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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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Something Good To Eat

15 Nov

“Welcome to Camp Chaos!” I chirped.

NoHo Door, Of special note, the N is on the southside and the S is on the northside

I was up to my elbows in dough and there was a halo of steam around my forehead. Isaac was home at least a half an hour earlier than I had expected him and I was running about a half an hour behind. The timing was actually perfect, I was able to finish up my kneading while he unpacked.

He was back from visiting his family for Western Orthodox Christmas. He’d given one of his sisters the New Book Of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden and so, as a treat, he whipped up lamb in yoghurt sauce and basmati rice for a light, traditional Colorado Christmas dinner. It went over gangbusters but was a bit of a gutbuster and so he was quite relieved to learn that all of the bubbling and simmering and kneading was not in fact preparation for some arcane Medieval feast reenactment, but rather for a nice, light bean and kale soup with freshly baked bread.

The Old Police HQ, NoLita

I was at first tempted to try this absolutley ridiculously good looking pork loin Luisa whipped up last week, but alas, by the time I made it to my old greenmarket stomping grounds at Tompkins Square, the pork guy was all out of pork. “What have you got left?” I pleaded. “Welllllll… I’ve got a few chicken parts… Some livers, some wings, a few necks and quite a few feet!” “Ah, I guess you’ve made my decision for me,” I replied, “I’d been torn between making a roasted pork loin and chicken soup!” So I bought some feet and wings, a few onions and lots of kale and headed home.

Bloomberg Building, Le Cirque is to the left

I do some of my best thinking just before drifting off to sleep (I’m also a champ at brainstorming in the shower), the challenge is remembering my great idea the next morning. On Saturday night I was thinking about beans. But not just any beans. Christmas Limas. Big, beautiful speckled dried lima beans that Christina had sent me in trade a few months ago for a jar of Pepi Pep Peps. In the note she sent with the beans, Christina warned that they take quite a bit more time soaking and cooking than smaller dried beans, and so I was thinking about this while falling asleep, and just then, right on the edge, I thought of a solution. The yogotherm.

The yogotherm came into our house as part of the cheesemaking kit I bought Isaac for his birthday. It’s a little plastic bucket with a lid, that slides into a styrofoam sleeve which sits inside a pretty plastic container with cows on it. Not the most environmentally responsible thing I own, but unlike other yogurt makers, it doesn’t need electricity. In cheesemaking the yogotherm keeps cultured milk warm while the cultures do their thing and make cheese, yogurt, kefir and all manner of delightful things. And so I figured, if it can make me cheese, why on earth couldn’t it make me beans?

Bryant Park Sheep

I rinsed my beans and popped them into a ziptop bag filled with warmish (probably around 100°F) water, stuck the bag in the bucket and closed up the contraption. By the time I got home 5 hours later, the beans were absolutely perfect. I have discovered something huge in bean cookery! Hear that Steve? My gigantic Christmas Limas only took an hour to cook after their yogotherm soaking. I feel like I’ve really contributed something to the culinary landscape with this.

The Old West Village Jail

To the beans I added lacinato kale and green mustard greens (thanks for the idea Toni) and a few ladles of stock. It’s the most aromatic stock I’ve ever made. I decided to forego my traditional recipe in favor of something a bit gutsier; a base of fennel, parsnips, bay leaves and thyme. I’ll definitely make this again, but there’s one thing I will not repeat.

Cooking with chicken feet. Ugh. Mine had some of the weird foamy skin still clinging to them, which skeeved me out, and then, as you’re cooking, they poke out of the liquid, looking like something that should be in the pot of Macbeth’s witches. Yes, they make good stock, but, oh man, no, not again. No more chicken feet.

Lacinato Kale

So we sat down to nice, piping hot bowls of soup with a “baguette” I had baked. I say “baguette” because this loaf was as French as EuroDisney. I followed Judith Jones‘ recipe from The Tenth Muse, but, not having a stand mixer I kneaded the loaves by hand for, oh, maybe 30 minutes? The bread has a nice crumb, but teeny tiny holes. I was hoping that the long kneading would produce enough gluten to support nice big airy holes, but alas. I actually think I may have kneaded it too much. I guess this just means I’ll have to buy myself a stand mixer for Christmas (unless someone buys me one beforehand, hint, hint…).

Western Orthodox Christmas Beans & Greens Soup

The soup was delightful. Christmas Limas get their name because to some, they taste like chestnuts, and chestnuts are associated with, well, Christmas! If you cook them to just the right consistency, you can squish the bean against the roof of your mouth, and as Christina puts it the, “inside of the bean squirts out like mashed potatoes.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Aromatic Stock and Western Orthodox Christmas Soup.

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People Drop By From Time To Time… Part 4

5 Apr

Why must we constantly ask why?

Do you think old Rover sits there asking himself, “Hmm… I wonder if there’s a surgery that will give me an opposable thumb… If only I had an opposable thumb, I could ask Google.” Is tiny Tweetie actually asking herself “do woodchucks like to eat peanuts yes or no” while she’s fluttering about her cage?

Swoon

No, I don’t think so. The need to know is a purely human trait, which has been made all the more intense since Al Gore invented the Internet. (Oh wait, you mean he didn’t? Oops.)

WordPress, the free service on which this blog runs, just keeps getting better and better, but hands down their best feature is the ability to see the funny phrases that bring people to The Granny Cart.

Lately, there’s been lots of Pickled Beet Egg queries (which makes sense). However, more often than not, I have to wonder about my skills as a writer.

Christmas Dachshund

What phrase did I use that made someone think I would know what a chicken lobster is?

I hope the person that wanted a “recipe containing macaroni and cheese” found one. (It’s right here if you’re still looking, and it’s called Mac & Cheese).

And to the person that searched for “tiny bunnies that don’t grow,” I’m still waiting to hear from you. Please let me know if you’ve found the impossible dream!

And so without further interruption, let the questions begin.

Colorful Brownstones

Just Get Dinner On The Table.

why did they make red beet eggs? (Because they’re crazy delicious!)

pickled beet salad with marshmallows (No. I do not recommend this. Not at all. Bad idea.)

how to butcher buffalo (I’d think this is the sort of thing one would like to know before one has a dead buffalo on one’s hands)

cooking on tugboats (I bet the kitchens are TINY)

if you just had breakfast all the time (I bet you’d get tired of pancakes)

Gramercy Park Giraffes

ELECTRIC CHICKEN TO POACH EGGS (But this would help with eating breakfast all the time)

i like chickens cuz they’are so delicious (Don’t we all… Don’t we all)

chicken vending machine (This would certainly make the guy above happy)

just put the lobster live in the oven (And people think hearing them “scream” is uncomfortable. Can you imagine listening to them scramble about in your oven? *shiver)

paparazzi recipe bean pasta soup (If my one viewing of Dirt taught me anything, it’s that this soup would probably taste like vodka, sweat and cigarettes)

vermont “olive oil” (Completely, and utterly, stumped by this one)

AH LA LA I FIGURED OUT I CAN’T MAKE DESSERT (That’s why god invented pastry shops, dear)

ill be eating dinner watching you die (creepy)

Smokestack

Things That Make You Go, Hmm…

what are german immigrants (Something tells me they’re from Germany)

where did borscht come from? (A magical rose-tinted world)

do giraffes eat juniper? (A more important question; Do they have juniper in Africa?)

morels growing in hair (Yes, that does sound like a problem)

last weekend chick very hot (No location, no name. Good luck with that buddy)

“sandra lee” +fervor (One word. No.)

Coney Island in Winter

“Sandra Lee” evil hatred (One word. Yes.)

ugly pictures of lime juice (Huh?)

Bridesmaid was a chicken (I certainly hope they don’t mean literally)

alliteration in root cellar (Yes, in my root cellar we only store; Parsnips, Pippins, Potatoes and Parsley Roots)

train dog not to eat chickens (I’d suggest something along the lines of a fence)

Ah, Bay Ridge

And finally, I know there’s actually some truth to this query, but it just makes me break into song:

how much is a pony in a cocktail.

Happy Spring everyone!

The Alchemist

20 Feb

I was (lightly) chastised last week for being a chicken blogger who had never made her own chicken stock. It was fair, I definitely portrayed myself as someone who had never made chicken stock before, which, I’m sorry to say, is a big, huge fat lie.

I have made chicken stock before, in fact, I’ve made so many hundreds of gallons of chicken stock that the volume probably rivals the amount made by all the home cooks who have ever blogged about making chicken stock. But, the stock I made wasn’t made in my teeny tiny kitchen and it was never consumed by me.

Perfect Chicken Soup

Years ago during a bout of endless unemployment I had a friend that was going to culinary school. She was doing her externship at a Kitchen that was in desperate need of help, so she called me up and asked if I wanted to get off my self-pitying, Harry Potter-reading, swimming miles and miles at the YMCA, eternally depressed ass and hone my cooking skills by working for free as a prep cook at a really good restaurant in The City. While it wasn’t the ideal situation for a seriously broke and jobless exile from the music industry, it was better than doing nothing, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Our most important tasks each day were: killing the lobsters, cutting salmon into teeeeeeny tiiiiiny perfect little cubes for tartar (the reason you will never see salmon on this site, the smell lingers for weeks and still to this day turns my stomach), roasting beets, washing greens, making sauces and dressings, peeling can after can of roasted red peppers, and yes, making chicken stock.

Perfect Homemade Bread

Our last task each day was to call Chef down to clarify the stock and then create the staff meal with stuff we could scrounge from the pantry and whatever was about to turn in the walk-in. Chef was amazing at helping us think creatively about the staff meal, to think around the globe and to re-imagine ingredients. Apple butter became mustard for duck croque-monsieurs, clam chowders were given a Moroccan twist and chicken wings were elevated far above game-time food with an elegant curry-flecked crust.

That staff meal was often the only meal I would eat each day. My unemployment checks had run out, I was living off my meagre savings, but I was happy. I applied for kitchen jobs but didn’t get them. At one place (which I am happy to say has since closed) the all male kitchen did not speak to me once. At another place I was told I was too pretty to be hidden in the kitchen and offered a position as a waitress. I needed the money so badly I agreed despite the fact that I am the world’s klutziest person. It was a disaster, but I had to do it. Finally a friend took pity on me and talked her boss into hiring me where I am now. I went from working with food, to working with words, to, on my free time, working with food and words. Aha! That’s how this story comes full circle!

Perfect Dinner

And so it was with full confidence that I approached my stock yesterday. My stock. To be eaten by me. It was a good feeling. I remembered all the hints Chef had passed onto me years ago. Leave the skins on the onion. Don’t peel anything. Start with perfectly cold water. Let it go low and slow. If you want a darker stock, roast the chicken bones before making the stock.

I watched the pot go from murky chunks of nothingness to pure gold. Ah alchemy. Turning nothing into something precious.

For my final alchemical turn, I treated the stock simply. Just some onions, garlic and greens with a loaf of freshly baked bread. The stock was astounding, as I’m sure anyone that’s made their own stock can tell you. There’s so much depth and subtlety and comfort and love and care in one simple bowl. I’m not sure I can ever go back to canned again.

(And yes, I am such a child of the Empire State that I use a New York State tea towel as a makeshift table cloth).

Head below the jump for Ann’s Stock and Green & Gold Soup.

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A Souper Bowl

12 Feb

As it hasn’t been mentioned in awhile I thought now might be a good time to remind you that The Boy has a major cheese addiction. It’s been kept in check to one degree or another for the past couple of months.

But you should be able to tell just from the very fact that I’ve typed this intro, that the cheese addiction spun wildly out of control recently. And I do mean wildly.

LBJ

On our very first day as true Brooklynites we decided to partake in one of the very most Brooklyn of activities (that is, if you’re a Brooklynite of a certain age and social status). We drove our (rented) SUV to Red Hook and went to Fairway. We had both been to the Fairway uptown and felt kinda, eh, about it, but for some reason this time we went bonkers.

Cheese! Olives! Chocolate! Tea! Pasta! Honey! All at such fabulous prices! The magic of Fairway whipped us into some kind of grocery shopping frenzy. It was madness.

And so, after our first dinner in our new place, the spectre of the half-eaten nubs of imported cheeses, languishing in the chill of the refrigerator, haunted me for the rest of the week. What should I do with them?

It’s a question I’ve had to ask myself many, many times in the past year. Some of my solutions have included:

Pillows Of Love Pillows Of Love 1 and Pillows Of Love 2 Pillows Of Love 2

The most delicious pizza.

The most decadent cauliflower ever.

More cauliflower (this time with peas and pasta).

Roasted Vege Mac & Cheese And another time, there was even leftover Mac & Cheese that needed to be dealt with.

And so, with all these meals, and others I’ve never blogged at the back of my mind, I knew I had to go in another direction. No baking, no pasta. Something truly radical… Something suitable for Super Bowl Sunday. Something, like say, Beer & Cheese soup? Yep, something just like Beer & Cheese soup.

Beer & Cheese Soup

I’ve long heard tales of this soup from friends that grew up in the Midwest. For them it was an adult treat, laced with booze and oozy with cheese, much like fondue was for me as a child. There was something illicit, grown-up and slightly foregin about it. So, off to the Internet I went looking for a recipe for this creamy elixir, and what did I find? None other than my patron saint of geeky cooking had tackled this very dish, the always amazing, Alton Brown.

Okay, okay, yes you’re right, there’s no beer in Alton’s soup, but I’m guessing that’s just because the FN wouldn’t let him because they’re a family network, but whatever… I “know” AB well enough to know that there’s supposed to be beer in this dish, so I extrapolated and revised and, well, I added some beer!

We had three kinds of cheese sitting around. The one we had the most of was called kashkaval. From what I’ve read it’s a sheep’s milk cheese from Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia or even Greece. Some people say it’s the Balkans’ answer to cheddar, others provolone. Me? The stuff we got hit me as a cross between mozzarella and haloumi, two of my favorite cheeses. The other two remnants were a hard cheese from Spain and a semi-hard cheese from Sardegna, neither of which I can remember the names of. They all melted really nicely into the soup, only needing a wee bit of extra help from the immersion blender.

The Boy found the soup to be extraordinary, I found that I had added too much dried mustard and that it tasted slightly bitter to me. Ah, tastebuds… Everyone’s different! So, if you too decide to go a little lowbrow and make this delicious, warming, wintry soup, heed my advice and do go easy on the mustard!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Super Bowl Beer & Cheese Soup. Continue reading