Category: Eats

Cheese: The Anti-Drug

Sunday, April 20th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Friends

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit and the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium may have thinned our dinner ranks a bit, but those who made it to Sunnyside for SYB’s potluck were treated to an evening of good, clean fun. In honor of 4/20, the theme tonight was munchies/baked things. Hey, it’s a mainstream media event now.

Now I’ve been known to bake a cake or two, so pretty early on I had decided to take up that portion of the cooking challenge. But in the final days leading up to dinner, concerned about a potential spread of Twinkies and Frito Pie, I decided to bring something I could eat for dinner myself. (I needn’t have worried, as it turned out: there were salads, quesadillas, pita chips and guacamole, sweet & sour pork and cannoli. Also: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with AP’s wonderful homebaked bread.)

I had a surfeit of cheese on hand due to back-to-back runs to Murray’s Cheese and the Fairway fromagerie: two types of cheddar (New York and Australian), plus selections from J’s birthday cheese platter: Asiago, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano. (I made the executive decision to leave out the Saint Agur blue and the chèvre.  You’re welcome.)

There are many recipe variations on mac n’ cheese, but knowing SYB’s preference for the casserole-type dish over the stove-top variety (and in keeping with the night’s “baked” theme), I used a recipe similar to Alton Brown’s, which begins with a roux and is topped with panko. The “Good Eats” guy recommends cutting the leftovers into chunks to be dredged and deep fried for Next Day Mac and Cheese “Toast” — an intriguing, if not very heart-healthy, option.

So why is cheese such a crowd pleaser? One chemical explanation is that when dairy proteins break down, they release casomorphin, an opioid, and tyrosine, a non-essential amino acid. (Tyrosine comes from the Greek tyros, meaning “cheese,” and is also the root of tyrophile, or turophile — “one who loves cheese.”) Tyrosine is in turn converted into the pleasure/rush-inducing dopamine and norepinephrine.

A natural high, if ever there was one.

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Heartbreak and cheesecake

Saturday, April 19th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Family, Film, Friends

All of J’s careful plans were in place for tonight’s surprise birthday party, so there was not much for me to do except show up at the appointed time. We spent the afternoon at my local movie theater watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall… an oddly poignant choice of film, in retrospect. First-time director Nicholas Stoller, and writer/star Jason Segel are alumni of Judd Apatow‘s cult television shows “Undeclared” and “Freaks and Geeks.” Like the other recent hits from Apatow Productions, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is framed around a guy on a quest to become a man — here, in the wake of a soul-crushing break-up — and has all the familiar earmarks of the producer’s other films: the bawdiness (with a core of sweetness), the male nudity, the familiar stock-company faces (Segel, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader). Its strength lies in finding the humor in everything from the inherent awkwardness of intimate pairings, wallowing break-up mixes (featuring Sinéad O’Connor and The Smiths, naturally), sanctimonious rock stars, and cliché-ridden television crime dramas. (It must be noted that William Baldwin channels David Caruso rather awesomely.)

The advertising campaign — full sized billboards denigrating the fictional Sarah Marshall (a somewhat bland Kristen Bell) — caused some strife with real-life Sarah Marshalls everywhere, but audiences and critics responded positively. Who can’t identify with a little heartbreak, after all?

My favorite bits — no, not what you think, dirty birds! — involved the hedonistic, pseudo-spiritual Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), who was both vacuous and almost admirable in his ruthless honesty. (Is it always the best policy?) And I’ve long been a fan of Segel, who wrote the film’s Infant Sorrow songs and the tunes for his character’s Dracula musical. We knew Segel had it in him after his “Slapsgiving” song follow-up to the legendary “Slap Bet” episode on How I Met Your Mother.

Incidentally, Segel’s HIMYM co-star Neil Patrick Harris was profiled in the Sunday Times that day, in a piece during which he referenced both Trent Reznor and Scooby-Doo…. making it very difficult for me to decide which of the two actors I like more. (Yes, yes… I know.)

On J’s rooftop (from which the Macy’s July 4th fireworks are not visible), ominous clouds began gathering overhead as our coterie huddled together, waiting for the payoff appearance of our birthday guest of honor. A successful “surprise!”… followed by a hasty retreat downstairs for a Turkish buffet.

J had outdone himself with the arrangements for the feast: hummus, falafel, Mediterranean Salad, Sigara Borek (pan fried cigar-shaped crispy pastries stuffed with feta cheese), Chicken Adana (char-grilled ground chicken seasoned with spicy red pepper) and Grilled Lamb Meatballs with Rice.

And to end things on a sweet note, another birthday cheesecake: this one from Artisanal — a rich, creamy concoction with pecan-shortbread crust and pecan praline crunch topping. Delicious!

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Spontaneously Sripraphai

Friday, April 18th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Friends

Late Friday afternoon rolled around, and after a round-robin series of IMs, telephone calls and text messages, SYB, JL and I decided to meet after work at Grand Central Terminal for the trip out to Woodside for dinner at Sripraphai.

It had been a while – over a year? — since I last visited this temple of Thai. On weekends, the crush of “intrepid” Manhattanites spilling off the 7 can push waits to an hour — this is, after all, “the restaurant that Chowhound… built.” And sure enough, we arrived to find this small crowd gathered outside the restaurant. I do appreciate, though, the deli-counter style system of taking a number and waiting for the LED display to flash your table availability on the street-facing marquee…. so much more civilized than calling out garbled names/numbers to waiting masses. (There’s a similar display inside, if you choose instead to bide your time wedged next to the refrigerated dessert cases, hovering over seated diners.)

Twenty reasonable minutes later, we found ourselves seated inside the larger side dining room, perusing Sripraphai’s extensive menu. For the most part, we stuck to old favorites tonight, save for these tasty chive dumplings, which were listed as a special appetizer:

The salads alone are worth a trip to Sripraphai: Michael White, Executive Chef at Alto declared their crispy watercress salad “one of the greatest dishes…in NYC.” Time Out New York named the warm roasted duck salad #2 among “the most delicious mouthfuls in the city.” I like this papaya salad with dry shrimp & peanut: sweet, sour, crunchy and tangy with a heat that builds on you despite the absence of visible peppers:

Green Curry with roasted duck & coconut milk and Sautéed Drunken Noodles with chicken, chili & basil leaves:

Sautéed Chinese Broccoli with crispy pork — can’t go wrong with chunks of fried pork belly, really:

It’s fortunate that the food itself was so stimulating, because shortly after the appetizers hit the table, JL asked if the channel on the dining room televisions could be changed to the Mets game already in progress. Our server obliged, after which all table conversation ceased as two sets of male eyes remained riveted to the large flatscreens overhead for the remainder of the meal. New Met Johan Santana was well on his way to striking out ten in New York’s 6-4 win over Philadelphia and, well… as charming as I think I can be, there’s just no competing with that.

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