live blog: meat sweats, part one

In 1948 Charlie Vergos cleaned out a basement below his Greek diner, discovered a coal chute, and started a Memphis legend, Rendezvous. The coal chute gave him a vent for his considerable talents over a charcoal grill, allowing him to expand from ham and cheese sandwiches to ribs. Today, several thousand people on an average night pour through Charlie’s basement and sink their teeth into a slab of what makes Memphis, well, Memphis. It started and stays about the local-style dry-rub ribs, but the menu is as eclectic as the kitchen sink decor: vegetarian red beans and rice, lamb riblets, barbecue nachos – all served with beans and slaw, pickles and peppers optional. I hear they still make a mean ham and cheese sandwich, too, but like most people I came for one thing only: ribs, perfected.


live blog: hey, pie face

Yet another new transplant on David Letterman’s Late Show stretch of Broadway, Pie Face is an Australian fast-casual cafe specializing in savory pies with a flaky pastry crust and authentic fillings like chunky steak, minced beef & tomato, bacon, egg & cheese, and Thai chicken.  For all you Downton Abbey fans, think of them as the chain gang version of a Cornish Pasty, the half-moon shaped pie popular among the working classes for its unique pocket-friendly shape – and that it could be eaten without cutlery. (for my Latin readers: empanadas) Available as a Stack Box, which means topped with gravy and a “smash” of spuds & peas, this is the kind of comfort food destined to wreck resolutions. What really frightens me in this carb-free world, however, is the appearance on the menu of sausage rolls, an infinitely more satisfying cousin to the pig-in-blanket. A guilty pleasure of mine heretofore restricted to accompanying the occasional plate of chips and beans while in Ireland, I fear that – situated a scant street away from my office – sausage rolls might prove to be my undoing.


caffeine driven

It’s a caffeine driven society, and more and more people are taking the time to learn how to create stronger brews and get their custom caffeine fix. I, for one, happen to know a thing or two about brewing a strong cup of Joe. In my kitchen I probably have more coffee paraphernalia than cookware.  For lazy weekends, the insulated French Press has no equal. A double-double espresso is the only thing that gets me started before the gym. When my mad-scientist mood strikes, let me play with my favorite new toy, a Japanese coffee siphon. And that’s just the equipment. Beans are a whole other fetish: Continental Blend smuggled in my luggage from the UK; fair trade beans from Tanzania; a Kenyan mild roast liberated on safari; shade-grown Mexican decaf; “emergency” packs of Ethiopian Sidamo.

Great coffee’s no secret. Which is one of the reasons why truly bad coffee makes me so angry. With that in mind here are 10 tips for getting the most out of your beans. Now, you’ve no excuse.

Tip 1 – Buy Better Beans: No, I don’t just mean the most expensive bag in the coffee aisle. Fresher beans equal better coffee, so look to smaller, independent coffee shops that stock beans which are roasted on the premises or nearby. Quality establishments will stamp your coffee with its roasting date, so you know you exactly how fresh your coffee is. Coffee taste peaks from 1-3 days after the roast, and if stored properly will last up to two weeks.

Tip 2 – Store Correctly: Contrary to popular belief, you should never store beans in a freezer or a refrigerator. Coffee actually absorbs aromas from surrounding foods, and freezing the coffee will alter oil properties affecting taste. Krups recommends transferring whole bean coffee into an airtight container after opening, and storing in a cool, dry and dark place.

Tip 3 – Do it Yourself: Freshly ground coffee makes a world of difference, as beans start losing flavor immediately upon reaching the grinder. Grind beans yourself right before you brew, and pay attention to the coarseness of the beans, as different filter shapes require different textures. For example, mesh filters require a coarser grind, while paper filters require a finer grind, and espresso requires grinds with a sand-like consistency for optimum flavor.

Tip 4 – One for Good Luck: Measure ground coffee out to equal one tablespoon of grinds per 5 oz of water, plus one heaping scoop at the end for good measure.

Tip 5 – Water Works: The quality of the water being used is extremely important. Use cold, filtered water, especially if your tap water is not of good quality or emits a strong odor or taste.  Since coffee is 98% water, the taste of the water will come through in the brew.

Tip 6 – Don’t Hesitate: Brewed coffee should be enjoyed immediately, as it will begin to lose its optimal taste immediately after brewing. If you must use an electric drip, coffee should never be left on a burner plate for longer than 15 minutes, or it will develop a stale, burnt taste. If not serving immediately, pour coffee into an insulated container. As a rule of thumb when using thermal carafes, run a little hot water in the carafe prior to brewing, otherwise it will cool down the liquid much too quickly.

Tip 7 – Become a Coffee Connoisseur: Much like a fine wine, coffee should be enjoyed with all the senses. Take note of acidity, aroma, bitterness, body and nuttiness. For in depth coffee tasting, or “cupping” tips, check out the guide from CoffeeCuppers.

Tip 8 – Quick Sips: For maximum caffeination drink smaller, more frequent servings (about 1/4 cup every hour).  Research shows that caffeine works best in small, frequent doses, and a large cup can actually lead to a crash.

Tip 9 – Butt Out: Studies show that caffeine combined with nicotine intake significantly reduces caffeine’s staying power. And while I once lived for the magical liaison of coffee and cigarettes, nicotine actually suppresses the effect of caffeine, cutting some of its stimulating properties in half.

Tip 10 – Cat Nap: Since it takes about 20 minutes to feel the effects of coffee, and sleep is the only solution to really offer a feeling of restfulness, the best way to get that second wind is by drinking a cup, then taking a quick nap while the caffeine sets in. You’ll wake up feeling alert and refreshed – just be sure to close your office door first.


live blog: success!

It took two days of soaking, browning, roasting, baking (and more duck fat than I ever could have imagined) but the great cassoulet experiment proved a smashing success – especially when paired with a simple mache salad, a crunchy French baguette, and an earthy bottle of red wine.  I only wish it were a bit colder out; this hearty bean stew is wintry comfort food of the highest order.


live blog: paris booty

The great Paris booty hunt led me through a handful of my favorite shops around Les Halles in search of elusive, yet essential, ingredients as well interesting bits of kitchenalia unavailable back home. Starting at the mothership, E. Dehillerin, I picked up a covered terrine that will make a great butter dish that’s large enough to hold an oversized brick of European butter.  Somehow I restrained myself from indulging in a cast iron pâte mold and escargot plates; however, at the last minute I did succumb to a neat device for making julienne vegetables in addition to a good, solid chef’s knife. Around the corner at La Bovida I stocked up on ramekins for myself as well as for cool small gifts. Next it was on to G. Detou, across the street, where the mustard gods were smiling down upon me and I picked up the last giant pail of Fallot’s – the most authentic of the traditional Dijon mustards out there, I think. Then something unexpected happened.  While loitering down the block at Mora, I noticed the curved Art Nouveau windows of a shop I’d never seen before:  Comptoir de la Gastronomie.  It was fortuitous; inside I found bags of hard to find haricots Tarbais, vacuum packed duck confit, confiture l’onion, and logs of fresh Toulouse saucisson. I judiciously passed on the saucisson.  Something told me that I was already sneaking enough contraband into my luggage – I didn’t need fresh garlic sausage to set the dog tails wagging, too.  The rest of the goodies, however, were quickly shoved into a bag.  Together they’ll be making a reappearance this weekend in a cassoulet, as I test the theory that I’m an even better cook than I am smuggler.


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