Monday, November 21, 2011

Shrimp Bisque from Scratch

While looking for a dessert recipe to make for Thanksgiving, I came across an easy shrimp bisque recipe in Dinner Tonight, Done by Real Simple.  The recipe called for shrimp, heavy cream, brandy, canned tomato soup and fresh chives.  I was in the mood for something a bit more complicated, so I decided to make my own tomato soup for the base instead of using canned.  I used Jamie Oliver's tomato soup recipe from 30 Minute Meals.

I started off by roasting about a pound of cherry tomatoes and a few larger tomatoes on a baking sheet with four crushed garlic cloves, half of a de-seeded green chile, salt, pepper and a good lug of olive oil.  This roasted on 425 F for about 15 mins, and proceeded to smoke out my kitchen.  I roughly chopped a red onion and cooked it up in a large sauce pan with 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar until soft.
Once the tomatoes became a bit wrinkled and soft, I combined them with the onions and cooked the combo up for another few minutes until it was fragrant and came together nicely.
 I blended the combination in two batches until it reached a "rustic" consistency.  Rustic was Jamie's word and I think it is perfectly descriptive of a nicely blended but still textured soup.  I made a major mistake with the blender which almost compromised the entire dish.  Oops.  Luckily we were able to pull it together and save the meal.  I won't go into detail.
The Real Simple shrimp bisque recipe called for 28 oz of canned tomato soup, which was almost exactly how much the Jamie Oliver recipe made.  I cooked 1 pound of shrimp in the large saucepan with a little bit of butter and then set aside.  Next I combined the tomato soup, 1 cup of heavy cream, a bit of water and 1 tablespoon of brandy in the saucepan and let it all come together on medium heat for a few minutes.  I added the shrimp for 2-3 minutes and the soup was ready to serve.  Be sure not to cook for too long after the shrimp is added and risk overcooking.
Andddddd the result:  This soup was so good.  I'm really glad I made my own tomato soup base because I can imagine that it would have been quite flat with canned soup.  Jamie's recipe added so much flavor and depth to the dish, and I think the soup really benefitted from the spice that the green chile brought.  The texture was really nice although there were a few un-pureed pieces of onion floating around that eluded the blender.  I think next time I would let the tomatoes and onions get a bit softer before blending to ensure that everything gets chopped up.  The broth was not too heavy and had a beautiful color, and the shrimp were cooked really well.  With a warm, crusty baguette, this was delish.  I would definitely make it again.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

El Texano Deli Taqueria y Pupuseria

Behold El Texano Deli, where English is sparse and gringoes non-existant.  That is until we hit it up hard for lunch today after a trip to Island Thrift.  I'd like to say I've been scoping this place out since I was a child in the womb, but I think it's really just been since I developed a fancy for White Castle which is across the street.  Ed and I went armed with Spanish menu ordering phrases prepared and practiced, but what came out was really more like spanglish I'd say.  The woman helping us set the tone by speaking to us in English, but I still threw a few words in there like a tool.
Confronted with a long hot table filled with lots of beautiful food, we were timid at first and ordered two tacos each of carne asada, carnitas and pollo.  We also asked for two pupusas.  While we were waiting I noticed that everyone in the know was ordering this yellow soup that had mussels, clams, half-crabs and fish floating around in it.  A small order of that, por favor.  $24 and about ten minutes later we shipped out and headed home with our fragrant styrofoam platters of perfection.
I was nervous in the store that the tacos may be lacking on toppings because I only saw onions being added, but at home we found a bag of seasoned cabbage slaw just begging to get involved.  This was to prevent sogg from occurring on the journey; how thoughtful.  We liked the salty and moist steak taco the best and I think the crisp (and sometimes weirdly crunchy) carnitas came in second.  The chicken lacked excitement, but we only ordered it because they said they had no chorizo.  Guess JG will remain my chorizo mainstay.
What is a pupusa?  Wikipedia just told me that it is a Salvadoran patty made from corn flower and usually filled with a blend of cheese, pork and refried beans. These were really tasty but quite greasy.  El Texano offered to add more cheese, meat and/or beans to them, but I think they were perfect in this natural state.
I've saved the most interesting for last.  This sopa mariscada was quite the treat.  I saw men eating it in the store with piles of shells and bones building up on their plates, so I knew I was in for some work with this.  The broth was thin but full of flavor that would so necessarily come from a slow stewing of sea creatures in their entireties.  I found bones and gills and maybe even worse, but also mussels and clams and fish meat.  Just don't look too closely at what's in your spoon.  I didn't bother working for the shrimp but they were there, heads and all.  Something about the broth was distinctly familiar and I would venture to guess that there may have been a coconut milk involved.  I couldn't bring myself to eat through the soup indiscriminately, but I'm definitely glad I tried what everyone else was going after.  

The moral of the story is -- everything tastes better when it is authentic enough for the knowledgable to eat it.  El Texano has good food and even better culture, so go with it.  There was much more to try there, so I'll definitely be back.

El Texano Deli Taqueria and Pupuseria: Corner of Brentwood Rd. and 1st Ave., Brentwood, NY

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tuk Tuk Boy is Bland

I heard rumors of Tuk Tuk Boy parking on 50th and 6th permanently last week and I was psyched to have some cheap Thai food right outside my office.  I hoped it would be a rare gem and I resolved to try it for lunch today.  Then, Midtown Lunch dropped the equivalent of an a-bomb on my Friday morning:  Tuk Tuk Boy is not worth a try.  Pad Thai is dry and lacking in garnishes; the line is long and result is unrewarding.  No one mentioned the red curry though, so I remained young and foolish.  After all, I have personally been to the gorgeous white temple that adorns the side of the truck.  This played on my emotions, people!  Emotions!
I got there at 12:15 and there was only one other customer waiting.  I ordered the crab and shrimp rolls, $2.99, and the Chicken Red Curry over rice, $5.99.  A line formed during the seven minutes I waited for my food.  Someone walked away because they said that the chicken and rice dish would take 30 minutes.  The cart is in place when I get to work in the morning before 9 am.  There is no excuse for unpreparedness. 

I watched the guy inside pour the curry over the rice out of a wok and I even spied some Thai basil in the mix.  The meal was served in one of those tin containers and on my walk back to the office I could sense through the plastic bag that the curry broth was leaking;  maybe try a plastic tupperware container, tuk tuk man.
Anyway, I can confirm Midtown Lunch's negative review.  My red curry was bland and the rice was soggy and stuck together.  There was lettuce with peanut dressing at one side of the tin, but it was engulfed in red curry broth which was of a watery consistency. Thai curry is supposed to be thin but this actually had little more taste than water.  Also, I appreciate that you want to serve me a salad with my lunch, but please don't drown it!  There were small pieces of chicken and bamboo shoots.  The rolls were deep fried and tasted crabby, but the inside looked like nothing more than gray mush.  Frozen at some point for sure.  Probably as recently as this morning.

Oh how I wished for an authentic Thai experience.  I could even sacrifice authenticity if the meal was tasty.  This was not a rare gem as I had hoped.  Rather, it was a fake rare gem like so many tuk tuk drivers tried to peddle to me in Bangkok.  Tuk Tuk Boy is a shoot and a miss, but hopefully it will inspire a new mobile Thai food industry that can better cater to my tastes!

I'll leave you with this serene thought from my trip to Thailand:

Tuk Tuk Boy: 50th St. between 6th and 7th Aves.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blue Point Brewing Company and Tara Inn

This is my 100th blog post.  
Last weekend my girlfriends and I planned to go taste as much beer as possible at the Blue Point Brewing Company, and then head north to Port Jeff to eat for cheap at Tara Inn.  Blue Point used to boast a free tasting menu which seemed too good to be true, but upon arrival we were told that things had changed.  The bartender explained that we could each have three free samples and try the rest of the menu, including about 12 more samples, all for $17.  We were each handed two bathroom sized cups full of the lightest two beers on the list, and were asked to recycle the cups until we made it to the darkest beer at the bottom of the list.  We brought our beers outside to the tables out back and the games began.
Do you want to bring your dog to the brewery with you?  A pizza or other food?  Go for it; Blue Point is a totally relaxed place with nothing but good vibes and great beer. (I vommed after I wrote that sentence.) We started off pretending like we cared what each beer tasted like, or maybe we actually did care, but that game was easy to forget once we got towards the end of the list.  We rated some of the samples from 1-5, but all I can remember is that the all of the girls really loved the Blueberry Ale and the guys hated it.  I was so excited to finally try the Rastafa-rye and the Hoptical Illusion that I have seen so often on tap in LI and NYC bars, but those two samples were towards the end and have blended into the dark abyss of my memory.  I liked the Pale Ale but this hoppy selection got mixed reviews from the rest of us.  The only "don't" to mention here:  Don't try to get a beer for your friend in addition to your own in one trip to the bar.  They insist that each drinker appears for their own beer.
We left Blue Point around 6 and headed up to Tara Inn on the outskirts of Port Jeff.  This place looks and feels like a biker bar but has super cheap food and a fun atmosphere.  It was packed with students from Stonybrook when we got there and although we thought we might have a long wait for food, it came out quite quickly.  My bacon cheeseburger was $1.50.  Laura's lobster was $10.  That's cheap.  Could be the cheapest lobster south of Maine.  We splurged impulsively on 10 beer battered shrimp for something like $3, and despite being small they were good and seemed fresh.  You have to be on top of your game to push to the bar to order food and to stake out a highly demanded table, but all in all this place is good, cheap fun.  Check the paper plates on the walls for some of the best deals.
Note to John, a 25 year old super senior student from Stonybrook:  I'm actually a nice person.  I was rude to you because after 5 minutes of conversation, you were standing so close to me that your midsection was touching my thy. Yes, midsection to thy; you're short.

So, let's tally it up:
Approximately 15 beer samples and a bacon cheeseburger with fries: $19.  
Binge drinking and gluttony disguised by beer-tasting and deal-chasing: priceless.  

Blue Point Brewing Company: 161 River Ave., Patchogue, NY (631) 475-6944
-Tasting Room is open for select hours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Tara Inn: 1519 Main St., Port Jeff Station, NY (631) 473-9602

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crisp

Today I had falafel from the Crisp truck for lunch.  I've seen it around and read about it somewhere and have been waiting for the opportune moment to strike for some time now.  It was on 49th and 6th today, so I cursed my budget, threw my homemade sandwich in the fridge and swore to eat it tomorrow.  (I'm coming out about this in public, so please don't give me a hard time Denise.)  I ordered the Crisp Mexican falafel sandwich with cilantro pesto,  avocado, corn, salsa, nachos and jalapeƱo dressing.
Crisp calls its sandwich dish a falafel handbag, and it comes in a clever little cardboard package that "unzips" around the middle and serves as a holder for the inevitable mess that falafel creates.  At first glance the sandwich was a colorful cornucopia of fresh veggies.  How appropriate for November.  While I cannot say that each of the toppings were evenly distributed (all of the nachos and most of the avocado were at the bottom,) I can say that the falafel was moist and light and the whole sandwich was delicious.  The cilantro and jalapeno provided a nice kick and I cooled it down with yogurt sauce.  The pita was soft and fluffy there was a choice of whole wheat or white.
As shown here, there were various toppings throughout the entire sandwhich, so I did not face a full-on falafel situation towards the bottom of the pita.  The service at Crisp was quick even though there was a crowd of about 15 people waiting for their orders when we arrived.  A manager seemed to be expediting and taking orders and money from the front of the truck and the inside line looked clean and efficient.  Cleanliness is always welcome but never a given when ordering food on the side of the street.  I would definitely have Crisp again, but next time I would try something different!  They have six creative sandwich options including African, Mexican and Parisian, and a few different hummus salad options as well, all at around $10.  Any falafel sandwich can be served as a salad.  They also have fries that looked delish and can be added to any meal with a drink for $1.  I only regret that there is no option to choose your own toppings like at Maoz.


Crisp: Follow @CRISPonWheels on Twitter for daily locations, or visit the brick and mortar on 40th between Broadway and 6th.
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