Archive | October, 2008

Crusty Perfection

31 Oct

I’m always amused when it happens.

When after 10 years–a decade–the City throws me for a loop.  It crystallizes for me how confusing and dynamic and thrilling it must be to be a newbie or visitor here all over again, and reminds me why I live here, gives me that old thrill for just one second.  It also makes me blush like hell and mutter a bit to myself like a crazy lady.

Take Tuesday for example.  I had jury duty at Brooklyn Supreme Court.  What a simultaneously fascinating, and frustrating, experience!  Whatever algorithm the Kings County court system is using to ensure a diverse jury pool sure does work.  Sadly, the processes they use for picking juries are still a bit outmoded.

I got paneled for a case that I couldn’t sit on because the trial is scheduled for while Isaac and I are in Colorado visiting his family.  Could I tell the lawyers this and go back into the jury pool to possibly get on a jury I could sit on, thus possibly helping a fellow New Yorker?  No.  I had to sit there, for four hours and listen to the droning lawyers until my name was called, at which point, I could finally, officially, tell them I couldn’t sit on the jury because I wouldn’t be here.  Sigh.

But I did learn one very important lesson.  If you are forced to listen to a lawyer who is passionately in love with his own voice, don’t fight it.  No matter how smart you think you are, you’re never going to be able to read the Economist.  Do yourself a favor and bring a copy of US Weekly…. Just in case.

And that was it.  I was released back into the pool where I sat down, did some work, and was then, a few hours later, released back into the cold, windy, wet world.  Brooklyn’s court house perches on the edge of one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of Kings County, Brooklyn Heights, but sadly, it was too icky of a day to enjoy it. So I scurried to the Court Street subway stop as quickly, and dryly, as possible.

And here’s where the city threw me for a loop.  Court Street is a very deep, very old station. The sides of the walls are rounded, the platform is narrow and the trains feel very close.  It’s also a disorienting station with trains arriving in both directions and scarce singage saying “This way for Manhattan” or “This way for the rest of Brooklyn.”  So, I relied on my internal compass, something every New Yorker has whether they know it or not.

A train arrived.  My internal compass said, “Yep, that’s the one! That’s the train that will get you home hours earlier than you’ve gotten home in months and months and months.” So I hopped on, grabbed a seat and resumed reading about why the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

And then, after a few stops, I looked up, expecting to see us pulling into the Atlantic-Pacific station only to see scaffolding and workmen.  “Heeeey,” I thought to myself, “That looks like Cortland Street station in Manhattan… How’d I get here?”  And then, a few feet further on, there were the station signs.  It was, in fact, Cortland Street station in Manhattan.  I had been duped.

This is the point when I started blushing and muttering to myself.  Not that anyone on that rainy day-R train could possibly have known that I, seasoned New Yorker, humbler of the forgetful, mocker of the mistake-maker, had just pulled an “Oopsie!”  Regardless, I was embarrassed.  I slyly exited at City Hall, crossed the platform and re-started my journey home.  I still made it home hours early, but I had been humbled, for the umpteenth time, by the city I thought I knew so well.  It was kind of refreshing, actually.

So why am I telling you all of this?  Because sometimes after a great triumph, one must fall.  And what was my great triumph.  Pie crust my friends!  Isaac, for weeks, has been agitating to make both caldo verde and pumpkin soup.  And while I love soup, we settled on him making a version of the Portuguese kale soup over our long weekend and, riffing on his pumpkin idea, I decided to make Christina’s winter squash quiche.

But, before one can crack a few eggs, butter and flour must meet.  And since I was using up the bulk of our beautiful, incredibly tasty free-range eggs from farmer Dan, and a beautiful kabocha squash from the Chatham farmer’s market (which we finally got to go to since it’s held, rather inexplicably, on Friday evenings from 4-7pm), I knew the crust had to be special.  So I checked with Martha.

All of her crusts say to use a food processor.  Which is fine, I have one of those.  Only problem, it was down in the city, and I was up in the country.  So I decided to continue on anyway with my God-given food processor.  My hands.  I remembered reading somewhere about a lady who made the most wonderful pie crusts in all of creation, and her secret was using her hands.  I figured if she could do it, so could I.


I followed Martha’s pate brisee recipe, cutting the frozen butter into the flour with two knives until I got tired, at which point I used my hands, rubbing the butter into the flour and working in the water.  I didn’t over work everything, believing that the crumbliness would hydrate in the fridge. And I was right.

I know this is a “like duh” moment, but you don’t need a food processor to make absolutely perfect pie crust.  Seems logical given that women have been making pies for centuries and the Cuisinart has only been around for a few decades.

And so, we had an everything-must-be-in-a-crust dinner, and it was delicious.  Christina’s quiche is so magical.  It’s custardy and sweet and tangy and smokey and elusive and mysterious and gosh darnit delicious.  If you make it for friends, they will beg you for the recipe, she’s right. I can’t wait to make it for my family for Thanksgiving dinner.  And the pie? Oh my god, the pie.  It’s been so long since I baked an apple pie, and back then, it was kind of a disaster.  The crust was bad and the filling was meh.  But this time?  Sublime.

So if you’ve got some pumpkin guts hanging around from your pre-Halloween carving activities, roast them up and toss them with some eggs and make yourself a pie crust with your hands.  Don’t be shy. Go ahead, get a little dirty. Apparently they make guilt-free choose-a-size paper towels these days.

So make a mess!  It’ll be tasty, guaranteed.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Christina’s Squash Quiche and Ann’s Apple Pie.

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Paper Fishes

24 Oct

I suffer from intense paper towel-guilt.

Unlike my battle with saran wrap, this guilt stems not from the product’s inefficiencies.  No. My paper towel-guilt is born entirely from my own inefficiencies.  There is nothing I hate more than having to grab the roll of towels, yet again, because I have caused a huge mess in the kitchen (living room/bathroom/dining room) due to my need to act first and think later.

Isaac and I are currently upstate.  We both desperately needed the break–for our sanity and health–and, we needed to get someone in to clean the chimney.  It sounded like the perfect excuse for taking a few days off.  Yesterday, after having to shame-facedly ask the chimney sweep how to start a fire in a wood-burning stove, I set to making a chicken stock out of the carcass of the frankenchicken I had pot-roasted two weekends ago.

Everything was going along swimmingly until it came time to strain the stock.  I pulled out a storage container and my sieve and started pouring… the soup all over the counter top.  Swearing loudly, I set the pot of stock down and grabbed the paper towels.  As I was mopping-up the mess it occurred to me that I would be better off putting the sieve in a bowl with a pour-spout, pouring the stock into the bowl, then transferring it into the storage container.  Apparently there is some truth to that old adage “haste makes waste,” and I’m living proof of it!

But there is one time where I never feel bad about using paper towels, and that’s while cooking fish; especially breaded and pan-fried fish.  I proclaim to not be a big fan of fish, but this is really a load of rot.  I do like fish, just most of the time I don’t care for how other people prepare it.  When I finally give in to Isaac’s wishes and cook fish at home, nine times out of 10 I love it.  And then I get all enthusiastic and say, “I love fish! I’m  going to eat it all the time!” And then I run out at lunch and get a salmon salad and remember that most people cannot cook fish to save their lives.

But there is one person out there that can cook fish, reliably and beautifully, and can translate his recipes into print. It’s Nigel Slater.  I love Nigel, as if he were a favored uncle.  I love the way he thinks and the way he writes and the way he talks about food and gardening and eating, the way his recipes are just so barely recipes, more like sketches.

I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired in the cooking-sense lately.  I attribute this entirely to the credit crisis.  I wake up and work.  I go to work and work.  And then when I get home I lie on the couch and shut my brain off, and sometimes work.  My Google reader is permanently stuck in the 1000+ mode.  I can’t remember the last time I had the chance to really sit down, relax and browse through some blogs, bookmarking recipes I want to try and absorbing inspiration.  But, seriously, after spending 12 hours a day, or more, staring at a computer screen, the very last thing I want to do is get home and stare at one some more.

So, last week, in an attempt to reboot my creative cooking processes, I grabbed Nigel’s Kitchen Diaries and burrowed into the couch.  As always, Nigel provided, amply.  In one of the fall months (I can’t remember which, and don’t have the book up here with me) was a recipe for fennel, pear and watercress salad and another for haddock breaded with tarragon bread crumbs and anchovies.  Though they were part of two separate meals, they sounded like they’d be divine together to me.  And they were.

I made Nigel’s breading mixture a bit more bold with the addition of finely minced garlic, and carried the tarragon into the dressing for the salad, and I used sole instead of haddock because our fish monger didn’t have any.  And the meal was perfect.  After a quick drain on some paper towels, the fish was crispy, moist and utterly delicious.  I immediately wanted seconds, but resisted.  The leftovers were perfect a few nights later, warmed in the oven, and served over a bed of watercress and buttery lettuces.

So, no recipes from me, because they really are Nigel’s and you deserve to hear about them from him, and then take them and run with them and make them your own.  Even if it does involve using paper towels.

Bean There, Done That

16 Oct

Last night, I was in the same room as Martha Stewart, Daniel Boulud and a Beastie Boy.

And yes, Carol, it was MCA.

There were other famous people in the room too, but I’m terrible at identifying famous people. I’ll stand and stare and think to myself, I know that person… But can never figure out how, until weeks or months later when I see them in a movie or on TV and blurt out, Oooooh! I talked to that guy at a party once!  The person I most wanted to talk to was Michael Colameco, the über-mensch of New York City public television food shows, but, by the time the speeches were over, I turned around and he was gone.  I was bummed.

So where was I?  At Chanterelle.  It was a launch party for David Waltuck‘s new cookbook.  The book is beautiful and the party was swish and the food delicious, but $54 was too rich for my blood. I think I’ll be putting it on my Christmas wish list. And even though I was having a blast, I decided to leave early, so I would be home in time to watch last night’s debate.

As I was walking up Thomas Street to catch the bus, I heard that unmistakable whine and stutter that New York City’s buses make.  I looked up, and there it was, the X27 passing by.  I broke into a full run, blasted around the corner onto Broadway, only to see the bus pulling away from the stop.

I slowed down, but then the bus stopped, so I took off again at a full gallop.  And then the bus pulled away again, but I was already running, so I kept going, and after about five blocks, I finally caught up to it.  But let me tell you something… After a handful of hors d’œuvre and three glasses of Pol Roger, five blocks at a full tilt is tantamount to the New York City Marathon.  Thank god I wasn’t wearing heels!

I made it home in time to catch the debate (I swear if McCain said Joe the Plumber one more time I was about to lose the very cute, incredibly delicious deviled quail eggs I had gorged on earlier in the evening) and to peek at the winner of Project Runway (I won’t spoil it, but I will say that I’m very pleased).

But you know what? This wasn’t my favorite cookbook event of the week, not in any way.  Nope.  Last Wednesday, I was able to sneak away from my desk for 30 minutes, to finally meet my bean-guru, Steve from Rancho Gordo.  He was in town spreading the bean gospel, signing copies of his cookbook at the Union Square greenmarket.  We chatted while he signed my book, a bargain at only $20, discussing beans and cooking and gardening and business.  It was the most pleasant break I’ve taken from work in months.  And when I walked away, I was inspired.

On Saturday, I made a loaf of Rose Levy Beranbaum‘s basic hearth bread, roasted a chicken (the rest of which is waiting patiently in the freezer for stock making next weekend), and boiled up some beans.  Earlier in the summer I went absolutely nuts at the greenmarket buying up, in bulk, every kind of shell bean I could find.  I bought pink ones, and blue ones, black ones and red ones, fat ones and skinny ones and one sort that are so beautiful, they look like the night sky.  Issac and I spent hours shelling them and then gently tucked them into the freezer.

A few weekends ago I made Tuscan Magic Beans with fresh cannellinis from my stash (I also made the world’s most glorious lasagna entirely from scratch and never told you about it).  The beans were a revelation.  People always say that dried beans and canned beans are just fine, that nothing is lost in the processing.  To them I now must say, malarkey.  Fresh cannellini beans have as much in common with canned cannellinis as canned artichoke hearts have in common with spring’s first, tenderest, most beautiful tiny purple artichokes served shaved as a salad in a Florentine trattoria.

The beans I made over the weekend were a mix of Steve’s fool-proof method and my version of the Tuscan magic way.  I sauteed onions, boiled beans, and then at the last minute added some raw onion, lemon zest and chopped olives.  The beans had an alluring, attractive, secretive aroma that traveled all the way down.  They were delicious with the bread and chicken for dinner, but definitely were better the next morning as breakfast, refried, on toast with poached eggs.

And while I enjoyed my rub with real celebrity; I mean, let’s be honest, if someone had walked over to me and said, “Ann, allow me to introduce you to Martha Stewart,” I would have lit up like a Christmas tree.  But in reality I found my little chat with a bean celebrity far more fulfilling and inspirational.  I just never know what to say to celebrities. I know I would hate having people walk up and babble at me, but isn’t that what being a celebrity is all about?  What do you think?  Should I have tried to meet Martha?

Head below the jump for the recipe for Perfumed Dinner (or Breakfast) Beans.

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The Beet Goes On

9 Oct

Fall is finally here.

My waking days have quietly slipped into a gentle grayness.  Instead of being greeted by wide beams of golden yellow sun streaking through the front window, my mornings are spent in a cozy half-light.  And as the financial crisis rolls on, the last rosy radiations of the setting sun, that just last month greeted me as I left the the office, are becoming weaker and weaker.  Each night it’s a little darker, a little grayer, a little more obvious that summer is really truly over.

I’m fine with this, and in fact love it.  Fall in New York is the most glorious time of the year (even if the Yankees decided to act more like the Knicks and less like the Giants thus robbing me of one of my favorite autumnal traditions).  The air is crisp; the sky is the most glorious, searing, pellucid blue.  It’s scarf and stockings with riding boots and plaid wool skirt weather.  The greenmarket is bursting at the seams with the last of summer’s bounty as well as the radiant oranges, yellows and reds of squash and pumpkins and root vegetables.

And then there’s the weekends upstate.  Walking out the back door is like stepping into a Frederick Edwin Church painting.  The leaves on the trees are just beginning to change, some into shades of orange and red that shouldn’t be possible in nature.  And the smell! Oh the smell.  Dryness and earthiness with a hint of smoke.  Five seconds of breathing it in makes up for all the early mornings and long nights I’ve spent toiling away this past month.

Though we still have a hole in our house from the foul fowl, it looks like we just might (cross your fingers, knock on wood) get that fixed this weekend, and then we can go back to living a normal, turkey-free life (at least until Thanksgiving).

This past weekend was spent planning for the future.  I planted bulbs, which is no mean feat.  Our house was built directly on some geologic feature that makes it impossible to dig any hole without hitting a rock every quarter-of-an-inch.  I’m tempted to name the house “Rockfield.”  It sounds just a wee bit snooty, but is based entirely in truth.  While I was scratching away at the earth, Isaac raked the yard,  also no mean feat.  The house is surrounded by mature and magnificent stands of maples and oaks and birch and elm which are prolific leaf producers.

After all that hard work, we deserved a break, and a delicious dinner.  So we took a drive over to the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store, by the back route, through Spencertown, possibly the most beautiful New England town in all the world that isn’t technically in New England.  From there, we went to visit a farmer I noticed at the greenmarket last Friday.

I had asked Dan, the farmer, where I could buy his beef in Columbia County, since it seems foolish to buy it in the city once its been driven down from upstate only to put it back in a car to drive it back to where it came from, and he said that they sell at the farm on Saturdays.  So we dropped by, got a tour and bought some eggs, sausage and and two chuck eye steaks.

Fully provisioned, I hit the kitchen to make some borscht.  Everything was going along just swimingly until I began peeling the beets Isaac had bought at the greenmarket.  With each swipe of the blade, the beets became less rosy, and more, well, white.  Dammit!  He bought me chioggia beets!  Well, at least the back-up beets I had procured at Hawthorne Valley would be red, I thought.  And then I started peeling my beets… Ach du liebe, scheisse! I had done the same thing.  We had been bamboozled by the beets!

Ah, well, nevermind.  So the borscht was a little pale, and a little, well, less beety.  But Dan’s beautiful beef really saved the day.  The fat and amazing, clear flavor really, uhm, beefed *groan* up the soup and gave it depth that it might otherwise have been lacking.  I served it with some wine-braised cabbage and big chunks of rye bread.  It was fortifying and delicious, which was good, because we had another big day of yard work ahead of us.

We’re planning to move the garden next year.  It’s technically on our neighbor’s property (though he doesn’t seem to mind) and a little too close to the blackberry bramble, and it’s overrun with weeds and blackberries and we have too much yard, so we’re going to start over.

I brought up a huge stack of Wall Street Journals and New York Times‘, the detritus of the crisis.  We put these down on the lawn in a big rectangle, wet it and then made a huge pile of our leaves on top.  We’re going to do it again this weekend, on an adjacent rectangle of land.  Come spring, all I have to do is put a little compost over top, and dig right in.  Or so I’m told!

So, I’m alright with it being fall.  Things feel like they’re slowing down a bit.  And though my days in the City are a little gray, my weekends are full of joy and color.  It’s a nice balance, even when the borscht isn’t quite the color it should be.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Borscht, Of Another Color.

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A Turkey On Every Couch

2 Oct

You’re never going to believe this.

So I’m going to promise right off the bat that I haven’t moved April Fool’s Day or Halloween.

It’s often very hard for me to get out of work by 7pm-ish so that Isaac and I can get a jump on our drive Upstate, but this last Friday, I did it! I was so excited and ran to meet him.  I jumped into the driver’s seat and we set off, even managing to make it through the UN General Assembly mess and some very thick pea soup fog around Hudson without much effort.

And then we got to the house.  We opened the door, and it was cold, and smelled a little different, but it was late and we were hungry, so we continued to unload the car.  As Isaac cracked open a growler of beer, I headed upstairs to turn on the heat.  And then I stopped.  That odd smell was even stronger upstairs… And then I heard a little noise.  I froze and veeeeeerrrrry slowly turned my head.

There, on the couch, was… something.  I screamed (Isaac said later that it was so blood curdling that he expected to come up the stairs and find a hockey-mask wearing chainsaw-weilding mad man threatening me).  And then I looked again.  And then I screamed again, “THERE’S A F*CKING TURKEY ON THE COUCH!!!!”  Isaac laughed, and headed upstairs behind me, and said “Oh my god! Take a picture!!!”  All I could do was think, Oh man, he so does not get the gravity of the situation.

It was just at this moment that the turkey decided that she didn’t like the look of us at all and started trying to fly away, only to run repeatedly and with gusto into the ceiling and and living room wall.  It was awful.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.

I grabbed a towel and opened the sliding door to the backyard.  And then started talking very softly to the turkey.  Heeeeeere turkey turkey turkey.  Oh please stop flying into the ceiling turkey.  Oh turkey, how did you get in here? I used my most soothing voice.  I clucked and hummed and cooed and tried very hard to get her to come towards me and to please stop flying into the ceiling.

It didn’t work.  She started freaking out even more.  And then she ran.  Down the hall.  I followed her and almost fell.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaa! Glass! Everywhere!! That’s how she got in! Through a double-paned window at the foot of the stairs to our bedroom.

There’s a little nook there, with a window and beautiful wainscotting and bead board.  The window was shattered nd every square inch of the beautiful moldings were covered in mud, shards of glass and turkey sh*t.

This is where my mind began to shut down a bit.  I was tired, hungry, and at my wit’s end about what to do.  I have no memory of how she began running down the hall again, but she did, and this time towards the door! I was so happy! Yes! it was almost over!! But, no.  Apparently she didn’t want to go back outside where turkeys belong, and instead decided to go downstairs.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in case you’ve ever wondered, turkeys can use stairs.

So there we were, in the kitchen, the very place I hoped she would never go, and what does she do?  She heads for the laundry nook and wedges herself neatly behind the washing machine.  Great.  Now what?  She seemed happy and calm behind the washer, so I got a chance to think.  I spotted my gardening gloves and decided to take some decisive action.

Together, Isaac and I got the washer moved, and then, I grabbed her.  I didn’t get a good hold of her, but I had her.  I ran towards the front door, but she began to panic, and twist and freak out. I kept squeezing tighter and tighter.  Then I felt something under my fingers; the softness of her flesh, the hardness of bones.  She made a little noise, tried scratching me, and then I lost it and dropped her.  I felt nauseous.

She was hopping about like I had hurt her, holding her wing like it was broken and moving in a jerky fashion.  With a jerking gait, she trotted into the small room off the dining room, and stopped.  It was over. She had had enough. I calmly walked up to her, grabbed her wings very gently, kicked open the front door and set her down.

She ran away, but I was broken.  All I could think was that I had killed that poor turkey.  I’ve never needed a glass of beer so badly in my entire life.

I was covered in turkey sh*t and feathers, as was my house. I felt filthy and intensely depressed.  I had brought up two sandwiches for our dinner; ham & brie, and you guessed it, turkey.  Isaac gamely ate the turkey one, and I tried to eat the ham, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t stop running the last 40 minutes through my head. I kept coming to the same conclusion, that I’d killed the turkey.  After a few bites, I had to stop and cry.

The next morning, there were no obvious signs of her anywhere, so I began to feel better.  Maybe she had survived?  Maybe she was faking injury?  We had to drive up to my mom’s house to borrow her vaccuum, and she, being an amateur wild life expert as well as gardener, thinks that was the case.

We have a few theories about how the turkey got into the house.  The window that she came through is under the deck off the master bedroom.  We think she might have been taking a nap under the deck when something scared her–the weather (it was very stormy), the volunteer fire department’s siren (which sounds like an air raid siren) that is near by, or possibly a coyote or rogue dog (there’s a lot of them)–she then burst from the ground, hit the underside of the deck and crashed through the top window.

After spending the day cleaning and vacuuming and trying to figure out how to get our very, very old window replaced, I whipped up a nice, vegetarian pasta for dinner; because, while this whole adventure isn’t enough to make me a vegetarian again, it sure has put me off turkey, and to a lesser degree, meat, for awhile.

Ed’s Note: One. I’d like to thank Lisa for the able assist on the title of this post.  My feeble idea was to call it Wild Turkey, but in an email reply to my story, Lisa said, “Oh my! You should start a second blog about your adventures Upstate and call it a Turkey In Every Living Room!”  And thus a post is born.

Second. I’m not a huge fan of swearing in my writing.  At work we eschew it because there’s usually another way to get the point across.  That said, there are certain people like Michelle and Carol who use it to such amazing effect that I bow down before their cute little cussin’ asses.  And, given that, in real life, I am a prolific, creative and liberal user of epithets, I figured, for accuracy’s sake, to leave the swearing in this post.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Pasta with No Turkey and Glazed Brassicas with No Turkey.

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