Beefsteak at the Culinary Institute of America - A Celebration of Gluttony

Cheers to the Beefsteak!

When M emailed "Are you interested in going to a Beefsteak at the CIA?" I responded "YES!" without even looking at my calendar. Or knowing what a Beefsteak was. Yeah, I have my priorities. I informed Chris, and over the next couple of weeks we figured out the logistics with M and R, and drove up to Hyde Park on the last Saturday afternoon in January.
Heading into Farquharson Hall

Souvenir Beer Glasses

Our first impression

We knew we were in for a celebration of gluttony when we walked in and they handed each of us a beer glass, a paper butcher's hat, and an apron. This was a Beefsteak, after all. Now you're probably wondering, as I was, "What exactly is a Beefsteak?" According to the Culinary Institute of America, the food experts putting on this shindig:

The Beefsteak originated in New York City in the mid-1800s by organizations wishing to raise money for politicians, friends, or any cause. In the early days, Beefsteaks were men-only, all-you-can-eat events with diners sitting on crates and eating with their fingers, as no utensils were provided. Beef, beer, and brass bands were the focus of the evening, and gluttony was the order of the day! 

The only veggies of the night

Giant hunk o' NY Cheddar

If that was the promise, the CIA's 2nd Annual Beefsteak granted it, although, thankfully, women were allowed, as were utensils (although those were optional, hence the aprons). The event was held in the stately Farquharson Hall, a divinely elegant setting for such a raucous event. Girls in red flapper dresses and black feather boas kept those glasses filled with Brooklyn Brewery beer all night. White-jacketed servers delivered course upon course, served family style to communal tables where strangers became fast friends. The band entertained throughout, even hosting a sing-along in between courses. At one point, whole bottles of bourbon hit the tables and still the food kept coming. Boy, were we thankful that we planned to stay the night.

And the band played on...

On each table sat a vegetable plate that held the only vegetables we would see all evening, long loaves of crusty baguette and a hunk of aged New York cheddar pierced through with a giant knife. These were the amuse bouche, and we nibbled as we settled in for the night.

Roasted Oysters on a bed of rock salt

Lump crabmeat salad

Jumbo Shrimp cocktail

Shortly thereafter, the first course was served. Typical of a steakhouse dinner, it consisted of a trio of seafood preparations: roasted oysters in a lively shallot mignonette, a lump crabmeat salad that we were tempted to eat with our fingers (but resisted), and perfectly seasoned jumbo shrimp cocktail. Tantalizing, indeed, and we anticipated what more may come.

Lamb chops, before

Lamb chops, after

Bacon-wrapped lamb kidneys

The second round started with our favorite dish of the night - the most tender and succulent lollipop lamb chops flavored with rosemary and lemon. All that was left on that platter was a pile of bones. That was followed by bacon-wrapped lamb kidneys (tasty for some, but overshadowed by those chops), then beef sliders served on Parker House buns with a smoky-spicy ketchup made just for the event. 


Cheers to the Beefsteak!


Our hosts must have realized diners would need a gustatory break at this point, and offered one in the form of an intermission and a sing-along. By now, in addition to the ever-flowing brew, the bottles of Bulleit Bourbon had been delivered, and several male diners, having charmed the flapper girls out of their feather boas, were wearing them around their necks as they delivered rowdy versions of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Yankee Doodle." 

The Main Event - Roasted Dry-Aged Sirloin with Blood and Butter Gravy

Enough said...

Suddenly the lights flickered to announce the end of intermission, and in marched a parade of waiters holding meat-filled trays aloft. This was the star of the show, the main event course of expertly roasted dry-aged sirloin with "blood and butter gravy" and house-made potato chips. The beef melted in our mouths and we groaned with delight and indulgence, not admitting to being full, yet inwardly wondering how we could smuggle slices of this tenderness back home (alas, we could not). 

Really? There's more? Doughnuts...



Bourbon bread pudding...

As if anyone could stuff another bite into them, dessert was delivered at last. Cream-filled profiteroles drizzled with dark chocolate sauce, cinnamon sugar-rolled doughnuts, New York style mini-cheesecakes and bourbon bread pudding. We picked at each one, but we were at the point of satiation. The evening was winding down. Our aprons were spotted with stains and our stomachs were bulging. We exchanged pictures with our new friends and vowed to see them next time. Just to make sure, I turned to M and R and said, "We are coming next year, right?" 

M replied, "I'd buy my ticket now if I could." Ditto that, my friend.

Cheers to the Beefsteak, cheers to gluttony! 

The remnants of a most amazing evening.


Lychee Sorbet for Chinese New Year, Year of the Goat

Amy writes:
I grew up in a mostly white neighborhood, and when I was in third grade, the Wu family moved in. I was immediately enchanted. They spoke a different language. They ate different foods. They celebrated different holidays. I felt so lucky that Cheryl was in the same grade as me, and made it my mission to be her best friend. 

Image result for happy new year in chinese
Image from: http://www.mypictgallery.tk/happy-chinese-new-year-in-chinese-writing/

Perhaps I had the teaching gene even then, because I already loved to play school, and when I found out her grandfather Ya-Ya, who lived with them, wanted to learn to read English, I joyfully volunteered to teach him. He had a worn, yellowed paperback book with short paragraphs written in Chinese and interlinear English. I spent hours at their kitchen table, reading with him, and when I look back I can only imagine what a picture that must have made - 8-year-old me "teaching" old Mr. Wu. But it was a success, on some level. After a few months, he could read children's books to Cheryl's younger sister. 

My place setting

I tell you that story because I believe this experience is where my life-long fascination with Asian culture began. And it explains why I like to celebrate Chinese New Year. This year, I invited a few of my girlfriends over to celebrate with me, and, of course, I went all out. I know the traditions, having been invited to the Wu household for their celebration for a couple of years before they moved away. I decorated with red, brushed "Happy New Year" in Chinese characters on rice paper for each guest, dug out my Chinese porcelain, and made sure to have some Chinese candy on hand. 

My "tablescape"

But the point was to cook, and to share my love through my cooking.I brushed up on the symbolism of the foods traditionally served on New Year and based my menu on those. I made everything from scratch - roasting the pork, wrapping, and making the dipping sauce for the dumplings; creative a sesame sauce for the soba noodles; marinating and making a stir-fry sauce for the tangerine beef; and even the dessert.  Here is my version of a Chinese New Year feast:

As you can see, for dessert I made lychee sorbet. The recipe is almost too simple to be good, but it truly was. It was a sweet ending to the meal but not too sweet, with hints of grape and melon and ginger all at once. It came out of the freezer at the just the right texture sorbet ought to be - not too icy, perfectly creamy - thanks to the egg white, a tip I found here. I served it with an almond cookie for crunch, but a fortune cookie would be a nice touch as well. One warning - the sorbet MUST be prepared at least a day ahead of time.

Gan bei, everyone! 

I do apologize if I've made any language errors.

Lychee Sorbet
serves 6-8
Note: must be prepared at least one day ahead of serving


2 cans of lychees in syrup (sizes vary; you want 20 ounces or 500-530 grams)
2 teaspoons caster sugar (although white granulated sugar works fine)
1 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 egg white

Drain the syrup from the lychees into a small saucepan. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat and boil for one minute. Place the drained lychees, sugar syrup and ginger into a food processor and process until lychees are finely chopped. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a shallow baking dish and press on the lychee remnants to extract all the juice. Cover dish and freeze until solid, about 6 hours. Place the frozen mixture into the food processor again and add the egg white. Process on low until egg white is fully incorporated and mixture is smooth. Return mixture to baking dish and freeze again, another 6 hours. 


Gorgonzola Fondue, Cask Republic, New Haven

I've never had a chunky fondue before. This one looks like blue cheese salad dressing, which I suppose it kind of is. It smells of mold and dirt and something sharper that I can't put my finger on. These are good things. It's served with potato chips that are still hot and glistening with oil. The chips are crisp and I'm reminded that's what they call them in England. Is that because I'm in a pub? I dip a chip into the cheese and pop it into my mouth. The salt from both the Gorgonzola and the chip hits my tastebuds first and last. In between there's cream and tang and a musk that lingers in the back of my throat. It's not unpleasant, and the more I eat it, the more I like it, until it's suddenly just too rich and I can't take anymore. I drown the remaining chips in Allagash White and make a note to bring Chris here for lunch sometime soon. 


Mardi Gras Crawfish Desire

Circumstances beyond our control prevented us from having our annual Mardi Gras Madness party. But a 5-pound bag of cooked, frozen crawfish gifted to us by Amy's mom and a desire for the taste of New Orleans made today feel like Fat Tuesday nonetheless.

Amy created this recipe long ago, based on a favorite dish served at Jazz Fest called Crawfish Monica. It can be made with shrimp, but crawfish is much more authentic, so if you can get it, go for it. Even if it's frozen.

Happy Mardi Gras, y'all!

Crawfish Desire

1 lb. seafood: crawfish (cooked and peeled) and/or shrimp (raw, peeled and deveined)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 pint half-and-half
½ cup chopped green onions
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Creole seasoning to taste (the more, the spicier, and I prefer Tony Chachere’s)
1 lb. pasta (rotini if you’re being authentic)

Put water on to boil pasta and cook pasta al dente. Melt butter and sauté garlic and green onions until fragrant. Add shrimp and/or crawfish and cook for three minutes. Gradually add half-and-half, then the thyme and Creole seasoning, stirring well*. Cook five minutes so that the seafood is cooked through and the sauce becomes thickened. Add cooked pasta and let the dish sit over low heat for five more minutes, stirring often. Serve with crusty French bread, of course!

*It is important to stir often so that the sauce doesn’t break (separate).


Love Soup on a Snow Day

Yes, we had another snow day this week. Another Monday, another storm. And yes, this post's title has two meanings. First, we do love soup on a snow day. It's the perfect food when it's wintry cold and you're in your pajamas and you're feeling lazy and you can just throw a bunch of stuff into a pot and let it simmer and call it "soup." 

Secondly, and more importantly, this soup is "Love Soup," a gift from E to Amy at Christmas. Isn't it such a beautiful gift-in-a-jar? Hot, delicious, and with plenty for leftovers! Thanks, E!


Deep Fried Deli Rolls

Tradition has it that we go to our neighbors' (D and J) for the Super Bowl every year. Not because we are sports fans, because truth be told, we don't care too much about such things. We go for the company, the commercials, and most importantly, the food. Each year we try cooking something fun for the big game. We've created recipes inspired by one of the teams playing in the game (like Mini Upside-Down Lobster Pot Pies to celebrate New England 2012), or based on where the game is being played (like Super Bowl XLVII King Cupcakes). Our goal is to do something new and unusual.

This year, D made a request. It came in the form of a text with a picture of a recipe for "Frickles," followed by a second text that said, "Challenge issued." That's all it took.

We are teachers, so naturally, we can't just meet the challenge; we must exceed it. Therefore, we upped the ante by making two versions of "Frickles" - one following the recipe he sent, and one with our own twist on it. They were still hot when we joined the party. It was near the end of the first quarter. The fried outer shell crackled against my teeth, while warm gooey cheese dribbled onto my bottom lip. There was the saltiness of warm ham and the snap of the pickle in the center. I waited for a commercial and passed the platter. 

R pronounced them "Ridiculous," and even J.J. (who is not quite 2 years old) loved them. We don't want these delights confused with fried pickles, as they are so much more than that, so we call them Deep Fried Deli Rolls. So much more interesting than a chicken wing.

Deep Fried Deli Rolls:
The Ham and Cheese Version (aka "Frickles")

12 egg roll wrappers
12 slices deli ham
12 slices American cheese
12 dill pickle spears
Cooking Oil
Ranch Dressing for dipping (optional)

Fill a large frying pan about 1/3 of the way full with cooking oil and heat the oil. Lay down an egg roll wrapper and in one corner place a slice of ham, then a slice of cheese, then the pickle spear on the diagonal. Roll as you would an egg roll, from the diagonal, tucking in the sides at the halfway point. When oil is hot (around 375), fry in batches until golden brown.

Deep Fried Deli Rolls:
The Steakhouse Version 

12 slices rare roast beef
1 jar Kraft Roka Blue Cheese Spread
36 green grapes
12 egg roll wrappers
Blue Cheese Dressing for dipping (optional)

Fill a large frying pan about 1/3 of the way full with cooking oil and heat the oil. Spread the beef with a thin layer of cheese spread, then roll the beef around three grapes. Place the roast beef roll in the corner of an egg roll wrapper and roll as you would an egg roll, from the diagonal, tucking in the sides at the halfway point. When oil is hot (around 375), fry in batches until golden brown.