Archive | October, 2007

Raw/Cooked

29 Oct

“Are those people eating butter?”

City Hall Fountain

It was a forthright question, spoken in a unmistakable voice, with a tinge of theatrical horror and a dash of impish glee. I turned to look at the people, and yes, it did appear that they were eating butter, with gusto and glee, in many different flavors and varieties.

I turned to the man who had asked the question and was a little shocked to see a certain gentleman known for his way with lardo, pancetta and other fats, wearing his signature clogs, laughing and looking a bit scandalized. Then the proprietor of the stand put us all at ease. He said that no, in fact, they were not eating butter, rather that it was finally cold enough for him to put out samples of his farm’s ice cream for the masses.

Battery Park Irises

The Boy and I (still giggling) payed for our dairy products and began scouring the market for something to star in the evening’s risotto. We had initially planned on a roasted mushroom and blue cheese risotto, but, alas, the mushroom guy wasn’t there. So we made a few passes through the stalls, me searching for something a little different, the Boy, bravely restraining his annoyance with the crowds and the rain. Finally, I settled on some ugly, grungy roots. Salsify.

Salsify looks like a cross between a dirty parsnip and a gnarly mandrake. It’s long and thin, can have legs and noses and other anatomical protruberances and is a bitch to clean. The cleaning is worth it however, as once it is cooked, it has the most delicate, etheral aroma and a silky smooth texture.

Salsify is otherwise known as Oyster Plant and was very popular in early American cookery (the Shakers were especially fond of it). But why Oyster Plant? Because some people think it tastes like the briny bivalves. Me? I think it’s got more of a jerusalem artichokes meet hearts of palm thing going.

Bay Ridge Waterlillies

To accompany the risotto I had settled on Melissa Clark’s Tuscan kale salad from last week’s NY Times dining section. In fact, I had settled on making this salad on Wednesday morning, but apparently so had many other commuters, because by the time I arrived at the greenmarket every single stand had sold out of lacinato kale. I was not to be thwarted on Saturday though, and so I hedged and went to the super-bodega aka Gracefully on Avenue A where I knew I could find lacinato kale.

Raw Lacinato Kale Salad

Sadly, I hedged wrong. I paid nearly $7 for two bunches in the East Village when I could have gotten those same two bunches at the greenmarket for $3. Sometimes it pays to hedge, sometimes it doesn’t. But you know what? I don’t care. Because I’ve still got another bunch in the fridge waiting to be made into this salad again tonight, because you know what else? It’s that good. She’s right, ugly is beautiful.

Raw Lacinato Kale Salad, Salsify Risotto

Oddly enough, upon finishing the risotto and testing it for seasoning, I swear I tasted the faintest whiff, just a hint of blue cheese, without my having added a single crumble. I was worried that the cheese, a real stinker from Cato Corner, might be too much for the delicate salsify, but no, not at all. It turned out to be exactly what the dish needed to elevate it from comforting, yet bland, into the lofty echelons of what could become a classic dish… On any other evening.

Salsify Risotto

Saturday night, the salad was truly the evening’s star. Raw kale? Who woulda ever thunk it!

Head below the jump for No-Oyster Risotto and Raw Kale Salad.

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Have You Met Ms. Jones?

25 Oct

I was supposed to meet Judith Jones last night.

Empire State Building

It was dark and blustering as I trotted up the slick sidewalks of Fifth Avenue, ducking and weaving around tourists and construction sheds. It was only four blocks, and I covered them in an odd half run, half trot, holding my breath the whole time, checking my watch every few strides. I turned the corner onto 19th Street and my hope faded. I could tell that the event was over. I checked my watch again, 8:01pm. I had missed her.

I burst into the store and asked the proprietor, “Is she still here?” “No,” he said, “the event ended at 8.” “But it’s only just 8:01 now,” I pleaded. “I’m sorry, but you missed her, you should have gotten here earlier,” he snapped peevishly. “I couldn’t,” I blubbered, “work.” “Well, I’ve got a few signed books left I’d be happy to sell you,” he added in a kinder tone. “No, thank you, that’s not the point. I wanted to meet her.” And then I turned and walked away, thoroughly depressed.

Empire State Building

It’d been a truly cruddy day, and meeting Judith Jones was the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew I had a two hour window, I knew she was only four blocks away, and yet all the servers of creation kept me from her. Sometimes I hate computers.

So, who is this woman that I hold in such high regard? Judith Jones was (and still is) an editor at Alfred Knopf. As a young woman living in Paris she found and helped get published The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank. She brought us Julia Child as an author and TV personality. She’s also worked with James Beard, Madhur Jaffrey, Lidia Bastianich, Marcella Hazan, Edna Lewis, Marion Cunningham, Joan Nathan and many, many others.

Empire State Building

But most importantly to me she discovered and edited two of my favorite cookbooks of all time: Roy Andries de Groot‘s Feasts For All Seasons and Claudia Roden‘s A Book Of Middle Eastern Food. I discovered all this a few months ago after I took a galley of Ms. Jones’ memoir, The Tenth Muse, that had been sent to someone in my office and set aside to be thrown out with the trash. The girly lavender cover threw me off, but I decided to take a closer look and there on the back was this quote:

Food is one of the greatest gifts of life… You should derive enormous pleasure from making it, eating it, enjoying it with family, and it should be honored.

Each chapter was a revelation, how she made her choices, the women she met, the lessons she learned. The Boy quickly grew tired of me coming home, bursting through the door and starting our conversation with, “Do you know what else Judith Jones did?” Finally he suggested I contact Knopf’s press office to let them know that I really wanted to meet Ms. Jones, to sit down with her and talk to her. I did, and all I got back was a terse email inviting me to the reading she did last night. But alas, I missed it.

Empire State Building

As I sit here typing at my desk, next to my bookshelf, I’m scanning the titles. So many of the cookbooks I love and trust were published by Knopf. Did she have a hand in all of them? Could one woman have shaped the way I cook so anonymously? It’s a delicious question, and one I’m afraid I’ll never get to ask.

When I finally made it home last night I was exhausted and famished, but too tired to cook. I tore off a hunk of focaccia and poured myself a glass of good red wine. I sat and munched and thought. Ms. Jones still cooks dinner for herself every night and all I could manage was a hunk of bread. It’s humbling and inspiring.

My Books

If I had had the energy I would have loved to have eaten my favorite quick and easy dinner last night. I didn’t have the energy then, but I’d love to give you the recipe now. The slaw (known around here as slawpy) is made a day in advance and goes much faster if you have a “chou chef” to help with the prep (the Boy’s term, not mine!).

Slawpy

All that is required upon arriving home is the caramelizing of onions and garlic and boiling the pierogis. It’s fast, healthy and delicious.

Pierogies with Caramelized Purple & Yellow Onions

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, if you’ve got the time to make it.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Fluffy Dilly Slaw.

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Bakey, Bakey

22 Oct

Did you know that Ace Frehely recorded a disco-era paean to New York City?

The Brooklyn Bridge

It’s a giddy, stompy, bizzarly addictive nugget of shuffling guitar-driven goodness. And some kid named Davey decided to load it onto his iPod and listen to it while dancing around on the Brooklyn Bridge on a heart-achingly beautiful New York city day, complete with backup dancers. Don’t believe me? Click here.

Why do I mention this? Because, well, much like Ace, I feel like I’m back in the N.Y. Groove.

Grand Central Terminal

I had a wonderful weekend with my aunt and cousin. We had a beer on Stone Street, walked over the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset (if you can’t stand the swarms may I recommend you try the other bridge) and ate dinner at La Maisson du Couscous, possibly the best restaurant in Bay Ridge, and definitely worth the trip from anywhere.

Grand Central Terminal

On Sunday morning, bright and early, I bounced around the house organizing and planning. We were heading to the Bronx to see the chrysanthemums and I had to get everyone rounded up and to Grand Central in time to catch the proper train. I sent text messages and left voice mails, I kissed the Boy and left him with a few minor errands to run and then I jumped on the train.

City Hall Fountain

The MTA, for once, was voluminously accommodating in getting me to my destination. I got to Grand Central with almost half an hour to spare, so I got a coffee and wandered around taking pictures, relishing the opportunity to be a tourist in my own town for once. And then I waited, and waited, and waited.

City Hall Fountain

The train had been gone for quite some time when I got the call, we weren’t going to the Bronx after all. Instead we strolled around lower Manhattan and laughed and ate and laughed some more. By the time they left I felt revived, revitalized, more in love with New York than ever and ready to get back into the groove.

The Woolworth Building

When I got home the Boy had two quince roasting in the oven. The house smelled amazing: Flowery, delicate, perfumed with that aroma only a baking quince can release. After a quick kip on the couch I was back in the kitchen chopping and dicing and ecstatic to be there.

The Woolworth Building

I roasted a huge bulb of fennel with a lemon. I pulled smoked turkey meat off of a slippery, cold leg. And then I squished and baked and tossed my way into one of the most exquisite dinners to come out of our kitchen in a very long time. The smoked turkey meat, mixed with golden onions and spices were stuffed into the quince, and the roasted fennel was tossed with radicchio, onions, chiles, mint and fennel fronds and dressed with the roasted lemon juice.

Battery Park Ducks

I never could have come up with these combinations on my own. The quince are supposed to be stuffed with lamb, but the Boy had picked up the turkey legs at the greenmarket. The combination of sweet and smoky sounded appealing, so I used them instead.

Smoky Stuffed Quince

And the salad? A true team effort. He wanted the fennel thinly shaved and tossed with the radicchio and mint. I wanted it roasted. So we did both. An utterly perfect salad, born out of compromise.

Roasted Fennel & Lemon, Radicchio, Chile & Mint Salad

And so I’m back, back in the N.Y. groove. It only took a little stepping outside of it to get back into it.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Smoky Stuffed Quince and Fall’s Perfect Salad.

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Idle, Idyll

17 Oct

Ok. Ok. Ok.

Athens, NY

I know you’re all thinking, where’s our usual Monday morning post Ann? Well, to be honest, there hasn’t been that much to write about chez Granny Cart.

The Berkshires

I’ve wanted to cook, but there hasn’t been the time. I’ve got a new boss at work, which has meant more late nights at the office, and the weather just hasn’t been conducive to spending time in the kitchen on the weekends.

Athens, NY

And, well, I’ve felt a little too stressed and uninspired to come up with anything exciting and new to share with you. The planning process has begun to stress me out and I don’t know why. Deciding on a dish and then procuring the necessary ingredients, two things that in the past have brought me tremendous joy, have, for the past couple of weeks, become a chore and are no longer fun.

Athens, NY

But the itch, she is coming back. Especially since I know there won’t be time for cooking this weekend (my Aunt L (of spätzle fame) and cousin S are coming to pay me a visit, and I’m so excited). And there wasn’t any done this past weekend either. Two weekends. No cooking. I’m already looking forward to next weekend.

Athens, NY

So where we were last weekend? Oh, just Upstate, peeping at leaves, peeking at houses, frolicking in nature, hanging out with my folks. We stayed in the ridiculously picturesque town of Athens, just on the other side of the Hudson from the town of Hudson. It’s so quiet and peaceful and full of gorgeous Victorian and Colonial homes and mansions. I could have stayed there forever.

Columbia County Sunset

But we had to eat, so we met up with my mom and step-dad at Local 111. If you ever find yourself in the town of Philmont, this restaurant is your chestnut. They cook with as many locally sourced ingredients as possible and put them to dazzling use in a beautiful, chic, über-sophisticated space that was once, wait for it, an auto body shop.

Olana

The next day we rambled about the grounds of Olana, the estate of Frederick Edwin Church, one of the founders of the Hudson River School of painting. The weather was so perfect and so spectacular we didn’t even bother going inside the house. I think Church would have appreciated the sentiment.

Olana

And then we came home. We’d eaten a late lunch at the Old Chatham Country Store (still as delicious as I remember, but filled to the gills with the sort of people I spend every waking hour trying to avoid here in the City) so we supped simply on a tomato, cut into slices and lightly salted. It was perfect. Light, redolent of summer and a little ascetic.

Olana

I have some recipes tucked away that I really want to share, but I just can’t find the right words for them. Perhaps there’s some weird outer-boroughs writer’s block plaguing Luisa and I.

Olana

I’ll be back next week, hopefully with something interesting to say about a few quince I got my hands on. That is, if I can find the time to do something interesting with them.

Past Perfect

11 Oct

Do you remember which emotion you woke up feeling on October 5th, 1987?

Third Avenue Festival, Bay Ridge

If you lived anywhere within 100 miles of Albany, you probably woke up feeling awed. That was the night upstate New York was hit by the earliest blizzard in its history.

When you’re a kid in snow country there’s certain aural clues that alert you to the possibility of a snow day. Hushed whisperings between your parents, the grinding of the snow plow on pavement, the whimpering of the dog who doesn’t want to go out to do his business in belly-high snow.

But on that Sunday I remember waking up and thinking, something’s up, everything’s too quiet.

I looked at my clock’s blank face, that meant no power. No power means a lot of snow. I sat up in bed and peered out the window and looked upon the most glorious winter scene I’ve ever seen. It looked like the world had been iced. Every surface was covered by an inches thick layer of wet, glittery snow.

The Midway

The house was still a little warm even though the furnace had quit working when the lights went out, and since we relied on a well with an electric pump there was also no water. My dad dragged the kerosene heater in from the garage and got it lit, at least the living room and kitchen would be warm.

It didn’t seem like a big deal, snow in October, until it became apparent that the DOT had made a huge booboo. All the plows were still snoozing away their summer siesta and each and every grain of salt sat giggling in a crystalline warehouse under lock and key, just waiting for someone to say “open sesame.”

Win A Fish! Or A Turtle!

All the roads in the county were closed and since no one expected a blizzard (didn’t they learn anything from Monty Python?) the usual pre-blizzard panic shopping hadn’t occurred. What you had in the pantry was what you ate. Refrigerated things had to be chucked and frozen things went out back into the snow on the porch, but with an electric stove and no electricity there was no way to eat them anyway.

I’m sure that there were other edible things in the house, but I only remember eating one thing the whole week: Spam.

I decided, in all my 12 year old wisdom, that Spam was going to be what I cooked on top of the kerosene heater to keep my family alive and nourished. I folded up some tin foil, sliced off some slabs of Spam, cooked them until they were sizzling and served them in a pool of A-1.

Or A Parakeet!

The roads eventually opened, the power came back and by the end of the week I was back at school, but those few days live on in my memory as the most magical days ever.

I made a makeshift harness for my dog who pulled me all over the neighborhood in an orange plastic tobaggon, picking up friends as we went (don’t worry, he was huge and he loved it). There were sleepovers and no baths, maple syrup candy made on snow just like in Little House In The Big Woods and lots of games of Life. It was amazing.

Karaoke at the Salty Dog

My freshman year of college I fractured a vertebra sledding. It was a long, boring recuperation during which I read many, many books. My favorite was one given to me by my stepdad, Mark Helprin‘s Winter’s Tale. I devoured it. It was about upstate, the Hudson and New York City, it was about love and fidelity and awe and the past and the present and every big, weighty, delicious theme ever worth writing about.  And the winter scenes in Lake of the Coheeries reminded me of that blizzard.

So many bouncy castles

It’s all of these things I was thinking about last week when the weather in New York City was more appropriate to July than October. We set a new record on Saturday the 8th. 87°F! On the 20th anniversary of the blizzard? 83°F. I don’t know if it’s global warming or living near the water or just a decision made by the weather gods, but I miss “normal” weather. Crisp in October, snowy in December, rainy in April, hot in August.

Sunshine On Sprouts

And so I decided to say chuck it all and cook something autumnal, even though it felt like summer (this happened last year too). I braised a blade roast of pork rubbed with ground ginger, pimenton de la vera, brown sugar and lemon juice from Flying Pigs Farm in grape juice and roasted Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes.

Roasty, Toasty

The roast was disappointing. It was riddled with fat, in a bad way. We ate a few pieces and then pulled the rest for leftovers.

A few days later I arrived home starving and stressed. I looked in the fridge. All that stared back was the pork, eggs and a world of condiments. So I fried the pork in shatta and added two whisked eggs, cooking them until they clung to the pork. The final touch? A drizzle of sherry vinegar and a sprinkling of sea salt. I don’t know if it was hunger, desperation or skill, but this was the best off-the-cuff cooking I’ve done in years.

Rosated, Shredded Pork

That said, I’d give it up for 2 feet of snow, a kerosene heater and a slab of Spam coated in A-1 in a heartbeat.

P.S. The pictures are from Bay Ridge’s Third Avenue Festival. Due to some much needed running of errands, we missed the Ragamuffin Parade, which I’m kind of sad about. Next year for sure!