Archive for February, 2009

Beans on Toast

This meal is my kind of comfort food: quick, simple, starchy, filling, and cheap. It’s also ridiculously easy to make – the title of the post serves as the recipe instructions.

British Baked Beans on Toast

British Baked Beans on Toast

I learned this dish from my dad (who is English) probably one weekend when my mom was away and left him to fend for two kids on his own. Instead of trying to compete with his French wife, my dad resorted to classic British fare. I’m surprised he didn’t serve this with a  chip butty.

I have made this with any kind of beans I can get my hands on, and back in my early years of college it was whatever was sold in the biggest and cheapest can. For a while, my roommate and I had a huge can of beans in the fridge that we spooned out into bowls to microwave and pour over our toast. Goes to show that beans on toast can be anything. But my dad insists on making his a certain way.

The British tin of beans

The British "tin" of beans

The key to making the authentic British version of this recipe is the kind of beans that you use. The British Heinz Baked Beans (or simply Heinz Beans) have less sugar than the American counterpart, and the sauce in which the beans are packed is just a simple tomato sauce–no bacon, no sausage, no meat or extra flavorings. The beans are also firmer and hold their shape better than American beans. The British victuals are actually healthier than the American – not only is there less sugar and no processed meat, but also there is less salt. No can of American beans in tomato sauce is quite the same.

Heating the beans

Heating the beans

Simply butter some toast, heat a tin of beans in a skillet (don’t let it boil, just heat them through) and put the beans on the toast. Done. Eat. Have a pint.

Plate of Beans on Toast

Plate of Beans on Toast


Free Food

Normally I’m not the biggest fan of fast food joints… But when they are feeding me for free, I won’t really complain. So those of you looking for a free lunch, there is such a thing.

Get a free sub at Quizno’s.

And a free Roast Burger with drink purchase at Arby’s.

Chocolate Chip Cookies, NYC

I’m almost done with my NYC restaurant reviews, but before I finished I wanted to touch on one of my loves: Chocolate Chip Cookies.

While in NY, I ate some of the best cookies I have had in a long time. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures. In my eagerness to enjoy the cookies, I kinda ended up with chocolate all over my hands and face. Not wanting to ruin expensive pieces of electronics by glazing them in chocolate, I continued eating and decided I’d have to settle for no pictures in this post–I’ll get pics next time. I will tell you where you can get two of the cookies that I did enjoy.

Get a cookie at Jacques Torres; You will love it. He is known for chocolate–rightfully so–but his cookies should not be overlooked. Large, melty feves of chocolate create layers of oozing chocolate within the dough. The cookies are served warm and soft and really must be enjoyed immediately before they fall apart and get chocolate all over your fingers, camera or clothes. It’s a risk well worth taking.

The next place is Levain Bakery (photo of the cookie at the website). This cookie is out-of-control large. I’m talking fist sized cookie here. Lumped with chocolate, over an inch thick, a combination of crispy and chewy, one single cookie can be enjoyed over several meals. Or just go ahead and eat several as one meal. Your call. I won’t judge.

And a shout out goes to Milk and Cookies. The cookies here are not the legendary creations of Jacques Torres or Levain, but are more like really really good home-made cookies. They don’t go overboard and they make them like you’d expect that kind grandmother who lives next door makes them–sticking with the same formula that has worked for generations.

In the future, I’ll be posting about making chocolate chip cookies at home and my quest for the best chocolate chip cookie ever. I think I’ve found one, but you’ll have to wait just a little longer to find out which one that is…

C is for cookie, and that’s good enough for me!

Café Henri, NYC

In the mood for some French comfort food? Look no further than Café Henri in New York’s West Village.

Café Henri's logo

Café Henri's logo

It’s a small and inviting café with about a dozen closely spaced tables. The cute, simple etching of Henri, the owner’s dog, on the glass window and the warm colors used inside help set the tone.

Café au lait at Café Henri

Café au lait at Café Henri

The food is simple French fare: salads, sandwiches, quiches, savory and sweet crepes. Café au laits are served European style–in bowl sized cups–and the espressos are strong. All the cups and bowls have European logos printed on them. Patrons linger over a coffee with a newspaper and may get around to ordering a crepe if the get a sweet tooth.

Espresso at Café Henri

Espresso at Café Henri

For those looking for something more substantial, they have Croque Monsieurs (below) and Croque Madames (A French grilled cheese sandwich with cheese on top, the “madame” variation is the same with a fried egg on top). The food comes out garnished with a spring of rosemary and most come with a side of salad with a light Dijon vinaigrette.

Croque Monsieur at Café Henri

Croque Monsieur at Café Henri

Anyone seeking a place to duck out of New York and pretend you are in an indoor French café would be pleased entering Café Henri. The only thing missing would be the French waiters ignoring and silently judging you. I’m afraid you’ll have to go to Paris for that.

Alta Restaurant, NYC

Alta in New York’s West Village is an amazing not-quite-standard-tapas restaurant. Upon entering, you walk past a long bar leading to the dining area where you can pause to enjoy an aperitif while waiting for your table.

The dining area is a two story affair, with the second as an open area looking down. The slightly rustic exposed wood and earth tones throughout make the restaurant inviting and unassuming. It’s a great spot for a hassle-free dinner with friends or for a low-key date. The bar at the front can get crowded, but it seems to be big enough to accommodate a lot of people. The staff are prepared and willing to accommodate everyone from single diners to large crowds who can order everything off the menu in one go.

Pulled Pork Empanadas, sweet & spicy cilantro dipping sauce

Pulled Pork Empanadas, sweet & spicy cilantro dipping sauce

The menu consists entirely of small plates, ideal to share with friends while sipping wine or cocktails–try their fantastic red sangria. The wine list is just as diverse as their menu, with options for wines from around the world. The food is rich, varied and well prepared with a slight Spanish nod (empanadas, olives, dates, sardines) or otherwise European influences (foie gras, gnocchi and panna cotta). The empanadas (Pulled Pork Empanadas, sweet & spicy cilantro dipping sauce) are flavorful and simple, and the gnocchi was amazing (Ricotta Parmesan Gnocchi, tomato & piquillo pepper sauce, pancetta, pesto).

Ricotta Parmesan Gnocchi, tomato & piquillo pepper sauce, pancetta, pesto

Ricotta Parmesan Gnocchi, tomato & piquillo pepper sauce, pancetta, pesto

Highly recommended are the Brussels sprouts (Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Granny Smith Apples, crème fraîche, pistachio nuts) and fingerling potatoes (Salt Baked & Fried Fingerling Potatoes, Foie Gras mousse & Normandy apple vinegar) [I’d post the photo of the potatoes, but the other dishes look more appetizing, these are delicious though.]. The meatballs (Lamb Meatballs, spiced butternut squash foam, toasted sesame seeds and lebne) have a wonderfully complex flavor.

Lamb Meatballs, spiced butternut squash foam, toasted sesame seeds and lebne

Lamb Meatballs, spiced butternut squash foam, toasted sesame seeds and lebne

The plates are brought out not all at once, but in series, allowing you time to nibble and taste without your table filling up with half empty dishes. The meal was unrushed allowing you to linger enjoying your food and wine to your content.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Granny Smith Apples, crème fraîche, pistachio nuts

Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Granny Smith Apples, crème fraîche, pistachio nuts

While the food is delicious enough to want to eat many plates, I’d actually recommend ordering slightly less than you’d think you need to begin with. The turn around on the food is quick enough that if you find yourself still hungry when nearing the end of the meal, you won’t be waiting long if you order something else. And even if you don’t order more, you’ll find yourself wondering when you can make it back again to try one more thing off the menu.

Little Branch

As you can see by their website, Little Branch is fairly no-nonsense. With bar rules (Rule #6: Don’t bring anyone here who you wouldn’t leave alone in your home.) and $12 drinks, it’s not quite no-frills either. It’s in the details that Little Branch succeeds.

Little Branch Entrance

Little Branch Entrance (Thanks for the pic).

Once inside, the speak-easy atmosphere, the professional staff and the extremely knowledgeable bartenders won me over nearly immediately. The cash-only tabs are totaled on vintage cash registers and run up by suspender wearing bartenders. Hand-chipped ice in various sizes is used in drinks to ensure that your drink never becomes too watery by the time you get to the end of it. Homemade bitters, fresh squeezed fruits, and specific liquors are all used in creating your specific request.

On the menu is “Bartender’s Choice”–and you are encouraged to choose this as an option. After a brief conversation with the bartender about your mood, your preferences of liquor and mixers, etc, they recommend a drink. If it sounds good then they make it with all the professionalism you would imagine from an anal-retentive butler. They don’t embellish the process unnecessarily–no flourishes, throws or spins. Everything that is done seems to be for the good of the drink.

After a while, I noticed the bartenders dipping straws into the drinks and removing them. I realized that they were capping off a sample of each drink to make sure it was quality. That sort of detail ensures that whatever you are being served, the bartender is aware of the quality of the drink.

The drinks themselves are extremely well crafted. Poured and measured to exacting amounts, no drink was too bitter, too alcoholic or too sweet. Balance is key. My friend and I ended up ordering, among other things, a Southside Fizz, Tom Collins (made with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, the original Tom of Tom Collins), a Cucumber Fix (3/4 simple sugar syrup, 3/4 lemon juice, 2 gin) and a Bourbon Sour (made with egg white).

Go here in good company for a pleasant evening of earnestly made drinks. Here’s to Little Branch, ‘cheers’.

Links: The Onion

The Onion has recently posted quite a few food related articles. Here is a quick link round-up. Check these out for a laugh…

Dad Tests Limits Of Cheesecake Factory Vibrating Pager. A quote from the dad in the article: “I’ll bet I can get all the way behind the Barnes & Noble, no problem.”

K-Y Introduces New Line Of Jam. From the article: “The company has touted [the jam as] having ‘that thick, homemade feeling you’ve been craving.’ ”

Chipotle Employee Just Gave Guy In Front Of You More Rice. From the article: “In a lunchtime incident significant enough to warrant you pause, an employee at the fast food Mexican restaurant Chipotle has just dispensed to you a smaller serving of rice than the customer ahead of you.”

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