Where Would Jesus Eat?

Would you like fries with that host?

With “The Book of Mormon” by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone opening on Broadway this week, New York City is about to be overrun by a bizarre and mysterious phenomenon with which few urban dwellers are familiar. No, not LSD. It’s the elders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a.k.a. LDS.

Now, being the strapping, young churchgoers that they are – and with a bevy of wives and gaggle (or is it pride?) of children to feed – the question of where to find sustenance in the neighborhood nearest the theater district, the ominously named “Hell’s Kitchen,” presents Mormons with a moral dilemma of Biblical proportions.

"No, Jesus! Don't eat there!"

But have no fear ye descendants of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the Couchsurfing Cook is hereth to provideth ye with wholesome restaurant recommendations sure to solveth that most pressingest of religious conundrums:

“Where would Jesus eat?”

Nook Restaurant

Nook, an intimate, 25-seat restaurant is perfect for the secretly gay Mormon who feels naturally comfortable in closet-size settings.

But Mormons of any sexual orientation should feel quickly at home with dishes that hew to traditional American fare, while offering flair-worthy presentations that offer a playful nod to potentially gay diners; a touch that will likely be noticed by only the most discerning or paranoid Mormon elder.

The burger and fresh-off-the-farm-boy salads are standouts, while the hearty Hungarian goulash, served over plain-jane egg noodles, is the perfect “transition” dish for gastro-curious Mormons.

True, the earthy, phallic-shaped mushroom cigars may look inappropriate entering the mouth, but if anyone asks why you’re eating them, simply say, “It’s not polite to ask, and I have the right not to tell.”

Nook doesn’t serve alcohol, perhaps as a polite nod to the faithful (though BYOB for non-Mormons is permitted). But be forewarned that this restaurant may be a poor fit for Mormons who are also chubby chasers; seating at Nook is extremely tight.

Great for dates, not great for guys or gals into chubbies.

Bali Nusah Indah

With its claim to fame as having a larger Muslim population than any country in the world, there’s plenty of potential converts at Bali Nusa Indah, one of the few Indonesian restaurants in New York City.

Could he be open to reading a book that will change his life?

But it may be Mormons who leave converted by the rich, spicy curries at this Theater District gem. Bali Nusah is the perfect spot for the Mormon with an adventurous palate who wants to ready his tongue for going on mission. Start with a simple salad containing a lovely peanut and lemon grass dressing.

A salad never hurt anyone. Did it?

After that, it’s baptism by fire with exotic-sounding dishes that range from mildly to medium spicy like ayam pelecing, a broiled boneless chicken with chili sauce or sambal goreng udang buncis, stir-fried spicy hot shrimp and string beans.

Learn to pronounce these dishes before you go on mission.

For the Mormon with a large brood, the best choice may be the Dutch colonial rijsttafel or rice table. With as many as 40 small plates to sample, each capturing Indonesia’s diverse cultures and tastes, it’s hard to imagine that any of your wives could complain that there was “nothing she could eat.”

Balkanika

The Old Testament and the Koran may have once done battle in the Balkans, but at Balkanika, a new restaurant owned by Istanbul-born Pando, the intention is to spread culinary peace and love across this former war-torn region.

Welcome to the Balkans! We're not at war anymore!

And spread is the operative word here, with its countless mezes or dips that may be hard for your average Mormon, raised on meat and potatoes, to wrap his mental pita around. The meze sampler of 17 spreads from ajvar (red pepper with eggplant, onion, and garlic) to tarator (yogurt, cucumber, and dill) is enough for an elder and at least three wives to enjoy, and the light-as-air bureks, phyllo pastries filled with spinach, leek, beef, or cheese may make some Mormons swear they’ve died and gone to heaven.

The meze sampler at Balkanika. Perfect for a large Mormon family.

The selection of Balkan wines from Bulgaria and Turkey are little known in the West, and not at all in Utah, but should be heartily enjoyed by agnostic and atheist diners.

The one dish at Balkanika Mormons will want to avoid are the “Sexy Balls,” thankfully served only at brunch. These healthy creations, made from pumpkin and flax seeds, nuts, and fresh and dried fruits taste delicious to those who don’t believe Joseph Smith is a prophet equal to Moses, but could admittedly traumatize the young ones in an LDS family for years to come.

Dining with the devil.

___________________________________________________________________________________

So grab your golden plates and walk, run, or bike over to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre to see what the Couchsurfing Cook can verify is a truly hysterical yet moving musical, “The Book of Mormon” and try these great restaurants for a pre- or post-show meal:

Nook Restaurant . 746 9th Avenue . 212.247.5500

Bali Nusra Indah . 651 9th Avenue . 212.265.2200 ‎

Balkanika . 691 9th Avenue . 212.974.0300

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Should We Give Them Cake?

Location: Cork, Ireland
Person: Susan Rita
Recipe: Gur or Chester Cake

Once upon a time, there was a food blogger who wanted to go on the gur. To be “on the gur” is Irish slang for playing hookey.

She’d been blogging every week since January, while also working two jobs, and she was tired.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t take a break because, as they say, “The blog must go on…”

One day, to cheer her up, her friend Susan Rita stopped by to sing her a song she’d written. It was a blues song about cellphones, and how people are talking on them all the time.

The song reminded the food blogger of Twitter and Facebook, and all the other ways people today are always blathering on all the time. Sometimes, it did seem to her as if people really were just talking to themselves!

The food blogger sometimes felt this way about her own “talking.” She couldn’t figure out how to stop the nagging feeling she had that talking (in the form of a blog) was meaningless, when all was said and done.

She thought about the people in Japan who had lost their homes, and didn’t even know where their next meal was coming from. They were scared and cold and hungry. How could writing a food blog help them?

She thought about the post she was writing for St. Patrick’s Day about Gur cake, an Irish dessert made with stale bread soaked in tea to make it soft again. Susan Rita had told her about it after she went to Ireland to research her roots there.

At the Cork Butter Museum, Susan Rita had offered a piece of Gur cake to the man at the entrance, Mr. Humphreys. He was so excited when he saw it, because it reminded him of his childhood, when he’d skip school and buy it for a tuppence at the local bakery.

The food blogger thought about the Irish people. They were resilient too, just like the people in Japan who had survived the earthquake. She thought about giving someone in Japan a piece of Gur cake, as a symbol of transforming tragedy, the way the Irish people had turned stale bread into sweet cake.

The Gur cake reminded the food blogger of a Buddhist story too.

The story was about a woman whose child dies. Inconsolable, she goes to the Buddha to ask him to relieve her suffering. He agrees to help, but says first she must collect a mustard seed from every person in the village who has not experienced suffering. The bereaved woman agrees, but at each home, the person she visits relates their own story of suffering and, in that moment, she realizes she actually isn’t alone, and her suffering disappears.

Gur cake may not be the answer to life’s pain. But perhaps it can serve as a small reminder that, when all seems lost, we have the capacity to create beauty from nothingness.

Gur or Chester Cake.

With special thanks to Paul and Derek from Jim Brady’s Restaurant and Lara from Moran’s Restaurant and Bar in New York City who vetted the Gur cake.

Hear Susan Rita and her Ruel String Band sing her original blues song: ““.

DONATE TO JAPAN’S RELIEF EFFORTS.

Recipe: Gur Cake, adapted from a recipe by Sheila O’Donoghue-Baratizadeh posted on Traditional Irish Foods
Prep Time: 1 1/2 hours
Cook Time: 1 hour
Servings: 14-16 squares

Ingredients:

Bread Stuffing Part I:

6-ounce loaf ciabatta or Brennan’s bread (allowed to sit for two days wrapped in paper towel to dry) – 170 grams
3 cups hot (not boiling) water – 660 grams
2 tea bags (Irish Breakfast or black)

1. Place ciabatta bread in a five-pound aluminum loaf pan (29.8 cm. x 14.3 cm. x 8.1 cm.).
2. Cover bread with tea water that’s been allowed to steep 2 minutes and cooled slightly.
3. Press the bread down and turn it a few times to make sure both sides are wet.
4. Cut ciabatta in half and allow to soak in tea water for an hour until fully soft.

Shortcrust Pastry:

8 ounces all-purpose flour – 228 grams
1 ounce sugar – 29 grams
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces cold, unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter or regular butter, cut into small squares – 114 grams
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon ice water

1. While bread is soaking, begin making shortcrust pastry by mixing flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.
2. Add butter to flour, using fingers to mix, until flour resembles small bread crumbs.
3. Make a well in center, and add well-beaten egg yolks. Use a knife to combine eggs into flour.
4. Dust table surface with 1-2 tablespoons flour. Turn dough onto floured surface; dough will still be crumbly. Slowly add ice water to dough by teaspoons to help it stick together.
5. Knead dough with hands, adding ice water in small amounts as needed until dough forms a smooth ball.
6. Divide in two, wrap each in plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Bread Stuffing Part II:

4 ounces currants – 114 grams
1 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour – 42 grams
4 ounces brown sugar – 114 grams
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ounce butter – 28 grams
2 tablespoons Pumpkin Pie Spice or British Mixed Spice
(alternatively, you can use 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon cardamon)
1 large egg, well beaten
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 lemon rind, finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit – 190 degrees Celsius.
2. Use hands to squeeze tea water from bread and return to loaf pan.
3. In a separate, clean bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Add sugar, rub in butter with fingers, and add spices.
4. Add currants to bread and mix well with hands to combine.
5. Add bread mixture to flour and mix to combine.
6. Whisk egg into milk, add grated lemon rind. Set aside.
7. Remove dough from refrigerator. Place on table lightly dusted with flour.
8. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll each ball into rectangular shape, same size as aluminum loaf pan.
9. Grease bottom and sides of pan with butter.
10. Place one rectangle of dough on bottom, trim to fit, and press into pan bottom. Use fork to prick holes in dough.
11. Add milk, eggs, and lemon rind to bread mixture. Stir to combine.
12. Fill loaf pan with bread mixture. Distribute evenly to cover pastry bottom.
13. Place second rectangle of dough on top. Trim ends to fit. Prick top evenly with fork.
14. Place in middle rack of oven and cook for approximately one hour until golden brown on top.
15. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you’re not making royal icing for the top, whip cream makes a nice accompaniment.

Women on the Verge of a Dietary Breakdown

Location: Finale Emilia, in the Italian province of Modena
Person: Samantha
Recipe: Spaghetti Carbonara

March is the month in which human beings – trapped inside for months to avoid winter – finally allow ourselves to, well, go a little crazy.

And, being the wise creatures we are, we humans have also realized it’s better to ritualize our weather-induced insanity, rather than let it run amok by, for example, grabbing a club and galumphing over to Frank’s cave next door to knock him upside the head because he and Brenda totally dropped the ball on our plans for a joint Florida cruise!!!!!!

Ah…that feels much better.

How do humans ritualize March madness? Well…

Catholics, and some Christians, celebrate Mardi Gras.

Jews celebrate Purim.

Sports fans celebrate the NCAA Playoffs.

And women celebrate….
Wait a second? Are you kidding me?
That’s how we’re supposed to let loose after months of having to trudge through the snow in our Manolo Blahniks???
By celebrating Women’s History Month????
NO FRIGGING WAY!!!!!

You call this a party???

Okay…deep breath…stay calm…must think…Ides of March…ideas…
Wait! Got it!

Alright people. Listen up:

I’m hereby announcing the Female Version of March Madness:

This March, instead of a respectable, feel-good holiday about all things femme, I’m advocating a release of seasonally-induced craziness (as opposed to the hormonally induced one, already discussed in an earlier post) by exercising our right to a Hall Pass:

In other words, a week in which women can eat all the de-stressing, comfort food we want, without having to worry about our weight!

Just imagine it ladies: ice cream, pasta, tater tots (even if some cheerleading instructors among us consider them a controlled substance).

Mercedes on Glee fights for her right to tot.

That’s right.
Stand away from the pantry, boys.
This March, we are WOMEN GONE CULINARILY WILD!

The Couchsurfing Cook goes mad.

Here in New York City, my Italian friend, Samantha, got a few of us ladies off to a smashing start the other night by making spaghetti carbonara. Her recipe is simple and delicious and, better yet, I’ve provided a non-bacon version for the vegetarian and non-pork eaters among us.

Last, but not least, in another bout of madness for the CS Cook, I’m hosting my
first-ever contest:

Take a picture of your favorite comfort food and tell me in 200 words or less why you love it.

The winner, chosen at random, will win a copy of The William Sonoma Comfort Food Cookbook or, if you’re anti-cruelty, The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook.

The contest is open to all. You don’t even need to have XX chromosomes to enter. Deadline for entries is Sunday, March 13, 2011, at midnight. Winner announced March 16, 2011.

Samantha's amazing Spaghetti Carbonara.

* Check out the Website Samantha writes for, NUOK.IT, the Italian’s guide to all things New York.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Servings: 3 to 4

Ingredients:

8 ounces spaghetti – 250 grams
3 egg yolks
12 ounces bacon (We used Wegman’s uncured bacon or substitute equal amount of turkey bacon or baby bella mushrooms) – 340 grams
ground black pepper
Pecorino romano cheese (to taste)

1. Chop bacon into small pieces. Cook in skillet over medium heat until crisp but not burnt. If substituting mushrooms, first heat 1/4 cup (59 milliliters or 2 UK liquid ounces) olive oil in skillet. Once hot, add chopped mushrooms and a pinch or two of salt. Allow to cook 10-15 minutes until tender.

2. In small bowl, beat egg yolks, then add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Cook pasta in large pot of salted water. When done (al dente, a little chewy still), pour approximately 4 ounces (118 milliliters), approximately half a glass, of pasta cooking water into a bowl and allow to cool slightly.

4. Once cooking water is warm, add three-quarters of it to the egg yolks. Whisk to combine.

5. Return skillet with bacon to stove under low heat.

6. In a colander, drain pasta from large pot, then toss in pan with bacon.

7. Add eggs to pan. Toss to combine. Turn heat off and keep tossing.

8. If pasta looks dry, add more of the pasta cooking water to moisten.

9. Serve immediately in individual bowls. Top with grated pecorino romano and pepper.

** Want to know the inspiration for the black and white photos above? They came from this year’s TED Prize Winner, graffiti artist JR. **

Blame it on the Gumbo

Location: Pinewood, Louisiana + Garland, Texas
Person: Clell
Recipe: Seafood and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

After a time, a man gets to talking.

Maybe he confesses something. A dream. A desire. A regret.

Hours pass. He has time to reflect. On his life. Places he’s been. Things he’s seen.

There are subjects on which he’s an expert. Possesses expertise. You can see it. The way he stirs the spoon in the pot. A confidence there.

Not every man has his patience. It’s a skill hard-won. Perhaps his mother’s side? He never did say.

Then again, he left home early. Says he carries memories in his mouth now. Just went home for grandma’s birthday. Everyone knows, miles don’t equal love.

After some hours, the sky darkens. Night rushes in. The man grows tired. The hours feel like years. He’d just like a place to lay his head is all. The simple things what’s needed. Hot coffee in the morning. A piece of bread to dunk his sorrows. His requirements small. Not like his dreams. They loom large. Floating off to a distance. A black unknown.

Still, he knows there’s tomorrow. Believes it in his skin. The way he knows his history. The body, like the future, never lying.

In the morning, the man disappears. His soul turning material with the sun’s clear light. A shirt. A tie. Now a pair of pants.

Leave no trace, he learned as a boy, hunting in a Texas wood (pointing the gun away from the doe, as she sprang through the air unbidden, though he’s never spoke of the transgression).

Yes, it’s true what they say. Or what I imagined in a dream that followed: You can learn a lot about a man, by the way he makes gumbo.

* Thanks to Clell for sharing his family’s gumbo recipe. The Southern Foodways Alliance also has a wonderful article about how to make roux.

Seafood and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

Clell's Seafood and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

Servings: 10-12
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients:

Roux:

1 cup vegetable oil – 236 ml
1 cup flour – 120 grams

Gumbo:

64 ounces chicken broth (can substitute vegetable broth or, as we did, half chicken, half vegetable) – 1892 ml
3 ounces chopped okra (10 whole) – 87 grams
4 ounces chopped onion – 115 grams
5 ounces celery (2 stalks) – 140 grams
1 green pepper – 85 grams
5 bay leaves
4 teaspoons Cajun or any mixed spice seasoning containing celery salt, garlic, thyme
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons tabasco
2 teaspoons salt or to taste (we went easy on the salt)
1 lb. can whole, peeled plum tomatoes – 500 grams
13 ounces andouille sausage (4 in total), cut into diagonal rounds – 356 grams
6 fresh, whole oysters, shucked including juice
6 fresh, large shrimp, shells and tails removed, each cut in thirds
11 ounces medium, whole frozen shrimp, thawed to room temperature, each cut in half – 310 grams

To serve: 10-12 cups cooked, white rice

* It helps to have two people making gumbo. One to stir the roux, the other to ready the gumbo ingredients. At any point, the two can trade places.

Directions:

To make the roux:

1. Heat 1 cup vegetable oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet until hot but not smoking, approximately 5 minutes.

2. Add 1 cup white flour and stir with wooden spatula to combine.

3. Lower heat and continue stirring oil and flour without pause for what will seem like FOREVER, but which is actually about an hour. Be sure to regularly scrape the pan bottom to prevent flour and oil from sticking. As you stir, the roux, as it’s called, will slowly change color from pale beige/grey to warm yellow to light caramel and then medium-dark brown caramel.

4. Once the roux is in the medium caramel-colored range, remove pan from heat and continue stirring a few minutes longer, until it turns slightly darker caramel brown. It’s important to remove pan from heat BEFORE the roux gets too dark, as it will continue cooking off the burner.

5. Whatever you do, DO NOT WALK AWAY from the roux, ALLOW IT TO SIT for too long without stirring, or LEAVE HEAT TOO HIGH, which will cause it to burn. If you sense the pan becoming too hot or see it starting to smoke, immediately remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before returning to low heat.

* There are some very talented people, probably Creole or Cajun folks, who can safely make a nearly black roux. Do not imagine you are one of them. Just take it slowly. Remember, they call New Orleans (N’awlins) the “Big Easy” for a reason. Roux may seem intimidating, and it is a bit of an art, but mostly it requires a calm head and a good nose.

While the roux is heating, a second person can do the steps below. In terms of timing, you want to have the roux finish so it’s ready to add to the broth and vegetables when you’re about at the halfway point:

1. Chop okra, bell peppers, and celery into 1/4″ pieces. Finely dice onion. Set each aside in separate bowls.

2. Into a large, deep pot, pour half the broth and warm under low to medium heat, approximately 10-15 minutes.

3. Add okra, onions, celery, and green peppers. Stir to combine. Cook until slightly softened, approximately 10 minutes.

4. Add whole tomatoes and spices. Stir to combine. Cook another 10 minutes.

5. Using wooden spoon, add roux to broth and continue stirring to combine. To keep gumbo from becoming too thick or gummy, quickly add remaining broth in cup measurements, stirring to combine. Stop before it gets thin and soupy.

6. Add andouille sausage and oysters. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to simmer.

7. Let gumbo cook, uncovered, simmering, another 30 to 45 minutes. Continue stirring gumbo occasionally, checking thickness, and add more broth as needed to maintain thick but not pastey consistency.

8. After 30 minutes, add fresh and defrosted shrimp.

9. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. The taste should be spicy but not burning. Allow to cook another 10 minutes until shrimp is done.

10. To serve, ladle gumbo over 1-2 cups hot rice. Gumbo can be eaten right away, but some contend it tastes even better the next day.