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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Porkman Cometh

Super Maxi Royale Choucroute (image courtesy of Phaidon Press)

Stéphane Reynaud's Pork & Sons is big, squishy and pink: not unlike a pig. Which makes sense. The book itself is an ode to the honking Pork lifestyle, a mix of memoir, photos, drawings and recipes that leads readers through the slaughter, preparation and (most importantly) consumption of nature's tastiest white meat.

Reynaud, co-owner of the Montreuil restaurant Villa 9 Trois, comes by his love honestly. His Grandfather – a successful and serious butcher in rural France – brought the young lad to his first pig-killing at the tender age of 7. Now 40, Reynaud describes the event with mild nostalgia and brevity. Gory details are eschewed in favor of two “menus” (then and now) which demonstrate no matter the year or age, a 400 pound pig yields about 200 sausages, 6½ feet of boudin noir, 44 pounds of pâté, 18 pounds of roasting meat, 2 hams, 2 bellies, and one celebratory lunchtime fricassée. Apparently, the only thing that has changed is Reynaud’s drinking: out with the hot cocoa, in with the wine.

As far as slaughters go, this is about as inviting a description as I'd ever hope to read, and it speaks volumes on the book’s approach. Pork & Sons is noticeably light-hearted and non-threatening. There is nary a whiff of the moral gravitas you might find at, say, The River Cottage, nor even a speck of blood. Instead, we are treated to profiles of his relatives punctuated by José Reis de Matos' whimsical line drawings and Marie-Pierre Morel's fantastic photography. All of which suggests that for Reynaud & Co., pork appreciation is a family affair, one which merits unmitigated celebration.

To which I say, pork on. Reynaud's memoir provides flavor without overbearing, and his 150 recipes are concise, accessible and enticing. (Each, impressively, is accompanied by a full-page color photo.) As with Phaidon Press' other recent European import – Italy's highly-praised Silver SpoonPork & Sons has first-rate design. Yet it also shares similar foibles: occasionally awkward translation, notably minimalist instructions, and an organizational scheme that requires some patience to decipher. It's the cookbook equivalent of the French countryside: pleasant, meandering, casual, yet dead serious about food.

As for the recipes themselves? Here are a few that we put to the test.
First up: Pork Rilettes, shoulder meat slow-cooked in fat and bacon then mashed and chilled. This was a real pleasure to make, from the sizzle of the lard and onions to the smell of gently frying bacon.After about 4 hours, the pork will be shimmering, luscious and fork-tender. Can't you just smell the love? I did, especially while potting the meat for cooling and eating. The end result is a creamy and flavorful pâté/pig butter hybrid. Spread a little on bread, and your evening will sing.
The Pork Ragout with Sage and Brown Beans was even simpler, an Italian-styled stew of pork, beans, tomatoes, wine and sage. I liked the idea but the proportions were slightly off (the sauce was dominated by tomato). The recipe work better as a point of departure: a formula to tinker with and tailor to your tastes.
Far less user friendly? The enticingly titled Crisp Tenderloins with Carrots. In theory, this was supposed to be a pork loin wrapped in shredded potatoes and chives then fried to a golden crust. In practice, I ended up with a slightly overcooked piece of pork and a side of hashbrowns. Delicious hashbrowns, yet nothing worth the downright silly effort to follow Reynaud's “instructions” (brown meat, shred potatoes, wrap around meat, wrap in plastic, boil, unwrap, fry). In retrospect, this recipe promised more than I could deliver. That said, the accompanying carrots were easy to replicate and absolutely delightful: slow-braised in butter, broth and brown sugar, and a real crowd-pleaser.One of our favorite dishes was Reynaud's nod to the tajine, the Pork With Dates and Dried Apricots. Both his recipe and instructions were spot-on. The spicing was simple, aromatic and understated. And the flavors, fruits, and creamy cloves of garlic (baked in their own husks) blended wonderfully without overwhelming the meat's flavor. A keeper by any measure.
Eat Me! (image courtesy of Phaidon Press)

Much like the book itself. Since it arrived, I have repeatedly turned to Pork & Sons for inspiration and guidance. And I have only one real complaint: the lousy “resources” section at the book's end. I spent the better part of two days trying to track down a morteau sausage for a lentil recipe, only to discover that real French charcuterie is nigh-impossible to find in New York City. This after talking with everyone from a charming woman at the Alliance Francaise, to several restaurateurs of varying temperaments, to meat distributors and specialty producers. The only chap who did sell the morteau was an importer based somewhere near Virginia; but his bedside manner fell somewhere between John Cleese's Snooty French Waiter caricature (Monty Python) and a Naomi Campbell rage blackout. Nothing, in short, that made me want to drop $40 on links... so those lentils and the Super Maxi Royale plate (above) never came to be.

Still, don't be deterred. If you consider yourself a pork enthusiast and feel reasonably comfortable around a kitchen, Pork & Sons is just the book to start your summer off proper.


Pork Rilettes
Recipe adapted from Pork & Sons by permission
(image courtesy of Phaidon Press)

5½ ounces fresh pork fat or lard
generous cup of dry white wine
1 onion, sliced
fresh rosemary sprig
fresh bay leaf
generous pound of boneless fatty pork shoulder
3½ ounces smoked bacon
salt and pepper

Add the onions, rosemary, bay leaf and wine to a pan. Heat gently to melt the pork fat. Dice the pork shoulder and bacon, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add to the pot. Cook over very low heat for 3-4 hours (stirring frequently) until the meat breaks up.

When fork-tender, discard the herbs and remove the pork (with a slotted spoon). Meat should be mashed or shredded. Correct for seasoning, and spoon into three 9-ounce pots. Press down in pot, and cover with fat. Let cool before eating. Serve with baguette or crackers, and enjoy!

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Pork on the Fork

Little known fact: more people get their pork-related information from The Porkchop Express than any other site with “Porkchop” and “Express” in the name...

So we're launching a new section. Of reviews. Of stuff. (Food and otherwise.) That we like.

A little pork for that fork.

Drop us a note if you think you have something Fork-worthy... and check back later today for our very first installment!

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Friday, June 22, 2007

The First Day of Summer...

... and Jessica Alba is celebrating with flavor

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Barbados Golden Choice Bakery & Restaurant

The other day someone asked me to describe myself and I didn't know what to say. Wise like Buddha? Wiley like Churchill? Fly like an eagle? Hung like an angry stallion? Then it hit me: humble and restrained. Unlike, say, this restaurant I recently came across. According to their menu, they claimed to be
“The No. 1 Bakery in the USA.”
Sounded brash, gentle reader. Like soccer parents screaming superlatives: Johnny is tops at Kick(ing) Balls! Sally at Scoring (goals)! Lance RULES! And so on. Brash and dull. Number 1 at what? Why? Since when? And who cares?And yet... we cared. Because, good reader, there was another sentence at play here – painted discreetly on the window – one that seemed right up our alley: BIG TASTE at a SMALL PRICE. Alrighty! If true, this was Prime Porkchop Express Material. So we headed inside the Barbados Golden Choice Bakery & Restaurant to check the Flavor firsthand.
A Winning Smile: Eureka Nicholls meets and greets

Upon entering, all fears were quickly allayed by an exceptionally welcoming woman with an easygoing smile. Eureka! Eureka Nicholls actually, who has run Barbados Golden Choice for over 28 years with her husband Nick. If Eureka is the hostess with the mostess, Nick is the man with the culinary plan. Just don't let his shyness fool you: he handles all cooking and baking, and speaks the international language of delicious. As to his specialties...
Lovely pair: Codfish and coco bake

We started with regular and spicy beef patties. The fillings were tasty but the crust was a little dense. So we moved on to a terrific Codfish and coco bake sandwich: light, flaky fish cooked with carrots, peppers, celery, onions and spices, and served on a soft, slightly sweet roll. The coconut/salty/vinegar mix worked on multiple Flavor Levels. Unusual, and unusually tasty. Ditto for the fritters, addictive, chewy fried-batter balls flavored with codfish, herbs and spices. Grab a 3-pack and dip them in some Scotch Bonnet hot sauce as you're deciding what to try next.
Tasty trio: fritters to stay

Then consider some baked goodness to keep your spirits high. Everything is made “on premises,” so freshness isn't a problem. Nor are options. Nick offers slightly sweet, fluffy, raisin-studded Choice Bread; dense hot dog rolls dubbed Lead Pipes; tasty, toothsome Coco Bread; scone-like Rock Cakes; and, as the menu admits, many more. We also enjoyed the turnovers. Strawberry is a local favorite, but Pineapple was our money triangle: less sweet, with a slightly tart real-fruit flavor that really shines thru.
The Money Shot: Pineapple Turnover

Now just as we were set to call it an evening, a young Barbadian woman entered. It was her third trip to Golden Choice that day (kindred spirit), and each time she had ordered the same thing: Flying Fish with Cou-Cou. To be honest I thought Flying Fish were like Unicorns or Fairy Elves (fictional, goofy, hung out under rainbows, born in New Zealand). But it turns out I was totally off base. It's actually Barbados' national dish, along with cou-cou (cornmeal and okra stewed to the texture of creamy potatoes).

I'm no “afficiandao.” Nor do I have anything to “compare” it to. But screw it, I'll go out on a limb and say this is some of the tastiest fried flying fish to be had in all of Brooklyn: fresh, well-seasoned and fried to a light golden crust. You can eat them whole or cutter-style (on a coco bake). So whatever you decide, order at least 2 (they're small). And don't forget the hot sauce.
Finger Lickin' Addiction: Fried Flying Fish

You might also consider arriving well before closing; cou-cou often sells out early. Ditto with Nick's Pudding-n-souse. One regular had effectively worked me into a PNS frenzy by describing Barbados' favorite pickled pork and black pudding... only to have Eureka break the bad news (none left!). But class act that she is, she quickly cheered me up with a consolation slice of ham.

Yes, good reader, Eureka is a woman after my own heart, and Golden Choice does a Virginia-style ham boiled (to drain the salt) and baked with top secret seasonings. Needless to say I was thrilled... and surprised. Pork is more exception than rule in the Caribbean spots I've visited, so I can't honestly say I saw this one coming.Which, it turns out, is one of the reasons I've returned to Golden Choice. The Nicholls are quirky in all the right ways: gracious and down to earth, with eclectic tastes and a deft culinary touch. It's hard to spend time there without ordering a few random Bajan delicacies and pondering a trip to the island itself. But if you're lazy/hungry/curious, there's no need to skip town. Just head to Nostrand and see what grabs you.

I should add that until very recently, Eureka and Nick only served food on weekends. (If you're counting, that's nigh-30 years of business where customers had to wait five f%#&*@$ days for a flying fish fix.) But I'm happy to announce that Golden Choice now cooks Bajan delicacies on the daily. So what are you waiting for? Stop reading and head on down to a magical world where the fish fly, bread is made of coconuts, and a smile says hello. Dare to dream, good reader; dare to dream.



Barbados Golden Choice Bakery & Restaurant
722 Nostrand Avenue, East Flatbush, Brooklyn

Closed Mondays; open from around 7am til 8pm all other days (later on Fridays & Saturdays). Call ahead if you want to be safe: 718-953-8459

You should try Fried Flying Fish and cou-cou, codfish on coco bread, fritters, a pineapple turnover, and anything else they recommend that day. Breads, snacks and sandwiches run no higher than $3, meals around $8.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Pork Diva, pt. 3

banger, noun
  1. (Britain) sausage
  2. (Barbados) Rihanna

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Taco Activism

The People's Champ: Cesar Fuentes, with girlfriend Claudia Ayala

Fellow Taco Enthusiasts...

I think “anonymous” said it best: Schumer's involvement signals a (positive) change of tide. Dunno what the larger interests at play are yet, and nothing earth-shattering has happened since the weekend. But Cesar and the vendors appreciate the support, and my Taco Sense is cautiously optimistic.

For those interested, make sure you peruse these sites:
  1. The Gowanus Lounge has great up-to-date coverage.
  2. Save Soccer Tacos has info on whom to write and what to say.
  3. The Red Hook Food Vendors MySpace Page is the spot to communicate directly with the vendors themselves, or get in touch with Cesar Fuentes.
And on a side note, I got the impression that Schumer really likes to eat.
“... so that's why I'm going to have a Taco Lunch”l-r: People Who Like Tacos, and want to eat them in Red Hook
Taco Bench
Taco Stand
Taco Youth MovementGoat Taco Enthusiasts
And last but by no means least... hearty Porkslaps to Taco Activists Sam Schaeffer and Risa Heller (Schumer's Directors of Economic Development and Communications, respectively), who did a bang-up job organizing this shindig.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Breaking News: Red Hook Rally Saturday, June 9th

Straight from Schumer's camp:

Charles Schumer, leading NYC Chefs: Pioneering Red hook vendors, icons of Brooklyn Community, to be kicked out by City – Calls on Parks Department to Scrap Bid Plan

Parks Dept. Forcing Citywide Favorite Food Stands to Re-Bid for Permits They’ve Held for Years, Could Raise Fees Exponentially and Lead to Their Elimination by Big Corporations

Locally Owned Vendors Serve Eclectic High-Quality, Affordable Cuisine that is a Symbol of Neighborhood Vitality and a Weekend Staple for Brooklyn and City Families

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer will criticize a move by the Parks Department that could force food vendors operating at the ball fields in Red Hook out of business TOMORROW, Saturday, June 9 at 1:00pm in Red Hook. Every weekend, the vendors sell high-quality, affordable food, mostly Latin-style, at the ball fields and have become a much beloved weekend destination for families throughout Brooklyn and the entire city. However, the Parks Department informed the vendors that they would now have to competitively bid for permits they have held for years, which could result in an exponential increase in rates or the prospect of being out-bid by corporate conglomerates. Schumer said that these vendors are Brooklyn treasures, and are a symbol of the diverse cultural vitality of the community that should be preserved and supported, not subject to the City’s bottom line.

Schumer will be joined by Cesar Fuentes, President of the Food Vendors of Red Hook, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, food historian Ed Levine and area chefs.

DATE: Saturday June 9, 2007
TIME: 1:00pm
PLACE: Red Hook ball field #1
Corner of Bay St and Clinton St

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tummy Paradise

The Porkchop Express was on the prowl for good Caribbean food in Brooklyn, when what should we spot on Utica Avenue but a bright yellow awning with pleasant pastel letters spelling out a most intriguing name. Yes, good reader, we had stumbled across Tummy Paradise.

If you're hungry (we were), in the mood for Caribbean (we were), and happen to see a place with both “Tummy” and “Paradise” in the name, chances are you'll stop to explore. We did, and it proved a terrific move. TP may look like one of many East Flatbush competitors, but inside they're cooking up a storm. A delicious storm. So come on in, and see what kind of paradise befits a tummy.
The first thing you'll notice at TP is chef-owner Yvonne Hanna. She is super-extra-nice. Five “i” nice. (Niiiiice.) She calls everyone sweetheart or dear or (my fave) baby, and it's hard not to feel the instant love. It's even harder to ignore the stimulating smells: peppers and allspice, curries and stews slowly bubbling in the background.

There are three tables to sit and eat at, but head to the counter first. Peruse the daily offerings, and ask if they have anything else in back (they probably do). Then pick something and order. Yvonne cooks more on inspiration than a set menu, so the selections often change. That said, here are a few noteworthy (and recurring) items you might see at TP.
Supermegadelicious Combo Plate, to stay

From the top, going clockwise:
Stew Chicken. Extremely well-spiced and cooked with finesse. Reminded us of quality barbecue: flavor-infused chunks of tender, moist meat. Note the unusual “dry” cooking style and nice whiff of marjoram.
Stew Fish. Mackeral stewed with sweet peppers in a light vinegar sauce. Soaked and cooked longer than spicier escovitch, but not so long that you lose the taste of the fish. Goes great with white rice to soak up the sauce.
Greens. Collard-like greens stewed with a little saltfish and spices. A nice side of Jamaican soul food.
Curry goat. Terrific. Rich, plump and refreshingly meaty. Served in a very mild curry with unusually clean flavors. Neither too sweet nor too goaty, if you catch my drift.
Rice and peas. Traditional Jamaican side with a unique twist: she uses black-eyed peas. Light, flavorful, and definitely a cut above the standard redbean glop.
Cowfoot Soup (not pictured). Rich, homey, flavorful, gelatinous soup studded with giant broad beans and smooth slabs of silky white tripe. Caribbean comfort food to the fullest.
Dumplings, Jamaican-style

The verdict, good reader? Impressive. And here's why. First, the terrific mix of flavors. No two dishes were alike, yet everything was complimentary. Second, Yvonne is highly attentive to detail, in both her spicing and cooking. (The Curry Chicken, for example, is seasoned and stewed down raw, which gives it both depth and tenderness.) Third, TP places a premium on freshness. They buy all their meats every morning from a butcher two doors down, and all dishes (save the jerk chicken) are prepared the day they are served. This fits Yvonne's culinary philosophy to a tee: light, fresh flavors, and subtle, rich spicing that complements (rather than overwhelms) the main ingredient. In a word, Yvonne's approach to Caribbean cuisine is elegant, a sensibility that hints at her culinary background. She first honed her skills cooking for Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, then moved to New York in 1978 as chef for the Consulate General. Nearly 15 years (and countless diplomatic meals) later, she opened her own spot: enter Tummy Paradise, circa 1992.

Now owning a restaurant is no mean feat, especially in East Flatbush. The area doesn't see many tourists, nor many subway lines. Nor, for that matter, do folks receive small business incentives common to more high-profile commercial zones. Add to this the fact that the main drags (Utica Ave. and Church Ave.) are overflowing with Caribbean eateries. Simply put, it's a competitive environment, one in which it's hard to survive... much less flourish.
Yvonne Hanna, with the welcoming smile

So why has TP succeeded for all these years and counting? Long story short, Yvonne can flat-out cook. And since her partner split soon after opening, everything at the Paradise is hers: her recipes, her seasoning, her skills. On one visit, Yvonne claimed that she was looking for someone to help her cook but just hadn't “found the right person.” Thankfully, I didn't buy it. She loves what she does, and I don't see her relinquishing the reigns anytime soon.

Which is good news. Although TP (like many Caribbean places in these parts) neither adheres to a standard menu nor keeps the strictest of hours, it's here to stay. And what's more, the laid back m.o. follows a crisp culinary logic: going with the creative flow while remaining passionate; cooking inspired dishes that keep her largely Caribbean clientele coming back for more. More freshness and hospitality. More tasty Jamaican eats prepared with a deft, delicate touch. More flavor and goodness served by a real-deal chef-owner.

If that's not a Tummy Paradise, good reader, I dunno what is.



Tummy Paradise Caribbean Cuisine
932 Utica Avenue, East Flatbush, Brooklyn

Usually open Noon 'til Midnight (except Sundays)
Call ahead at 917-216-2078 to confirm hours and food availability.

Prices are exceptionally reasonable. $10-12 bucks should get you a generous plate filled with Jamaican goodness, and a tasty homemade Sorrel.

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Red Hook Ball Field Food Stands in Jeopardy

Judging from the emails I've received this morning, it seems the news is out. Long story short, the City Parks Department might well open the Red Hook Ballfields to a bidding war. If this happens: no more food stalls.

From what Cesar Fuentes told me last week, negotiations are ongoing. The situation could be pretty grim tho; especially if you're expecting delicious Latin food all Summer long.

But... as soon as I receive an update (or an official petition) from Cesar, I'll spread the word.

If you want to get the ball rolling:
And stay tuned...

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Friday, June 01, 2007

The Keyboard King

Jackie Mittoo, the keyboard Kielbasa King of Studio One.

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