Archive | April, 2007

On A Cloud

26 Apr

I’ve conquered my fear of couscous.

I thought you’d all be excited to hear that.

And who was holding my hand throughout the entire harrowing affair?

Well, Claudia Roden, of course.

She has quickly risen to the highest level of my pantheon of cooking gods. She’s joined Nigel and Bert and Roy and Madhur at the apex of my culinary esteem.

Claudia Roden

First she helped me conquer my fear of rice. Then she introduced me to a new way to pickle cauliflower. Now couscous? The decision to deify her was a snap.

So why should any grown woman have a fear of couscous? I blame the ’80s.

My mother has been a lifelong subscriber to Aramco World. For those unfamiliar, it’s a free magazine published by the Saudi oil consortium to further understanding of the Arab world and the Muslim religion. I was never interested in it as a child unless they had a feature on Arabian horses. I was obsessed with them, and I mean, who wouldn’t be. They’re gorgeous. They look so fragile and yet they’re some of the most sturdy equines in the world. They’re intelligent, loving and did I mention beautiful?

But I digress…

The magazine is also a wonderful resource for people interested in the Arabic kitchen (oh and look, Claudia Roden wrote for them). I figure this is how my mother was first introduced to couscous. I have this vision of her scouring the shelves of the local co-op and the Grand Onion for years and years hoping to spot couscous, until one glorious day in the ’80s when it finally appears. And, not only has it appeared, but it’s instant! Cooks up in 5 minutes! Comes pre-flavored! Serve alongside your favorite chicken recipe!

Oh, Near East foods… Thank you for introducing the world to couscous. But curse you for making that couscous so unlike the real stuff. You’re cheating people out of one of the greatest culinary experiences ever!

Couscous, The Right Way

It was only recently, during a lunch at La Maison du Couscous, that I discovered what a culinary hoodwink has been pulled on the children of America. Couscous is not supposed to be soggy. It’s not supposed to be flavorless. It’s not supposed to be gummy. It’s not supposed to be hard and crunchy. It’s not supposed to be lumpy.

It’s supposed to be airy, ethereal, toothsome, silky and so light that if you inhale wrong it can easily go straight up your nose. In short, it is supposed to be exactly everything instant couscous is not.

Vaguely Middle Easter Stew

Of course, cooking couscous the proper way is not nearly as simple as emptying a bag, adding one cup of water and one tablespoon of butter to a pot and allowing to simmer for 5 minutes. Yes, it takes an hour, but dear god, it’s so easy and downright enjoyable to make it fills me with sadness that this method has fallen out of favor.

Here’s what you do:

  • Take a large colander (big holes are okay) and place it in a pot that it will fit snugly in. Take the colander out and put a shallow layer of water into the pot. It must not touch the bottom of the colander. Place the colander back in, place on the stove and bring to a simmer.
  • Pour as much couscous as you want into a bowl. Sprinkle it lightly with cold water. It will cause little lumps, that’s okay. Use your hands to rub the lumps out and to distribute the water evenly amongst the couscous. I found this to be a great pleasure. It was so tactile and earthy. And it made my fingers feel really cool!
  • Once the water is simmering, gently pour the couscous into the colander. There will be some collateral damage, you will lose a few, but it’ll be alright. Do not cover. Allow the couscous to steam, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  • Using a pot holder remove the colander from the pot and pour the couscous back into the bowl. Some will most likely be stuck to the bottom and really sticky, scoop them out too. Lightly sprinkle the couscous with cold water again and season with salt. Rub the grains again to distribute the moisture, break up lumps and make the grains airy. Return to the colander and allow to steam, uncovered, an additional 30 minutes.
  • When the time’s up, return the couscous to the bowl and rub a nubbin of butter into the grains and toss them about to make them airy. Serve and enjoy!

That’s it. That’s all the work that goes into making a perfect bowl of couscous. I served mine with harissa marinated lamb, a vaguely Middle Eastern stew and a classic cucumber and yogurt salad.

Kirbys In Yogurt

Claudia says that traditionally the grains are steamed over a stew that’s been cooking for hours. I’m sure it adds flavor but might be a bit awkward if you, like me, do not have a couscouserie lurking about in your cabinets.

And so, yet again, culinary superhero Claudia Roden has righted another egregious culinary wrong. First rice, now couscous.

What culinary fear will she help me conquer next? Might it be okra? Dates? Tahini? Stay tuned to find out!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Vaguely Middle Eastern Stew.

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A Day Of Impossible Eating

24 Apr

It started out innocently enough. I wanted Chinese. He wanted Slovakian.

And so like any rational couple we decided to have both.

For lunch.

The View From Sunset Park

Saturday was glorious. Is there any better way to celebrate the first truly spectacular day of Spring than to eat yourselves silly and walk yourselves into the ground? I didn’t think so.

The View From Sunset Park

I don’t normally write about our meals outside the home. Why? Because I have an irrational fear of taking pictures in restaurants. Either we’re eating at a place where I don’t speak the language and fear being unceremoniously thrown out on my patookis and never allowed back, or we’re someplace terribly chic and expensive where I refuse to take photos of my food because I don’t want to disturb the other patrons. I hate it when people at neighboring tables do it to me. I firmly believe in that whole “Do unto others” thing. But I digress…

The View From Sunset Park

So why am I breaking this unwritten Granny Cart rule? A. Because both lunches were so good they deserve some mention, and B. At the one restaurant we were the only patrons and the dish was so ridiculous that I had to take the risk of being chewed out by a surly Slovakian.

Lunch #1. Lan Zhou Hand Pull Noodle – 5924 8th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY.

Tucked into a tiny storefront on 59th street lurks the very best sort of Chinese noodle joint. Hand pulled noodles. If you’ve never witnessed them being made, click here now. Not only is the making of the noodles mesmerizing, they taste awesome, too. They’re chewy, dense and intensely silky. I don’t know how Lan Zhou compares to the cultishly adored Super Taste in Manhattan Chinatown, but I loved them.

We shared a bowl of the noodle with Vege & Egg in Sauce ($4). The delicate, herbaceous soup, chock full of strange Asian greens and topped with a fried egg was slurptastically delicious. The array of condiments perched on every surface with which to customize the soups is, to me, the surest sign of quality. They have the requisite Sriracha as well as a far more fiery chile paste, soy sauce, and a mystery brown sauce that must have 1,000 cloves of garlic in it. Do I even have to mention the garlic sauce was my favorite? Didn’t think so. The boy and I both agree that we can’t wait for a cool, rainy day to go back and try some of the meatier options. I want the Pork Bone, with dumplings. He wants the Mixed Beef.

MTA Depot

Lunch #2. Milan Restaurant – 719 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY.

With a name like Milan you’d be forgiven for thinking this cafe on an ill-used portion of sidewalk in the South Slope of Brooklyn is another generic red sauce & white table cloth Italian joint. But like us, you’d be wrong. Milan refers to the name of the proprietor, and he’s not Italian, he’s Slovakian. While Slovakian cuisine has more in common with Polish or Hungarian, there’s a wonderful, goofy charm to Milan’s that put us both in mind of our time in Croatia. The coffee is strong, the menu is confusing, and there’s definitely grappa over the bar. We started with two salads, red cabbage & cucumber, both refreshingly tart and beautifully balanced. I preferred the kirbys, the boy, the cabbage. We’re such great eating buddies. For a main course we settled on the craziest thing on the menu: Fried Cheese with Ham and French Fries.

Slovakian Fried Cheese With Ham

I mean, look at that thing! It’s like a grilled cheese, with no bread! It’s two slabs of mozzarella-like cheese with a thin layer of ham tucked inside, covered in batter, and fried! Oh, and the best part? It comes with homemade tartar sauce! Cheese. Fried. Served with mayonnaise. Now you can see why I risked life and limb to get a picture of this puppy. I have no idea if this is a traditionally Slovakian dish, but it’s ridiculously delicious. Especially if you have some need to scare the bejezus out of your cardiologist. Highly recommended. We’re both excited to go back on, yes, a chilly, rainy day to partake in the rest of Milan’s menu. The stews and pierogis and dumplings have us bewitched and almost looking forward to winter again.

Green-wood Cemetery Flower Shop

After two lunches, walking is not just a good idea, it is an imperative. But I think we learned something important here. Man does not need to live on one lunch alone. With a good walk in between and portion control, the multi-ethnic “lunch graze” just might become this summer’s impetus for leaving the neighborhood on weekends. First up? The Sunset Park Taco Crawl. Yes, I know, I said multi-ethnic, but maybe we’ll start off slow, with multi-regional.

'maters!

And so to end our Day Of Impossible Eating, we kept it European in tone, with a dinner of bread, cheese, salad greens served with a Dilly Bean vinaigrette and tomatoes. Tomatoes? Yes, tomatoes. I’ve been meaning to write about them for at least a week now, but I got scooped by NY Mag.

Cheese!

I met the proprietors of Shusan ‘maters last week at the Union Square Wednesday market. I’d been eyeing their tomatoes for the previous two weeks, but they finally had samples. One bite, and I was sold.

'maters!

If you love tomatoes more than any other fruit of summer, be in the Square tomorrow. They’ll be there. Buy as many as you can carry home because they are awesome. They taste like August.

Dilly Bean Vinaigrette

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Amazing Dilly Bean Vinaigrette.

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California Dreamin’

19 Apr

I’ve been thinking a lot about California lately.

A couple of my best friends moved to Lala Land a few years back, as did my favorite little cousin.

Manhattan Sunset

I have a hard time dealing with this. I am a dyed in the wool East Coaster. I understand why they did it, moved out West. They felt they had tapped New York for all it was worth, that there was nothing left to do here and that they needed a change. I’ve felt that way before, too, but that would set me to dreaming about moving to London, or Berlin, or Paris, heck even Marrakesh, Dubai or Bombay. Never Los Angeles.

Union Square, Before The Storm

I visited L.A. once long, long ago with my mother and father. I think I must have been in 3rd or 4th grade. I hated it and I’ve never been able to get over that. I hated the traffic. I hated the driving around in the Hollywood Hills. I hated the punk rockers. I hated the smell. I hated the sunshine. I hated the dirtiness.

We did other things on that trip that I loved, so I know it wasn’t just the moodiness of a 9 year old. We got a behind the scenes tour of the San Diego Zoo from a friend of my mother’s. A dolphin fell in love with my father at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. We flew to Seattle for a day. I loved everything about it. The soft grayness, the gentle smells, the smaller, more human scale. The very opposite of Los Angeles.

Chrysler Building At Dusk

But back to California…

I’ve been planning a trip out west for August. I managed to finagle a whole week’s vacation for my step-brother’s wedding at a vineyard in Sonoma. I know, I’m really bummed about it, too! But I had to decide what to do with my other 7 days; hang out in San Francisco and Northern California, or visit friends and family in Lala.

What I really wanted to do was spend two weeks out west, go the full monty, from San Diego all the way up to Seattle, but alas, I counted the years I’ve spent at my job wrong and that extra week of vacation will have to wait until next year. I had to decide.

New York Harbor Sunset, Fairway Parking Lot

I weighed what I knew. My friends love L.A. And I love them. That means, in the weird calculus of the heart, that I, too, would love L.A. (Isn’t that a song?), and maybe I could go to the Santa Monica farmer’s market, and eat at Lucques.

But on the other hand, I know I at least like San Fran. I spent a very odd long weekend there once that was pleasant enough to make me want to go back, and San Fran is closer to wine country, and I can buy beans from Steve there, and just maybe I could score dinner at The French Laundry or Chez Panisse.

Chelsea Market Bridge

But Luisa made L.A. sound almost as good as my friends make it sound, and then there was the matter of the salad. Tucked blithely into her Los Angeles dispatch was this nugget:

I still can’t stop thinking about our pink and green salad starter. Lightly dressed frisee and radicchio were tossed with fresh tarragon leaves, slivered blood oranges, and snowy-white shreds of sweet, fresh crab. Simple, bright, and explosively flavorful – that was a salad for the ages. No photo would have done it justice either, but if you’ve got access to good crab, for God’s sake, go and put this together. No recipe required.

I’ve been obsessing over that description, dreaming about that salad. The ballsy mix of bitter and buttery greens with bright citrus acidity, anise-tinted, earthy tarragon and creamy, briny seafood. It’s genius. Pure genius. And something I had to try. I mean, how could a city that can come up with that ratio of greens to herbs to crustacean be bad?

Squid Salad, Lala!

So I tried it. At home and with squid in place of crab. Yep, here we go again, put a recipe in front of Ann, and she just has to go and tinker with it! But here’s the thing. Now that I’ve had the one dish I knew I wanted to try in L.A. I was able to make a decision with a (somewhat) clear conscience.

Squid Salad, Lala!

Come mid-August we’ll be hanging out in San Fran for a few days and then heading north into wine country and along the coast, ultimately ending up in Sonoma.

Sorry, L.A. Sorry Mon, Poodles and Cousin S. I promise, next year, I’ll come see your magical world. I’ll give it another chance. The salad has won me over.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Squid Salad, Lala!

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Hen’s Teeth

16 Apr

Yesterday was a rare day.

In case it hasn’t been reported in your neck of the woods, it rained here in New York City. A lot. I mean, a lot a lot. Like the most in 100 years a lot. Like subways stopped running a lot. Like the only sane way to pass the day was inside a lot.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

We had provisioned well on Saturday at the Greenmarket. It was such a lovely day. Warm, sunny, springy. It didn’t seem possible the meteorologists could be right.

But they were.

So the boy and I did a rare thing for a Sunday, we kept it close to home, only venturing out for some Mexican food and a few forgotten provisions. He kept himself busy with a book and the crossword (it was a tough one yesterday) and I spent the day puttering in the kitchen.

Tulip

The main object of my puttering was to master a new loaf from my new book (a gift from the boy). I had my heart set on the Pugliese loaf featured on the cover, but my brain decided that sleeping in was far more important than starting a poolish, so I had to make due with a different bread (more on that later).

But the secondary focus of my puttering is the main focus of today’s entry, because it too was a very rare activity.

I baked a batch of cookies. And not just any cookies. These are the Aishwaraya Rai of cookies.

Bollywood Cookies

And why is baking cookies a rare event? Because it’s an activity I haven’t indulged in since high school. No lie.

The genesis of these cookies is a real he-said/she-said merry go round of blogginess.

She said, “I don’t keep garam masala around.”

He said, “But you should, it lends grand flavor to cookies.”

She said, to paraphrase, “Pshaw! Now these I must try!”

He said, “Then dear lady, I shall give you cookies. Here are your cookies and your recipe, try them at will!”

But, being me, and being a bad baker, my cookies are, of course, different from TerryB‘s.

Bollywood Cookies

I had no vanilla, and there was no way I was going back out there to get some (I had just come back from the brown sugar mission that had soaked me to the core).

I also had no regular sugar (see above for why I had to make do). I had a wee bit of turbinado leftover from a long ago apple pie project, and about a dozen packets of Sugar In The Raw which had to stand in.

Oh and I don’t have an electric mixer, so I had to beat the butter by hand, no easy task, I can assure you of that.

But I also had a wee bag of crystalized ginger my mom had given me in my Easter basket, (yes I still get one, don’t you?) that I chopped up fine and tossed into the mix.

Oh and my batch only yielded 16 cookies because I only own one baking sheet and decided to make each one really big so I didn’t have to make two batches. Lazy ain’t I?

Bollywood Cookies

All changes aside, these are some ridiculously good cookies. Smoldering, exotic, a little hot, very sweet, crunchy and impossibly good.

I can’t wait to take them into work.

I never get to be that person, the one that plies her co-workers with sweets to ensure their undying love and eternal respect.

Bollywood Cookies

Oh, you mean, that’s not normal?

I’m just supposed to bring them in to make people happy?

Where’s the fun in that?

Head below the jump for Ann’s Bollywood Cookies.

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Spring Break

13 Apr

The stove has been cold here at Granny Cart HQ.

Home, Home

Between a bout with the late season flu and Easter at the parents’ house where I wasn’t allowed to lift a finger to help with dinner, I haven’t actually cooked anything in the last two weeks.

And so I’m going to take this opportunity to take a little break, relax, focus on my other blog and have more time to bop around the Internet and spend some time reading everyone else’s kitchen musings.

If you really need a fix, I’ll be updating Here Is New York a couple of times between now and next week.

I hope to see you around town.

*** update ***

Thanks to Rebecca, who’s obviously better at this whole self-promotion thing than I am, I’m here to give you one more source with which you may burn your hours while stuck at work.

Culinate.

This amazing new web-based food magazine is really hitting it’s stride.

They’ve done interviews with Marion Nestle & Deborah Madison.

They’ve got a whole host of fun images they use for their news digest designed by my favorite Spanish foodblogger, Lobstersquad.

Their editors & columnists offer straightforward, helpful advice.

Oh, and they did a feature on little old me and fellow Five Boroughs food lover Yvo (The Feisty Foodie).

The interview is a few months old by now, but, eh, who cares!

As they say in the ad world, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”

So, thanks Culinate, and welcome to all new readers!

I’ll be back next week with fabulous new recipes and tales of life in the Big Apple.