street and 5th Avenue. His international response to Japan’s recession at the time, Basta Pasta is now a bustling eatery, busy with chefs at the open kitchen and guests at the dining space cum gallery.

Tall, down-to-business with a pencil mustache, Suzuki, 51, sells two curious dishes: spaghetti with tobiko or flying fish roe and linguine with fresh sea urchin. “The fish roe pasta is the only Japanese-Italian dish we have,” Suzuki said. “Everything else is Italian.” That includes the sea urchin pasta, which is considered a delicacy in Italy.

Italian cuisine is very popular in Japan. Katsuya Nishimori, 50, an artist-turned-florist, came to the U.S. after college 27 years ago, and dines at Basta Pasta regularly. He said, “There are many Italian restaurants in Japan. We love Italian food.”

Spaghetti con uova di pesce or flying fish roe is a signature Japanese-Italian dish at Basta Pasta.

Spaghetti con uova di pesce or flying fish roe is a signature Japanese-Italian dish at Basta Pasta.

The tobiko spaghetti blends both cultures in a delicious colorful dish. Clumps of tiny bright orange bubbles of tobiko sit atop a swirl of spaghetti with tomato sauce, shiso or perilla and shredded basil. The taste is subtly fishy and the texture, complicated. The tobiko lends a soft crunchiness to the smooth pasta, and, by the end, it mixes in with the soupy finish at the bottom of the plate. He sells about 200 units of the $15 dish per month. (His most popular dish, spaghetti churned in a parmesan cheese wheel and topped with parma prosciutto at the table sells 600 units at $16 every month.)

In comparison, Suzuki sells about 400 dishes of the sea urchin pasta monthly at $19. “People know it and love it,” he said. “It’s very popular in Italy and Japan.”

Linguine ai ricci di mare or linguini with sea urchin is an Italian delicacy.

Linguine ai ricci di mare or linguini with sea urchin is an Italian delicacy.

Kyriaki Vlachopoulou, 38, who works at the Greek Consulate, sat at the bar—just two seats from Nishimori—on a recent evening. “I’m the biggest fan of the sea urchin pasta,” she said. “I only get the uni pasta.” The bartender, aware of Vlachopoulou’s three-year commitment to the dish, laughed in agreement. Several thin salmon-colored slabs of sea urchin rest atop linguine sautéed with tomato sauce and Serrano peppers. The light brininess of the sea urchin melds with the savory pasta with each forkful. “It goes down smoothly,” said a contented Vlachopoulou after finishing a plate of the notable dish. “It’s full-flavored. But it’s not very fishy.”

Customer loyalty such as that of Vlachopoulou and Nishimori has helped Suzuki focus on his New York Basta Pasta. He commuted back and forth between the sister restaurants until seven years ago when he closed the Tokyo location. “The market here still is better,” he said.

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New York’s veteran waiters aren’t going anywhere

New York’s veteran waiters aren’t going anywhere

Tommy Rowles has been working at the Carlyle's Bemelman's Bar for 51 years. (Photo: Joel Meares)

Tommy Rowles has been working at the Carlyle's Bemelman's Bar for 51 years. (Photo: Joel Meares)

By JOEL MEARES

Tommy Rowles has been shaking martinis at the Carlyle Hotel’s swish Bemelmans’ Bar for 51 years. He was 17 and fresh from Dublin when he first got the job.

“I came in to go to the bathroom and there was this Irish bartender here,” says Rowles, standing at the bar on a quiet November morning. “He said, ‘Are you looking for a job?’ Then he asked, ‘Do you own a pair of black socks?’”

Rowles told the man to mind his own business – he wanted to work in an Irish pub, not a ritzy hotel – but he was soon swayed. Just weeks later, he was serving his first drink in the bar named for “Madeline” creator Ludwig Bemelmans.

New York is famed for its old-time waiters, bartenders and deli workers; raspy raconteurs like Rowles who have taken tips for decades at places like Bemelmans’, Peter Luger’s and Katz’s. They’re as familiar as the towering pastrami on rye at the Carnegie Deli: always there, always smiling and always with a special in mind. Some are as famous as the celebrities they serve. This June, Vanity Fair profiled Elaine Kaufman, of Elaine’s on the Upper East Side.

While many of these familiar faces say they’ll never retire, others are hanging up their aprons. Bartender Hoy Wong, who worked at the Algonquin Hotel past his 90th birthday, retired this year, and the veteran waiters at the Café des Artistes lost their jobs when the restaurant shut its doors in September. But there are those, like Rowles, who are defying the clock and keeping the spirit of the long-serving New York server alive.

New York Times writer William Grimes, who recently released the book “Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York,” says the city’s dining and drinking scene has been transformed by this changing of the guard. Flair is being replaced by expertise as diner legends retire.

“The younger generation of waiters is required to be much more knowledgeable about what’s on the menu and the ingredients that are in each dish and be intimately familiar with the wine list,” says Grimes. “There’s almost a requirement that waiters be foodies. I think that in the old days the personal touch of the waiter was much more important than technical knowledge. People went to a particular restaurant because they knew their waiter and cultivated a relationship with him and trusted their dining fate to his capable hands.”

Carnegie Deli’s Jack Sirota might have had the New York food scene’s most famous personal touch. The 77-year-old began working night shifts at the Seventh Avenue deli in 1959, the same year he married his wife, Renee. Grimes says delis like Carnegie are legendary for waiters who gave “not just instruction on the menu, but on how to live your life.” Sirota did just that.

Through his 44 years at Carnegie, where he later switched to lunches, Sirota kept customers smiling with stories, advice like “you can’t go wrong with pastrami,” starred as himself in Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose” and wrote a chapter of a book about the deli, “How to Feed Friends and Influence People.”

Sirota officially retires this year, though he has been on sick leave since 2003 when he fell from a footstool in his kitchen. He was later told he had an enlarged heart and never returned to work. Over the phone from his home in Lakewood, N.J., he says he misses the buzz of the busy diner and its regular customers.

“I loved being around people and I had a good time,” he says. “My philosophy was, every day is Christmas; every day was good.”

Sirota’s customers miss him too. “Bert and Ruth,” who ate at the Carnegie seven nights a week when they lived in Manhattan, were delighted to run into Sirota at a bakery in Lakewood this year. And he hasn’t lost the waiter’s wit that made him a hit on the floor. To a doctor who’d just put a stint in a blocked artery, he said: “I bet you took out the pastrami!”

If gregariousness was Sirota’s secret to success, Rowles’ says his is discretion.

“They tell you that everything that’s done in Vegas stays in Vegas and it doesn’t,” he says, looking as though he might be hiding a million secrets in his flash red Carlyle jacket. “Everything that happens here stays in the Carlyle. People know that if they screw up, they’re not going to see it in the paper in the morning.”

Rowles works the lunchtime shift Tuesdays to Fridays and drives in from Pearl River, N.Y. He says he had a regular crew of men who drank at his bar during the day, but “I’ve buried them all in the last three years.”

His favorite customer was one of his earliest. On his first day of work, the then 17-year-old Rowles served Harry S. Truman. The former president became a regular, drinking bourbon with the young Irish bartender most nights before heading off to visit his grandchildren on the Upper East Side. “He was really nice,” says Rowles, “an American hero.”

Rose Donaghey, an 89-year-old Ulster native still carrying burgers at the east Bronx’s Wicked Wolf restaurant, treats all her customers equally. She says it’s the secret to a 50-year career as a waitress in the city. “I didn’t care, rich or poor, I treated everybody the same,” she said over the phone from her home in the Bronx. “It didn’t matter who they were, I made them feel at home.”

Wicked Wolf owner Kathy Gallagher, whom Donaghey had worked with for 14 years at another restaurant, Charlie’s Inn, roped her in to the job. She works just two days a week – Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  – and her son drives her to and from the restaurant.

“It’s great therapy,” she says. “If I’m at home, I would be playing games, on the television, going to church, things like that.”

When she began at the Wicked Wolf last year, newspapers across the city covered the story of New York’s oldest waitress. Ellen Degeneres even approached her and offered her a first-class ticket to L.A. to appear on her talk show. Donaghey turned her down. “I didn’t want to fly seven hours,” she says.

Like Rowles and others among the city’s old-timers, Donaghey has no plans to retire and she won’t become a modern “foodie” waiter, either. She says her parents, who were farmers in Ireland, never stopped working.

“It’s in my genes,” she says. “We can’t relax, all my family worked to the very end. If they told me they didn’t need me, I would stop working, but that’s never been a question.”

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Food, age and pregnancy

Food, age and pregnancy

By BESSIE KING

Click on the screen to sort through the photos at your desired speed.

It is known that with age pregnancy becomes more delicate. Traditionally women had children in their 20s, but more are waiting until their 30s and 40s to  become pregnant. Because of this, medical care has improved and pregnancies for older women are less risky.

However, after giving birth, a woman still needs to be healthy. Losing the baby weight is one of the first steps to getting back into a healthier lifestyle and older moms may find it harder to shed pounds. Research has been done in the U.S. about the relation between pregnancy weight gain and birth weight, as well as the median age where weight gain is most common.

A 2008 study by doctors Alison M. Stuebe, Emily Oken, and Matthew W. Gillman, from Boston, Mass., showed that women between 25-30 years of age had the highest risk or retaining weight and becoming overweight after their first pregnancy. A newer study supported by the National Science Council in Taiwan and published in the British Journal of Nutrition this August, also found that women aged  21-39 had higher body weight one year after birth.

But there are different factors that may affect weight gain and weight retention. Doctor Sally Ann Lederman, whose research focuses on pregnancy and lactation, said that although age and metabolism play a role in pregnancies a woman’s lifestyle is equally important.

“You have to consider previous weight management problems, health choices and whether it is a woman’s first pregnancy or not,” said Lederman. “Ultimately it isn’t dictated by your biology, it’s dictated by your lifestyle, the effects postpartum and the choices you’ve made through your life.”

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Snack on grasshoppers

Snack on grasshoppers

By BESSIE KING

Although they are annoying to gardeners, grasshoppers are actually liked by some people. Liked enough to eat and savor.

This critter, like other bugs, is considered a snack in countries like Mexico, the Middle East and Thailand. So much so that food businesses offer them as average bar food.  And in New York, the place where oddities collide, finding grasshoppers to eat is not difficult either. Although you always have the possibility to raise you own, bodegas and ingredient stores in Chinatown sell already killed and cleaned grasshoppers. Saving you the hassle of growing, manually decapitating without crushing, and boiling the bug to cook.

Once you get your grasshoppers, which will look red rather than brown because they have been boiled, you can marinade them in limejuice and spices or your favorite seasoning. In a warm frying pan with little or no oil, since the grasshoppers will have some liquid from the marinade, they can be fried. Let the fried grasshoppers cool and when ready start munching. To avoid the hassle of finding and cooking this bug altogether you could also head to Toloache, a modern Mexican restaurant owned by chef Julian Medina.

A native of Mexico City, Medina grew up eating grasshoppers, or “chapulines” in Spanish, as snacks. When he opened his business he added something familiar to the menu. “It’s really taken off at the restaurant and people come in and order it a lot,” said Jennifer Neugeboren, press representative for Toloache. You can also find businesses that sell chocolate covered grasshoppers, for those with a sweet tooth, or ethnic restaurants that ground, jelly, roast, and dip grasshoppers in honey.

Regardless of how they are cooked grasshoppers are a very good source of protein. In some places, like rural Africa, they are an integral part of a meal to add fats, minerals and vitamins to people’s diets. So, don’t rule this dish out of your diet just yet.

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Brooklyn, chocolate and two bearded brothers

Brooklyn, chocolate and two bearded brothers

By SONYA REHMAN

They’re tall, they’re bearded and they make chocolate. Artisan chocolate.

Meet the Brothers Mast: Rick and Michael. Their company, Mast Brothers Chocolate, is slowly gaining momentum in Brooklyn.

Covered by The New York Times  as part of Brooklyn’s new culinary movement, the brothers launched their company three years ago with the help of “our mother and credit cards.”

But it was only in February that they moved into their rather spiffy factory, with steel chairs and a wooden table, the air within breezy yet steady, with the aroma of warm chocolate churning away, being tempered in another room.

Photo: Lucy Hamblin

Michael and Rick Mast. (Photo by Lucy Hamblin)

The 120-year-old building used to be a spice factory. No wonder then, its rustic and rather earthy feel. But rather than having the appearance of a factory, both its interior and exterior makes it look like a sturdy warehouse.

Three years ago, while Michael was taking film courses at NYU and dabbling in different productions, Rick had an epiphany.

Working as a chef at different restaurants in New York City and at private parties, Rick, who had studied with the chocolatier Jacques Torres, began serving confectionery, such as truffles, that he made from scratch. The feedback he received was encouraging, goading him to finally decide to launch his own company with his brother.

From very little equipment, a small room and burlap sacks, Mast Brothers Chocolate has come a long way.

But it’s been slow and steady, just the way Rick likes it.

He is resolute about continuing the production of personalized, bean to bar, artisan chocolate-making. From choosing which regions to import their cacao beans to personally visiting the farms and then making the chocolate – the nine to 15 varieties of chocolate are custom-made, from start to finish. Flavors include the traditional — with almonds — to the more unusual — fleur de sel, or sea salt.

“We mainly produce dark chocolate,” says Rick, “We have a dedication to people who don’t eat dairy.”

But what makes their chocolate “artisan chocolate”?

“The whole process,” Rick (obviously the more talkative of the two) says. “One has to be at par with the whole process. Finding the best farmers, the best cooperatives, and going down to the regions and buying the beans ourselves.” This attention adds to the price, of course — a 2.5-ounce bar sells for about $12.

“We wanna be like the local butcher,” Rick states hopefully, adding that he’d like his customers to develop a certain level of trust with their product.

Walking over to the table where Stephanie Ault (one of six employees at the factory) is sorting out the cacao beans, Rick runs through the entire process, from the sifting to the husking, to the crushing and to the mixing, to the cooling and to the cutting. The aroma in the mixing room is stronger, as the mixers gently roll the mounds of thick chocolate over and over.

In the mixers, the chocolate being twisted and twirled is almost hypnotic. That, coupled with the aroma … and one is in a trance.

With cacao beans flying in from the Dominican Republic to Madagascar, and from Brazil to Venezuela, what do the Brothers Mast look for in a bean?

“That it’s delicious,” Rick answers intently, “If it’s delicious, everything else tends to follow.”

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It’s not the chocolate chip cookie your grandma made

By WINNIE ANDREWS

Cookies at Rubyzaar (Photo: Winnie Andrews)Chocolate chip cookies are about as traditional as you can get, but throw in some unexpected ingredients and the result is an unexpected twist on the classic.

Two Brooklyn based sisters are doing just that: Molly and Sarah Rubin decided to update the chocolate chip cookie with ingredients like Earl Grey tea and pretzels, and are intriguing customers with their concoctions.

The sisters’ idea was to incorporate their favorite flavors from around the world in the traditional cookie.  Their Golden Triangle cookie has coconut, mango, toasted rice and dark chocolate and was inspired by the sister’s love for sticky rice with mangoes from Thailand.  Another cookie option, called “Ambrosia,” has Mediterranean ingredients such as fig, pear, sage, roast walnut and creamed honey.

Last December the Rubin sisters started selling cookies at the Union Square Holiday market. The treats are back again this year at their retail stand, called Rubyzaar, which can be found online and at various retail festivals throughout the year.

Shannon Stanczak, a personal trainer, is a regular at the Holiday stand and a fan of the updated cookie. Stanczak said the cookies are chewy and buttery. The first bite tastes like the original, but then the other flavors kick in and it’s a whole new cookie, she said. One of her favorites is inspired by tastes of Colonial India and is flavored by tea and has earl grey, smoked almonds and dark chocolate. “It invigorates and wakes up your mouth,” she said.

The new combinations of taste-bud teasers tempt those who come looking for the basic cookie. Julie Rosenberg, one of the many holiday shoppers, was swayed by the allure of the NY Pretzel cookie with large chunks of chewy pretzel. “I had wanted the regular chocolate chip,” she said handing her eight-year-old daughter the updated pretzel version, “but I thought, OK, let’s push ourselves and try something different.”

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Licking the bones clean – literally

IMG_2558By MEGAN GIBSON

Bone marrow. Those two words, at least for me, always carried the unfortunate connotation of cancer clinics or biology labs, definitely not appetizing, gourmet meals. Yet, in front of me on my plate lay large chunks of bone. Inside of each bone cylinder I could see the grayish-brown, gelatinous marrow, which I was meant to scrape out with a small fork and spread onto toast. And then eat. I wasn’t sure I could do it.

I should back up and say that I am not a vegetarian, nor am I a picky eater. Yet, this was one of the few times in my life that I couldn’t seem to overcome what it was that I was actually about to eat. Bone marrow! The inside of a cow’s bone! It was especially hard to forget that, as the bone was right there looking exactly like, well, like a bone.

Although not that common in American diets, other cultures have been eating bone marrow for years. In Vietnam, the Philippines, Hungary, Italy and France, to name a few, marrow has long been a routine meal, either alone or as an ingredient in soup. The protein-rich food is high in fat (reportedly as high as 300 calories per ounce) and cholesterol. And while it’s not exactly ubiquitous yet, several restaurants in New York City serve it, including Blue Ribbon Brasserie, Prune and Landmarc.

When served still in the bone, it is usually cooked quite simply — just roasted with a bit of salt — and then served with toasted bread.

As I put on a brave face, picked up the bone and went about the visceral process of scraping out the insides onto my plate, I tried to mentally prepare for tasting it. However, after the first bite, I still didn’t know if I liked the taste. I was too distracted by the texture, slippery and gooey, somewhat similar to a raw oyster. So I took another bite. Very rich like butter, slightly salty and vaguely meaty. All in all the taste was quite good and I cleaned my plate. Yet, I still couldn’t help cringing every time I picked up a piece of bone and scraped out the insides.

Next time I try marrow, I’d prefer it to be deboned for me. Although I may have the palate of a carnivore, I’ve found I definitely don’t have the stomach of a butcher.

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