Search results for 'clams'

Cooking With Wood

22 Oct

Our electric oven caught on fire.

I didn’t even know this was possible.  But there I was, standing in the kitchen staring at a giant fireball in our oven which was emitting noises I have only ever heard in a sci-fi film.

I was preheating the oven so I could roast the half-dozen free oysters my fishmonger had given me (free oysters!) and then I was going to make clam chowder.  I quickly shut it off and watched the coil cool from white to blue to yellow to orange to red and then back to black.  It was obvious to me that we would not be using that stove to make dinner.  I looked around at all the perishable seafood sitting on the counter: Oysters, clams, scallops and a brick of frozen flounder.  I called to Isaac and we came to one conclusion; we still had to cook. So Isaac started a fire in the wood-burning stove and I pulled out my gorgeous, fire-engine red Emile Henry dutch oven.

With a small hesitation I set the pot down on the stove and added a few shards of bacon.  And then we waited.  Ever so faintly we heard a soft, sibilant sizzle, and then it turned into a roar.  It was working!  The bacon cooked!  Then I added leeks and garlic and potatoes and carrots and herbs, and it cooked, too! And then the clams opened and the stock came up to a boil! And then I added the frozen flounder and, well, yeah, things ground to a halt.

Head below the jump for faux Pot au Feu, how to roast oysters on the oven and more.

A Return To Tiny

5 Feb

It seems that, if one is to base their conclusions solely on the cooking coverage provided by the New York Times, tiny kitchens are all the rage.

Which really does make sense, given that the New York Times is a paper based in New York, purporting to cover New York things from a New York perspective, because, let’s face it, only the luckiest people in New York (and by New York, I mean Manhattan in this instance) have big kitchens. For further evidence see the introduction to this story by Moira Hodgson from 1979.  I’m a bit too cheap to pay $4 for the article, but I do love that she blames the landlords.

I know first hand that living in Brooklyn is the way to solve the tiny kitchen blues.  But, there are trade offs.  By gaining a big kitchen one may also gain a big commute.

I gather that the tiny kitchen rage started when Mark Bittman posted a picture of his kitchen, which, I’ll grant you, is tiny.  I, like many, was initially surprised that someone who writes so much about food had such a weeny kitchen.  But then I thought about it, and yeah, it makes sense.  A tiny kitchen forces one to cook smarter, with less and more, well, minimally.   As Mario Batalli says in Bittman’s article, “Only bad cooks blame the equipment.”

Click here for more Tiny, including a tour of the tiny kitchen.

Homarus Odyssey

8 May

It’s true, fish is not my favorite thing in the world.

Lower Manhattan From Red Hook

But clams and squid and scallops? Pretty close to the top of that list. But do you know what sits at the very tippy top of the piscine pyramid for me? Do you even have to ask? Oh, you do… Well, that would be lobster, naturally.

I love lobster like a jockey loves winning the Kentucky Derby. Or like the Queen loves her corgis. Or like Rupert Murdoch loves buying newspapers. Or like the Yankees love beating the Red Sox. Or like Isaac loves cheese. You get the picture. I love lobster.

But, like a lot of people, I don’t cook lobster at home. It’s not the killing/cooking thing. It’s mainly fear of mortal embarrassment.

Light, Red Hook

My friend Pam grew up near Boston, and every summer her mom and some of her friends would rent a little house on Nantucket. One summer, a few years ago, she invited me to join her for a long weekend on the island. You’d have to be crazy to say not to an invitation like that, and I’m not crazy.

So there we were, in the middle of preppy paradise, on the side of a dirt road, bikes in the grass, like true New Yorkers, fighting over which road to take to the beach. The best part? It’s an island! You can take any road and get to a beach!

Bleeding Hearts

We were two Type As, out in the middle of nowhere, arguing over which beach was best, when a pickup truck pulls over, and a guy leans through the window. “Pam?” She looks over and there, with a goofy grin on his face, is one of her bust buddies from college. Of all the dirt roads on all the islands in all the world!

He was on the island visiting a friend who was a year-rounder, so they threw our bikes into the back of the truck and drove us to the beach just in time for it to start pouring rain. But no matter, they were headed to a friend’s house who was having a party, would we like to go? Sure, why not we said, not knowing that we had just been invited to the best party on the face of the earth.

Red Hook

There were endless kegs of the island’s amazing beer. Racks and racks of fresh, local corn grilling over hot charcoal. Pit after pit of steamers cooking under beds of seaweed. And legions of lobster, some being grilled directly over the coals, others boiling away in vast cauldrons of water. It was like being invited to the Gorton fisherman’s heaven.

Since I was a guest in a place where I knew no one, I made a beeline for the steamers. I really wanted a lobster, but I felt a little funny helping myself to something that would cost more than $20 in a restaurant without knowing who to pay for it.

So I sat down with my plate of clams and a plastic cup of Whale Tale Ale to watch the lobsters. People were helping themselves with abandon. Apparently the lobsters were there for the taking, free of charge. Finally, I decided to join them.

I grabbed a hot lobster, sat down on a tree stump and cracked and hummed and slurped and made happy noises deep down in my throat. And then I ate another. And another. And possibly another. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

Statue Of Liberty, From Red Hook

So you see, since that day, I have thought of lobsters cooked over an open fire next to the ocean as the very apex of culinary perfection. If a lobster has been out of the sea for more than a few hours, it’s too old. If I can’t pull it out of it’s shell while lounging under a canopy of fir trees and stars, the ambiance isn’t right. If there’s cloth on the tables and waiters, I’m too embarrassed to make the magnificent mess that comes with properly consuming a lobster.

I’ve been to lobster nirvana, and I’ve come back. Anything less is, well, less. There was a whole, broiled lobster on the docks of Montauk that was memorable, but mostly I try to avoid lobster unless the conditions are perfect. One of these summers, we keep saying, we’ll go to Maine. I bet I can find perfection there, too.

Cockles

Lucky for me, clams and cockles and scallops and oysters run a very close second to lobster in my sea-critter-lovin’ heart. They too have that beautiful sweetness and iodine-tinged brininess that I so love in lobsters, but they’re easier to eat and cook, which you must agree, is a big vote in their favor.

Angel Hair Pasta with Cockles

And I had my fill this past weekend. I had the most delicious fritto misto as an appetizer at my birthday dinner, chock full of oysters and clams and the sweetest, most ridiculous scallops and prawns. And then on Sunday night, thanks to the other Ann, I sated my craving for pasta con vongole.

Roasted Asparagus

I served the pasta with beautiful roasted asparagus, scented ever so lightly with lemon zest and, like we had had at dinner the night before, a wee gluglet of very, very good balsamic vinegar.

Oh, and there was cheese bread. My friend N and her husband had seen it in Gourmet and made a plea that maybe, if possible, I just maybe thought I’d like to make it, just maybe I’d be interested in possibly giving them some?

Georgian Cheese Bread

And so I did. There was so much cheese in that bread, I only allowed myself the tiniest of slivers and then I wrapped the rest up in foil and brought it into the office. My co-workers reacted as if they hadn’t been fed in weeks. It was gone in, oh, let’s call it two minutes.

I think they liked it. Hopefully it helped them forgive me my whoopie pie pedantry.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Pasta with Clams.

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The Chowder Bowl

5 Feb

So, the Giants won the Super Bowl.

Fourth Avenue Station, Brooklyn

If you’re anything like me, you’re still trying to figure out how they even got into what the NFL wants you to think of as “The Big Game” in the first place.

Perhaps, as a New Yorker, I’ve come to expect our teams to be mostly mediocre. The Yankees, as much as I love them, seem to have lost the come-from-behind fire that made them so exciting to watch for so many years. The Mets are always claiming to have finally procured that last player they need to become the best team ever, and then nothing happens. And then there’s the Knicks. Oh sweet mercy, the Knicks! Have you ever seen such a spectacle? They’re like a goat rodeo masquerading as a professional sports team.

Fourth Avenue Station, Brooklyn

I suppose I should admit right off the bat that I’m not a football fan.

That said, I was still aware that the New England Patriots were having a “magic season.” I knew that their quarterback was dating Giselle, I knew that they had the hubris to pre-print a book about their perfect year, I knew that they were virtually guaranteed to win. Yet I had no inkling that the team from our own backyard (also known as New Jersey) was even fair to middling this year.

And so, even though it is once again “TV free February,” Isaac and I granted ourselves a special dispensation to watch the game. And Puppy Bowl, of course. And since you can’t have a Super Bowl without food, I discovered something important, something I could get behind. This game wasn’t about a perfect season, or blue-collar heroes, about pretty-boy quarterbacks or coaching dynasties.

Fourth Avenue Station, Brooklyn

Oh no my friends.

This game was about chowder supremacy.

New England clam chowder vs. Manhattan clam chowder. Creamy and white vs. tomatoey and piquant. The chowder known around the world vs. the chowder maligned as the “other” chowder. The chowder kids cheer for vs. the chowder that makes kids groan.

Fourth Avenue Station, Brooklyn

But, not really. In my heart, there is only one chowder. New England clam chowder forever! I’ve tried to like Manhattan clam chowder, I really have. I love tomatoes and I love clams, but Manhattan clam chowder I do not love. It’s not a chowder. Chowders have cream and butter. But Isaac? Exactly the opposite. He loves Manhattan clam chowder best.

So instead of making New England clam chowder, which would have implied clandestine culinary support of the Patriots, or Manhattan clam chowder, which would have made the cook grumpy, a sure way to ruin the soup, we made Brooklyn clam chowder.

Fred loves football AND clams

What’s Brooklyn clam chowder you ask? It’s an homage to two of the greatest dishes we’ve discovered since moving to Bay Ridge.

The first is Polonica‘s cucumber soup; a simple broth, made creamy with a touch of sour cream and flavored with Polish dill pickles and tons of fresh dill. The second is a special we had once at local Italian stalwart Canedo’s; clams and mussels steamed in white wine with tons of garlic and hot, pickled cherry peppers.

Homesick Texan's Mythical Biscuits

Brooklyn clam chowder has its foundations in New England clam chowder, but the pickled peppers do give it a Manhattan chowder-esque reddish hue. I know it sounds weird to put pickles in soup, but you’ll just have to trust me on this. They add a beguiling flavor that’s very hard to put your finger on, an unexpected lightness and delicacy to a soup that can be a bit heavy.

Brooklyn Clam Chowder

If I may mix my metaphors, this chowder is a real home run. Especially when served with an endless supply of Lisa’s extraordinary biscuits, a pat of Ronnybrook garlic butter and a growler of locally-brewed SixPoint beer.

Brooklyn Clam Chowder

Top it all off with a Giants victory, and you’ve got the recipe for a very pleasant Sunday evening.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Brooklyn Clam Chowder.

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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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