Archive | January, 2008

That’s A Wrap

29 Jan

Cling film is out to get me.

Morning Light, Through My Window

Every time I open the drawer where the Saran wrap lives, I break out in a cold sweat. I know there’s going to be a fight, and I know who’s going to win. Hint: It’s never me.

I marvel, absolutely marvel, at the men and women on TV who can wrassle the stuff. I see them in commercials, on cooking shows and sometimes even in sitcoms and movies. They deftly grab the box, open the lid (without cutting themselves), pull the wrap from the roll with a sure hand, and cloak their leftovers in a layer of plasticky protection in one fell swoop. The wrap sticks to itself or to the bowl and never tears. I sit on the couch and seethe with jealousy.

It’s the dirty little secret of my kitchen. I can’t use plastic wrap.

Morning Rain

For a while I was very excited by that press & seal wrap (you know, the stuff that’s really just co-opted lab film). I remember it so fondly from 10th grade Advanced Biology. We’d use it to seal Erlenmeyer flasks full of fun experiments, and to protect Petri dishes from contamination. I embraced the press & seal and it hugged back. But, I can’t use it for everything.

My battle with cling film is decades old, but has recently become more heated. I suspect the plastic wrap has escalated because I won’t let it live in the “wrap & roll condo.” Some of you might have one of these, or remember them from your childhood.

Wrap & Roll Condo

They’re wall-mounted metal containers in which aluminum foil, wax paper and paper towels can live free, independent from their hateful boxes. You just pop the roll into the little cradle and use at will. No flimsy cardboard, no plastic ferrules popping out of place. They’re genius. Why no one makes them any longer is a great mystery to me (just like the song, I got mine on eBay).

I would love to forgo cling film entirely, but it does serve one purpose. It abets my pasta-making mania. On the rare occasion that I remember to pull a piece of the hateful stuff out of the drawer (before I get my hands all covered in flour), it is inevitably blown by a draft into an origami-inspired shape, the one and only time it ever sticks to itself. It forces me to stand at the counter, hands covered in sticky goo, in a desperate race to pull the layers apart before my dough forms a dry crust.

A more reliable scenario, however, is that I forget the wrap entirely. I will have just formed my perfect dough into a perfect little ball when I remember I’ve forgotten the stupid stuff and swear loudly. Not wanting to scatter flour all over the kitchen I try pulling the drawer open with my elbows. Fail. Try rinsing the dough off my hands. Fail. Capitulate, pull the drawer open with my now supremely gooey fingers, fight with the box, fight with the wrap, shower dough all over the cabinets, cut myself on the lid, swear a lot more, get the film off the roll, watch it all stick to itself, fight to pull the layers apart and then finally, wrap the film around the dough, at which point it choses to adhere to all of Murphy’s rules at once, but not to itself.

But, it is the struggle which makes the fruits of victory taste that much sweeter, don’t you think?

Seagulls, Tornado-Batterd Church Roof

Saturday was cold here. Bitterly cold. Stew weather. So we picked up some venison meat at the greenmarket and headed home. I didn’t want to go back out there and didn’t want to send Isaac either, so even though we were out of red cooking wine and had no fresh vegetables in the house, I decided to make do with what was inside, where it was warm. I thought adding some Cynar would add a nice flavor, and, thus inspired settled on a venison and artichoke stew.

Two things got in the way of this plan: 1. I was out of frozen artichokes and 2. I was unprepared for how much of the of the Cynar’s bitterness came through after a bit of cooking. So I improvised. I added sundried tomatoes and honey and jelly to mellow out the liqueur and tossed in whatever was green in the freezer; peas and garbanzos.

Venison Stew with Cynar and Csipetke

While the stew was burbling away in the oven, I made Hungarian dumplings.  The dough was easy enough, but once again,  I had to fight the wrap.  Despite all that, these are fabulous, toothsome, hearty little guys, like spätzle on steroids, and the perfect foil to this profound, mysterious and deeply flavored winter stew.

Mmmmm... Dumplings

While it’s true that the cling film waged a fierce and ruthless battle, I persevered and won the day. It was a personal victory, a victory for men and women everywhere, but most importantly it was a victory for my belly.

Those were some damn fine little dumplings.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Venison Stew with Cynar and Hungarian Dumplings.

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Love/Hate

23 Jan

Little fish, big controversy.

Pugs On Patrol

Some recent night after work I was watching the Iron Chef battle between Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver, Isaac was reading. “Oooooh!” I said. “Look, Pasta con le Sarda!” “Huh?” “Mario’s making pasta with sardines. I’ve always wanted to make that. I think it’s totally weird that it’s got fish, raisins and fennel in it.” “Pasta? With sardines? I’m sold.”

It seemed like the perfect dish. I love pasta but I’m not so keen on fish. Isaac’s the exact opposite. It seemed like a match made in heaven. And then we started discussing the dish.

This is where the pugs live.  Lucky pugs.

I wanted to change some things around. I didn’t want to use sardines. Where on earth would I get sardines? In Bay Ridge? On a Sunday? Tell me that… So, what do you want to use? Tuna. Tuna? Ewh. Why would you use tuna? Because I like tuna and I don’t really like sardines. Well why on earth would you suggest making something with sardines then? Etc. Etc. Etc.

The discussion never got heated, just testy, but just testy enough to make it seem like a good idea to shelve the dish for a while. So we made spinach pie. Spinach pie. The peacemaker. Who knew?

Cold, Winter Tree

Then, on Saturday, piscine providence provided.

I had already settled on roasting a chicken and making some Asian-esque soup with dumplings from the leftovers as the weekend’s culinary activities, but Isaac came back from the gym with amazing news. Cosentino’s, the local fish market, had fresh sardines.

They were beautiful, shiny, plump, glistening and as fresh as fresh fish can be. They smelled of the ocean and were soft and silky to the touch. Their eyes were so bright and shiny, like they were still chasing tiny krill through the icy waters of the Atlantic. But I couldn’t. Nope.

Tree Lined

I don’t know when it happened or how, but I don’t like fish. Okay, that’s only about 87% honest. I don’t like most fish. I love cod, but feel guilty eating it. And don’t even put a bowl of clams in front of me, because they’ll be gone by the time you turn back around. Tuna’s alright, especially when smeared in mayonnaise and hot sauce and wrapped inside seaweed and gulped down with pickled ginger. I also don’t mind fish on vacation, like in Croatia, where it was all even fresher than the sardines I was staring down. But at home? Not so much.

So I stood there, waffling. I knew how much Isaac wanted them. I knew that they were local, and seasonal. But I failed. I settled on a hunk of tuna and some clams. I could feel the disappointment emanating in waves off both Isaac and the fish guy. The fish guy said he only brought in the sardines when they were exceptional, and that he knew no one would buy them. It felt awful proving him right.

End

I was wracked with guilt on the walk home, hugging my tuna airlifted in from warmer climes. I had just failed miserably as a foodie. I had left the delicious delicacy from the sea back in that store on a bed of ice. And so, I relented. I asked Isaac to go back and get the little fishes, but to make sure the guy gutted them. I hate gutting fish.

The sauce is, as the Naked Chef would say, easy peasy. You cut some vege, cook the vege, add tomatoes and stew. The cleaning of the fish though? Far more than I expected. I figured the fish guy would not only gut them but remove their spines too. Oh no. Nope. He left that for me.

Canon

The first one was difficult, but by the end I had the hang of it. You just insert the tip of a knife under the spine near the tail and drag backwards, pulling out the tail. Then you lift the spine and pull towards the head. Where the spine breaks, you cut off that part of the fish. The ribs will be too big and thick to melt in the cooking process. But this is not a neat procedure. Little bits of fish fly everywhere. You have been warned.

The sauce turned out well, very well in fact, but for me the star of the meal was the pasta. I took a cue from Mario and rather than adding saffron to the sauce, I added it to the noodles. I made pappardelle because I love them, and these noodles might be the ones I *heart* the most in all the world. They are spectacular.

Pasat con le Sarda

The first bite of the meal was, to me, a little too fishy, but by the end I was very happy. It’s kind of a cross between puttanesca and Huachinango Veracruzano, but with more depth and mystery. I’m not sure I’ll ever make it again, even though the leftovers were excellent on some Trader Joe’s artichoke ravioli. It was just too contentious. Too stressful.

Dinner should be delicious, not fraught.

Head below the jump for Ann’s recipes for Pasta con le Sarda and Golden Papparedelle.

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Ten Miles, Two Soups

18 Jan

Did you notice that I only posted once last week?

Bedford Avenue & Avenue Y

And only once the week before that, and the week before that, and the week before that? And that the posts really haven’t been about food?

Our friend Jack did.

Bedford Avenue Window

On Friday nights we like to stop by the bar that used to be our neighborhood local when we lived in the Lower East Side. We go to catch-up with friends, drink beer and laugh, you know, the usual things people do at bars. My job keeps me late on Fridays, so Isaac gets time to play pool and chat and gossip before I get there. Last Friday, Jack turned to Isaac and said, “So, what have you guys been eating? Annie hasn’t been posting…”

The Night Watchmen

I laughed and laughed when he told me this the next morning. It’s true. I had gone into a bit of a cooking slump right before Christmas. But boy, I was out of the gate fast and with gusto in the new year. The kitchen has been in heavy use and some truly spectacular stuff has been flowing out at a steady clip, but I seem to have lost all time management skills.

A Truly Decorative Cabbage

Case in point? This post. It’s at least a week late. But, it was held up for good reason. What’s the reason? Cartography.

Bedford Victorian

A few weekends ago, Isaac and I went on an epic walk. We walked Bedford Avenue from start to finish (give or take a block or two). Bedford is considered by many to be the longest street entirely contained within the County of Kings, a fact gleaned from Barry Lewis on Thanksgiving. Once we learned that, we knew we had to walk its 10 miles.

Door

We awoke two Saturdays ago to a glorious, warm January day. It was time. And so with coffee and bialys in hand, we rode the Q out to Sheepshead Bay, camera in tow. I got a little lost trying to get us from the subway station to Voorhies Avenue, the actual head of Bedford, so we started our trek at Avenue Y instead.

Light, Erasmus Hall High Shool

I know you’re all thinking, “Right, so you guys went on a walk, what do maps have to do with this?” Well… I made you one! Right here. Complete with pictures and captions. I think it puts the trek into a better context. And I did it because I love maps.

Lefferts Roof

We have an entire hallway lined with them in the apartment, right outside the bathroom. They’re those antique reproduction posters of cities like Paris, London, Venice and New York that you can buy in any art store. I love to study them while I’m brushing my teeth. And since I have a penchant for reading slightly trashy historical novels, they often provide insight as to where the characters are living. And, since we’re going to Florence in two months, I’ve been studying that one especially hard.

Studebaker Building

But, enough about maps, back to the walk.

Grant's Horse

We stopped for a “light” lunch somewhere around the midpoint of the walk. The plan was to snack in the middle and to end our trek in Greenpoint with a great, steaming bowl of white borscht like Brooklynguy suggested. Alas. Balboa was too much for us. The curry chicken, oxtail and mac & cheese (Oh the mac & cheese! How have I never thought of eating my mac & cheese with curry sauce until that day?) were delicious and filling enough to carry us through. We wanted to stop for borscht, but it just wasn’t prudent.

Mment

But what we did discover is that the trip to Greenpoint is actually quite easy from Bay Ridge, so we’ll be going back Brooklynguy! Don’t you worry! And soon. I need to have a borscht-off of some sort this year, since I failed so miserably at the Great De-Beet 2008.

Water Tank

We were achy and sore when we got home, because no matter how many times you go to the gym, a ten mile walk is still a ten mile walk, especially when it’s ten miles on hard city sidewalks. So dinner was a modest affair. Pasta in a thrown together tomato sauce. But the next night? Oh delicious soup!

The End, Greenpoint

I’m beginning to think there’s such a thing as blogronicity. Two days before New Year’s Eve, as Isaac was in the kitchen cooking up his pot of cauliflower soup, I surfed over to Clumsy‘s blog and found she had just made a cauliflower & leek soup. Monday morning as I was desperately trying to catch up on my interweb surfing, there she was again, with French onion soup, the meal I’d cooked the night before. I find it amusing how two people on two different coasts experiencing vastly different winters can crave the same thing. Funny.

French Onion Soup

So, in celebration of my new discovery, blogronicity, I’ll leave you with our recipes for the two soups, even though I know you’re just really here for the map.

Head below the jump for Isaac’s Cauliflower Soup and Annie’s French Onion Soup.

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Hellas Yeah!

14 Jan

I love Greek food.

For a brief, shining period, my work lunches were blissfully delicious. One day, *poof* a Greek restaurant appeared a few blocks away from my office.

On the bridge, heading home

I went in for a Greek salad. I got back to the office and figured there had to be some mistake. There was no lettuce. The next time I went back I told the guy behind the counter. He laughed. “That’s a real Greek salad,” he said, “no lettuce. Never any lettuce.” It wasn’t my thing. So I tried another of their salads, this time with lettuce, and scallions and dill and olives and feta cheese and the world’s most tender, fragrant grilled chicken. I was in love.

But woman cannot live on salad alone. So I ventured into Greek soups. Avgolemono. Chicken, rice, eggs, lemon… What’s not to love? And it was. Love. I became a Seinfeld-esque regular. I didn’t even have to voice my order. I’d walk in, and they’d already be preparing my soup and salad.

It was so good I even violated my cardinal rule of work lunch places: Never go there on the weekends. I had to take Isaac. He had to have the salad, and the soup, and all the other lovely, fresh, delicious things they cooked there. He loved it as much as I did.

And then, one day *poof* Greek Village was gone.

Paper Whites at home

I went to get lunch, and the grate was down. The equipment was gone. I had been there the week before! I rattled the grate, looked to the heavens and wailed, “Why God? Why!?!” Okay, maybe it wasn’t that traumatic, but it is true. My work lunches have never been the same, so it’s been a nice surprise to discover a place out here in Bay Ridge that is just as good, but with a twist.

It’s called Pegasus and is known for its breakfasts; for pancakes and eggs and bacon, a concept I will never understand. But perhaps that’s just because I don’t care for breakfast foods in a breakfast context. I’d much rather break my fast on a salad, or sushi, or a sandwich or, heck, even leftover pasta.

Football Mums, at home

But I digress…. What Pegasus should be known for is the dishes the owner has put on the menu that remind him of his homeland, Cyprus. When we moved here last winter we became addicted to his avgolemono which he promptly stopped serving the minute the weather turned warm (the menu states that it is not served in summer).

Nonetheless it was heartbreaking. So we went back the first weekend of autumn. But alas, it was still too hot. And then for no known reason, we stopped trying. Until a few weeks ago. It was chilly and we were hungry, so rather than wait for a table we sat at the counter. I looked at the menu, it was different… And there, under the panini section was one of the most beautiful words in the culinary lexicon, “Halloumi.”

Salad

As Isaac and I dived into our bowls of lemony, creamy chicken soup the owner wandered over and peered into our bowls. “How do you know Greek soup?” he asked. Between slurps I got out a version of my tale of woe. “Oh, if you like Greek food, you must try panini number 5,” he said. I set my spoon down with a contented sigh and replied, “That’s what I ordered! I love halloumi!” I swear I saw a tear sparkle in the old man’s eye. “You know halloumi? It is the cheese of my homeland!”

And so we chatted between bites about authenticity and pancakes and cheese. At the end of our meal, the owner slipped away and returned with a shy smile and a plate of cheese. Special cheese. Drizzled in olive oil and dusted with oregano. “The very best feta in the world!” he beamed, “My personal supply, imported from Greece. Try it!” And so we did. It was the most fantastic feta I’ve ever eaten. Simultaneously creamy, and yet old, with hints of the barnyard and the very best Vermont aged cheddar. We rolled out vowing to go back as soon as possible.

Greekesque Spinach Pie

Which turned out to be yesterday. It was a struggle. Our new mattress came an hour and a half early, so it took two tries to get a chance to sit down and eat. But we did. Avgolemono and halloumi, more friendly banter and a deeper understanding of why making avgolemono in summer is a bad idea (so much whisking). In fact, the food was so good, it wasn’t enough.

After lunch we walked around the corner to the Greek imports place and bought the fixings for dinner. Basically anything that struck our fancies. Phyllo. Olives. Cheeses. Olive Oil. Almonds. I caramelized some onions and garlic, olives and a hot dried chile, added spinach, threw in slivered almonds and crumbles of a hard Bulgarian goat’s milk feta or sirene then wrapped it all in layers of phyllo and baked until golden and delicious. My only regret is that I didn’t throw in a handful of raisins.

Radish, by the dining room light

Isaac concocted a salad of lettuce, radishes and dill (the radish/dill combo may be my new favorite flavor in the world). The meal was a riff on everything that is delicious about the cooking of the Aegean. So many people think only of 50s era diner food when they think about Greek food (including some elder members of my family, you know who you are) which is a shame.

Greek food is just as sophisticated, nuanced and delicious as Italian or Turkish food. If it’s been awhile since you tried some, go on, give Greece a chance.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Greekesque Spinach Pie.

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Cause Celeb

7 Jan

I was in SoHo yesterday.

SoHo Sign

Isaac was off shopping for books and wine while I was, theoretically, returning something, buying sweet things and foraging for dinner provisions. In reality I was wandering around looking for pictures to take with my new toy.

I took pictures of buildings, of architectural details, of old signs, the usual things. I was wandering, thinking. Perhaps I should start taking pictures of people, I thought. I found myself on the corner of Broadway and Spring, and there, just across Broadway was a family, striking the most perfect tableau. I prepared to shoot. Then something registered in my brain, I looked again. Something looked familiar about the father. I looked one more time.

Sacrebleu. It was Eric Ripert.

SoHo Detail

We New Yorkers have a problem with celebrities, real, personal or imagined. We’re New Yorkers. We walk amongst some of the richest, most famous, most talented people on the face of the earth every minute of every day. We’re supposed to be cool, unruffled and unfazed when rubbing shoulders with Lloyd Blankfein, Maggie Gyllenhaal or Mario Batali.

But sometimes we run into someone that gets us excited. It’s a very personal thing.

Parker Posey always seems to be at the Kmart in Astor Place when I’m there. I think its funny, but I would never walk up to her and say, “Ohmigod! I loved you in Party Girl and you were so ridiculously, neurotically perfect in Best In Show.” I just couldn’t.

But running into Eric Ripert? It made me pause.

The Mirror at Balthazar

A few years ago when my office was on another street in another neighborhood, I was leaving work very late one night when I found an uncorrected proof of A Return To Cooking (written with the estimable Ruhlman I might add) in the lobby. This was odd for two reasons: 1. There were no book publishers in that building and 2. The lobby of this building was not a “free” space.

“Free” spaces are one of the more magical spots a building can have. For no discernible reason they pop up in dorms, offices and apartment buildings around the world. Bits of counter become the place to leave the detritus that one no longer wants or needs. My office has one, hidden waaaay back by the printers that no one uses, where I once found a $190 bottle of sunscreen and a collection of “Classics In Half The Time” books. I took the cream, I left the books (and I am proud to say that 6 months on, the books are all still there).

The roof at Savoy

I took Chef Ripert’s book home and leafed through it. There’s a few simple recipes, but on the whole, as one would expect from a three-Michelin starred chef, the bulk of the book is made up of complicated, daunting and futzy recipes. But, they are also tasty.

Each New Year’s Eve for the past four, Isaac and I have passed the evening cooking, drinking, eating, talking and laughing with the same couple. The first three years were at their place in Brooklyn, this year it was my turn to host. And so I turned to Chef Ripert for inspiration. And he provided amply.

SoHo Water Tanks

Isaac made Chef Ripert’s cauliflower soup as our starter. It was utterly perfect. Sweet, creamy, silky, buttery, rustic yet sophisticated, it is wonderful. We couldn’t find smoked scallops so we used bacon instead, and decided to substitute goat’s milk for heavy cream. Tinkering with a celebrity chef’s recipe is fun! And so I did a doozie on the main course.

It was to be Pan-Seared Muscovy Duck with Cherries and Rhubarb Purée, but come on people! It’s winter! There’s no way the fresh cherries were going to be good, and even though I found frozen rhubarb, I decided not to use it. So we ended up with Pan-Seared Duck Breasts with Mixed Berry, Dried Cherry and Cognac Sauce.

Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? And it was. Partly because of my inventions, but a lot because of Chef Ripert’s exquisite techniques.

Happy New Year!

So it was all these things I was mulling as I stood on the corner of Broadway and Spring yesterday, asking myself, should I walk up to this man who’s just trying to enjoy a day out with his family and thank him for helping to make my New Year’s Eve dinner so spectacular and memorable?

The light changed, my heart beat a little faster. I started walking towards him. And then he ran into a friend and they all stopped in the middle of Broadway for hugs and kisses. My decision was made for me. As I passed them I smiled, and carried on.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Berry Sauce for Duck, a la Ripert.

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