Sunday, April 28, 2013

Family Table: Michael Romano's Latest Cookbook

Michael Romano's Union Square Cookbook is one of the best I have seen. It was our Bible when my wife and I spent three years in Tokyo. Romano's sequel, Second Helpings from Union Square Cafe, is also good, but not as groundbreaking.

Romano has just released a new cookbook, Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home, written with Karen Stabiner. Family Table presents recipes for a number of meals served to the staff of the extraordinary restaurants in the Union Square Hospitality Group: Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, The Modern, Maialino, Blue Smoke, Tabla (no longer with us), Eleven Madison Park (no longer part of the same group) and North End Grill.  Having just read it from cover-to-cover, I was most impressed by the obvious quality of the recipes -- you can see that the excellent editing of the earlier books is maintained here; the eclecticism of the recipes (Italian, American, Asian, South American, Indian and other ingredients working together in harmony – if only the world’s countries could do the same!); the inside stories that gave a context to many of the recipes that make the reader (me) want to try them immediately; and the overall humanity and respect, not just for great food but for the people who prepare and serve it, evidenced on nearly every page.

For example, the story of how Farro & Beans came to be honors Geoff Lazlo’s skill and ability to improvise, while Joe Anthony’s approach adds piquancy to his Penne with Fennel, Spinach & Golden Raisins (a riff on a Sicilian classic). And who would not want to try Iris Battista’s tried and true Dominican Chicken or enjoy Floyd Cardoz’ five-generations old Goan-Spiced Braised Pork? Similarly, the stories behind Gabriel Kreuther’s Roasted Potatoes with Fromage Blanc & Bacon and Prizewinning Apple & Pear Tart have moved these recipes to the top of my “To Cook Soon” list. There are many other stories and related recipes that I could cite, but you get the picture.

Most of the dishes featured in the book bear little resemblance to the complex and meticulously prepared and finished dishes one finds in the restaurants in the Union Square Hospitality Group. But Romano's book shows the close connections, mutual respect and shared sense of purpose among the members of the teams that conceive, prep, cook and serve the wonderful meals for which that group is renowned. Those connections and that respect, which must be instilled from the top, are what make it all possible.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mario Batali Meets Jackson Pollack: Anisette Glazed Bittersweet Chocolate Tart

I have been wanting to make this cake, from Mario Batali's television show, for some time, and finally got to it last weekend, when a chocolate lover was coming to dinner. With a hint of Sambuca in the filling, a hint of cinnamon in the crust and the lovely Sambuca flavored icing, this is an unmistakably Italian pastry. It tastes as good as it looks, and is not difficult to make. Here's a link to the recipe.

Bobby Jay

Monday, April 1, 2013

Passover 2013

Roast chicken with sumac, za'atar and lemons
I made the family seder again this year, for just the second time. We did it on Saturday night, not the official night, so that family members from North of Boston to Washington could all make it. I had fun cooking for a week, making a few things a day from a carefully drafted schedule. As a result there were no major mistakes and I was not too flustered despite all the work.

Here's the menu, all presented at tables magnificently set and flowered by my wife Joan:

2013 Passover Menu

Hors d'Oeuvres 
  • Charred eggplant with tahini and pomegranate molasses (Ottolenghi, Plenty)
  • Tapenade (Jacques Pépin, Essential Pépin)
  • Matzo Flour Gougères (Clotilde Dusoulier's blog, Chocolate & Zucchini, Essential Pépin)
  • Bobby Jay's sun-dried tomato and olive ricotta spread
  • Lemon scented veal meatballs (Mario Batali's TV show, Molto Mario)
  • Bar Nuts (Michael Romano, Union Square Cookbook)
  • Naomi’s chunky apple charoses
  • Matzo ball soup (Wolfgang Puck for balls, Rosso and Lukens, The New Basics, for soup
  • Gefilte fish with smoked whitefish (Bon Appétit, April 2002) with tons of Stan and Ina's homemade horseradish
  • Roast chicken with sumac, za'atar and two lemons (Ottolenghi, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)
  • Quinoa with pomegranate seeds, almonds and parsley (yes, it's kosher for passover, neither a grain nor a legume)
  • Ina’s incomparable brisket (Vicki's version)
  • Flourless orange and ginger cake (Chocolate & Zucchini)
  • Pineapple coconut macaroons (David Lebovitz's blog, David Lebovitz)
  • Vicki’s delicious assorted cookies and bars
  • Various store-bought sponge cakes
Pineapple coconut macaroons
At the end of the evening, I announced that I have decided to become Sephardic for culinary purposes and that, accordingly, next year's Seder will be completely different, with Sephardic dishes from around the Middle East. This idea was met with excitement, so it's really "Next Year in (or near) Jerusalem!".

Bobby Jay