Review: Jrama’s Soulfood Grille & Barbecue Pit

jramas

It is a bit difficult for me to decide how to describe Jrama’s Soulfood Grille & Barbecue Pit. For one thing, the restaurant, housed in a former fast food joint in a strip mall on Upper Front Street just north of exit 6 from northbound I-81, although it has been open for several months, still has its “soft opening” menu, suggesting that changes are likely. That menu, however, is supplemented by a variety of daily specials announced by the owner as people arrive. And arrive they do. We stopped in well after the traditional 1PM end of lunch hour and the place was packed. When we left, there was a line for service and people were still coming in. So clearly Jrama’s has found a niche.  

Jrama’s concept is to provide freshly-made, often locally-sourced food made to recipes handed down through the owner’s family. The Soul Food menu struck me as more American comfort food—mac ‘n’ cheese, fried chicken, fried cat fish, baked beans, and cornbread—as well as such favorites as collard greens and spicy cabbage. A nice selection but missing such soul food staples as chit’lins and organ meats. However, the menu does include some Jamaican dishes like candied yams and rice and peas. Today’s specials included other Jamaican favorites: ox tails and jerk chicken. In any event the line between Island cuisine and Soul Food is a bit blurry and the selection is certainly appealing.

Being something of a BBQ connoisseur, I started out with the chopped pork BBQ sandwich. It was a generous portion served on a soft roll with the traditional coleslaw. I was surprised that it was Kansas-city style: lightly smoked with a cloyingly sweet, mild sauce. My wife had the BBQ chicken leg. It had the same too-sweet sauce but was cooked to perfection on a grill in the parking lot. Frankly, I much prefer Carolina-style pulled pork with a spicy vinegar-based sauce so I do not expect to have Jrama’s BBQ again. But then, as the lines indicate, Jrama’s knows its clientele. I do expect, however, to be back to try some of the Jamaican specialties.

One word of caution if you plan to try Jrama’s on your lunch hour: like many local restaurants I have visited, they have not mastered the concept of a quick lunch. I suppose that is the price of a made-to-order menu, but it would perhaps be good if they had a lunch menu of items that can produced a bit more quickly. Still, at least on the Friday we were there, the wait did not seem to discourage anyone.

Jrama’s Soulfood Grille & Barbecue Pit

1237 Front Street, Binghamton

Open Thursday-Saturday, 12pm-10pm

Sunday, 12pm-8pm

(607)644-7272

 

Review: The Painted Pig

Painted PigThe Southern Tier of NY is not famous for its pulled pork BBQ. In fact, before the Painted Pig, I have never had decent pulled pork in the area. But here is the real thing—east Carolina style, vinegar-based BBQ but made with locally-sourced ingredients.

At lunch on Friday, I had the pulled pork sandwich. It was piled generously with meat and topped with house-made BBQ sauce. The owner gladly provided a small cup of Texas Pete’s hot sauce, telling me that he too preferred it hotter but that he had to tone it down for the delicate palates of upstate NY. My only quibbles are that the roll was a bit over-toasted and that there was no coleslaw on the sandwich as is traditional in BBQ-eating country. The side of fresh arugula and a dill pickle spear that tasted locally made rounded out a satisfying lunch.

My wife, who does not eat wheat, ordered the pulled pork nachos. Wow! The $10 order was more than enough for two. It consisted of a big pile of multi-colored tortilla chips with lots of pulled pork topped with melted NY state cheese and generous dollops of sour cream and house-made guacamole. Next time we might well share an order for lunch.

If pulled pork is not to your liking, the Painted Pig offers a variety of other sandwiches and an impressive selection of salads.

Currently beverages are limited to soft drinks and raspberry iced tea. Personally, I think that the absence of unsweetened ice tea was taking the Southern theme a bit far. Depending on the time of day, you can always pick up a growler of beer at the nearby Binghamton Brewing Company to have with your meal.

Besides the food, the Painted Pig is sort of an art gallery with work by local artists displayed on the walls. On some evenings they feature local musicians. This is a place worth a visit.

 

The Painted Pig

258 Main St

Johnson City, NY 13790

 (607) 296-3799

Dirty Duck Wild Rice

Duck and wild rice have always seemed to me to go especially well together. Together they evoke northern skies and pristine lakes; visions of Lake Wobegon perhaps. Dirty rice, on the other hand, is a classic Cajun dish from the bayous of Louisiana, land of steel-grey humid skies and murky swamp water. So what brings the two together? Duck liver. Dirty rice is so called because of the brownish tinge it gets from being cooked with chopped liver, usually pork or chicken. Applying the technique of making dirty rice to wild rice and duck liver is, when you think about it, almost painfully obvious.

Wild rice is not, in fact, a rice at all but the seed of an aquatic grass of the genus Zizania, species of which are native to North America and to China. Bought in tiny boxes in the supermarket it is ridiculously expensive but one can buy it online for a reasonable price and for even less if you have a local Trader Joe’s.

I generally mix wild rice with brown basmati rice both because of the cost and because by itself wild is, well, a bit grassy. If you don’t have brown basmati rice any other long grain brown or white rice will work perfectly well in this recipe. Duck stock is not mandatory but if you have a duck liver you probably have the rest of the duck so you might as well make a batch. For convenience, I prepare the ingredients in a non-stick frying pan then put everything into an electric rice cooker. One can just as well build up the recipe in a pan with a tightly fitting lid and cook over very low heat.

Ingredients

 

Wild rice

100 grams

½  cup

Brown basmati rice

100 grams

½ cup

Onion

1 small

1 small

Bell pepper

½ medium

½ medium

Celery

1 stalk

1 stalk

Duck fat or butter

15 milliliters

1 Tablespoon

Duck liver

1

1

Duck stock

500 milliliters

2 cups

Salt and pepper

To taste

To taste

 

Method

Soak the wild and basmati rice separately in cold water for a half hour or so.

Dice the onion, pepper, and celery making the traditional Cajun “holy trinity.” Chop up the duck liver. Warm the duck stock.

Melt the duck fat or butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat and sweat the trinity until soft but not browned. Add the duck liver and sauté until lightly browned. Drain the basmati rice and add to the pan. Turn the heat up a bit and toss for a few minutes.

Put the contents of the frying pan into a rice cooker along with the drained wild rice. Pour over the duck stock, season with salt and pepper, and cook until done, 40 minutes or so.

Red Gravy

Anyone who has watched “The Sopranos” knows that many Italian Americans of Sicilian extraction call tomato sauce red gravy. Not surprisingly, everyone seems to have their own favorite recipe. Far too many contain little besides tomatoes and are too sweet for my taste. My version starts out with a generous amount of sofritto, the Italian equivalent of the French mirepoix. You will notice that the recipe below is vague on quantities. That is because a good gravy is a work of art that requires the personal touch of its creator. As a general rule the sofritto should be about half onion with the other vegetables making up the other half and there should be about twice as much tomato as sofritto. If you use mushrooms, aim for about half as much as of the sofritto. Check the amount of herbs right after pureeing. Add the sugar and salt at the very end. 

Ingredients

Onion

 

Carrot

 

Bell pepper

 

Celery (optional)

 

Garlic

 

Mushrooms (optional)

 

Olive oil

 

Diced canned tomatoes

 

Dry red wine

 

Dried thyme

 

Dried oregano

 

Dried parsley

 

Dried basil

 

Crushed red pepper flakes

 

Black pepper

 

Sugar (optional)

 

Salt

 

Method

Peel the onion and carrot then dice all of the vegetables. Sometimes I get lazy and just throw them all into the food processor and pulse it a few times. Mince the garlic and coarsely chop the mushrooms.

Warm the olive oil over low heat in a suitable sauce pan.  Sweat the sofritto and garlic, covered, until soft but not browned, stirring from time to time. This should take about 15 minutes. Add the mushrooms, raise the heat a little and sauté until they give up their liquid.

Stir in the tomatoes, a cup or so of wine, the dried herbs, and red pepper flakes. Simmer, partially covered, over medium low heat until the tomatoes are well cooked, about 30 minutes.

Off heat use a stick blender to puree the sauce. If you do not have a stick blender you can do this in a food processor or blender but let the sauce cool a bit before doing so.

Taste the sauce and adjust the herbs as needed. Bring it back to a simmer and let it thicken for about a half hour. Season to taste with sugar and salt.

Duck Rillettes

Rillettes are a coarse meat spread similar to the cretons popular in Québec. Most modern recipes call for them to be made from duck legs confit but I suspect that their origin was more modest, as a way to use up the last bits of meat left over from the stock pot. I simply cannot imagine a farm wife throwing away all that meat. I added the duck liver as well, giving the result a bit more of a paté flavor.  

Unlike a usual recipe, I am not specifying quantities of ingredients. The amount of meat will depend on how big your duck was and the flavoring is matter of judgment. A typical duck should yield about two cups of rillettes.

Ingredients

Duck fat or olive oil

Minced onion

Duck liver, coarsely chopped

Duck meat picked from bones and neck used to make stock

Giblets used in the stock

Ground cloves

Ground cinnamon

Dried thyme leaves

Dried savoy leaves

Heavy cream (36%)

Salt and pepper

 

Method

Gently sauté the onion in a bit of duck fat or olive oil. When softened, add the chopped liver and cook until done. Set aside to cool a bit.

If needed, coarsely chop the meat pickings and giblets. Place in a food processor along with the liver and onions. Add the spices and herbs. Pulse once or twice to combine. Add some cream, season with salt and pepper, then pulse a few more times to yield a coarse paste.

Serve on crostini or French bread.

Review: Social on State

Although Social on State is billed as a tapas restaurant, do not go there looking for traditional Spanish snacks. The extensive menu of small plates intended for sharing consists mostly of familiar American and continental fare. The variety is inventive and impressive ranging from mac and cheese to shaved Brussels sprouts. Some, like chicken osso buco, are a bit fanciful (I was not even aware that chicken had shanks). Having just come from some rather heavy grazing at a nearby art opening we only sampled two of the 31 dishes on offer. The thin, spiral cut house fries could have been a bit crispier but the three sauces that came with themroasted garlic aioli, beer barbeque, and Sriracha bleu cheese—compensated well. The lamb lollipops, Frenched lambchops, were wonderful if cooked a bit beyond the medium rare we ordered. The beet balsamic puree they were served on made a beautiful plate but lacked much in the way of vinegar flavor. As is de rigueur in stylish restaurants these days, Social on State has a lengthy menu of hipster martinis. The Hot and Dirty with Sriracha and olive brine was, if not exactly a classic martini, interesting. Paying homage to the recent explosion of craft brewing in upstate New York, the bar features a rotating selection of a dozen beers from three regional breweries: this month featuring four each from Cortland, Horseheads, and Upstate. The space is pleasant and quiet with a comfortable bar and ample seating. I could have done without the ubiquitous large screen TV showing a basketball game but I suppose that simply reflects my general disinterest in sports. A temporary outside foyer somewhat reduces the cold blast when the door opens but on an evening of single-digit temperatures one is well advised to sit away from the front. Prices are a bit steep for Binghamton—small plates ranged from $5 to $15 with most on the high side of $10. Martinis at $8 were at the going rate. Still, on a frigid Thursday evening the place was well populated and on weekends is often hard to get into. It is difficult to predict how long downtown Binghamton’s dining renaissance will last, but Social on State is certainly a welcome addition.

http://socialonstate.com/

Sourdough Toasting Bread

Sourdough English Muffin Bread-2For me, breakfast is not breakfast without toast. But it can be difficult to find a bread that toasts well. Most commercial loaves are too soft making rather gummy toast. I have experimented with several recipes to get what I consider just the right density. Using sourdough starter gives the bread a slight tartness that works very well with jam.

This recipe makes four 500-gram (1.1 pound loaves) in standard medium loaf pans. I wrap three of the loaves in heavy duty aluminum foil and freeze them.

A note on measurements: it is nearly impossible to achieve consistent results baking bread by volume—only gravimetric measures are accurate enough. (The weight of a cup of flour can vary by 10% or more.) Digital kitchen scales are very inexpensive today and every serious cook should own one. For making bread I much prefer to use metric units because they are more precise. Even those not familiar with the metric system can use it by simple setting the scale accordingly. 

Ingredients

100% hydration sourdough starter

350 grams

Warm water (45°C, 100°F)

483 milliliters (grams)

Sugar

23 grams

Dry milk powder

47 grams

Unbleached white bread flour

800 grams

Whole wheat flour

200 grams

Oil or butter at room temperature

58 grams

Salt

24 grams

Instant dry yeast

10 grams

Method

I make bread using a heavy-duty stand mixer. If you do not have one simply use a large bowl to mix the dough then knead by hand on a well-floured surface.

Place the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer onto the scale and zero it. Weigh in each of the ingredients, zeroing the scale between each addition. Mount the bowl on the mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead on the recommended speed setting for your mixer for five minutes after the dough comes together.

At this point I like to weigh the dough to make dividing it later more accurate.

Warm a large, heavy earthenware or glass bowl with hot water then dry and pour in enough oil to just cover the bottom. Form the dough into a large ball, place it in the bowl, and roll it around so that it is evenly coated with the oil. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the dough and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Set aside to proof until doubled in size, about one to one and a half hours depending on the temperature. Note that a long rising at a lower temperature yields a more finely-textured bread.

At the end of proofing, preheat oven to 190°C (375°F), punch down the dough, and divide it into four equal portions. (I use the scale to get them exactly equal.) Form the loaves and place them in lightly-oiled pans dusted with the cornmeal or semolina. Cover with a towel and allow to rise again until the dough is about 1 cm (½ inch) above the sides of the pan. Bake for about 35 minutes. The best way to determine doneness is with a thermometer; the center of the loaf should be between 90°C and 95°C (195°F and 200°F).

Amsterdam Mashed Potatoes

While casting about for something to do with the pound or so of left over sauerkraut in my refrigerator I came across this recipe. I am not sure what, if anything, it has to do with Amsterdam although it is similar to Boerenkool Stampott—mashed potatoes with kale—which does seem to be typically Dutch. If this seems like rather a lot of heavy cream and butter you can substitute non-fat for some or all of the cream and reduce the amount of butter. If you do, consider compensating by adding a bit of chopped bacon which goes especially well with sauerkraut. Serve this with sausage or pork chops.

Ingredients

Potatoes                                                              1 kilogram (2 pounds), about 6 medium, peeled and halved

Unsalted butter                                                70 grams (5 Tablespoons)

Heavy cream (36%)                                      125 milliliters (½ cup)

Onion, minced                                                  100 grams (1 medium)

Sauerkraut                                                         500 grams (1 pound)

Water                                                                   1 cup

Salt and pepper                                                To taste

 

Method

Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water until tender. Drain well then return to low heat to dry well, being careful not to burn. Put the potatoes through a ricer into a bowl. Beat in 3 tablespoons of the butter and enough of the cream to make the potatoes creamy and fluffy.

In a saucepan, over medium heat, melt the remaining butter and cook the onion until soft. Do not brown. Blend in the sauerkraut and water. Cover and simmer 35 minutes, stirring occasionally so the sauerkraut does not burn, adding small amounts of water if necessary.

When all the water has cooked off and the sauerkraut is tender, fold it into the mashed potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Warm over low heat if necessary.

 

Kasha with Root Vegetables

Buckwheat is an ancient crop that has been a staple food for centuries, especially in cold regions with short growing seasons. The word kasha comes from Persian for porridge although in the United States it commonly refers specifically to buckwheat groats after the Polish and Yiddish usages. Interestingly, it is not a true cereal grain actually an herb related to rhubarb. Nonetheless it is usually prepared in the same way as grain like rice, wheat, or millet. In this recipe, I prepare the kasha with root vegetables and onions as a colorful, tasty side dish. I used carrots and beets, but turnips, parsnips, or rutabagas would also work. Mushrooms would also be a nice addition. Chose the stock to complement whatever you are serving the pilaf with—I used shrimp stock to go with salmon cakes. When in doubt, chicken stock will always do as will plain water in a pinch. Because kasha cooks rather quickly, the roots have to be tender before adding since they will not have time to soften in the pot.  

Makes two to four servings

Ingredients

 

Kasha

100 grams

½ cup

Egg white

1

1

Oil or butter

As needed

As needed

Onion

100 grams

One small

Carrot

100 grams

One medium

Beet

100 grams

One medium

Stock

250 milliliters

1 cup

Salt and pepper

To taste

To taste

Method

Rinse the kasha and drain well. Put it into a bowl and stir in the egg white making sure that the grains are well-coated. Set aside.

Cut the vegetables into small dice, about 6mm (1/4 inch). Heat about 15 milliliters (1 Tablespoon) butter or oil in a non-stick frying pan and sauté each of them in turn over medium heat starting with the onion and ending with the beet. As each is done, set it aside.

Bring the stock to a simmer.  

If needed add a bit of butter or oil to the pan and fry the kasha over medium heat until the grains are dry and separate. Stir in the stock then the vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover tightly and set over low heat until all of the stock is absorbed, around ten minutes.

Fluff with a fork and serve hot.

Roasted Duck with Root Vegetables

Duck with root vegetables

Although the consumption of duck in the United States has risen by some 35% over the past two decades it lags far behind that of chicken. Roughly 24 million ducks are eaten here annually compared with more than eight billion chickens. Price accounts for part of that: duck costs two to three times what chicken does. But perhaps the main reason we eat less duck than many other countries is misinformation. Many people think that duck is difficult to prepare and high in fat: the first is untrue, the second true but with a caveat. Yes, duck, being a water bird and thus needing a layer of insulation, has more fat than chicken. But like with chicken, the fat is subcutaneous meaning that the meat itself is quite lean. And duck fat, much prized in France and elsewhere as a cooking fat, is about halfway between olive oil and butter in composition. Duck fat contains 50.5% monounsaturated fats, 35.7% saturated fats, and 13.7% polyunsaturated fats compared to olive oil with 75% monounsaturated, 13% saturated, and 12% polyunsaturated and butter with 21% monounsaturated, 51% saturated, and 3% polyunsaturated. Duck is no harder to cook than chicken but must be handled a bit differently to manage that fat. Most recipes for roasting duck call for pricking the skin and letting the fat collect in the roasting pan. But there is a better way: steaming or poaching the duck to render out the fat before roasting it. Not only does this result in a lean bird with crispy skin but the cooking liquid yields a delicious broth for making gravy and mildly flavored fat perfect for roasting root vegetables. For those I use potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, or parsnips depending on what I have on hand. You can also add some halved Brussels sprouts.

(Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef (NY: Hyperion, 1999), 124-125)

Ingredients

 

Duck

About 2 kilograms

About 4 pounds

White wine or water

250 milliliters

1 cup

Dried thyme

5 milliliters

1 teaspoon

Dried parsley

5 milliliters

1 teaspoon

Dried savory, optional

5 milliliters

1 teaspoon

Assorted root vegetables, cubed

About 1 kilogram

About 1 pound

Flour

About 30 milliliters

About 2 Tablespoons

Salt and pepper

To taste

To taste

Method

Preheat oven to 220°C (425°F).

If present, remove the giblets from the duck and set aside for another use. Pat the bird dry and season inside and out with salt and pepper. Truss if desired. Put a rack into the bottom of a large Dutch oven and pour in the wine. Place the duck on the rack and sprinkle on the dried herbs. Bring the liquid to a boil on the top of the stove, cover, and place in the oven.

If your duck does not fit in your Dutch oven, put it on a rack in a roasting pan, adjust the amount of liquid as needed, and cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Prepare a roasting pan with a rack for the duck and a suitable sheet pan for the vegetables. After an hour, remove the pot from the oven and transfer the duck to the rack in the roasting pan, leaving as much fat and juice as possible behind in the Dutch oven. Pour the cooking liquid and fat into grease separator or a measuring cup. When the fat has risen to the top, separate it from the broth and set both aside.

Reduce oven temperature to 190°C (375°F). Arrange the oven racks so that one is at the lowest level and another is two levels above it. Place the roasting pan with the duck onto the top rack.

If you are using beets, you might wish to parboil them for about 15 or 20 minutes and let cool.

Put the vegetables into a large bowl and toss with some of the duck fat. Season with salt and pepper. Spread on the sheet pan in a single layer. Place the pan onto the lower oven rack.

The duck and vegetables should be done in about 40 minutes. Check that the temperature of the duck measured in the thigh is 80°C (175°F) and that the vegetables are tender. Remove the duck from the oven and cover loosely with foil. You can leave the vegetables in the turned-off oven while you make the gravy.

Put 30 milliliters (2 Tablespoons) of the duck fat into a sauce pan. Stir in the flour to make a smooth roux. Strain the broth and add it a bit at a time to the roux while whisking vigorously until it comes to a boil. Keep adding broth until the gravy is the consistency you prefer. If you do not have enough broth, use water or stock.

Arrange the vegetables on a serving platter and place duck on top of them. Serve with the gravy.

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