The spice man cometh. « blogging for burgers

The spice man cometh.

Today I was at the 77th St. flea market with Burgergal and saw this spice guy, reminiscent of markets in North Africa.  Anyway, I thought it was cool so I snapped a photo.  He also had that neat stick with a scoop on the end of it.  He was like a craps dealer, but with freshly ground spice blends.

It’s been a while, and I’ve been up to some random stuff.

Nougatine Burger

Since the blog started as a blog about burgers, I’ll kick off this post with a review of the most recent burger I’ve had.  After a slew of press about the burger at jean-Georges’ Nougatine (just another La Frieda black label rumour– no need to pay it any heed, the only place that has it is Minetta) and a glowing review from my buddy Ben, I had to check it out.  I’ve been to Nougatine and had great, although not memorable, meals, so I figured it had to be pretty good.

When the burger arrived, the first think that stuck me was the bun.  It looked pretty awesome, with a heavy layer of sesame seeds for some added texture.  From past reviews, I gather that the burger used to be on a brioche bun– I think the sesame seed is an improvement (although BG would probably disagree).  I got the burger as noted on the menu, with cheese, lettuce (I don’t actually like lettuce on my burger, so I ate it by itself, which is why it’s not pictured above), tomatoes, crispy (aka, fried) onions, and Russian Dressing.  Burgergal went sans cheese and Russian dressing, which ended up actually being a mistake, since the kitchen apparently couldn’t both cook a burger medium and not put toppings on it.

I’ll start with what I liked about the burger.  As mentioned, i liked the bun.  I also liked the size of the patty and the way everything fit together.  I liked the crunch that came from the toasted bun, which gave the burger a nice pop in the mouth.  Mine was also cooked perfectly medium, which is always a plus.  The pic below makes it difficult to see, but it was a nice shade of pink with a thin exterior crust.

Now for what I didn’t like as much.  Note, I didn’t say dislike.  I did not actively DISlike anything with the burger.  Some things just didn’t quite do it for me.  First off, the patty was not well seasoned.  Burgergal noticed it first, but some spots were peppery, while others were salty.  This is just an execution error.  The beef blend was flavorful, which helped, but the unevenness in seasoning was kinda a turn-off.  For BG, since hers was plain, it was even more apparent (the cheese and dressing really helped mask this issue).  The crispy onion, while a great sound-bite, didn’t really make its presence known within the burger itself; it was just lost in the mix.  Also, if you’re going to get the burger, don’t start off with the fried goat cheese salad– I made that mistake and was on the verge of a cholesterol breakdown mid-way through.

All in all, the burger was good, but I wouldn’t put it into my favorites category (sorry, Ben).  But I’m sure glad I tried it.

Flat bread?

Last night I decided I wanted to make a rosemary flat bread.  Why, I don’ t know.  Sometimes I decide to do things like this on a whim, and I actually had all of the necessary ingredients, so I went for it.  In addition to the rosemary, I went with fig spread, kalamata olive tapenade, and some piave cheese I had picked up at Murray’s on Friday.  It had been a while since I had made anything involving dough, so I was admittedly a little rusty, but I struggled through it.

A few years ago, I went through a pizza-making phase, and I had ultimately decided that a no-knead approach was best, given a) my level of experience, b) my cooking facilities and, c) my (lack of) obsession with making perfect pizza.  I decided to take a similar approach with this flat bread.  For some reason I also decided that grilling the bread would be the ideal cooking medium.  This was probably driven from the fact that the grill pan was on the stove from the morning’s pancakes.

Ah, the joys of cooking without a recipe or a clear understanding of what is actually going on.

Anyway, I activated the yeast in some warm water, and then added some flour to this mess.  I kept adding more gradually until a dough formed.  Then I turned this out onto the board.

Doesn’t it look awesomely ugly?  Let me repeat that I have NO idea what I am doing here.  Anyway, I kneaded it a tiny tiny bit, so that I could get some gluten going.  Then I rolled it out and put it on the grill pan.  Was it going to work?  No idea.  Fortunately I had other things for dinner and this was just an add-on.

It kinda did work, much to my surprise and delight.  Mostly surprise.  When I flipped it over, it looked like a legit grilled pizza.

That photo really makes it look even better.  The grill pan compensates for a lot.  Either way, I was pretty happy with how things were turning out.

As it cooked on the other side, I decided to put some of the toppings on.  Since I wasn’t really treating this like a pizza, but more like a focaccia, I went light on the toppings, and stuck with the stuff I mentioned before (olive tapenade, piave, fig spread, some more rosemary).  After a few more minutes on the grill, I was actually kinda impressed that I had just whipped this thing together.

Now, although things were working out swimmingly on the grill, it was getting a little smoky in my apartment.  And when I say a little, I mean three-alarm fire smoky.  I was a little bit concerned that I was giving myself a lung condition, all for a Sunday night flatbread experiment.  I decided to transition the mess into the oven.  Since the toppings were kinda cold, I figured this would also help everything mingle a bit.

About ten minutes later, I pulled out the beast.  It smelled like bread and was crusty like bread.  Crazy!   The top was shimmering with oil and the toppings, and a little sprinkling of fresh rosemary brought out even more of the earthiness.

The only issue is that it was a little dense.  I didn’t really let the dough proof at all, so it didn’t really puff at all while cooking.  I pretty much knew this would happen, but I was too impatient to wait it out.

You see that?  It’s like a biscuit.  The flavor was great, though, so it made up for the consistency.  I’ll be experimenting over the course of the next week so that when Burgergal is back in the leavened camp, she’ll be eating the real deal.

UPDATE: it also heated up pretty well, except for the really thin (but delicious looking) piece that managed to get through the grates in the oven and fall into the 1/2″ thick slit on the bottom of the oven leading to the broiler tray.  And it landed topping-side down.  I’m sure that piece was the best one of the whole thing.

Cochon 555

I went to Cochon 555.  It was what it was.  I ate some pig and drank some wine.  The event was not as impressive as I had hoped.  Hell, Cafe Boulud ran out of food before 6pm.

The event started at 5pm, for regular admission guests.  The VIP guests tried everything, which was kinda bullshit.  I paid $135 and received about half of what was being offered.  While I left full, that kind of financial outlay needs to be met with a) some organization and b) an assurance that you will have the opportunity to taste everything at least once.  I could have dropped $135 on a much more awesome dinner out on the town with my main squeeze.

There were a couple of highlights: Elk Cove Winery, turning out a great Riesling (about $20 a bottle) and some awesome Pinots (the Mt. Richmond was my favorite, about $45 a bottle).  Some dude with a great cheese from Vermont.  The Fuster Cluck from Roni-Sue, which was everything good in life wrapped in chocolate (peanut butter, pork fat, banana chips, other stuff).  Here is an article about Roni-Sue and the Fuster Cluck.  It’s tremendous.

Last, but not least, I have gotta give it up to Hearth.  Coincidentally, I was going to be eating at Hearth with Burgerdad the week following the Cochon event, and the food at Cochon 555 reminded me why I wanted to go there again instead of trying somewhere new.  The porchetta that Marco Canora and team cranked out was awesome– tender and succulent, with the perfect amount of fat, and a simple jus poured right on top.  My favorite item from Hearth, however, was the pig head agnolotti in its broth, which was tremendous.  To make up for the lack of other food items, I must have downed about 10 of those things.  And the agnolotti never let me down.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns ended up winning, which was a bit surprising since their stuff wasn’t overly impressive, but I suppose I need to show some Tufts/French Culinary Institute love and be happy about it.

Ryan Farr from 4505 meats in San Francisco was also there, and he butchered a whole pig into some pretty awesome looking cuts.  They raffled away most of them, but we were not lucky enough to go home with anything (especially that pig face!).

And that’s it.

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