Thursday, June 30, 2011

BareBurger: A Burger Revolution


New York City is full of burger joints, but BareBurger stands alone in offering a fully organic menu. From the organic, grass-fed, free-range meats and poultry that comprise the actual burgers, to organic wine, beer, and even milk shakes in a variety of delicious flavors, all made with organic ice cream and milk.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Milk Shake (12 oz) $4.95

Dining at BareBurger will certainly leave customers feeling “greener,” and supporting a restaurant that serves sustainable, humanely-produced ingredients will not cost much more than dining at comparable restaurants serving factory-processed patties. Less traditional meats like bison, elk, and ostrich offer leaner options (with a surcharge), while turkey and veggie burgers are a solid choice for those who steer clear of red meat. Even those lightening their carb intake can indulge here by selecting an iceberg lettuce wrap in place of a bun, or perhaps a wheat wrap if you can't fully commit to a carb-free lifestyle.

Maui Wowie Burger in Lettuce Wrap - Smoked Mozzarella, Grilled Pineapple, Canadian Bacon, Fried Onions, Roasted Red Peppers and Ranch Dressing $11.35 (w/ Bison +$1.65)

Big Blue Bacon Burger on Multi-Grain Bun - Danish Blue, Sautéed Mushrooms, Grilled Onions, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Lettuce and Peppercorn Steak Sauce $11.95 (w/ Ostrich +$Mkt)

At BareBurger, you can custom design your meal. Many of the burger varieties are paired with suggestions for proteins, but the final choice is always yours. The burgers are served alone, but offer a variety of sides if you choose to indulge. The fries and onion rings combo is perfect for people who can't make up their minds. The fries are fresh cut and cooked in 100% peanut oil, and the onion rings are some of the crispiest I've had the pleasure of eating.

Fries and Onion Rings Combo $6.95 (comes with several sauces)

Clockwise from Top: Peppercorn Steak Sauce, Chipotle Ketchup, Curry Ketchup, Spicy Ranch, and BareBurger Special Sauce

There are also several side and entrée salad options for diners with more restraint than I. And if soda is your vice, then take solace in the fact that the sodas served at BareBurger are all-natural and use organic sweeteners. No high-fructose corn syrup here. Even the condiments are completely organic. While a meal at BareBurger does not necessarily skimp on calories (noshing on burgers, fries and milk shakes comes with a price), flavor and ethics are never compromised.

33-21 31st Ave
Astoria, NY 11103
(718) 777-7011

535 Laguardia Pl
(between Bleecker St & 3rd St)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 477-8125

514 3rd Ave
(between 34th St & 35th St)
New York, NY 10016
(212) 679-2273

Monday, June 27, 2011

Down-Home American BBQ: Two Amazing Sauces and a Side!


My dad makes the meanest shish kebabs in the world. I swear! In a shish kebab throwdown, he would take home every grand prize, and then some. He is a master of the art, and I can safely say that no one makes shish kebabs as good as he does (regardless of the variety). When it comes to American barbecue, my brother-in-law Scott is our resident master. He has been honing his special secret rub for years. It's a love that requires TLC to get it just right.

Sauces on the rib from top to bottom: Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce and Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce

On Father's Day, he invited us over for some incredible hickory-smoked country-style ribs with 2 of his wonderful homemade barbecue sauces. He also grilled up some sweet potato fries (and doused them in a Heavenly maple brown sugar glaze), corn on the cob, and Brazilian coconut shrimp skewers! He offered some of these delectable recipes for my readers. Say "Thank you, Scott" :) And just in time for the 4th of July!!

Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce (left) and Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce (right)

Here are some notes on the sauces! The Jack Daniels sauce is along the lines of a Memphis-style sauce. Although it is a little thick for a "traditional" Memphis sauce, it has a vinegar base, which puts it in that family. It's very acidic and spicy, and was the overall favorite at the dinner table. Traditionally, Memphis-style BBQ is served without a sauce basted onto it, with the exception of pulled pork. They favor dry-rubbed meat only. Some will serve sauce on the side, however. The predominantly acidic flavor profile of this sauce will compliment any meat except for fish. That means pork, beef, and chicken are all fair game!

The Dr. Pepper sauce is a traditional Kansas City sauce. It's a thick, sweet and spicy tomato-based BBQ sauce with a complex flavor. It compliments pork and beef beautifully. The sauce tastes better if you apply it with a mop or brush the last 10 minutes of cooking, and then add even more sauce afterwards. From a presentation standpoint, the ribs look even more amazing when glistening with a beautiful lacquer of sauce, plus that little extra smoke deepens the flavor. Note that both sauce recipes can easily be scaled down for smaller quantities if needed.

Check out that gorgeous pink smoke ring around the edges of the meat!

Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce
Makes 1 scant quart

1 cup Jack Daniels
1 cup ketchup
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 T. hot sauce (preferably chipotle)
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. liquid smoke (preferably hickory)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, then puree in a blender. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container and refrigerate. Sauce will keep for up to 3 weeks.

Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce
Makes 1 scant quart

4 T. unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz. Dr. Pepper
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 T. tomato paste
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. salt

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté the onions and garlic for about 10 minutes until just golden brown. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for 20 to 30 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes, then puree in a blender. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container and refrigerate. Sauce should keep for up to 2 weeks.

Sweet Potato Fries with Maple Brown Sugar Glaze
Serves 4

2 to 3 large sweet potatoes
3 T. unsalted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 T. Dijon mustard
Extra-virgin olive oil, for oiling grates
1/2 cup diced scallions

Preheat a gas grill to medium-high or if using a charcoal grill, use approximately 10 to 15 charcoal briquettes.

Peel the sweet potatoes, and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices. Cut 1/4-inch matchsticks from each slice to make fries.

Make the glaze by melting the butter in a microwave for 30 to 45 seconds (covered with a paper towel to avoid splatter) and whisk in the syrup, brown sugar and mustard.

Oil the grill grates with extra-virgin olive oil and lay the potato slices cross-wise, cooking for 8 to 10 minutes per side (looking for a nice char mark before flipping)*. While the potatoes are cooking, brush the glaze on the slices. When the potatoes are tender and nicely charred, remove from the grill and garnish with the scallions.

*Alternatively for speed of grilling, briefly blanch sliced sweet potatoes in boiling water until par-tender, shock in ice water, pat dry, and then grill as specified, basting with sauce, but for less total time. The blanching can be done ahead of time.

*Note* The sauce would also be amazing on roasted sweet potato fries, or other roasted root vegetables, or on ham.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Garlic


Macaroni and cheese. It has such a great ring to it. A match made in Heaven. It can come from a blue box, or better yet made from scratch with REAL CHEESE! There are so many varieties of cheese, mix-ins, even toppings that can turn a mac and cheese from boring to sublime. Entire cookbooks are devoted to these two main ingredients bound together with heat and often a bechamel base. Stove-top or baked. I like both, but generally find myself making baked mac and cheese more than the former. I just love that crust on top, and it's hard to replicate with stove-top, even if you sprinkle bread crumbs on top. It's just not the same.

A couple months back, I made a Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese that I fell head over heels for. It got me thinking of other fun and flavorful ideas for one of my favorite food combinations. I immediately thought of mushrooms, a great meaty addition without adding actual meat. I think mushrooms and garlic were always meant to bathe together with white wine. So I took 10 cloves of garlic and minced them up. The rest, my friends, is history. With the addition of some garlic oil and garlic bread crumbs, I went to town. Although the final result is decidedly cheesy first and foremost, with each bite of garlicky mushrooms, and garlicky crunch from the breadcrumbs, this was a great adult mac and cheese that kids would enjoy too (and a great way to include veggies into one of their favorite foods... and also keep vampires away, just saying). And although sharing is caring, serving this bubbly mac and cheese in individual oven-proof bowls is genius (who doesn't like getting their own mini-casserole?).

Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Garlic
Serves 4

8 oz short pasta, such as shells or elbow macaroni (whole-grain is fine)
2 T. plus 2 tsp. garlic oil*
10 oz cremini (baby portabella) mushrooms, sliced
10 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
2 T. unsalted butter
3 T. flour
3 cups low-fat milk, heated to a simmer
8 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1 1/2 T. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup garlic bread crumbs**

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add salt and the pasta, and cook until just shy of al dente, about half as long as the box suggests (it will continue cooking in the oven). Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the garlic oil. Add the mushrooms and cook until golden and tender, stirring frequently, about 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and add the garlic and cook for another couple minutes until softened. Add the white wine and cook until the wine is absorbed by the mushrooms, another 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt the 2 tablespoons butter with 1 tablespoon garlic oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour to make a roux and whisk until it is nice and smooth. Cook for a couple minutes to cook out the raw flour flavor, but do not allow the roux to brown. Add the hot milk a little at a time, whisking in between each addition, until all of it has been added. Cook, constantly whisking, about 5 to 8 more minutes on medium heat until thickened, allowing it to bubble and simmer, but not come up to a full boil. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cheeses, a little at a time until completely combined.

Once the cheeses are all combined and melted, add the pasta and stir to coat. It will be very saucy. Fold in the garlicky mushrooms. Pour the pasta mixture evenly into 4 oven-proof bowls to make individual portions, or alternatively into a baking dish.

Toss the garlic bread crumbs with the remaining 2 teaspoons garlic oil and mix to combine. Distribute the  mixture over the pasta. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until nice and bubbly, and golden brown. Allow the pasta to cool for a minute before serving, as it will be extremely hot.

*To make garlic oil/garlic confit: Place garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover with vegetable or olive oil.  Heat slowly over low heat until the garlic is completely tender (this may take 45 minutes to an hour so keep an eye on the garlic and don't let it brown). Remove the garlic from the oil. This is your garlic confit, and you can reserve it for another use. Let the oil cool. Alternatively, store the garlic confit in the garlic oil and just use either one as needed.

**To make the garlic bread crumbs: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Place thin rustic bread slices on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and place the sheet in the oven. Toast the bread until golden brown and dry, rotating the tray so the bread toasts evenly, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately rub the toasts with a whole clove of garlic. Allow to cool. Process the bread in a food processor until the crumbs are fine. Set aside.

I'm submitting this macaroni and cheese to My Meatless Mondays hosted by My Sweet and Savory and Presto Pasta Nights hosted this week by Briciole.

Get Grillin’ with Family Fresh Cooking and Cookin’ Canuck, sponsored by Ile de France Cheese, Rösle, Emile Henry, Rouxbe and ManPans.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Around the World in New York City


I've discussed in the past the vast variety of cuisines in the singular city of New York. It's really mind-blowing. You can get pretty much anything, and at exceptional quality. Last fall I shared a post which visited three culturally diverse restaurants, Vanessa's Dumplings (China in the Lower East Side), Caracas Arepa Bar (Venezuela in the East Village and Williamsburg, Brooklyn), and Tuck Shop (Australia in the East Village and Chelsea). I decided to do that again! This time we are traveling to the Middle East (in the West Village), Italy (in SoHo), and China (in... well, Chinatown, haha). Don't fret! Passports are purely optional. Come along for the ride...

You may best remember Taim Falafel and Smoothie Bar from their participation in Bobby Flay's Throwdown. Technically, they may not have beaten Bobby, but their falafel is infamous as some of the best in the city. Taim is a Hebrew adjective meaning highly pleasant to the taste, or delicious. Their menu is strictly vegetarian, their falafel is gluten-free, and only particular items (that are noted with an asterisk) contain dairy or eggs.

This tiny eatery barely offers any seating (a total of 7 stools clustered together against the walls and window). Most people take their food to go, and I can understand this, as on the day I visited Taim the small air conditioner barely made a difference in pacifying the blistering heat. I still decided to dine in-house since there were plenty of seats available, and I generally hate eating on my lap if I don't have to (it was definitely no cooler outside, anyway).

Mixed Falafel Platter - three falafel flavors, hummus, tabouli, Israeli salad, za'atar pita, and sauces (hot sauce, tahini, and amba) $11.50

I had dined on Taim's falafel sandwiches in the past ($6.25 each), along with some of their delicious salads, but this time decided to try their Mixed Falafel Platter so I could try all three varieties of their famous falafel. They include the traditional version, which is green and includes parsley, cilantro, and mint, Harissa, which is mildly spicy and contains Tunisian spices, and their red falafel which is not spicy and contains roasted red peppers. The red falafel had a mild sweetness to it, while the Harissa did have a slight kick, but nothing too fiery. I loved them all, but perhaps liked the green and Harissa ones best.

From top to bottom: Harissa (Tunisian Spices), Red (Roasted Red Pepper), Green (Traditional)

The tiny falafel balls come piled up in the center of a mound of fresh hummus. They are served with sides of tabouli, Israeli salad (cucumber and tomato), za'atar-spiced pita (choice of white or wheat), and three sauces: hot sauce (a mixture of oil, hot pepper flakes, and herbs), tahini, and amba (a mango-based curry sauce). I thought all of the elements were flavorful and well-balanced. I loved the texture of the falafel (which were served PIPING HOT), and the fact that they were small meant more of a yummy crust (and who doesn't love the crust?!). The hot sauce was very hot, the tahini was cooling, and the amba was savory-sweet with a nice curry flavor. I washed it all down with some fresh ginger and mint lemonade, which didn't taste much of ginger OR mint, but it was still quite refreshing on such a hot day. All in all, Taim is certainly not as cheap as some other falafel vendors in the city, but they know what they are doing, and they make some mean falafel! Definitely hit them up for great Middle Eastern vegetarian cuisine in the heart of the West Village.

Taim Falafel and Smoothie Bar
222 Waverly Pl
(between 11th St & Perry St)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 691-1287

Michael White has made a splash in New York City with his two Michelin starred restaurant Marea. He has expanded his small empire to include a total of seven restaurants, including Osteria Morini a more casual  adventure into the cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy. A menu heavy in fresh pastas also includes cured meats, cheeses, seafood, meats, and vegetables. A friend and I split two appetizers and two pastas for our meal, which was just the right amount of food for us. We started with the Rucola salad, a mixture of arugula, artichokes, and Parmigiano. It was delicately dressed and really focused on the simplicity of the herbs and artichokes. A nice starter though not too exciting.

Rucola - wild arugula, baby artichoke, parmigiano vinaigrette $11

We also tried the Ricotta di Pecora, a serving of fresh whipped ricotta cheese topped with peas, asparagus, nepitella pesto (a member of the mint family), and walnuts. It was served with crostini. We loved this simple creation, a great balance of fresh flavors and bright green vegetables with the fluffy and mild cheese. This was definitely my favorite antipasti of the two we had, and I would highly recommend it.

Ricotta di Pecora - whipped ricotta, peas, nepitella pesto, toasted walnuts $13

We selected two pastas with very similar ingredients, and yet the dishes themselves were quite unique. First, the Cappelletti, ravioli stuffed with truffled ricotta and tossed in melted butter and prosciutto. The filling was incredibly fragrant of truffles and ethereal in texture. These ravioli were like little clouds with a bit of saltiness from the prosciutto. They literally melted in our mouths, so good!

Cappelletti - truffled ricotta ravioli, melted butter, prosciutto $18

We also tried the Garganelli (basically hand-made penne) with Battenkill farm cream, truffle butter, and prosciutto. This sauce was a bit richer due to the addition of cream, but still included a faint truffle flavor which was again accentuated with prosciutto. Whereas the Cappelletti were fluffy and airy, the Garganelli were much chewier in texture. We loved both, and enjoyed seeing how a different pasta shape (with a lot of the same flavors) can yield a completely different effect in the finished product. We loved our visit to Osteria Morini and would happily return to try more of the tantalizing menu.

Garganelli - Battenkill farm cream, truffle butter, prosciutto $18

Osteria Morini
218 Lafayette St
(between Kenmare St & Spring St)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-8777

Selecting a single Chinese food experience in all of Chinatown is really like finding a needle in a haystack. There are so many options, so how can you pick one to talk about or try? The truth is, it's impossible. It really depends on what you're craving. Are you seeking authentic dim sum? There are countless options, and yet I can happily recommend the Golden Unicorn where I've dined before. Cheap dumplings on the go? It's technically in the Lower East Side, but Vanessa's is definitely my go-to spot. Hand-pulled noodle soup? Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles Inc is a good choice there. I'm sure there are so many others, but if your heart desires soup dumplings, there is a place for those too. It's famous for them, in fact. They even feature a video on their website on how to properly/safely eat soup dumplings. It's pretty funny :)

Joe's Shanghai Restaurant has won many awards, and currently has three locations (Chinatown, Midtown Manhattan, and Flushing, Queens).  When we ventured to their Chinatown location, we realized just how popular they are. A huge crowd waited outside the packed restaurant. It's rare to see this kind of line outside of weekend brunch time, Shake Shack, Ippudo NY for ramen, or Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge. New Yorkers don't usually like to wait for their food. It's gotta be really good to be worth the wait. At Joe's Shanghai, they wait.

 Crab Meat with Pork Meat Steamed Buns (Soup Dumplings) $6.95

When you're first seated at one of their communal tables, the first thing they ask is if you want the soup dumplings. I guess it takes a bit longer to prepare, so they want to get that order out of the way :) We tried their crab and pork ones (technically called "steamed buns" on the menu). They were so delicious and definitely a fun experience to eat. The pork was juicy and the crab flavor was prevalent throughout the broth. I would have happily placed an additional order for more of these. Definitely next time!

Scallion Pancake $2.95

We also ordered their scallion pancakes, which were crisp, chewy, flavorful, and just slightly greasy. Definitely a good choice as a starter. As our main dish, we tried their sesame chicken. It was the crispiest sesame chicken I've ever had (which is worth noting as the sauce usually makes it soggy), but it was a bit overcooked and dry on the inside. Fortunately, the sauce was tasty, and steamed white rice and broccoli came free with our meal. Overall, this is a fun spot to enjoy Chinese food in Chinatown (a balance of "real" Chinese food and "American" Chinese food), the prices aren't bad although the wait can be. Definitely worth stopping by to try their fabulous soup dumplings!

Sesame Chicken $14.95

Joe's Shanghai
9 Pell St
(between Bowery & Doyers St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 233-8888

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Strawberry Cheesecake Bread Pudding


Hello, my lovelies! I have a few fun things to share today :) First of all, I recently participated in an interview with the wonderful Correen at Food Lovers Website. She asked me all kinds of fun questions which I happily answered. You can go stalk me read the whole interview here! I've also added a button linking to the interview on my sidebar, so you can access it anytime you're feeling super stalkerish. Or lonely. I love you. It's okay. Also, I'm sure you're all dying of anticipation to know who won the highly coveted Tea Week giveaway from Stash Tea! If your name isn't Alicia Keen, it wasn't you :( Sorry. But congrats to Alicia! I hope you love your awesome prize pack!! Happy tea drinking!

Now, onto the recipe du jour! Bread pudding. You know I love it. I write about it monthly. I have big dreams for it. The evolution of bread pudding is a little seed planted in my head, and I'm watching it grow. And boy, can it grow!! So many possibilities! You should see my bread pudding to do list! It will blow your mind :) This month, I decided to take strawberry cheesecake and turn it into bread pudding. I took all the flavors of a cheesecake, the tangy, cream cheesy filling, the graham cracker crust, and the syrupy fruit topping, and waved my magic wand. Poof! Strawberry cheesecake bread pudding!

Obviously, it could never be a spitting image of its inspiration, but especially at room temperature or cool, the bread pudding really mimics that tang and classic flavor of a good cheesecake. Making the graham cracker crust on top instead of on the bottom allows for a great crunchy texture. And of course there are no gelatinous berries from a can here. Just simple macerated strawberries to top or serve with your bread pudding. If you're topping with the berries, make sure you do so at the last minute or else your crust will get soggy.

To make it seem even more cheesecake-like, I made this in a round cake pan lined with parchment paper on the bottom and sides. It was super easy to lift from the pan and slice into wedges, just like a real cheesecake! A beautiful presentation along with fresh and delicious flavors makes this a great bread pudding option for any special occasion! Father's Day is coming up this weekend, and I'm sure any dad would love this dessert! I know mine did :)

I am officially presenting Strawberry Cheesecake Bread Pudding as the Bread Pudding of the Month for June. I invite you all to link up your bread pudding recipes from throughout the month, savory or sweet, there are no restrictions on originality! Please make your submissions before June 29th. I will then post a round-up of all the bread puddings from this month. Also, starting next month I will be including the link-up option in the roundup post, so you can start linking up your bread puddings from the very beginning of the month, instead of waiting for me to get my butt into gear and post my submission ;-)

In order to participate, you must do the following...
  1. Use the linky form below the recipe to link up to the URL of your post, not the URL of your main blog. When it asks for "Name," type in the name of your recipe, not your name.
  2. Either in your post or in the sidebar of your blog, link back to the Bread Pudding of the Month page or share my badge using the HTML below. If you plan on regularly participating, it might be easier to just post it in your sidebar :)
If you do not link back to Mission: Food OR share my badge in your post / sidebar, I will not include you in the round-up so please make sure you not only link up below, but link back here from your blog. Simply copy and paste the HTML in the text box below, it's that simple.

I can't wait to see what you all come up with!

Strawberry Cheesecake Bread Pudding
Serves 6 to 8

1 lb strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/3 cup plus 2 T. sugar
6 cups stale* 1/2-inch bread cubes (such as Italian, challah, or brioche)
8 oz cream cheese (or Neufchatel cheese), at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 T. sour cream
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
4 graham crackers
2 T. unsalted butter, melted

Place the oven rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, allowing the parchment paper to line the sides and hang over the edges as necessary. Trim the excess parchment to allow about 1-inch overhang on either side. Fill the pan with the stale/dry bread cubes. When you add the bread, it will weigh down the parchment. The overhang will allow you to easily remove the bread pudding from the pan for slicing.

In a mixing bowl, toss together the sliced strawberries and 2 tablespoons sugar. Allow the strawberries to macerate in the refrigerator for about an hour or longer until needed.

To a blender, add the cream cheese, milk, remaining 1/3 cup sugar, sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Puree until smooth. Add the eggs and blend again. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread cubes, pressing down lightly with your hands or the back of a spoon and making sure that all the bread starts soaking in the custard. Soak for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the graham crackers in a plastic bag and smash them up by hand until you have a crumbly texture with a mixture of fine crumbs and some larger pea-sized chunks. Alternatively, pulse them in a food processor a few times to achieve the same texture (if you want to wash extra dishes *cough cough*). Mix the crushed graham crackers with the melted butter and sprinkle evenly over the top of the bread pudding.

Bake until the filling is set and the top is lightly browned, crusted, and puffed, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Allow the bread pudding to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes and then carefully remove the bread pudding from the pan using the parchment paper overhang, and place onto a cutting board. Allow the bread pudding to cool to room temperature (it will taste more like cheesecake if it isn't warm). Use a serrated knife to cut the bread pudding into wedges (like a cake), and then serve with the macerated strawberries.

*If your bread isn't very stale, cut it into cubes and allow the bread cubes to dry out at room temperature all day or overnight. Alternatively, lightly toast them on a sheet pan in a 350 degree F oven until dry, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Knorr Great Chowder Cook-Off 2011 (and 1st Place-Winning Recipe!)


Thirty years ago, Jack Booth founded Newport, Rhode Island's Great Chowder Cook-Off, and the chowder (or chowda) loving world would never be the same. This annual event kicks off the summer with Newport Waterfront Events at the Newport Yachting Center, a venue that hosts fun comedy and music series all summer long, along with other special events such as the Newport Winefest, Newport Arts Festival, and Newport International Boat Show, among many others. For food-lovers, the Knorr Great Chowder Cook-Off is where it's at. It is the original and longest-running chowder championship in the world, and serves up over 3,000 gallons of chowder each year.

Waterman Grille's Tasso Ham and Scallop Chowder

While the event originally showcased clam chowders only, it has since expanded to include seafood chowders, and eventually creative chowders. In past years, competitors have traveled from as far as Alaska, Bermuda, and Ireland to share their chowders with the fanatics in attendance. When a particular chowder wins three times, that chowder enters the Hall of Fame and is then retired and can no longer compete.

VIP Hospitality Tent

The Newport Yachting Center's marketing director Jocelyn Emory was kind enough to show us around the event space as the festival was kicking off this year on Saturday, June 4th. The layout was well-organized, although the tent that houses the creative chowders and many of the sponsors' booths was exceptionally crowded when the event got into full swing. We were also escorted to a special VIP hospitality tent that had additional samples of food, including more substantial offerings like hot dogs, pasta salad, cold cuts, plenty of sweets from Sweet Street Desserts, Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and free booze (and other drinks)! Outside of the VIP tent, food and drinks (with the exception of the chowder samples and some other drink samples) incur an additional charge. The VIP tent also had plenty of tables and comfortable seating, indoors and out, with incredible waterfront views. I was very pleased to have access to this area ;-)

Outdoor seating area of VIP Hospitality Tent

This year there were 10 competitors in the clam chowder category, 4 in the seafood chowder category, and 4 competing for best creative chowder. 20 to 25 total competitors is pretty standard for the event. First, second, and third place winners are awarded in each category (and win monetary prizes and bragging rights!), as well as special awards for categories such as most spirited team, and best decorated booth. The event's attendees, the "people," are given sole responsibility to select the annual winners in the three main categories as well as most spirited team.

Bobette's had actual cheerleaders!

I created a chowder spreadsheet before coming to the event, so I could take serious notes and look like a super nerd in front of everyone else having fun. That's how I roll. I have lots of opinions on all of the chowders we tasted, both good and bad. I will not rehash every single thought I had... this isn't Top Chef (though I'm convinced I should be a guest judge... at least once!), but I will happily share some of my favorites and least favorites.

Free beer and baked goods in the VIP Hospitality Tent

My favorites for the clam chowder category include Hotel Viking, which shared a chowder found on their regular menu. It featured applewood smoked bacon, and large rustic potato chunks. Their chowder had a mild sweetness that we enjoyed, but the bacon flavor was not overwhelming. We preferred their use of bacon to that of the Ocean Breeze Cafe, which to our dismay won third place and offered an overwhelmingly bacon-laden (and salty) chowder, which seemed to have more bacon than clams.

Hotel Viking's Chowder

Another favorite in that category was Bobette's Take Out Bistro from Connecticut, which not only brought along a slew of cheerleaders, making them a shoo-in for the Most Spirited award, but included Sauternes (a French sweet wine) in their chowder, a secret ingredient which added a mysterious sweetness that we really enjoyed.

Bobette's Chowder

Our third favorite in the clam chowder category was Hemenway's a Providence seafood institution. Their chowder was classic! Tender clams and a sweet onion flavor in this well-seasoned and silky creation made this one of our stand-out chowders of the day.

Hemenway's Chowder

Here are the winners of the clam chowder category. The first place winner, Tony's Seafood Restaurant, featured a spicy chowder that we enjoyed, but thought was a bit too spicy to consume in normal quantities (ie more than a sampling). We enjoyed Stefano's chowder a lot, and loved the mildly tangy flavor. The whole family was in attendance, pimping their 12-time Long Beach Island Chowderfest winning recipe :)

Stefano's Booth!

  • 1st Place: Winner of $1000 and $1000 Winner's Bonus courtesy of Seawatch International: Tony’s Cedar Key Clam Chowder, Florida

  • 2nd Place: Winner of $750: Stefano’s Seafood, New Jersey

  • 3rd Place: Winner of $500: Ocean Breeze Café, Newport, RI

The seafood chowder category only had four competitors (as did the creative chowder category). The winner, Michael's Seafood, was by far our least favorite of the four. This is its third year winning (which inducts it into the Hall of Fame), and I'm honestly shocked. My opinion is that their chowder was bland, tasted heavily of potatoes, and not of the ocean whatsoever. Our other friends who also attended the event agreed completely. The other three chowders were delicious, however.

Melville Grille's Portuguese Fish Chowder

Selecting a favorite was a challenge. I loved the Portuguese Fish Chowder from Melville Grille. It boasted chorizo, shrimp, scallops, and cod, and was topped with a small piece of fried cod. It was very flavorful and had a lot of personality, as did those wielding cups of this unique chowder. I also enjoyed the simple Maine Shrimp and Mussel Chowder from Castle Hill Inn. Although it featured a thinner broth, the flavor of mussels shone through strongly, and along with fresh, plump mussels, and bites of shrimp, it had far more seafood flavor than the one at Michael's. The Tasso Ham and Scallop rendition from Waterman Grille balanced the smokiness of the ham well with the scallops. It was also a touch spicy, and thin-brothed.

Waterman Grille's table setup

  • 1st Place: Winner of $1000: Michael's Seafood, North Carolina

  • 2nd Place: Winner of $750: Melville Grill, Portsmouth, RI

  • 3rd Place: Winner of $500: Castle Hill Inn, Newport, RI

The tent where the Creative Chowders and many vendors were set up

The creative chowder category featured our overall favorite of the entire event. Though I disagree with some of the other winners of the event, I'm thrilled to say in this category, the best chowder definitely came out on top! The Mooring stunned us with their incredibly innovative, unique, and flavorful Crab and Brie chowder. This chowder steals the show with its not-so-secret-ingredient, Brie. Who would have thought that a bit of this gooey cheese melted into a crab chowder would result in something so seductive? Executive Chef Rob DeLuise informed us that this recipe is a new creation and not on their regular menu. It was created specifically for this event. We hope they will offer it as a special at some point (and invite us to enjoy a whole bowl of it), but in lieu of that he has offered to share the recipe with Mission: Food's readers! Consider yourself super lucky!! This chowder will change your life, so please make it STAT! Find the recipe at the end of this post. Thanks again, Chef DeLuise!

The Mooring's Crab and Brie Chowder

Before we get to the recipe, one more thing I just don't get. Probably our least favorite chowder of the day, the Lobster, Pepper Bacon, Corn, and Cilantro Chowder (sounds delicious, doesn't it?) from Trio won third place in the event. Although the description and scent were alluring, this chowder was inedibley salty. Perhaps we sampled from a bad batch, but regardless, serving something THAT salty at an event like this did not deserve an award. We had to throw ours away.

The main area where the Clam Chowder contestants were set up

  • 1st Place: Winner of $1000: The Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar, Newport, RI

  • 2nd Place: Winner of $750: 22 Bowens, Newport, RI

  • 3rd Place: Winner of $500: Trio, Narragansett, RI

Thank you so much to the wonderful folks at Newport Waterfront Events for allowing Mission: Food to take part in the festivities! I loved touring the venue and trying all of the fun and unique chowders. Participating and especially winning awards at this incredible Chowder Cook-Off has brought fame and prestige to so many great restaurants that may have been unknown otherwise to the greater public. This is a wonderful event that brings "Chowdaheads" together to eat chowda, drink, and be merry. I hope if you live near any of the participating restaurants that you will stop by and give them your support! And if life allows it, please consider attending next year's event! Newport is one of my favorite places in the world, and this event certainly showcases the incredible love of seafood that makes the Ocean State so proud of its shoreline.

The Mooring's Crab and Brie Chowder
Makes about 1 gallon

8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, separated
4 oz all-purpose flour
1 1/2 oz South Shore Seasoning
8 oz Spanish onions, 1/4-inch dice
4 oz celery, 1/4-inch dice
4 oz red bell peppers, 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 oz granulated sugar (white)
1 cup white wine
7 1/4 cups lobster stock
1/2 cup sherry wine
1 oz crab base
1 quart (32 oz) heavy cream, 36% milk fat
12 oz French Brie, rind removed
2 1/2 lbs Rock crab meat
Sweet smoked paprika, as needed for garnish

In a large sauté pan melt 4 oz (1 stick) butter and mix in flour until incorporated. Cook on low flame until it starts to look like wet sand and gives off a nutty smell. Remove from heat and save. This is your roux.

In a large sauté pan add South Shore Seasoning and place on high heat. Stir seasoning for about 2 minutes until it is lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat and save.

In a large stock pot melt remaining 4 oz (1 stick) butter and add onions. Sauté onions until translucent, then add celery and red peppers. Sauté for 1 minute and fold in the roux, toasted South Shore Seasoning, and sugar. Heat for 1 minute then add white wine. Stir and mix ingredients together, starting to dissolve roux.

Add lobster stock, sherry, and crab base. Stir to incorporate well. Let simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.

In a separate pot add heavy cream and Brie, heating until Brie is melted and whisked together, and then add to large pot. Mix well.

Remove from heat and fold in crab meat. Serve garnished with smoked paprika.


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