Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sarabeth's Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

In a town where brunch is as much about the people sitting around you as it is the food, I was hesitant to try the much hyped Sarabeth's on Central Park West. Indeed, its slightly 80's, overly fabric-ie, overly painted, overly cutesy interior and overly preserved patrons with a suspiciously high plastic to human flesh ratio did nothing to assuage my fears.

Then the food came, and all was forgiven. The lemon ricotta pancakes were so good, it was embarrassing to eat them in front of people. Fluffy and light, their gentle sweetness was perfectly offset by the tang of lemon. The berries served alongside were like fruit that had been hand painted for a TV shoot, picked at the zenith of ripeness. I actually had to order an extra bowl full of them (and, had I been a dieter, these could have been brunch in and of themselves.)

Last time we went, I made the mistake of eating breakfast beforehand and ordering a Ceasar salad because I wasn't that hungry. A plate of boring lettuce and boring grilled chicken arrived, staring up at me from the table as if to say 'why didn't you order brunch? All the love here goes into brunch!'

It's a mistake I won't make again, even if I have to sprint around the park in heels to work up an appetite.

Meanwhile, friends scarfed down their individual orders of Eggs Benedict with Salmon lox then ordered the Apple Cinnamon French Toast which then disappeared in a frighteningly short period of time.

So if it's brunch you want, and not salad, go to Sarabeth's. Their hype is a well-deserved one. And if you can't get there, here's as close a recipe as I can find (adapted from one of Bobby Flay's.)

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, styled after Sarabeth's:

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
4-5 tablespoons sugar, depending on your preference of sweetness (if you like them unsweet, only use 2)
1 cup ricotta cheese (fresh ricotta, if you can find it)
2 eggs, room temp
2/3 cup milk
1 lemon, zested and juiced
butter and/or Spam for griddle
Confectioner's sugar
Fresh raspberries, blueberries or sliced strawberries

Preheat a nonstick griddle or large skillet.

Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt, and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk together the cheese, eggs, milk, lemon juice and zest in a large bowl. Whisk the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until just combined. Brush the hot griddle with butter or spray with Pam. For each pancake, pour approximately 1/4 cup measure of the batter on the griddle and cook (3-4 minutes per side) until light golden brown.

To serve, stack 1-3 pancakes on a warmed plate. Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar (through a sieve) then top with fresh berries. Serve immediately.

* You can of course also serve with maple syrup and/or warmed lemon curd, but in my opinion they require neither. In fact it would be, as they say, too much.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Double Cut Pork Chops and Lots of Cumin

Pork is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to eat and cook. I have always been terrified to attempt the giant restaurant style 'double cut' chops myself, afraid they'd end up charred on the outside and raw on the inside by the time I was done with them.

No more. I have conquered my fears and so can you. There are three simple steps to a tasty chop:

1. A healthy dose of seasoning which the chops should wear for at least 4 hours and up to to overnight to fully soak up the flavor.
2. Getting your pan nice and hot enough to sear both sides of the chops.
3. Transferring them to the oven to finish baking (BUT NEVER OVERBAKING. OVERCOOKING IS PORK'S NUMBER ONE OFFENDER.)

I have my favorite blend of seasonings listed below but this is easily adjustable depending on your own tastes.

I also feel that starting with the best chops you can find (from the butcher) is a serious bonus. I was lucky enough to buy these from Faicco's (whom I professed my love for many posts ago.) I have never in my life felt a pork chop so soft to the touch. They felt like pillows, which was bizarre but fascinating. But if your pork chop selection is limited, stick them in brine for a few hours (this is a secret to making any meat far juicier than its genetics or processing ever destined it to be.)

I am horrible about writing down measurements while I experiment in the kitchen, but that's okay with this recipe. Honestly, you could do all of the seasoning using pinches versus breaking out the measuring spoons, adding a little more cumin than the other ingredients and a hefty sprinkling of fennel seeds. For each double cut, bone-in pork chop, sprinkle over EACH SIDE roughly:

1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon coriander
scant tablespoon fennel seeds

Rub all over the chops, including fatty edges and bone, wrap in plastic wrap (or can throw all in a large ziploc), and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to overnight. I am purposely leaving out salt for now which if added at this stage will pull all of the moisture out of the meat.

Remove chops from fridge 45 minutes before cooking. Preheat oven to 375 (I like to serve roast cauliflower and brussels spouts with this which I liberally bathe in olive oil, cumin, sea salt and pepper then roast for 20-25 minutes turning once before adding the chops to the oven, then continuing to roast while the pork bakes then rests until veggies are char-crisped making them ugly but very tasty.)

For the chops, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your pan and place over a burner on medium-high heat. You want to get a good sear on the chops, so pan should be hot enough to sizzle when you drop them in but not smoking.

Press any of the wayward fennel seeds back into the chops, then sprinkle both sides with sea salt and add to the pan to sear (cooking 3-4 minutes per side, depending on size of chops.) Remove from heat and transfer to an aluminum foil lined, rimmed baking sheet.

Put chops in the oven for 15-20 minutes, either until a meat thermometer registers read 160 or the meat 'springs back' when you touch it. (I live on the wild side hear, pulling mine out at 150 as they continue to cook after removal, but if leery, listen to the USDA on this one and not me.) Remember to check your chops early, as again, overcooking is a tragedy that cannot be undone.

Allow meat to rest at least 10 minutes before serving so the juices can redistribute.

* I found to my delight that as the chops rested, a wonderful amber colored sauce pooled around them - a delicious natural gravy resulting from the brown sugar and spices melding and mixing with the juice from the chops. DO NOT throw this out but pour over the chops after you plate them.

Until next time...