The Carnegie Deli

I have a thing for Jewish delicatessens. I’ve enjoyed many a deli sandwich over the years, from my formative days at Eppes Essen in Livingston, New Jersey, to once-a-year visits to the Stage before a Broadway show, to breaking Passover at Yachabebe, the one Jewish deli in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Jersey-style sloppy joe sandwiches from Nana’s, to far-too-few Second Avenue Deli visits, to greasy indulgent deliveries from Sarge’s, to once-a-year visits to Rein’s Deli in northern Connecticut, to semi-regular visits to Artie’s up the street from my apartment, to delicious off-hours runs to the legendary Katz’s on the Lower East Side. They’re all delicious in their own way.

Yet none of them resonates with me like the Carnegie did. I’m not entirely sure why. My personal history ran through all of its competitors. I didn’t go all that often. But as I got to know what makes a great deli, and a great deli sandwich, my go-to became corned beef at the Carnegie, as often as I could justify it.

When I worked in the neighborhood, I used to round up a group of coworkers for take-out every month or so. I’d stop in with friends from out of town, and occasionally with family. My wife and I had our rehearsal dinner in the back room the night before our wedding–Sandy, the manager (his business card read “M.B.D.” What’s that, you’d ask him? “Married the Boss’s Daughter,” he’d say with a wink), gave us a strict time window and told us to just order off the menu. In true New York deli fashion, at the end of our booking window the restaurant was seating new customers in the space before we even vacated the room.

New York being New York, change is inevitable, and so tomorrow is the Carnegie’s last day in business. I’m irrationally sad and have been pining for a sandwich since I heard the news. But then, I was last there in 2015, and I haven’t made it there in the three month farewell window. Sandy, our one personal connection, went through an ugly divorce from Marian, the owner (and “boss’s daughter”), several years ago. They closed the back room a ways back, and most of my Carnegie meals have been take-out, anyway.

Besides, there will be more deli in my future. As I write this, my parents and children are on the way to Artie’s to pick up some lunch (having been unable to get through to the Carnegie by phone to place an order today). The Carnegie still inexplicably and deliciously runs a food stand at Madison Square Garden. I’ll get back to Katz’s soon. And I’ll find other delicious corned beef, I’m sure. Heck, my wife’s cousins own the Mill Basin Deli, which I have yet to visit; hopefully the next time I scratch my corned beef itch, I do it in Brooklyn.

Still, I had a soft spot in my heart for the Carnegie, with its true New York flavor, both metaphorically and literally. It will be missed.

For an even better farewell, read Jake Dell’s farewell letter to the Carnegie in the New York Times, especially the last line.

My vote for innovation of the year

LiquiGlide is my dream come true, because it solves this problem, as described by the New York Times: “Much of what we buy never makes it out of the container and is instead thrown away — up to a quarter of skin lotion, 16 percent of laundry detergent and 15 percent of condiments like mustard and ketchup.”

Of course, the folks at the Times and Consumer Reports never saw how much toothpaste I manage to eke out of that tube. (LiquiGlide-slicked Colgate may thus be my wife’s dream come true, too.)

Ideapad recipes: lazy arroz con pollo

Oh, man, this is so simple it’s barely worth posting, but it was easy and delicious and I made it last night and it made me so happy (not as happy as the arroz con pollo from Maz Mezcal, mind you, but not bad, and Maz Mezcal’s is rather more oily anyway) and thus I highly recommend giving it a try.

Ingredients:

  • One 10-ounce (or so) package of Vigo yellow rice
  • One full chicken breast, cooked
  • One package of peas
  • One red or orange pepper

When I say simple, I mean simple. You boil the water and start cooking the rice, using a covered skillet like the package recommends, and not a pot. You grab a Steamfresh Singles package of peas and nuke it up. You cut the pepper into thin slices. You take the chicken—cooked, mind you; I get lemon grilled chicken breast from Fairway’s deli counter, and it’s as flavorful as any I’ve ever made, and it’s actually the same price per pound as the Murray’s raw chicken breasts I usually buy, which makes me wonder both what kind of chicken Fairway uses and whether I’m completely insane buying $9/lb organic and antibiotic-free chicken breasts—and cut it into chunks, maybe a little bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a Spaldeen.

When the rice is done, take your peas and your peppers and your chicken and throw them all into the skillet. Mix everything together with a large serving spoon. Then cover the skillet again and let sit for 10 minutes. That both normalizes the temperatures of the ingredients and allows a hint of saffron to penetrate the entire dish.

Plate. Serve. Enjoy. So easy! So delish! I’m going to have leftover arroz con pollo tonight.

Ideapad recipes: tuna salad

This is not much of a recipe, as it goes, but I make a pretty mean Jewish-deli-style tuna salad. It’s easy, and yet it’s not.

There are many ways to make canned tuna fish into an enjoyable salad. My mother-in-law does hers up with relish and, we suspect, a dollop of sugar. Fairway makes a “healthy” tuna salad with soy-based mayonnaise and so rich in carrots that it skews the flavor profile, and in a good way. Mine is a bit more traditional, and not far off from what you’d get at, say, the Carnegie Deli on Seventh Avenue. (Although I’d have to make a lot more of it to make an equivalent sandwich.)

Ingredients:

  • One or more cans of solid white albacore tuna in water (I buy Bumble Bee)
  • A jar of mayonnaise (I buy Hellmann’s, and—shhh—I get the low fat kind; see below)
  • A stalk of celery

Open tuna cans, drain water, dump contents into a steel or glass mixing bowl. I used to squeeze and squeeze the water but it really doesn’t matter as the final product is so moist.

Mash up the tuna a good bit. I use a dinner fork for this and keep it pretty informal, although getting to small pieces is important. My mom, from whom I learned the basics of this recipe, used to dice the hell out of her tuna fish with a chopping knife, a 1970s, single-handed version of the thing they use at Chop’t to chop up salads nowadays, which served to eradicate most traces of fishiness (and therefore made it one of her son’s two go-to lunches, despite the fact that her son abhorred most fish until well into adulthood) but also took out some of the texture and corresponding flavor. I no longer opt not to go that far, although you certainly can. The Carnegie’s tuna looked knife-chopped to me last time I had it. Still, you want to break up the tuna well, because the interlacing of the ingredients—that squishiness you can actually hear—is what makes for great tuna salad.

Next, add the mayo. There are two tricks that come in handy here. The important one, and probably the whole point of this essay, is to use way more mayonnaise than you would ever suspect you’d find palatable. All those tiny pieces of tuna you created need to adhere to one another, and a generous apportionment of vinegar-oil-and-egg blend will be the defining characteristic of a great tuna salad. I start with one heaping tablespoon of mayo for every five or six ounces of tuna, and I wind up using twice as much, or more. Add a spoonful, mix it in with the fork, check its color and consistency, and add another blob. Not just add to taste, trust me, you’re going to want to keep going; I tend to stop too soon every time. You can actually listen for that squish in your fork as the tipping point into proper proportion. Did you stop adding mayo out of skepticism? Fear? Seriously, add more. The ideal amount home turns out to be about half a tablespoon more than you think.

The other mayonnaise trick, as mentioned in the ingredient list, is that unless you’re cooking up two batches side by side with different ingredients, reduced- and low-fat mayo tastes just as good as regular. (At least, Hellmann’s does.) So you can spare yourself some cholesterol to help your heart, and your conscience.

When the tuna and mayo are all set, it’s time for the celery. Celery is nice because it adds a great textural counterpoint to the sponginess of the tuna, and the flavor balance is excellent. Celery portioning is discretionary: I typically put in a quarter-stalk per can of tuna, diced into small but not minuscule pieces, but a bit more or less won’t impact things too much. Other ingredients can also be added at this time, like Fairway’s carrots, but I stick with just the celery. Mix in thoroughly.

Finally, chill the tuna salad, then serve. I am happiest with ice-cold tuna in sandwich form, with a half-sour pickle and potato chips and a cream soda as the ideal accompaniment. Good tuna salad is equally satisfying on almost any bread, from white to multi-grain to a baguette, though a Jewish-deli tuna salad preparation probably deserves Jewish bread: rye, pumpernickel, challah or a bagel. Eppes essen.

Ideapad recipes: chicken stir-fry

I cooked a perfect roasted turkey tonight! Which is noteworthy for many reasons, such as the fact that I hate touching raw poultry, I used the wrong kind of roasting pan, I’d never cooked a turkey of any kind before, and it wasn’t even supposed to be mine to cook. When my wife ran late I tackled the bird, and I have been marveling all evening at how easy it was to do well. I also whipped up some pretty tasty homemade stuffing.

I developed an interest in cooking fairly late in life. In my 20s, about the only time I cooked was to whip up some pasta and Perdue breaded chicken breasts in the minuscule kitchen of my minuscule walkup apartment. Now that I live in a four-person household, though, preparing and sharing a meal is fun, healthy and economical, and restaurant delivery has become a novelty rather than a routine.

For better or worse, when I cook, I like to make it interesting. If I’m going to all the effort, I’m going to have some fun along the way, trying new recipes and going all-in on ingredients and preparation. (See: homemade stuffing.) Having successfully banged out Thanksgiving dinner tonight, I’m thinking of posting my recipes and meals here as I go. They’re usually variations on top-five Google search results for whatever I’m looking into, but I invariably swap out an ingredient or two, too. I’ve been emailing successful recipes to myself and perhaps it will be more fruitful and entertaining to post my items publicly.

Of course, I have a handful of staples, one of which is a pretty basic and pretty tasty chicken stir-fry, which is easy to create while managing an active home, as you’ll see. I wrote this in 2010 but it was never published. It’s a good way to start this series.

Chicken Stir-Fry for the Modern Parent

To cook this dinner the way I cook it, first assume the appropriate mindset: consider yourself busy, tired, and sick of spending $35 on mediocre delivery for two, then layer onto that a spouse (partner, roommate, baby daddy, whatever) who shares the same busy-and-tired mindset, a blissfully unaware, curious and chipper 20-month-old boy, and a dog who begs like the hungriest panhandler you’ve ever passed in Union Square.

Now put yourself in the right physical scenario. It’s after-work-o’clock and the boy is running around the house, alternating between exploring things he shouldn’t and vying for your attention. The spouse isn’t home yet, but will be soon, and damn if you don’t want to eat dinner too late, since the kid wakes up at 7 in the morning and you both need to wind down early. So it’s time to cook while watching the kid.

I’ve found that a nice chicken stir-fry is low-impact enough to perform while juggling tasks, as it’s flavorful and reheats well, so you can cook a boatload of it in one shot and have leftovers for a day or two.

Start with rice. Any rice will do, really, so long as it’s not a cute seasoned thing, because your fine stir-fry will give you plenty of sodium to tinge the rice, but more on that later. Put up the pot, drop in your rice, listen for the boil, cover and simmer, giving a play-by-play to the tot, who repeats back every step. Once he can’t see the rice in the pot, the kid will lose interest and meander into the next room to play with trains and Elmo. Good enough.

Shortly after the rice is on, your spouse will arrive home, which is crucial, because she (or he) can assume some of the child-care duties, freeing you to wield a sharp knife without worrying as much about the tot. The dog, having picked up on the clatter and the scent of the rice, is now underfoot.

Get the chicken from the fridge, fresh organic breasts. Thin sliced is best. Don’t fall for the “chicken stir-fry” package, which conspicuously lacks the words “breast” and “white meat” and may not actually spell “chicken” correctly, like Krab brand imitation crab meat. You’re multitasking, but that doesn’t mean you’ve lost your sense of taste.

To prepare the chicken, you need a big bowl of Asian-style spiced liquid salt. In my house, Soy Vay is the seasoning of choice, mostly because of its awesome name. Any teriyaki or soy blend will do (not straight soy sauce, your blood pressure doesn’t need that, and it’s not all that flavorful). Throw maybe six ounces of sauce into the bowl, then cross-cut the chicken into smallish pieces or strips, larger than your fingernails and smaller than your index finger. Submerge all the chicken in the sauce and let it sit for a few minutes. If you want serious flavor, you’d do this the night before, or in the morning before work, but with the kid running around, who has that kind of time, or foresight? Fifteen minutes is enough to get things going.

Turn now to your cutting board and assemble whatever vegetables you have in the house. No doubt your fridge and freezer contain some combination of the following: celery, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, peas. Bean sprouts are probably good in this dish but lord do I hate bean sprouts so forget I even said that. Fish around your cabinet for a can of water chestnuts or bamboo, or both. If you have some sesame seeds or ginger, bonus! It’s almost real stir fry at that point. Put it all on the counter so you don’t forget an ingredient and sit down later wishing you’d remembered to toss in the bok choy.

Start chopping vegetables. There’s no necessary direction to this, not with all the activity around the house; the important thing is to make everything small enough to warm up quickly in the pan later. Thin sticks of carrot taste better than slices, though. Right around now, the dog is starting to love you again, because your vegetable prep is no doubt flinging things onto the floor, which Hoover down there is promptly taking care of.

Around this time, the kitchen will start smelling more like food, too, which draws in the toddler–nonono, don’t touch the stove, it’s hot. Yeah, “toooove.” And that’s chicken over there. Say “chicken.” Want to help Daddy cook? No? Smart, little guy. Let’s go get a book and keep you busy.

Back to business. Get a large pan warmed up over a medium-high flame. When it’s nice and hot, drop in the chicken, with a liberal helping of the Soy Vay or such, which is going to do double-duty on the veggies, so don’t be afraid to over-season at this moment. Let everything simmer for a few minutes, adding water as necessary to avoid char, and as the chicken turns white, flip it to cook the other side.

Once the chicken is on side two, give it a couple of minutes, then drop in any frozen vegetables. Wait long enough so that they don’t overcook, but not too long, because the frozen guys need a head start on the fresh ones. Right around now, your rice is probably done; turn off its burner and enter “let sit five minutes” mode, which you probably never do, I know I don’t, and the rice really is tastier when you do it, so consider your good fortune.

Return to the chicken. By now it should be mostly cooked through; the thinner your thin-sliced chicken, the faster you get out of salmonella range. When you hit “okay, I’m going to give the chicken two more minutes” time, drop in all the fresh vegetables. I like to make a little show for myself, putting them in one color at a time from separate glass bowls, but really, no one’s watching, except probably the toddler, who has no clue about food presentation, so just go for it. Mix up everything well so all the vegetables are in contact with the sauce, then usher the kid back out of the kitchen again, because we are deep in splattering-boiling-soy mode, and you don’t want to get that on your own skin, much less the baby’s, although the dog doesn’t give a damn, so long as you drop some more food on the ground before you’re done.

That about does it for the chicken. Cut through a piece to test for preparedness; that’s the beauty of stir-fry, you can just slice that piece in half without the ignominy of being That Guy Who Has to Cut into His Chicken to See if It’s Ready. With any luck, the chicken is cooked through within two or three minutes of dropping in the fresh vegetables, because their flavor is much more intense and healthy if they don’t sautee too long.

Turn off the stove and you’re ready to serve. Dole out the rice first and put the stir fry right on top, since that’s how the rice tastes best. Show the toddler your work and hope he doesn’t get all jealous and ask to eat dinner again. Toss something on the floor for the dog and call in your spouse for dinner. As my kid would say, “mmmMMMmmm.”

Pro tip: because you had very little time to marinate your chicken before cooking, this dish actually tastes a little better the next day, after the soy’s had a night to soak into everything. I usually cook a pound-plus of chicken and a good amount of vegetables and leave myself at least one serving for tomorrow. Because the last thing you want is to do this two nights in a row.

How industry consolidation affects you: beer

Beer! Microbrew this and craft-brew that, how can beer be victim to consolidation?

The business of hops, yeast and malt is still fairly unconsolidated, but it has come together rather strongly in the past decade, to the point where the most famous American beer brands are all owned by foreigners. Anheuser-Busch InBev is the world’s largest beer manufacturer, with 21% of global sales. Don’t let the storied names out of St. Louis fool you; AB InBev is a Belgian-Brazilian company headquartered in Brussels.

In second place is SABMiller, founded in South Africa, headquartered in London, and owner of the Miller-Coors brands that hearken back to the Colorado Rockies. SABMiller sells roughly 44 billion pints of beer each year. SABMiller just made an offer to buy Heineken, a brewing conglomerate of similar size, which the Dutch company has so far rejected; should a deal go through, the combined firm would also control 21% of the beer market. The Economist also suggests that InBev may just buy SABMiller, creating a behemoth with combined production of nearly 600 million hectolitres (or, in practical terms, 125 billion pints) of beer per year.

Despite this consolidation, local and regional brewing continues to thrive. From mid-size producers like Sam Adams and Brooklyn to do-it-youself brewpubs, a wide variety of beers exist alongside the majors—some 3000 commercial entities in all, ensuring some diversity in a consolidating field.

Update: Flowing Data made a nice beer family tree that visually represents the industry.

This is the latest in a series of summaries of industries whose corporate consolidation has led to a small number of players controlling the majority of a sector, creating oligopolies in the mass market. Previously

Tea

A friend of mine asked about tea, and in answering, I realized I drink quite a lot of tea and have discovered some very good things to drink, which I thought I’d share here.

Hot

I drink hot tea sporadically for enjoyment and all the time when I’m sick. And my hot tea appreciation reached its apex with Mighty Leaf tea. They’re all delicious. The organic mint melange is in my house right now. I’ve always enjoyed Tazo Calm, which you can get at Starbucks and which tastes great with honey instead of sugar.I’m also on a simple chamomile kick right now. Twinings is fine at this. (My kids prefer chamomile, too, and I’d love to find a 50- or 100-pack of chamomile tea bags. For now I’m buying the Twinings 20-packs.)

And, frankly, ordinary black tea is underrated. A 12-oz Lipton’s with honey–keep going with the honey, a little bit more, no seriously, ok that’s enough–is pretty great in its own right, even in decaf. You’ve probably never even tried it.

Iced

We keep a regular supply of Honest Tea in the house. The basic Honest Lemon Black is my favorite. It’s the right amount of sweet, although it’s sweeter than it used to be, before Coke bought the company out and made it more mass, but it still has 40% the sugar profile of a Snapple and fully organic. I buy it by the case. I also enjoy the peach white tea on occasion, and several of the esoteric versions they sold a decade ago in glass bottles that are now hard to find, like their peppermint tea.

Most other bottled and canned iced tea is horrifically sweet. The best ones actually shy away from being “tea” and include elements of fruit juice. One exception to this is Arizona’s Diet Green Tea with Ginseng, which is a terrific lunch accompaniment.

On the sweet but awesome side, try some Turkey Hill Orange Tea. I buy the diet decaf which is as good as the regular. It’s made with real orange juice and an embarrassing amount of sweetener, and if no one’s looking, I can drink a half-gallon of it in pretty much one sitting. Every person I’ve introduced it to–dating back to 1994, in my college apartment–has become addicted to it, most recently my parents, who otherwise avoid artificial sweeteners. It’s like umami tea.

As a counterpoint, it’s wonderful if you have the determination to home-brew iced tea. I say determination because it’s incredibly unsatisfying: you’ll want some tea, so you’ll heat up a lot of water, which takes a long time, then pour it into a pitcher with half a dozen teabags, which makes you yearn for it, only now you have a quart of hot tea that you have to chill for an hour before you can drink it. If you’re responsible enough to brew it the night before, then it’s tasty. I’ve found moderate success with an assortment of “brewed iced tea” brands, none of which were special enough to stay in memory.

Time to get something to drink.

On bagels

Westside Independent: Numerous UWS Restaurants Closed for Health Violations. The list of May offenders includes Tal Bagel, Hot & Crusty and Popover Cafe.
I had breakfast at Tal over the weekend and nearly posted a review to Yelp and Menupages about it. The place is, in a word, dirty. Tables full of crumbs, grimy floors, a crusty pizza that looked like it had been sitting out since the night before. My bagels were fine enough, but I had them toasted–they were undoubtedly a day old. (Ask a Tal employee on a Saturday morning, “Which bagels are warm?” and he’ll tell you, “None, we didn’t cook this morning.”)
The beauty of living in Manhattan, of course, is that choice is abundant. So instead of Tal, I go to Lenny’s a few blocks up for a bagel, or, when it’s convenient, to H&H (which has had its share of problems recently, but about money, not cleanliness). I rarely go to my freakishly expensive local supermarkets; I hit Fairway instead. And while Popover Cafe has some good food, my wife (accurately!) says it’s too dirty, so we eat elsewhere.
The real problem here is that all the dirty places on the UWS seem to be the ones nearest my apartment. Get it together, people! I want to support your well-run businesses!

My microwave melted my FreshDirect microwave-ready meal

This is FreshDirect’s SMART & SIMPLE MOROCCAN CHICKEN W/ HERBED COUSCOUS.

The instructions read, “Place in microwave and heat on high for 3 minutes in 1,000-watt or higher microwave.” So I did, in my 1,000-watt GE Profile microwave. Three minutes later, this is what resulted.

The last step on the FD package–“Enjoy!”–is looking mighty difficult.

This is what the package looked like beforehand:

freshdirectmeal.png