Archive | December, 2007

Dash & Hash

14 Dec

Oh people, it’s the holidays!

Of the last seven nights, I’ve been invited to parties on five of them. I only attended four. Of this I am proud.

LES At Night

Usually by this week on the calendar I’m exhausted, sick and cranky, just in time for my parents to make their annual trek down to the city. They come to finish their Christmas shopping, eat and spend time with Isaac and I.

This year I’m only feeling like I might possibly be coming down with something. I consider this a minor victory.

On the one night I managed to spend at home this week, Isaac and I feasted on some very good, heartwarming and delicious leftovers; Celeriac Hash. With a piece of salmon and my crazy beet salad, this was dinner on Sunday night.

I know I said salmon is the one thing you will never see on this site. Well, I lied. I still don’t like it. At all. But, much like the walnuts, something’s happening to my palate. I’m craving things that for years I have forsworn. This is all to Isaac’s great delight. He loves fish. If it were up to him, this site would probably be called A Salmon In Every Granny Cart.

Perla Meyers' The Seasonal Kitchen

But it’s not, and so rather than talking anymore about the fish, let’s talk about the hash. The inspiration came from two huge celery roots that Isaac brought home from the greenmarket and a cool old cookbook I picked up months ago at the Strand from 1973 by Perla Meyers called The Seasonal Kitchen: A Return to Fresh Foods.

If the title doesn’t grab you, the book’s design might. The cover is an elegant orangey-red on which the title is embossed in perfect Helvetica and the end papers are the most brilliant shade of vivid royal purple. Inside, the recipes are presented in an elegant fashion, both as complete meals and courses with cool symbols on beautiful, thick beige pages in sepia ink. It’s the ultimate gift for every foodie/design dork on your list!

Perla Meyers' The Seasonal Kitchen

Ms. Meyers’ recipe, Celeriac a l’Italienne, sounds amazing, but heavy. Cream, butter, cheese. Who wouldn’t love that? But I wanted something lighter, I mean, my diet over the past week has been largely made up of those three food groups, uhm, I mean ingredients. My version is a delicious, easy, hearty, and yes seasonal, side dish or quick late night supper mixed with some leftover roasted beets and a crumbling of blue cheese.

Celeriac Hash

But now, I’ve got to dash. I have work to do, decongestants to ingest, an endless shopping trek through freezing rain to plan and reservations to confirm. Happy weekend all!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Celeriac Hash.

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Give Beets A Chance

12 Dec

Let’s talk about beets.

They look, and feel, like rocks.

Empire State Building, early winter

And then you cook them. Then the beets lose their rockness and become yielding and silky and aromatic and sweet.

Beets are, of course, essential in making the soup of the moment, Christmas Borscht, but they also lend themselves to an incredibly diverse array of dishes from around the world.

There’s beet pasta, pickled red beet eggs, roasted beets, and squorscht, and that’s just from my site. When you look around the interweb you’ll find beets with horseradish and capers, summer borscht and grated beets with tahini, Pille’s pesto & beetroot appreciation society, red beet mash, celery root soup with pickled beets, beetroot latkes, bulgur risotto with beets, gluten-free beet focaccia, and yes, finally chocolate cake with beets.

Whew!

Union Square Sunset

Many claim to revile beets, which may be fair, especially if the only beet they’ve ever had came from a can, not the ground. All I am saying… Is give beets a chance!

One of the most classic ways to eat roasted beets is on a salad with blue/goat/feta cheese, and/or walnuts, and/or segments of citrus fruit. It crops up on nearly every menu in the city, but the problem is, the salad is rarely well executed. When I’m brave or bored enough with the other appetizer offerings to order the beet salad, I’m usually disappointed. The beets are watery, the cheese isn’t forceful enough, the walnuts aren’t toasted, the dressing is bland.

Last week when Isaac was preparing to hit the Dag Hammarskjold greenmarket I asked him to poke around and buy some beets. I was going to take things into my own hands. I roasted the beets and then concocted a perfectly silly, completely over-fussed with salad of epic proportions.

It’s like a garbage plate, but better for you.

Ann's Beet Salad

This salad is great, and it’s pretty and fancy enough to serve to company over the holidays. It’s perfectly seasonal and delicious, but I must warn you on one thing. The walnuts. Oh my god, the walnuts! I hate walnuts. Hate. But for some reason I felt they were absolutely essential to this recipe, and I was right.

But here’s the thing. Eat them all or get them out of your house fast because they are so addictive. I ended up bringing them to a friend who is a bit of a beer nerd. We figured they’d make an exceptional beer snack.

Spicy-Sweet Walnut Brittle

Beets suffer from bad P.R. They’re pigeonholed. Beets are for salads and borscht and pickles. But you and I? We know this isn’t true. So go on, show me your best beet recipe!

Leave a link in the comments. It can be yours or one you’ve found on a recipe site. This is our chance to spread the word. Give beets a chance!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Beet Salad.

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Sing Me Spanish Mackerel

7 Dec

Apologies to fans of the poppiest band in the world and to those who appreciate truth in advertising.

Brooklyn Heights

I am a huge (huge!) fan of the New Pornographers. After years in the music industry, listening to all my friends and co-workers babbling incessantly about them, it was Isaac who actually got me to sit down and listen to them. One go round with Twin Cinema and I was a goner. The goofy lyrics, impossibly catchy guitar hooks and Neko‘s voice are a power pop lover’s triple threat.

(Wow, looking back at that last sentence makes me realize why I failed as music writer at my college newspaper.)

Brooklyn Heights, The Promenade

Whenever I’m in a bad mood at work, I’ll switch over to my New Pornographers station on Pandora. It’s really hard to be pissed off at your co-workers when you’re chair dancing in your cubicle to songs like “Use It,” “Letter From An Occupant,” and especially, “Sing Me Spanish Techno.” It’s from this last song that I’ve borrowed the title for this post.

You see, the idea of Spanish techno is funny already. I mean, I used to like techno, a lot. American techno was okay, the Brits got it right from time to time, but it was the French and the Germans that made the good stuff. Never the Spanish.

Brooklyn Heights, The Promenade

But what’s even funnier is the idea of a song about Spanish mackerel. And when this song gets stuck in my head (which it does frequently, I’m very susceptible to ohrwurms) I tend to half-hum/half-sing it aloud, and when I do, I change the lyrics to “Sing Me Spanish Mackerel.” It tickles the hell out of me and confuses the bejezus out of anyone within ear shot. That makes it even funnier.

The point I’m trying to make is that I made a soup this weekend that makes me as happy as listening to the perfect New Pornographers song during a hellacious commute home after a long day of work. They both make me do a goofy little dance. And while the soup may be Spanish in origin, it contains no mackerel (I suppose it could, but it doesn’t). That’s where that whole truth in advertising thing comes in.

Brooklyn Heights Mews

I initially conceived of it one day late last week while relaxing on the couch with a glass of good red wine. Isaac was sitting at the computer and asked what I wanted to cook this weekend. I said I had no idea and asked him to pass me a few cookbooks for inspiration. I don’t remember which book or recipe it was that lit the soupy fire, but I started formulating a potage of sorts of squid and scallops and shrimp in a saffron-y broth, kind of like a bouillabaisse, but with a little extra something.

The very next day, while I was attempting, in vain as usual, to keep up with all the blogs I love to read (see! even if I’m not leaving comments, I’m still reading!) I stopped by Ximena’s Lobstersquad where she had posted this recipe for Cazuela. It was exactly what I was looking for. Kind of.

Cazuela

There are three main points to consider when making Cazuela, as I see it, based on Ximena’s instructions:

  1. Feel free to adapt at will based on local ingredients and seasonality.
  2. Use a sofrito (something I love doing but often forget to do).
  3. Let the fishies have their due. As Ximena says, “The veg is again a matter of taste, but keep it in the range of asparagus, artichokes, spinach, that sort of thing. Not too many, this is a Spanish dish after all, it won’t do to make it all green. “

With those points as my guiding principals, I adapted the already adapted recipe and bent it to my will.

Cazuela

And oh boy, let me tell you one thing, this soup rocks.

Isaac and I had the leftovers for dinner again last night, and there is something so special about this soup. Neither of us can put our finger on what it is though. There isn’t a single ingredient that stands up and says, “Look at me! I’m the star!” It’s the New Pornographers of soups: the tomatoes are Neko, the shellfish are A.C. Newman and the spices are Dan Bejar.

(Ugh. Once again reminded by that last sentence that I should leave the music writing to the professionals!)

It definitely benefits from a day in the fridge, but, who wants to wait. For optimal deliciousness, enjoyment and happiness; bake the perfect loaf of kneaded no-knead bread, make this soup, download Challengers and combine.

Just try to keep the chair dancing to a minimum while you’re eating. No one likes soup stains on their shirt.

Cazuela

Editor’s Note: I’d like to draw everyones attention to a comment I received yesterday from Lou at Hangar One. Some of you may remember that on our trip to San Francisco in August I was very disapointed by an attempted, and aborted, trip to visit the Hangar One distillery. Apparently someone brought this post to the Hangar One guys’ attention and they left me this nice comment yesterday.

I think it’s an incredibly classy move and I appreciate the heck out of them taking the time to write to me and explain what was going on that day.

So lets all raise a glass to Lou and his team. Thanks again guys. It means a ton to me that you took the time to write, and you can be damn sure I’ll be taking you up on your offer of a tour and a tasting when I’m next in San Fran.

And remember, anyone willing to go to Alameda (where they film a lot of Mythbusters segments I believe!) can go visit the distillery. Just make sure you go Wednesday-Saturday from 12-7 or on Sunday from 12-6.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Challengers Cazuela.

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The Plan

4 Dec

It’s December. Ack!

Lions

Who let that happen without checking with me first? And how did it happen? Wasn’t it just October? Did November slip past without my noticing?

I mean, yes, I did see them putting up the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I saw it with my own eyes. You’d think that would have been a strong hint that the holiday season was approaching. But no, it didn’t register.

Then there’s the Chrazy Chanukah karaoke-fest that my co-worker Jane has planned. Did that get me to acknowledge the inevitable? Oh heck no.

Perhaps it was the restraint that my neighbors showed in putting up their Christmas decorations. The folk here in Bay Ridge are crazy for holidays. They dress their brownstones in the finery of even the most underrepresented holiday. I had mentally predicted that they would be incapable of not decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving, but I was wrong. In fact it was only this past weekend that many of them started gussying things up, and to gorgeous effect, too, might I add.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Christmas doesn’t stress me out. I’ve got a small family, no children, don’t entertain often or get invited to many parties and, if I may say so, am a talented gifter. So the actual holiday is a breeze. What does send me into squeaky, unpleasant Ann-mode however is the end of the year at work and hoo boy, is that coming along real quick.

There’ll be meetings, both of the planning and rah! rah! variety, a few cocktail parties and the part that sends me into spirals of depression, the receiving of bonus checks. There’s something so symbolic to that one white envelope with its crinkly pane of translucent paper. It’s the culmination of 12 months of hard, hard work, late nights, weekends spoiled and tears of frustration cried.

But this year I’m not going to let whatever number is printed there bother me because it’s all part of my master plan. And why am I telling you this? Because the ever eloquent, sweet and thoughtful BlogLily asked me (and many others) to tell her about how we plan. It’s a good time of year to think about this, don’t you agree?

Ice Skating, Bryant Park

I’m not a big planner when it comes to the small stuff. On weekends, I’ll write up an agenda of things I’d like to accomplish, but if they don’t happen, it’s no big deal. This is how I cook, too. I’ll put together a recipe in my head with a list of ingredients and if they all make it into the pot, brava! If they don’t, I ask myself, “Did dinner taste good?” If the answer is yes, I’m happy. If the answer is no, I make a mental note and try not to repeat the mistake the next time.

But a few months ago I decided it was time to work on a big plan, the master plan, the path to a better future (that sounds so communist). I decided it was time to get serious about my career and to make other people serious about it too.

What was my plan? It’s rather mundane really. I set myself goals. Revolutionary, no? But what I feel is even more important, I got a haircut and started dressing better. You know that old chestnut, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” well ladies, I do believe it’s an oldie and a goodie for a reason. People take you more seriously when you dress the part. They’re more willing to have you meet important people, delegate responsibility and offer you chances. And to top it all off, it makes me feel better about myself.

Santa & the Shoppers

So, has it worked? I’m not sure yet, but I have hope. All signs point to good things. And if not? Well, I guess it’s on to Plan B. What Plan B might be though, is anyone’s guess.

There’s one thing for sure that I’m planning though, and that’s working on two new tweaks I’ve developed for another old chestnut, Bittman’s no-knead bread. The first tweak was intentional; I substituted whey for water. It’s a good tweak, if you just happen to have cups and cups of whey in your freezer. It enhances aroma, flavor and color rather nicely.

The second tweak was definitely a mistake that turned out to be (possibly) a revolution. I kneaded the no-knead bread.

Kneaded No-Knead Bread

You see, the starter, or poolish, or sponge or whatever-you-want-to-call-it I made was too wet, but I didn’t want to waste it. So after the first rise, I tipped it out onto my heavily flowered board and gently kneaded flour into the amorphous blob of goo until it resembled the most gorgeous, springy, alive feeling dough I’ve ever handled. Then I tucked it into a ball, placed it in a bowl, let it rise two more hours and baked it.

It’s the loaf I’ve been dreaming about. Fragrant. Beautiful. Tasty. Perfect. Without further testing I can’t tell if it was a fluke or if this is a revolution. Might this new step, kneading the kneadless, be the way for the stand mixerless masses to make perfectly structured loaves of European-quality bread?

Kneaded No-Knead Bread

Only time and testing will tell. But I plan to work on it.