Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eat, Cook, Travel

I promised myself I wouldn't write any more sad blog posts after such a rough summer, so I've neglected you a little. I think I owe you an apology, and something neutral, if not lighthearted.

Another friend lost their battle to colorectal cancer this week, so I want everyone to take a minute to call their father, uncle, grandfather, brother, whomever and remind them to get a colon cancer screening. There is a test that can be done before an invasive colonoscopy (called InSure Quik Fit or fecal occult blood test), don't avoid going if you just don't like drinking the funky kool-aid and pooping for days.

On another note, here's what I've been eating, cooking and enjoying lately... I do this a lot in times of stress, part of the RnR theory.

Let's rewind a little... the day before the party of healing, when I gave everyone in my universe exactly 11 hours notice that they were expected at my house in a joyful mood (quite the success, actually) - I decided to embark on a new journey. I love cheese, I have an unhealthy relationship with it, and I always want it around. It was inevitable that I would try to make it at some point. So I googled my way to a recipe for paneer, an Indian farmer's cheese. Recipe adapted from at least 1 website - Food, and Other Musings (seems pretty standard so I didn't credit anyone):

You need milk to make cheese. I used a half gallon (2% or whole), heated in a heavy pan until just boiling. Don't scald it!

You want to bring it just to the boil, stirring occasionally over medium heat and once you're sure the whole thing is boiling, pour in 1/4 cup lemon juice and gently stir a couple of times.

The milk will curdle and separate, sit for a few minutes and let the acid work it's magic.

Meanwhile, in a colander, I laid 4 layers of coarse cheesecloth. You could use muslin or some other clean fabric for the draining, but I had cheesecloth, what better purpose for such a thing!?

With my colander ready, and curds fully separated from whey - you should see a distinct difference between the two now, but try not to stir too much because it cuts the curd - I went to the sink.

When you do this, pour the curds and whey over the cloth, and rinse well under cold water. The water will cool the curds and rinse off any remaining lemon juice. We don't want tart cheese.

Once fully rinsed, sprinkle generously with salt - 1/2 tsp and mix well. Now the fun part. fold over the edges and give the cheese a good pressing. You'll need to hang or press your cheese to make 'cheese' happen.

I let mine sit for a few hours under some serious weight, and voila! Paneer! All you need now is a pan with some olive oil or ghee (clarified butter) and brown your paneer, before mixing in a nice sauce.

I cheated and used a store-bought sauce. C'mon, don't judge... I made the cheese! Plus it's a really tasty brand, available at Central Market.

Besides the indian extravaganza, I've been pretty busy traveling. I got to New York recently and had both 1. The best morsel of food I've ever eaten in my life, and 2. The best glass of wine I've ever tasted. It was by all accounts the most intense eating experience I've ever had.
The food... We were suggested a nearby Italian restaurant in Hell's Kitchen called Bocca di Bacco (9th Avenue between 54th and 55th). I walked in, looked for the only vegetarian offerings on the menu and ordered up. That's usually how my dining experience goes, unless I feel like fighting for something special made veggie-style. This selection was tomato chutneys and rustic italian bread, followed by porcini & truffle oil crostini. We ordered a bottle of sangiovese, ate our bread and drank in the people-watching. My expectations for the crostini were low, since I'm averse to mushrooms in general and this seemed to be a dish built entirely on their merit. I was pleasantly surprised. I picked off the offending squeaky porcini, and bit into the remaining parmesan truffle crostini.
Great Alton Brown's Glasses, this is the best thing I've ever tasted... The parmesan was rich, the truffle oil decadent, the bread - a perfect crusty outside with light pillowy interior waiting for your bite. You know something is good, so good that you will remember the deep breath it sucked in behind your first bite on it's own.. as if food were able to control your parasympathetic nervous system, simply because it was that good. Folks, I had before me 8 pieces of this deliciousness and I only managed to chew and swallow 1-1/2 because my senses were so saturated with umami and the savory decadence that only truffle can provide. After I could no longer chew, I sat gazing at the crostini in wonder. How could something be so perfect?
I decided to celebrate the moment, which before I could not define - what's the best thing you've ever eaten? I couldn't have told you before that hot night in New York City... How else to celebrate, let's order some expensive wine! I looked over the menu for a glass selection (after all, we'd been through one bottle already) that would be fitting of my victory. With help, I settled on a super tuscan, a raisin-y plum-toned chianti classico would turn out to be the best glass of wine I've ever tasted. It smelled like a rich socialite's lipstick, and actually made a strange noise as it swished around in the glass like taffeta, rustling against the inside until it slipped silently over my lips. I was overcome with the perfect food and drink... so much so that I forgot the name of the wine that took me an hour to drink because it was so exquisite I imbibed it in tiny bird sips. When I got home, I thought it was best that I had forgotten the name, actually because then it would be a mystery and I could never track down a bottle and try to recapture my perfect meal.
That is, until I looked through my phone and realized that, while I'm suffering a lot of memory loss lately, I'm compensating for it by taking photos when I'm out. I took a picture of the freaking wine list!!!
I can barely read it, but there down in the reserve section, lies my perfect glass. The Super Tuscan 'Girifalco' La Colanica 2007.
Epic vino.
My next hotel was a happy find as well, walking to my room I found some flowers, left behind from the wedding a night before. I never get fresh flowers on the road, but require them when I'm home because I tend to stare at them and smile. Someone left behind some smiles in the vending room, and I enjoyed them for three more days. It was a lovely trip to the city.


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