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Friday, August 28, 2009

What's Going On


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Journey Teaches the Youths

The least sober PSA ever: Hi, I'm lit. Now drive me home.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Def Leppard Teaches the Youths

Joe Elliott asks: “do me” a “big favor”


Friday, August 21, 2009

The King is Moist

The Porkchop Express received an email last Spring from one Allison Robicelli of Robicelli's Gourmet Market:
We love bacon so much that we couldn't bear just eating it only for breakfast, lunch and dinner – we needed to eat it for dessert, too. That's why we put it on our Elvis cupcake – banana cake with peanut buttercream, topped with pieces of brown sugar coated bacon.
If you are going to solicit a visit from The 'Chop, this is pretty much the way to do it. And I was predictably intrigued. But also skeptical. Who were these Robicellis, and what was their angle? Trendy hipster douchebags? Underground organ harvesters? In this mixed-up crazy world where “Making Artisan Pickles” is the new “Starting A Band,” nothing seems beyond the pale of the possible. But I remain ever hopeful, especially when bacon is involved, so I headed up to Bay Ridge to see: is this Elvis Cupcake a cheap thrill or the real deal?

Emphatically the latter. The Robicelli's have a wonderful way with frosted deserts, and their bacon/banana/peanut butter combo is the best of a very strong line-up of unusual – and unusually delicious – creations.
Flavor of Love: Bacon Tattoo (note: not scratch & sniff)

We knew those bacon cupcakes were serious almost from go, because their creator – Matt Robicelli – has as serious a bacon tattoo as ever I've seen: a large bacon-wrapped fork-speared heart, that will eventually be surrounded by a meadow of egg-bulbed flowers in a grated Gruyere rainstorm. (Matt referred to bacon, egg and cheese as 'the trinity' more than once.) Add to this his family roots (pig farmers from Cedar Rapids, Iowa), and a bacon cupcake seems less quirk of fate than inevitable necessity. So how did it all begin?
Matt Robicelli talks cupcakes

Unlikely as it is, with an accident: a brutal knee injury suffered on 9/11, while helping to evacuate Tower 7. To that point Matt was an EMT, but his injury (and grueling rehab) gave him pause – as well as plenty of time to mull a career change. Which he soon did, enrolling at Manhattan's French Culinary Institute to pursue his “first love.” He finished a nine month course of study (emphasis: pastry) before setting out to work at a variety of restaurants and kitchens (Lutece, Balducci's, Brooklyn's Greene Grape). Armed with several years of experience and training, he and wife Allison – also a chef, and longtime caterer with Eventfull NYC – decided to open their own gourmet “Mom and Pop” market in the section of Brooklyn they both had been raised.

Hence Robicelli's. Last year, just after the birth of their second child, they opened doors in Bay Ridge in a big bright space atop a full “green energy”-powered kitchen. The store is lined with neatly organized shelves of high-end sundries, selected meats and cheeses, and house-made dishes like the wily Gorgonzola, Roasted Garlic, and Bacon-stuffed Burger. (You sense a theme?) The Robicellis are currently planning an expansion – adding tables and chairs for folks to linger over their growing menu – but the main draw is, and should be, the cake.
The King: a banana, peanut butter and bacon Elvis Cupcake

The flagship creation, The Elvis, is teamwork to a tee, a terrifically moist, not-too-sweet banana cake (Allison's creation) topped with a formidable peanut butter icing (Matt's recipe). The French buttercream – dense, rich, surprisingly delicate – uses Cream Nut PB artfully, imparting nutty balance without a hint of graininess. But the victory lap belongs to the finishing touch, sprinkles made of Berkshire bacon bits caramelized in dark brown sugar. They add depth of flavor, a welcomed hint of salt, and a surprising chocolaty finish – which, by the by, I did, wolfing down an Elvis in Record Cupcake Time. For a desert with pork, fruit and legumes in the ingredients list, the end product is refreshingly restrained, particularly on the level of sweetness. And for a decadent desert inspired by America's favorite Historic Hot Mess, the results are notably harmonious and coherent. But at $2.50, don't take my word; go up there and try one firsthand.
Two from the oven: Bea Arthur (l) and Strawberry Balsamic mingle peacefully

At some point between cupcakes I began to wonder how one decides to make a bacon cupcake. It seems the sort of thing that involves whiskey, the munchies and some sort of patriotic infomercial. But according to Matt his combos draw upon everything from classical food pairings (the chocolate-espresso “Bea Arthur” and incessantly decadent “Strawberry Balsamic”) to pop culture (the “Harry Potter,” the “Michael Jackson”), life experience (the “Dr. Pepper Bomb” and “Irish Car Bomb,” two drinks that, he confides, “got me engaged”) to, well, sleep. “A lot of times I'll have a [cupcake] dream. I wake up and make it.” Sometimes they pan out, other times not, but the winners are added to an in-store rotation of about 30 flavors (and growing).

Which makes it rather tempting to label Matt a Mad Scientist, or some other cliché suggesting a flamboyant alliance between lab technician and desert chef: Frankenstein, Dr. Feelgood and the Wacky Professor wiling away over an oven in deep Brooklyn. But such labels are too easy, and inaccurate. The Robicellis are a very exuberant team of highly skilled bakers. They are certainly playful, at times even goofy, but their cupcakes are not by any stretch a gimmick. All wink-nudges aside, these are well-executed, wholly unique, surprisingly elegant deserts that rank amongst Brooklyn's most memorable frosted creations.

Even their most oddball concoctions display a decisive culinary logic and curious charm. Take, for example, one of the most intriguing ideas we did not have a chance to taste: The Iona, an olive oil and pear cake with blue cheese icing and candied walnuts. Sounds too crazy? “No,” Matt assured me. “It's like a salad.” [pause for emphasis] “But with cake instead of lettuce.”

And that, good reader, is so damn crazy it might just be sane. Deliciously sane.

Robicelli's Gourmet Market
8511 Third Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11209
Open M-Th 10am–8pm, Sa-Su 10am-7pm

Cupcakes are $2.50 – $2.75, save the $3 monthly special whose proceeds are donated to charity. They bake 20-30 dozen each Saturday, and usually sell out by Monday. So call ahead if concerned.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Wrath of Kahn

Friday, August 14, 2009

Anatomy of a Pork Roast

Pork by Ray Bradley, recipe by Zuni. It's Mock Porchetta, kiddies, and now you can make it!
Start with a 3 Pound boneless pork butt. (Don't settle for anything but this, the most flavorful and well-marbled cut of pork shoulder.)
It already looks great, and you haven't even done anything yet!
Set aside (clockwise, from top left) a generous teaspoon of fresh Rosemary and Sage leaves, 4 or so fresh garlic cloves, rind from a small lemon, a few teaspoons of fennel seeds, and (not pictured) about one Tablespoon of rinsed, dried caper berries. If you want to accentuate one of these flavors, now is the time to add more. (Or less.)
Grind the seasoning in a spice grinder, or chop by hand. Or leave it course if you don't want to bother. Meanwhile, cut the pork shoulder along the seams of the fat. You SHOULD keep the meat intact as one piece. In other words, DON'T cut it into pieces, just open it up flat so you can coat as much of the surface as possible with your aromatic seasonings. A thin sharp knife works best.
Once the pork is cut, coat generously with the seasoning. Don't forget to hit those nooks and crannies; nooks and crannies need seasoning love too.
Now comes a relatively tricky part. Roll the meat back up so that it looks like it did when it came out of the package. (This is easier than it sounds.) Once re-formed, tie it with twine to hold it in place. Your string should be relatively taught, as the meat will shrink when cooking. If you have any seasoning mix left over, rub it on the outside of your pork roll. If you're going to be awhile, throw it (covered) in the fridge.
Now. Preheat your oven to around 225°. (The recipe suggests 350°, but lower – and slower – cooking will yield significantly more tender meat.) In the meanwhile, prepare your vegetables. We used (clockwise, from top left) parsnips, carrots, pearl onions, celery and German butterball potatoes. Fennel would work great if you have it handy. Wash, peel, etc. the veggies and cut into relatively even chunks – small enough that they will cook through and caramelize, but big enough that they wont burn after hours in the oven.
When done, toss the veggies with sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, and a good quality olive oil, and let stand.
Meanwhile, heat a heavy oven-proof pan that will accommodate both meat and vegetables. (We used a broad Le Creuset braiser.) Get the pan nice and hot, and add a little olive oil. (The oil should immediately ball up; if not, you need more heat.) Proceed to sear your tied pork shoulder on each side on medium-high heat, just until browned. If you smell burning or see smoking turn the heat down a touch. But stick with it; browning helps develop a lovely deep crust and delicious seared flavor. Note: tongs help greatly to turn and hold the meat in place.
You're almost there, champ. Remove the pork from the pan, and check the pan for overly burned bits. If it smells too charred give the pan a quick rub with a paper towel (to remove bitter residue) and add a little more olive oil. Place the browned pork shoulder back in the pan's center, and surround it with your vegetable medley. Add a few rosemary sprigs if you're feeling festive.
Place the pot in the oven (uncovered) and open a bottle of wine (to drink while you wait). Every hour or so you should turn the meat and toss the vegetables carefully, adding stock or water for moisture if things are looking dry. Eventually (hours and hours) the meat will reach an internal temperature of about 185°; when it does, it is done. (Note: if you get impatient just turn up the heat. But be warned, faster cooking = decreased tenderness.) Remove the meat and veggies and cover, taking a good whiff of the irresistible smells emanating from your creation. If you have the self-discipline not to start immediately grinding the pork, take this time to make a pan sauce with the oven drippings, stock, and white wine. Either way, you really should allow the meat to rest for at least 15 minutes to let the juices settle.
And that's it! So simple. And delicious. Slice and marvel at the succulent porcine goodness. If you're eating alone, forego utensils. Have a nice bottle of, say, Montelpulciano handy, and enjoy – you've earned it!

– J. Slab

Recipe adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco's Beloved Restaurant by Judy Rodgers copyright © 2002 by Judy Rodgers. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Everybody Loves Ray

The first thing I noticed about Bradley Farm was the man himself. Ray's beard – bushy, salt and peppered, visible from fifty meters – welcomed me from go, but it was his produce that kept me coming back.

Nor I am alone. During one visit to his Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket stall I counted a baker's dozen (dare I say) groupies, loyals who brought offerings (sauces and jams made of his goods), pressed for friendly banter (what's good today Ray?), and purchased fruits (and veggies) with broad smiles.
Ray Bradley talks food

Ray may have a way with farming, but he got his start in the restaurant industry. He began humbly enough, “peeling carrots” in 1976 for a hotel chef who split the years mainly between Cape Cod and Clearwater, Florida. By the decade's end he learned enough to move on – and up – running the Ram's Head Inn restaurant in Shelter Island for three years before migrating to Manhattan. Initially, he felt (in his own words) “way over my head” working as sous chef for the storied Le Cirque. But his subsequent stints – including The Westbury Hotel's Polo and Montrachet – suggest anything but defeat. It was during this time that Ray rubbed elbows and prepared dishes with a rising group of soon-to-be culinary stars like Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller.

Of these, childhood friend and fellow Connecticut native David Bouley proved his most memorable collaboration. The two reconnected in the mid-80s at Montrachet, before moving on to start Bouley. It was here that Ray helped build the heralded restaurant from the ground up, literally, serving as sous-chef and carpenter both, prepping meals, purchasing product and running the meat station, while laying down mason and installing fixtures with David and his brother.In spite – or perhaps because – of Bouley's success, Ray found restaurant work to be taxing (“it never ends, unlike farming”), so he moved on after three years. In 1990 he left to work as a distributor with Frank Wilkow (Bouley's supplier of ducks, herbs, veggies and the like), while renting a small plot of Wilkow's land in New Paltz to grow his own organic vegetables. He started selling this produce directly to the people, at the then-new Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket. Three years passed and Ray again switched gears, moving to Costa Rica to oversee the kitchen at a friend's bed and breakfast. Contemplating a more permanent shift south of the border he, and I quote, “chickened out,” returning to New Paltz and renting land across the street from a million dollar horse farm to expand his organic lot. After gentle prodding from his girlfriend Iris (“stop working for other people!”), he contemplated starting a farm of his own.

Which he did. In 2000, Iris and Ray purchased 27 acres of land and opened Bradley Farm. And he hasn't looked back since.Bradley's operation is relatively small (he employs only four fulltime farm hands). And despite the fact that his vegetables are not “certified” organic, everything is grown according to organic practices. Government stamp or no, you can taste the natural love. To wit, try one of his flagship tomatoes, ripe heritage breeds that come in technicolor reds, yellows, purples and greens. Or sample something more unusual from his quirky stock, long fresh Hungarian paprikas or tiny bright yellow firecrackers, stout lemon cucumbers or french gray shallots, Jerusalem artichokes or coils of aromatic ramps, tender just-picked haricots verts or plump green fava.

Which is all well and good, but we, gentle reader, are here for porkier pastures. And it was Ray's latest venture that brings us to the point at hand.
Much to our delight, Bradley Farm recently started selling pork. And it is fantastic. He began last year with ten pigs, and has upped production to thirty. The hogs are predominantly Large Blacks, reared by his brother Charlie in Connecticut, and their meat is rich bordering on gamey: distinctively porky cuts of meat with clean white ribbons cutting through the deep dark pinks. The flavor is bold and fresh, and never at a loss for moistness.
What should you buy? Whatever you fancy, friend. Every cut is $11/pound (save the bacon at $13), which helps simplify things. So go with your gut, and be prepared to experiment.
Atsa Pork! Italian Sausage with peppers and onions
C'est Pork! Thin-sliced chops sauteed in butter and wine
Das Ist Porkenschwein! Scnitzel, fried in butter

Long story short, everything is great. The boston butts melt wonderfully in a braise, and roast up moist and lovely. The sausages – sage breakfast and clean spicy Italian – fry up uncompromisingly juicy and delicious, thanks to measured seasoning and a healthy fat content. The thin chops are big on pork flavor, deeply-hued with a robust finish. And the pork cutlets – pounded, dipped in flour, egg and fresh breadcrumbs, and fried in butter – made a world-class schnitzel. Rather than deliberate, we suggest picking a porcine meal to cook, then visiting Ray for an appropriate cut. You have the official Porkchop Express guarantee on this one: you wont be disappointed, as this is some of the most satisfying meat we've tasted in some time.

So go pay the man a visit. Great pork, vibrant veggies and wonderfully fresh eggs ($5/dozen) to boot is a recipe for some serious culinary joy. All this and... the beard?!! No wonder everybody loves Ray!

Bradley Farm
317 Springtown Road
New Paltz, NY 12561

You can catch Ray at the following NYC Greenmarkets: 97th Street on Fridays and Grand Army Plaza on Saturdays. When visiting, be sure to try one of his new Piggie Bites, a $2 mini pork pie to drool over.

As for how best to his hogs, bask in Ray's exclusive top-secret recipe below. Enjoy!

Ray Bradley's Pork Chops and Country-Style Ribs (adapted with permission)
1) Salt and pepper the chops/ribs
2) Sauté (chops) or grill (ribs) quickly over high heat
3) Remove before overcooking
4) Let rest before serving
5) Eat

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