Baby, It’s Cold Outside? (aka the “Make This Hot-Hot Salad” Post)

Yes, temps are below freezing. And yes, I’m making a salad — no, not iceberg…

… I want all the nutritional value of something dark and green, plus some nice, nutty grains, plus the (possibly) one of the most perfect pork products I’ve yet to discover, loose sausage filling — fresh ground, seasoned, just minus the casing — $3.99/lb at Agata & Valentina, a favorite grocer.

Now THIS is a salad fit for the season:

Winter Sausage Salad
Serves 2

1 c. cooked brown/wild rice blend of your choice, (I had on hand a package of Lundberg’s Wild Blend, wild and whole grain brown rice)
1/3 lb. loose, uncooked sausage meat (you can always just remove the casing)
1/2 medium red onion, roughly diced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1c. – 1 1/2 c. chopped red cabbage (depending on your preferences)
3c. loose mixed greens
slivered almonds or other whole nuts (optional)
olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

1. First, get the rice going because it’s probably going to take an hour to cook. Follow instructions on the package to make the rice, which will yield 2 cups.

2. Start up the rest of the cooking about 20 minutes before the rice is done. Sautée the cabbage, onion and celery on medium-low heat in a tablespoon or two of olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until the onion and celery are translucent and the cabbage has softened somewhat. Set aside.

3. In same frying pan, cook the loose sausage meat until browned thoroughly (7-10 minutes).

4. Mix the cabbage, onion, celery mixture into the sausage; add 1 c. of the cooked rice. Mix thoroughly.

5. Now, here’s the trick: While hot, pack the rice and sausage mixture on top of the salad greens and let rest for 60 seconds — the heat from the warm mixture will slightly wilt the greens.

6. Toss evenly and sprinkle with nuts, then serve into bowls.

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The Breslin’s English Breakfast Splurge (aka the “Must Add Pork Fat Beans!” Post)

For someone who can be so utterly particular about foods “touching” on her plate at this adult age — let’s just call it “a heightened sensitivity to plating” with dismissive hand wave (kidding!) — I should love, love, love The Breslin‘s full English breakfast ($21), which comes sans the traditional brekkie beans and, by extension, the tomato-y bean sauce that pools underneath everything.

I should love that there are no dry toast slices staring me down, begging me to sop up the mingling fatty-yolky-saucy drippings, right before I lick my fingers (possibly not kidding). The Breslin’s rendition is so clean it’s … a sensitive-to-plating foodie’s dream.

… Well except, this time, I sort of want the mess. I love the mess. How the first cut into an over-easy egg sends yellow yolk running into the bean sauce, which has by now commandeered the plate. And the fried tomato? Forget about it. Seeds and juice everywhere. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

By no means is this observation a slight toward the cooks, or the presentation. The execution of every component on this April Bloomfield gold-star dish is the picture of perfection: the browned casing of the breakfast sausage crackles with each bite; perfectly crisped (American-style) bacon; a grilled baby portobello, so succulent. The baked beans in pork fat, get outta here.

But for anyone who wants a truly sloppy English Breakfast, an already pricey meal goes over the top when you add a couple of slices of toast ($1.50/slice) and split a side of the (messy! soppy! delicious!) baked beans ($7). In sum, your English breakfast will cost you $27.50.

Or, I noticed, $2.50 more per person than it would cost to share the smoked pork belly with mashed potatoes at dinner, which is $50 and meant for two.

When I pointed this out to our waiter, he tried to justify the cost by (and I paraphrase): Well, sure, but to really round out the pork belly dinner, you’d probably start with an appetizer and you’d want to order a vegetable side, like the cabbage. And you’d want to balance it with something sparkly, like prosecco, which — did you know? — sparkling wines are the best to help you digest really fatty foods.

Damn that sounds like a gorgeous meal. Until then, you can find me in the bar, where I’ll be sipping on the house cask ale and nibbling on some bar snacks, which look scrumdiddlyumptious.

The Breslin Bar & Dining Room, 16 W. 29th Street, at Broadway, 212.679.1939

Tuesday: Ohh I Get It … a “Pitza” is a “Pizza on Pita” (aka the “Bedouin Tent Discovery” Post)

photoMore Atlantic Avenue discoveries.

Bedouin Tent. I stopped in on Sunday to grab a take-out menu and the front of the house smelled so good — that sweet, dough-y, bread baking smell — that if I hadn’t just finished my Paddington Bear panini across the road, I would have ordered something, anything, right there and then.

Bedouin Tent makes their own pita in a huge, industrial pizza oven, right there by the entrance, all day every day. Little dough balls sit stacked in flour on one side, waiting to be rolled out and shaped.

(I don’t really know how to make this metaphor work, but they reminded me of nothing so much as a small surplus of snowballs, lying in wait.)

photo-4Just as the oven is located front and center in the restaurant, the pita here is showcased in every dish: It is the vessel for an assortment of Middle Eastern salads and spreads; split open, the pita becomes a pocket, or sandwich; laid flat and topped with diced and sliced meats, vegetables and (sometimes) fresh mozzarella cheese, the pita becomes a “pitza,” a pita/pizza hybrid; with meal-sized salads and entrees, pita is served on the side, like bread.

photo-3I tried the garden salad ($7.50) — lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, peppers, cucumber, artichoke hearts, olives, parsley and feta cheese — and the Lambajin “pitza” ($7), a crumbled mixture of lamb, onion, tomato, parsley and other spices, spread out on flat pita disc and baked like a pizza.

It was a ton of food — easily enough for two people. (Indeed, it was two meals for me.) This is how every $7.50 veggie salad should be loaded: thick cuts of fresh produce, plus beautiful homemade touches, like housemade stuffed grape leaves, artichoke hearts, a blend of feta and parsley.

The Lambajin … a meat-lover’s “alternative” pizza. Full of flavor and meatiness, I did miss the cheese. (Look closely, there are a couple pitzas that are cheeseless.) All in all, my first Bedouin Tent meal left me wanting to try more, namely the “Green Pitza,” — leeks, scallions and fenugreek (described as “lightly sweet”) and mozzarella cheese — and, well, everything else.

photo-1Bedouin Tent, 405 Atlantic Ave., Boreum Hill, Brooklyn, (718) 852-5555.

TIP: Bedouin Tent has a large back patio, shaded by large, cream-colored umbrellas. I had to take lunch to-go, but if the weather’s good, take advantage of it! Then, it seems like more places than not along Atlantic Avenue have just similar backyards. Merits more exploring …

Editor’s Note: Thoughts on Labor on Labor Day Weekend (aka the “Serious Sausage Feast at Water Taxi Beach” Post)

Labor Day Weekend brings the conclusion of my grand experiment, I Heart August Month. Which means it’s time again to address that question: Where do I go from here?

photo-2For now, I am going to strive for a happy blogging medium of about 10x a week, which will consist of daily posts, plus the introduction of a few roving features:

— A weekly $7 (and under) lunch column
— outer borough excursions
— in the kitchen experiments
— and more

The continuing evolution of the BLD Project has been on my mind quite a bit lately in that “processing in the background” mode, but serious food trumps all, like this stunning sausage specimen I stumbled upon at the new Water Taxi Beach on Governor’s Island.

photo-3photo-1

This grilled kielbasa from Polish foods purveyor Jubilat Provisions in Brooklyn (it’s called the “Wiejska” on the menu) is ridiculously good, and ridiculously cheap ($5). A crisp, snappy casing and smokey grill char only further complement what is a superior pork product, to begin with.

photo-5photo-4 …just imagine how ecstatic I was to discover that Water Taxi Beach takes their condiment bar as seriously as their sausage. There were all the usual suspects, plus: spicy renditions of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise; onion, relish, sauerkraut; potato chip crumbles; a pineapple chipotle salsa and a spicy tomatillo salsa; Sirracha; whole pickle spears.

photoFeet in the sand, beer in hand, views of the city, A+ kielbasa, all for $11?

I did not see this one coming. At best, I’d figured the food would be somewhere above stadium concessions, which means as good or better quality and definitely less of a rip-off. Instead, the Wiejska kielbasa is haunting me, taunting me, from afar.

… all the more reason to get back to Governor’s Island one more time before it closes for the season (end of October).

Monday: Birthday Dinner Gone Gonzo (aka the “Cheese Three Ways” Post)

There are few things more enjoyable in the world than sharing a meal with close friends, when everyone makes the time in their respectively busy lives to actually be present, and eat and laugh and tell stories and simply enjoy each other’s company.

photo-3… Which makes my birthday dinner at Gonzo in the West Village just about perfect.

It wasn’t the original plan: Earlier Monday morning I found out that Brooklyn Bowl — the new, LEED-certified, 16-lane bowling alley in Williamsburg with a full menu by Blue Ribbon (where I was going to have a small fête) — was closed Mondays.

I needed options, stat. My research skills kicked into high gear, and I ended up with a list of options that included everything from all-you-can eat/drink rip tips (which are excellent) and domestic draft beer at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ ($15.95) to a 3-course, $35 prixe fix meal at Sojourn in the Upper East Side that includes a wine pairings.

In the mix, from my friends at winedanddined.com:

Gonzo (W. 13th nr 6th Ave) is offering 2 for 1 pizzas on Monday nights and from 5-7 on Saturdays.

At first, pizza didn’t sound quite right. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It was the perfect renegade birthday dinner — going gonzo at Gonzo. A girl can’t ask for much more on my birthday than a literary pun that’s this sweet.

photo-2Plus, the grilled, thin-crust pizzas are unique in the city, a culinary gift from the late chef Vincent Scotto. Oblong, ultra-thin and piled high with premium toppings in complex, sometimes exotic, flavor combinations, they’re certainly unlike any pizza I’d ever had.

I’ll be back to try the pizza with watermelon listed as a topping, but for a first taste we stuck with the classics:

(top) Sausage pizza, topped with ricotta cheese, roasted red pepper puree, romano & bel paese cheeses.

(bottom) Wild mushroom pizza, topped with chanterelle, shiitake & oyster mushrooms, caramelized onions, taleggio, romano & bel paese cheeses.

photo-1We also shared a large meat-and-cheese tasting platter ($25), my picks (counter-clockwise from top left): Capicola, Prosciutto di Parma, Cacciatorini with fig & fennel jam; taleggio, pepper pecorino (center), giant basket of grilled bread slices (not pictured). Few things make me happy like a good meat and cheese plate, maybe a glass of prosecco to go with — oh wait, had that, too.

Prosecco was as much a through-line to this lovely meal as was the cherished company and … of course, the cheese.

That thing with a candle up top? Brown sugar cheesecake. It’s a cheesecake purists will appreciate: a slightly different, darker sugar taste (molasses?) comes through, but the flavors aren’t so radically changed as if whole candy bars are thrown in, a la Cheesecake Factory. It’s really, really good. My one critique? With the circular shape, you get less buttery, gram-cracker-y crust.

TIP: The pizzas are definitely larger than our server let on — don’t let them up-sell you. Go with a group and share a mix of the cicchetti, Venetian-style small plates ($7-$11), or maybe a couple of appetizers, plus the pizzas. Two-for-one pizzas makes group dining that much more affordable — and fun.

Dinner: Tuesday, May 12, 2009

photo-9If I didn’t feel compelled to eat something so that I could blog about dinner — purely so I could say that I have somehow (miraculously) actually accomplished everything I had to do today — I would have skipped dinner and tumbled into bed exhausted. Well, except that there’s a mound of crap on my bed; I’m in the midst of moving.

So instead, whether to avoid the aforementioned pile or to stoke my ego, I’m eating a hot sausage from Papaya Dog (sauerkraut, relish, ketchup and spicy mustard) and nibbling at a few fries 10 minutes until midnight.

Which means I’m not going to bed anytime soon, because food in the stomach is the worst way to fall asleep. I guess I’ll try to get a jump start on tomorrow, which, if anything, is an even more impossible day…