Archive | April, 2006

Spring Soup

28 Apr

Last Sunday, after the horrendous “meal” I cooked on Saturday, I decided to keep it simple. It was rainy and kinda chilly, so, after a lovely brunch and a quick jaunt up to Trader Joe’s for olive oil (blissfully, there was no line!), I trotted home and set to making a springy soup.

I had ramps, baby mustard greens and baby bok choy left over from my trip to the farmer’s market the previous day, so, that was my base. I started off with a traditional mirepoix, just with the luxurious addition of ramps. Generally, unlike this woman, I, and others, prefer my “weeds” lightly cooked so I can taste their bitter, springy greenness. But in this case, I threw them right in with the onions and garlic.

I did what I had to do, I caramelized the ramps, deglazed with lemon and vermouth, stirred in chicken stock, garlic and sage chicken sausages, and some free range chicken thighs and let the whole thing bubble away for hours. Forty-five minutes before serving I tossed in a few hand-fulls of farro (procured on the Arthur Avenue adventure) and adjusted the seasoning by adding a little of the Trader Joe’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar (which, I’ve got to tell you, is seriously my new condiment obsession!).

The soup was divine. Full of wonderful green goodness (literally, it turned green, which really surprised me). The farro added so much texture, little pops! of chewy, grainy goodness in the middle of an unctuous, silky soup.

Sh*tty Sh*tty Din Din

24 Apr

Saturday night’s dinner was an unequivocal flop.

But, it could have been worse, I could have poached my mortality in a cream sauce, I could have killed both myself and the boy.

Allow me to explain…

I was feeling good on Saturday. I had foraged well at the Farmer’s Market. Ramps! Sorrel! Shallot Cress! Baby Mustard Greens! Pheasant Eggs! (I was also toting along some scallops and PG Tips, but they were definitely not from the green market).

My head was spinning with the possibilities, what to make for dinner. Scallops in sorrel sauce with cream braised morels (ah, but Ann you say, there’s no morels in that list… patience my friend, we’re getting there)? Scallops floated on a sea of risotto made of greens? Pasta with ramps and scallops? Mmmmm… they all sounded so good, but, being a slightly greedy person, I wanted more, I wanted more spring goodies to cook with!

So, on my walk home, I stopped off at SOS Chefs, the super chic epicurean wonderland on Avenue B just off Tompkins’ Square Park. This little shop that looks like its been dropped into the East Village by way of Paris is the stockist to the areas chef-ian stars. I’ve seen folk from wd50 in there, and that’s pretty big (but I digress).

So, I bop into the store and say, “I’d like some morels please!” One of the girls walks to the back of the store, beckons me to follow. She ducks into the walk-in cooler and comes out with a box of seriously sad looking morels.

In her super cute french accent she says “All ze chefs have bought ze morels for their weekend menus.” I should have just left then and there, c’est la vie and what not, but I did not.

Her co-worker pops up and says, “Why don’t you try some gyromitras?”

I say “What are they?”

“They’re false morels. They grow in the Northwest. They’re delightful, you cook them just like you would real morels!”

Again, I should have just left, but, I didn’t. So, the guy goes into the walk-in and comes out with a box, full to the brim with what look like slightly uglier morels. Now, shouldn’t I have been suspicious right here and now? If they’ve sold out of morels, and the chefs all want morels, don’t you think they would have accepted the gyromitras as a substitute? I’m getting weird vibes off the man and the woman helping me. There was something wrong with their body language. Call it women’s intuition, but I was getting a bad vibe.

As the woman was scooping pretty fungi into a brown paper bag, I ask the guy “So, is there anything special I should do with these? How do I clean them? Are there any special preparation suggestions? Are they like morels, toxic when raw?”

“No, nothing special, just run them under some water, check into their little folds and make sure you get all the dirt, then cut off the end and cook just like morels.”

Sweet, I’m thinking as I walk home, I’ve found the mother lode, the gift horse, the proverbial goose! At only $15 per pound, this could become a real addiction!

Sometime in the intervening 8 blocks, I decide that I’m going to leave the mushrooms for a decadent Sunday night dinner and that tonight, I’m going to make scallops in sorrel sauce with a ramp and orzo “risotto” served over a bed of shallot cress. Only problem is, I don’t know how to make sorrel sauce. So once home, all the goods stowed in their proper berths, I settle into my favorite activity, thumbing through my copious cookbook collection, gleening knowledge and settling on a menu.

My first stop for all strange and unusual vegetables and fruits is Elizabeth Schneider’s indispensable tome Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide. It’s a huge book and a joy to read. As I was flipping towards her entry on sorrel, I came across the page on morels, I glanced for nary a second, but, then, I flipped back… Something had caught my eye. In fact, it was this sentence:

Beware of false morels or Gyromitras; in the West they are generally safe, if cooked, but in the East and Midwest the species isn’t always edible.

Hmmmmmm… fascinating…. I don’t really enjoy phrases like “generally safe” and not “always edible”. So I decided to research further. I began coming across phrases a little less gentle in nature more like:

most poisonings occur during spring or early summer.

playing a game of Russian roulette… Do not feed this mushroom to others without fair warning.

The poison in false morels is MMH, or monmethylhydrazine (a chemical also found in rocket fuel).

cooked in a well ventilated area to avoid breathing any monomethylhydrazine that might be present and the cooking liquid should be discarded.

Okay, so I think you’ve probably got a handle on the level of panic to which I had risen about my “gift horse”. Dear god am I glad I looked that one in the mouth! I was so skeeved out, I took them right out of my fridge, put them in a bag, tied it up and decided I was too scared to even keep them around my apartment until Monday when I could take them back to the store and give them a good scolding.

What on EARTH are they even doing SELLING something that could KILL me over the course of a painful 2-7 days? First, bloating which leads to massive internal problems, coma and then death? Right in time for my 11 day trip to Croatia?

I’m so obviously an amateur cook, and I’m pretty sure I asked the right questions about these little pods of poison. Perhaps the store doesn’t realise what they’re doing? Either way people, I’m p*ssed!

They nearly poisoned me, AND they ruined my dinner! I totally lost control of my cooking abilities. I overcooked the scallops, I let the sorrel sauce break, then tried to reconstruct it, which was a terrible mistake. I didn’t have time to make a vinaigrette for the shallot cress. The only thing that was even close to edible was the “risotto”. I think ramps make everything better!!

The boy choked everything down and said it was good. He’s such a trooper! At least I redeemed myself with last night’s soup (more on that later)!

The moral of this story is this, Whenever you buy something you’ve never heard of and seems too good to be true, PLEASE do some research before jumping in and cooking it. The world doesn’t need dead bloggers!

My Family And Our Funny Eggs

17 Apr

Happy belated bunny day to one and all!

I didn’t see the Easter bunny this year, but I did manage to scare the Easter woodchuck out of my mom’s garden. Someone’s got to protect her baby lettuces!

Our family dinner was a little thrown off, my nephew came down with some dread toddler disease last week, but finally pulled through in time for the whole family to join together on Saturday night for grilled steaks with Blizzard Tarrasto, asparagus vinaigrette, and yes, pickled red beet eggs!

It’s a good thing I was too lazy to make them myself because for the first time in eons my mom made up a batch. I’m convinced half the reason I didn’t end up making them is because I couldn’t find the proper container.

Apparently my memory is better than I thought, in fact, it seems to be multi-generational because my mother told me that one day I’ll be able to make them, but not until I inherit “the ancestral jar”. This jar has been used for making beet eggs since my great-grandmother’s days, and there ain’t another proper beet egg makin’ receptacle out there.

Phew, looks like I dodged a family bullet there! If you want the recipe, click here. If you want to look at more pretty spring pictures, you’re in luck. If you want to munch on chocolate bunnies, you’ll have to buy your own (I didn’t get any this year…)



By the way, these pretty litte green leaves that I was so taken with are called Lady’s Mantle. My mom said there’s an old wives tale that if a young lady gathers up all the water collected in the leaves after it rains and uses it to wash her face, that young lady’s face will never grow old. I wonder if my mom was trying to tell me something….

Q·E·2: ‘za Xanadu

13 Apr

It feels like pizza is everywhere. The first thing one of my friends told me on Monday morning was about the best pizza, possibly the best meal, she’d ever had (and she promised she’d take me there with her some day!) The Wednesday Chef has gone ‘za zany. Even across the Pacific, they’ve got the pie bug. So when the boy suggested making a pizza with fresh mozzarella from Arthur Avenue that only he could call sub-par, I realised it was time to jump into the pizza fray.

As I’ve noted before, there are certain things I’ve realised I just should not try and do in my kitchen. Roasting chickens, making homemade pasta, pretty much all baking. These are things that I just shouldn’t attempt either because of my tiny space or my complete lack of patience with following a recipe. So, with that in mind, actually making pizza dough was completely out of the question. Luckily, we have good ole LES bread.

Chef Iacapo (ya-ke-po) makes the most gorgeous foccacia breads in little individual sizes and bigger sharing sizes. He also makes salt foccacia which are the most wonderfully sinful carb-a-licious pillows of joy ever to come out of an oven. But I digress.

The boy stopped and picked up one of the large foccacias from Falai Panetteria. Think of it kind of like a really fancy, healthier Boboli. I whipped up a simple tomato sauce (Pomi, Spiedie Mix’n, sherry vinegar, salt, pepper, chili flakes and oregano), sluuuuurped it over the bread, covered with basil leaves and cloaked it all in slices of gorgeous fresh mozzarella.

I popped it in the oven at 425°F for about 15 minutes. I wanted to let it go for longer, so the cheese would really brown up and bubble and get kinda crispy, but the boy was becoming consumed with pizza longing, so, I pulled it out sliced it up and boy did we dig in! The slightly crispy crust was just barely soaked through with sauce, the cheese clung bravely on, and it was all washed down with a light, fruity Schiava.

This was possibly the easiest dinner I’ve ever made. It was simple, cheap (about $10 in total) and absolutely DELICIOUS. If you have a good bakery that does great foccacia like this, try this, or a variation (maybe just olive oil, garlic and some hard and soft cheeses to serve with salad), you’ll thank me!

Arthur Avenue In The Rain

11 Apr

Most weekends, at some point in time, I suggest to the boy that we do something a little outside our comfort zone. Let’s take MetroNorth up to Garrison, or let’s go hang out on Coney Island, in the rain, or, let’s go to the Folk Art Museum (okay, totally within my comfort zone, but way outside of the boy’s) or, let’s take the ferry to Hoboken and hang out by the river. Nine times out of ten, I am met with a stare that needs no words, but I’ll translate for you, “Huh, are you serious?”

So, on Saturday morning with the rain pounding down and the sky all gray and blah, I was shocked to hear my suggestion of a trip to the Bronx to check out Arthur Avenue meet with enthusiastic approval. I guess I gave the boy that stare, because he provided me a very simple explanation, “I bet they have really great fresh mozarella up there!” How silly of me to forget about the mozz!

And off we went (after a quick check of NY1 of course), books in hand for a very long subway ride to Fordham Road. Our only directions were; get off at Fordham, and then head east. Sounded easy enough, perhaps on a day when the rain wasn’t bouncing off my skull and my umbrella turning inside out. It seemed like an eternity, that walk up Fordham. The wind seems rawer that far north, perhaps its the hills. Either way, finally, we saw a sign. Turn right for Arthur Avenue. Hallelujiah!

Turn right we did, but it barely looked different from some streets in the Lower East Side. Would we know when we hit the good stuff? Oh yes we did! Cross one street and, well, to co-op a phrase, bada bing! Hello Arthur Avenue!

Since we were freezing and soaked, we made the indoor market our first stop. What a trip! Right off the bat, a buncha guys sitting around rolling cigars. Further on, produce, olive oils, grains, pastas, and then we hit the sandwiches! Hol-y COW! Made on pizza bread! And to think we just ate! To co-op another phrase, doh! The meat cases were studies in offal and amazing cuts of meat. One guy had at least four different kinds of heart. Anthony Bourdain would have felt very comfortable here.

We picked up some fresh mozza (natch), some cured meats and a spaghetti pie from Mike’s Deli, and some pepper relish and fresh peccorino from another stand. The rain was just too much to handle after the market, so eschewing Bronx bread for LES bread (for fear it would get wet), homeward we headed.

The fresh mozza had nothing on DiPalo’s, but the pepper relish, oh the pepper relish! A hundred times better than the stuff I get at that-place-on-Grand-Street-I-can-never-remember-the-name-of! It really helped boost the spaghetti pie which was nothing like what I was expecting. The “pie” was basically a seriously bland frittata with spaghetti and some meat in it. For some reason, I had visions of “deconstructed” lasagna. One of my co-workers told me, I was probably expecting a timbale.

Actually, I don’t know if I was expecting a timbale, but I do know that I am utterly obsessed with this idea now! Too bad it’s Easter this weekend, otherwise, I know what I’d be doing in the kitchen!