Archive | February, 2007

Perks & Quirks

27 Feb

It’s been about a month since we’ve been living in Bay Ridge, just enough time to start learning some of the neighborhood’s quirks. What at first seemed a quiet, lazy, almost suburban neighborhood is slowly revealing itself to, indeed, be part of New York City, and therefore, slightly eccentric.

Or, maybe I’m just projecting my eccentricities on the neighborhood. Either way, there’s are some major quirks to living here, but there are also some major perks.

Case in point, my morning commute.

Mackerel & Olive Oil Braised Vegetables

I’m finally reading again. A lot in fact. I’m blowing through at least two books a week. But that’s not the biggest perk. The biggest perk comes at the end of the line on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And what is it? The Union Square Greenmarket, of course.

I clamber out of the subway at it’s northernmost terminus to the sight of the stalls of the market. So far I’ve been in control of myself, it’s been helped by the grim reality of a market in winter, but last Friday, I was seduced.

I believe I was running late for work (as I always am). I came bounding up the steps, and then out of the side of my eye, I saw something and I froze mid-puddle leap. There off to the left, like something out of a nightmare sat two sharks.

Sharks? Yep. Sharks. Well, actually, more like dogfish, but they’re still sharks!

Mackerel & Olive Oil Braised Vegetables

So, why am I telling you about these sharks but not showing you a picture? Because many of the vendors at the Greenmarket don’t like people taking pictures of their wares. Why? I dunno, probably because I’m not the first blogger to write about Blue Moon Fish Co.

After admiring the sharks for a few minutes I took a gander at the other fresh fish on display. Lo and behold, they had a whole tub of one of my favorites, mackerel. Whole ones too (minus the head). So I grabbed the two biggest for a grand total of $1.05. It’s good to like what most people consider garbage fish.

And since I was already committed to carting home some perishable goods I decided to wander a bit and make myself a little later (they always keep me really late at work on Fridays, so I figured I’d chip off a few minutes at the front end of my workday).

The grass-fed beef guy was there, and he had short ribs, so I grabbed some of them too (more on those later).

Mackerel & Olive Oil Braised Vegetables

A large coffee later, and I was in my office placing beautifully briny, and yet still kinda fishy smelling, fillets of mackerel into the company fridge, right next to someone’s grotesque South Beach Diet cardboard lunch. It felt kind of nice.

We ate a lot of tiny, whole fish in Croatia. Most of the time, we think, they were sardines but they were often simply listed as blue fish. They were always prepared simply, usually just coated in olive oil and grilled, and were always delicious.

And so, with these memories in mind, a simple Adriatic preparation for my mackerel was called for. I stuffed their bellies with thinly sliced garlic and lemons, and a few leaves of mint and oregano (they happened to be what I had on hand) and cooked them under the foil of my Adriatic braised vegetables.

Adriatic Vegetables

And what are Adriatic braised vegetables? Only the single most amazing way to make your vegetables taste delicious and to (probably) sap them of all their nutritional value; vegetables cooked slowly in olive oil. A lot of olive oil! These came with every dish in Croatia, but I wasn’t 100% sure how to make them until the Tiny Banquet Committee sent me a scan of a recipe from a very old Helen Gurley Brown cookbook.

And so the perks of living in Bay Ridge do seem to be outweighing the quirks. But I fear for my wallet, and my shoulders, once the vegetables start coming back to the Greenmarket!

Head below the jump for the recipes for Vegetables Hrvatski & Mackerel Adriatica.

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The Polenta Space

23 Feb

Perhaps it started months ago, when all of us New Yorkers were, under our breaths, cursing winter… I wanted winter… I craved winter… I wanted thick hearty foods… Gooey, sticky braised meatsGrainsSoupsRoastsPastasBreads.

Rocks

It was during this time, when winter was shyly avoiding our fair coast (and this may seem silly) that we discovered polenta. Yes, that’s where the silly comes in. Discovering polenta? That’s like saying we discovered North America, yet, we (The Boy and I) had missed polenta. We were into grits, and risottos, and pastas cooked like risotto, and grains cooked liked risotto… but polenta had been but a momentary blip on the radar.

When I made the boar, the weirdness of the polenta having arrived in a shrink-wrapped sausage-like packaging totally outweighed my lust for creamy, delicious grains. It’s only been since moving, when I go grocery shopping on my lunch break that I discovered the utter, Nobel-deserving amazingess of 5-minute (and $2.49 a box!) instant polenta.

Seriously.

Radishes, Carrots, Polenta, Mint

5 minutes. Perfect, creamy, tasty polenta.

And last night I did a comparison against pasta. For basically the same size serving, polenta has about half the calories and carbohydrates (if you’re into that kind of thing) and slightly less fat than regular white wheat pasta. This comparison came about  after dinner, The Boy asked me, “So why aren’t we eating polenta two or three-times a week?” I tried to make it about health concerns, and I was sorely beaten into submission.

So, what’s my point? Polenta is an incredibly delicious and elegant blank canvas.

On Sunday, coming back from a shopping mission in the city, The Boy and I got into a discussion on cooked radishes. We conjectured as to whether they’d be any good cooked and decided it might be worth trying. We roasted them with carrots because I thought their sweetness would offset the radish’s bitterness, but it was totally unnecessary.

Roasted Radishes & Carrots

Radishes, when roasted, loose all of their bite. All. None. I found on the Internet those that praise the taming of their bite, but, uh, excuse me, the beauty of radishes is their bite. They were still delicious, but I must admit, I was a wee bit disappointed. I planned the meal around their assumed acerbicness. The carrots for sweetness. The polenta for smoothness. The ricotta for creaminess. All that aside though, it was a nice meal. The mint added that something extra, the perfect interplay with all the earthiness (I promise that’s the last -ness).

Conversely however… Braised escarole and polenta.

Suburban Brooklyn

The escarole had been purchased as supporting character in my Green & Gold soup, but had proved unnecessary. It sat in the crisper all week waiting for its turn as the star in a good after-work dinner. Finally, last night, it happened. The Boy minced garlic and washed and chopped the greens. When I got home all I had to do was brown the garlic in good olive oil, add the escarole and homemade stock and make the polenta.

The result? Something I hope Molly would approve of. She recently discovered escarole as a salad green, which was the only way I knew it until this past Christmas. My mom served it to us braised and I was gobsmacked. For thirty years she had served it to me as only a salad green. She’d been holding out on me.

Sauteed Escarole & Cheesey Polenta

Raw escarole is lovely, somewhere between romaine and radicchio, but the application of heat coaxes out a demure silkiness that I find tantalizing. The greens grasp the garlic and turn limpid in the hot oil yet retain a delightful crunchiness that is just so much more exciting than spinach.

Cooked for 7 minutes and served over creamy polenta with a dusting of pungent Romano cheese, it is the very best sort of weeknight dinner. Fast, healthy, utterly, seductively delicious.

So why haven’t we been eating this dish 2 or 3 times a week for the past 6 months? I don’t know, but it’s something I’m going to work hard at rectifying.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Roasty Toasty Radishes & Braised Escarole.

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The Alchemist

20 Feb

I was (lightly) chastised last week for being a chicken blogger who had never made her own chicken stock. It was fair, I definitely portrayed myself as someone who had never made chicken stock before, which, I’m sorry to say, is a big, huge fat lie.

I have made chicken stock before, in fact, I’ve made so many hundreds of gallons of chicken stock that the volume probably rivals the amount made by all the home cooks who have ever blogged about making chicken stock. But, the stock I made wasn’t made in my teeny tiny kitchen and it was never consumed by me.

Perfect Chicken Soup

Years ago during a bout of endless unemployment I had a friend that was going to culinary school. She was doing her externship at a Kitchen that was in desperate need of help, so she called me up and asked if I wanted to get off my self-pitying, Harry Potter-reading, swimming miles and miles at the YMCA, eternally depressed ass and hone my cooking skills by working for free as a prep cook at a really good restaurant in The City. While it wasn’t the ideal situation for a seriously broke and jobless exile from the music industry, it was better than doing nothing, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Our most important tasks each day were: killing the lobsters, cutting salmon into teeeeeeny tiiiiiny perfect little cubes for tartar (the reason you will never see salmon on this site, the smell lingers for weeks and still to this day turns my stomach), roasting beets, washing greens, making sauces and dressings, peeling can after can of roasted red peppers, and yes, making chicken stock.

Perfect Homemade Bread

Our last task each day was to call Chef down to clarify the stock and then create the staff meal with stuff we could scrounge from the pantry and whatever was about to turn in the walk-in. Chef was amazing at helping us think creatively about the staff meal, to think around the globe and to re-imagine ingredients. Apple butter became mustard for duck croque-monsieurs, clam chowders were given a Moroccan twist and chicken wings were elevated far above game-time food with an elegant curry-flecked crust.

That staff meal was often the only meal I would eat each day. My unemployment checks had run out, I was living off my meagre savings, but I was happy. I applied for kitchen jobs but didn’t get them. At one place (which I am happy to say has since closed) the all male kitchen did not speak to me once. At another place I was told I was too pretty to be hidden in the kitchen and offered a position as a waitress. I needed the money so badly I agreed despite the fact that I am the world’s klutziest person. It was a disaster, but I had to do it. Finally a friend took pity on me and talked her boss into hiring me where I am now. I went from working with food, to working with words, to, on my free time, working with food and words. Aha! That’s how this story comes full circle!

Perfect Dinner

And so it was with full confidence that I approached my stock yesterday. My stock. To be eaten by me. It was a good feeling. I remembered all the hints Chef had passed onto me years ago. Leave the skins on the onion. Don’t peel anything. Start with perfectly cold water. Let it go low and slow. If you want a darker stock, roast the chicken bones before making the stock.

I watched the pot go from murky chunks of nothingness to pure gold. Ah alchemy. Turning nothing into something precious.

For my final alchemical turn, I treated the stock simply. Just some onions, garlic and greens with a loaf of freshly baked bread. The stock was astounding, as I’m sure anyone that’s made their own stock can tell you. There’s so much depth and subtlety and comfort and love and care in one simple bowl. I’m not sure I can ever go back to canned again.

(And yes, I am such a child of the Empire State that I use a New York State tea towel as a makeshift table cloth).

Head below the jump for Ann’s Stock and Green & Gold Soup.

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A Love Story, With Bread & Chicken

15 Feb

My original intention in starting this blog was to celebrate the versatility of the most wonderful of urban convenience foods, the rotisserie chicken. My blog’s name was born out of this intention as well. The first name I came up with was A Chicken In Every Pot, an homage to the famous campaign promise attributed to Hoover, “A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage,” and to my belief that everyone should be able to guiltlessly enjoy roast chicken whether it was roasted at home or not. However upon getting home and springing this idea on The Boy, he suggested A Chicken In Every Granny Cart, to give it more of a feel for the neighborhood. Granny carts are very popular amongst East Village and Lower East Side dwelling hipsters.

Verrazano Narrows Bridge

I discovered rotisserie chickens after a disastrous attempt at roasting my own bird in our tiny LES tenement kitchen. My first post was about how to make a basic soup from the remains of a bird that had already served two for dinner. It soon became clear that this focus was far too narrow and that I had to allow my blog to grow organically and become what it is.

Two Tugs & A Paddlewheel

One day short of one year I can honestly say that I am so happy with my blog, but I am even happier with the little group of “blog friends” that I have made in the past 364 days. And so I wanted to say thank you to you guys, my readers, who propel me to keep cooking and writing. Thank you. You guys inspire and buoy me.

Lower Manhattan From Bay Ridge

In the past year (minus one day) I’ve tackled many recipes and dishes I never would have dreamed I could cook and accomplished some tasks I thought would always remain dreams. I recreated family recipes, overcame my fear of bread baking, discovered buffalo, created a recurring editorial feature, alerted the world to some dangerous fungi, created my own curry, grilled Croatian sausages, poked considerable fun at Sandra Lee, got pickled with a room ful of other food bloggers, traveled to Croatia, launched a photoblog and moved to Brooklyn.

It’s been a damn fine year!

Minerva In Green-Wood

But, there’s one more thing I need to share. Last weekend I hung out with Nigel in our huge new kitchen. No, not actually, but it was close enough, and Nigel helped me overcome two additional fears that have been dogging me for at least two years; he helped me bake a real kneaded loaf of bread, and he helped me roast my own chicken, both in spectacular fashion, and for one meal!

Nigel's Loaf

Both the bread and the chicken were from Appetite, my favorite book of his (although Luisa’s favorite, The Kitchen Diaries, is a close second). The bread was a half recipe of Nigel’s “A Really Good, And Very Easy White Loaf” with some added white whole wheat flour, while the chicken was a variation on his “A Pot-Roast Bird,” replacing two pheasants with one large organic chicken. Nigel loves experimenting and variations on a theme, so I know he’d be pleased with this dinner!

Nigel's Loaf

The bread was so easy, and the kneading was actually therapeutic. It’s a lovely movement. And the chicken was astounding. I mean, jaw droppingly good. The skin actually crackled and kind of shattered when I cut through it to remove the legs, which, in the end, didn’t even require the knife to remove. And the Brussels sprouts and mushrooms I put in the pot along with the chicken had absorbed all of the herbal aromas and sweet wineyness from the roasting process. It was a meal I could never have made in our tiny old kitchen.

Pot-Roasted Chicken

The leftover bread and the succulent chicken have made for some wonderful weeknight dinners while the carcass is wrapped in tinfoil in the freezer waiting for this weekend so I can attempt another culinary task I’ve never tackled; making chicken stock from scratch.

Me On Hvar

And so, 364 days after my first tentative, feeble steps into the blogosphere, I can honestly say, this blog has been a joy. Thanks to one and all that have been along for the journey. Here’s to 366 more days until my next sappy blogaversary post!

Head below the jump for Nigel’s Really Good And Very Easy Bread and A Pot-Roasted Chicken.

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A Souper Bowl

12 Feb

As it hasn’t been mentioned in awhile I thought now might be a good time to remind you that The Boy has a major cheese addiction. It’s been kept in check to one degree or another for the past couple of months.

But you should be able to tell just from the very fact that I’ve typed this intro, that the cheese addiction spun wildly out of control recently. And I do mean wildly.

LBJ

On our very first day as true Brooklynites we decided to partake in one of the very most Brooklyn of activities (that is, if you’re a Brooklynite of a certain age and social status). We drove our (rented) SUV to Red Hook and went to Fairway. We had both been to the Fairway uptown and felt kinda, eh, about it, but for some reason this time we went bonkers.

Cheese! Olives! Chocolate! Tea! Pasta! Honey! All at such fabulous prices! The magic of Fairway whipped us into some kind of grocery shopping frenzy. It was madness.

And so, after our first dinner in our new place, the spectre of the half-eaten nubs of imported cheeses, languishing in the chill of the refrigerator, haunted me for the rest of the week. What should I do with them?

It’s a question I’ve had to ask myself many, many times in the past year. Some of my solutions have included:

Pillows Of Love Pillows Of Love 1 and Pillows Of Love 2 Pillows Of Love 2

The most delicious pizza.

The most decadent cauliflower ever.

More cauliflower (this time with peas and pasta).

Roasted Vege Mac & Cheese And another time, there was even leftover Mac & Cheese that needed to be dealt with.

And so, with all these meals, and others I’ve never blogged at the back of my mind, I knew I had to go in another direction. No baking, no pasta. Something truly radical… Something suitable for Super Bowl Sunday. Something, like say, Beer & Cheese soup? Yep, something just like Beer & Cheese soup.

Beer & Cheese Soup

I’ve long heard tales of this soup from friends that grew up in the Midwest. For them it was an adult treat, laced with booze and oozy with cheese, much like fondue was for me as a child. There was something illicit, grown-up and slightly foregin about it. So, off to the Internet I went looking for a recipe for this creamy elixir, and what did I find? None other than my patron saint of geeky cooking had tackled this very dish, the always amazing, Alton Brown.

Okay, okay, yes you’re right, there’s no beer in Alton’s soup, but I’m guessing that’s just because the FN wouldn’t let him because they’re a family network, but whatever… I “know” AB well enough to know that there’s supposed to be beer in this dish, so I extrapolated and revised and, well, I added some beer!

We had three kinds of cheese sitting around. The one we had the most of was called kashkaval. From what I’ve read it’s a sheep’s milk cheese from Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia or even Greece. Some people say it’s the Balkans’ answer to cheddar, others provolone. Me? The stuff we got hit me as a cross between mozzarella and haloumi, two of my favorite cheeses. The other two remnants were a hard cheese from Spain and a semi-hard cheese from Sardegna, neither of which I can remember the names of. They all melted really nicely into the soup, only needing a wee bit of extra help from the immersion blender.

The Boy found the soup to be extraordinary, I found that I had added too much dried mustard and that it tasted slightly bitter to me. Ah, tastebuds… Everyone’s different! So, if you too decide to go a little lowbrow and make this delicious, warming, wintry soup, heed my advice and do go easy on the mustard!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Super Bowl Beer & Cheese Soup. Continue reading