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Past Perfect

11 Oct

Do you remember which emotion you woke up feeling on October 5th, 1987?

Third Avenue Festival, Bay Ridge

If you lived anywhere within 100 miles of Albany, you probably woke up feeling awed. That was the night upstate New York was hit by the earliest blizzard in its history.

When you’re a kid in snow country there’s certain aural clues that alert you to the possibility of a snow day. Hushed whisperings between your parents, the grinding of the snow plow on pavement, the whimpering of the dog who doesn’t want to go out to do his business in belly-high snow.

But on that Sunday I remember waking up and thinking, something’s up, everything’s too quiet.

I looked at my clock’s blank face, that meant no power. No power means a lot of snow. I sat up in bed and peered out the window and looked upon the most glorious winter scene I’ve ever seen. It looked like the world had been iced. Every surface was covered by an inches thick layer of wet, glittery snow.

The Midway

The house was still a little warm even though the furnace had quit working when the lights went out, and since we relied on a well with an electric pump there was also no water. My dad dragged the kerosene heater in from the garage and got it lit, at least the living room and kitchen would be warm.

It didn’t seem like a big deal, snow in October, until it became apparent that the DOT had made a huge booboo. All the plows were still snoozing away their summer siesta and each and every grain of salt sat giggling in a crystalline warehouse under lock and key, just waiting for someone to say “open sesame.”

Win A Fish! Or A Turtle!

All the roads in the county were closed and since no one expected a blizzard (didn’t they learn anything from Monty Python?) the usual pre-blizzard panic shopping hadn’t occurred. What you had in the pantry was what you ate. Refrigerated things had to be chucked and frozen things went out back into the snow on the porch, but with an electric stove and no electricity there was no way to eat them anyway.

I’m sure that there were other edible things in the house, but I only remember eating one thing the whole week: Spam.

I decided, in all my 12 year old wisdom, that Spam was going to be what I cooked on top of the kerosene heater to keep my family alive and nourished. I folded up some tin foil, sliced off some slabs of Spam, cooked them until they were sizzling and served them in a pool of A-1.

Or A Parakeet!

The roads eventually opened, the power came back and by the end of the week I was back at school, but those few days live on in my memory as the most magical days ever.

I made a makeshift harness for my dog who pulled me all over the neighborhood in an orange plastic tobaggon, picking up friends as we went (don’t worry, he was huge and he loved it). There were sleepovers and no baths, maple syrup candy made on snow just like in Little House In The Big Woods and lots of games of Life. It was amazing.

Karaoke at the Salty Dog

My freshman year of college I fractured a vertebra sledding. It was a long, boring recuperation during which I read many, many books. My favorite was one given to me by my stepdad, Mark Helprin‘s Winter’s Tale. I devoured it. It was about upstate, the Hudson and New York City, it was about love and fidelity and awe and the past and the present and every big, weighty, delicious theme ever worth writing about.  And the winter scenes in Lake of the Coheeries reminded me of that blizzard.

So many bouncy castles

It’s all of these things I was thinking about last week when the weather in New York City was more appropriate to July than October. We set a new record on Saturday the 8th. 87°F! On the 20th anniversary of the blizzard? 83°F. I don’t know if it’s global warming or living near the water or just a decision made by the weather gods, but I miss “normal” weather. Crisp in October, snowy in December, rainy in April, hot in August.

Sunshine On Sprouts

And so I decided to say chuck it all and cook something autumnal, even though it felt like summer (this happened last year too). I braised a blade roast of pork rubbed with ground ginger, pimenton de la vera, brown sugar and lemon juice from Flying Pigs Farm in grape juice and roasted Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes.

Roasty, Toasty

The roast was disappointing. It was riddled with fat, in a bad way. We ate a few pieces and then pulled the rest for leftovers.

A few days later I arrived home starving and stressed. I looked in the fridge. All that stared back was the pork, eggs and a world of condiments. So I fried the pork in shatta and added two whisked eggs, cooking them until they clung to the pork. The final touch? A drizzle of sherry vinegar and a sprinkling of sea salt. I don’t know if it was hunger, desperation or skill, but this was the best off-the-cuff cooking I’ve done in years.

Rosated, Shredded Pork

That said, I’d give it up for 2 feet of snow, a kerosene heater and a slab of Spam coated in A-1 in a heartbeat.

P.S. The pictures are from Bay Ridge’s Third Avenue Festival. Due to some much needed running of errands, we missed the Ragamuffin Parade, which I’m kind of sad about. Next year for sure!

Into The Pan

15 Jan

I have a co-worker, an accomplished young woman, who’s guilty pleasure is reading chick lit.

To her this is a deviant activity.  She was raised by a family of very smart women, is Ivy League-educated and has a rather important job for someone of her not-yet advanced years.  So to her, reading what is the literary equivalent of a pair of fluffy, pink maraboo-bedecked, high-heeled boudoir slippers is a delicious and deviant activity.  It’s a release into a fantasy world where the tough questions life tosses at you include “Manolo or Louboutin?”  “Should I or shouldn’t I?”  and “Champagne or martini?”

I think this is a wonderful escape.  Working in the same newsroom, a place that can make Times Square look like a misty Adirondack lake, I fully understand the need to escape into another world.  But chick lit has just never done it for me.  Nope, I like my literary frippery to have a little more age on it.  My guilty pleasure is historical fiction.

I know, I know, you’re all sitting out there thinking, “Wooooooooo… Wow, that’s so, uhm, indulgent, Ann!”  God, even my guilty pleasures are cerebral.  But, it’s true. When I’m surrounded by chaos, there’s nothing I love more than to sink into a book about another time, far far in the past.

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Tarted Up

17 Jul

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but lately, there’s been a lot of talk around here about a lot of things that have had very little to do with food.

This is odd because this is, ostensibly, a cooking blog. I’ve talked about sounds and stillness and summer, about my neighbors and their bad eating habits, I’ve shared my secret place to hide-out from the heat, done some spring cleaning and vented, kvetched and complained. In fact, as far as I can tell, the last time I seriously talked about cooking was way back in the merry month of May.

And I’ve got a little secret about why it’s been this way. I’ve been in a cooking funk. An epic one by all accounts. Obviously I’ve been cooking; but to be perfectly honest, nothing I’ve made in a very long time, probably since that rhubarb bread, has really made me sit up and cheer. But! That has all changed.

South Street Seaport

On Saturday morning Isaac and I took a survey of the kitchen in an attempt to clear out some of the culinary driftwood we’ve accumulated. We settled on two areas in need of attention: beans and phyllo.

Since I learned to stop worrying and love the bean I’ve been hoarding them. I bought Yellow Indian Woman beans in Colorado, unknown yellow beans in California, dried lentils and ceci in Rome and Goat’s Eyes and “Little Horses” in Williamsburg (which sometimes feels like another country). I’ve also somehow accumulated three additional types of dried lentil.

And then there’s the phyllo. It’s been lurking in our freezer since January. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the box weren’t so big. It barely fits, and it’s hogging space that I’d like to have for preserving some of summer’s bounty; like tomatoes, beans, peas, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, peaches, strawberries, cherries and blueberries, to name a few.

So, it was settled. On Saturday we would cook the yellow mystery beans to ensure they’d be done and cool for a multi-bean salad on Sunday night, and then for Saturday dinner we would have a tomato and caramelized onion tart with phyllo crust and a fennel and olive salad. Or, at least that was the plan.

We went to the greenmarket in search of wax beans and snap peas for the salad to no avail. There was no fennel either. It was very mysterious, like everyone in the city had the same thoughts on the same day. So, we settled for some green beans and radicchio instead.

We got home and I put the mystery beans on the stove to cook, then I pulled the phyllo out of the freezer. It was around 5.30pm. I stood in the kitchen reading the directions: work quickly, keep the phyllo moist, brush the layers with butter, if frozen thaw for five hours before use… Sh*t.

No phyllo crust for us!

But I didn’t panic. Nope. I ran to the internet, to Martha. Martha and the internet always know what to do in situations like these! I looked up tomato tart, and to my great dismay they all called for butter crusts.

This was a problem for three reasons: 1. I had no non-special butter (I’m obsessed with this, but only for eating on bread), 2. I didn’t have time to let a butter crust sit in the fridge and 3. Isaac was on the phone with his mother while snapping beans in the kitchen so I didn’t want to run the food processor.

So I thought and thought and plotted and contemplated and cogitated and ruminated. And then I came up with an idea. Polenta. I ran back into the kitchen and whipped up a batch of instant polenta. When it was done I lined a pie plate with a medium-thick layer of it and popped it into the fridge to set up. Meanwhile I caramelized onions and bacon and glazed it all with balsamic vinegar.

I pulled the polenta out of the fridge, liberally dressed it with a flurry of grated Parmesan, poured on the onions and topped with slices of tomatoes. I looked down at the yellow and red tart and sighed with happiness. It was so pretty. So Martha, even!

As the tart baked it gave off the most delicate perfume of roasted corn, bacon and savory onions. It was torture waiting for it to come out of the oven and cool down enough to eat. But boy was it worth it! This tart might be the most delicious thing I’ve ever made.

The flavors are deep and sexy, yet light and fresh. And, except for the 25 minutes it takes to caramelize onions, it is fast and very, very easy. This tart would be delicious with that lemony fennel and olive salad for a dinner party, or with a radicchio salad, like we had, for a simple dinner or, if you really wanted to gild the lily, with a poached egg on top for a fancy brunch.

So I hope you enjoy this tart. I know I can’t wait to make it again in a few weeks when the summer’s tomatoes are at their peak of deliciousness.  Oh, and about those beans…

They, too, were delicious and maybe someday I’ll find the time to tell you about them, but until then, nothing can compete with this tart!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Off-The-Cuff Tomato Tart

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A Love Story, With Bread & Chicken

15 Feb

My original intention in starting this blog was to celebrate the versatility of the most wonderful of urban convenience foods, the rotisserie chicken. My blog’s name was born out of this intention as well. The first name I came up with was A Chicken In Every Pot, an homage to the famous campaign promise attributed to Hoover, “A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage,” and to my belief that everyone should be able to guiltlessly enjoy roast chicken whether it was roasted at home or not. However upon getting home and springing this idea on The Boy, he suggested A Chicken In Every Granny Cart, to give it more of a feel for the neighborhood. Granny carts are very popular amongst East Village and Lower East Side dwelling hipsters.

Verrazano Narrows Bridge

I discovered rotisserie chickens after a disastrous attempt at roasting my own bird in our tiny LES tenement kitchen. My first post was about how to make a basic soup from the remains of a bird that had already served two for dinner. It soon became clear that this focus was far too narrow and that I had to allow my blog to grow organically and become what it is.

Two Tugs & A Paddlewheel

One day short of one year I can honestly say that I am so happy with my blog, but I am even happier with the little group of “blog friends” that I have made in the past 364 days. And so I wanted to say thank you to you guys, my readers, who propel me to keep cooking and writing. Thank you. You guys inspire and buoy me.

Lower Manhattan From Bay Ridge

In the past year (minus one day) I’ve tackled many recipes and dishes I never would have dreamed I could cook and accomplished some tasks I thought would always remain dreams. I recreated family recipes, overcame my fear of bread baking, discovered buffalo, created a recurring editorial feature, alerted the world to some dangerous fungi, created my own curry, grilled Croatian sausages, poked considerable fun at Sandra Lee, got pickled with a room ful of other food bloggers, traveled to Croatia, launched a photoblog and moved to Brooklyn.

It’s been a damn fine year!

Minerva In Green-Wood

But, there’s one more thing I need to share. Last weekend I hung out with Nigel in our huge new kitchen. No, not actually, but it was close enough, and Nigel helped me overcome two additional fears that have been dogging me for at least two years; he helped me bake a real kneaded loaf of bread, and he helped me roast my own chicken, both in spectacular fashion, and for one meal!

Nigel's Loaf

Both the bread and the chicken were from Appetite, my favorite book of his (although Luisa’s favorite, The Kitchen Diaries, is a close second). The bread was a half recipe of Nigel’s “A Really Good, And Very Easy White Loaf” with some added white whole wheat flour, while the chicken was a variation on his “A Pot-Roast Bird,” replacing two pheasants with one large organic chicken. Nigel loves experimenting and variations on a theme, so I know he’d be pleased with this dinner!

Nigel's Loaf

The bread was so easy, and the kneading was actually therapeutic. It’s a lovely movement. And the chicken was astounding. I mean, jaw droppingly good. The skin actually crackled and kind of shattered when I cut through it to remove the legs, which, in the end, didn’t even require the knife to remove. And the Brussels sprouts and mushrooms I put in the pot along with the chicken had absorbed all of the herbal aromas and sweet wineyness from the roasting process. It was a meal I could never have made in our tiny old kitchen.

Pot-Roasted Chicken

The leftover bread and the succulent chicken have made for some wonderful weeknight dinners while the carcass is wrapped in tinfoil in the freezer waiting for this weekend so I can attempt another culinary task I’ve never tackled; making chicken stock from scratch.

Me On Hvar

And so, 364 days after my first tentative, feeble steps into the blogosphere, I can honestly say, this blog has been a joy. Thanks to one and all that have been along for the journey. Here’s to 366 more days until my next sappy blogaversary post!

Head below the jump for Nigel’s Really Good And Very Easy Bread and A Pot-Roasted Chicken.

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A Rogue Sprout

19 Oct

It was Sunday night. I was standing at the sink cleaning and halving Brussels sprouts when one went skittering out of my hand, landing with a surprisingly loud metallic thump in the sink. Without even thinking, I bellowed out “Sprrrrrrrooout Doooooooooooouwn!”

Before you go thinking I’m crazy, say it with me in your best pirate meets Patrick Stewart tenor, “Sprrrrrrrooout Doooooooooooouwn!”

roasted

See? Now isn’t that fun?

roastedAnd what on earth was I making when I started thinking of my tiny cabbages as weeee scrrrrruvy currrrrrs?

Roasted vegetables, natch.

Brussels sprouts, parsnips, a second harvest of baby carrots, Northern Spy & Macoun apples, shallots and garlic roasted for two hours to a perfectly sweet & roasty bowl of fall; finished with a glug of the best Croatian extra virgin olive oil and a splash of aged balsamic vinegar, and served with hunks of Iacopo‘s finest baguette (to sop up the pot liquer).

Thank you Maillard reaction for this delightful meal.

Just one note for you New Yorkers however.

roastedWe went to the Tompkins Square Greenmarket for our vegetables, but unfortunately there were no sprouts. So we trucked up Ave. A to the Key Foods for the sprouts. We grabbed four 10 oz. containers, went to the register only to find that each container cost $4 a piece! 40 ounces of sprouts equals roughly 2.5 lbs or, even more roughly, $6.40 per pound!!

So, New Yorkers, take my advice, if you’re craving sprouts, go to a Greenmarket anywhere in the City and buy them there for $2 per pound, pay the $4 round-trip subway fare, and yeah, you’ll still come out waaaaaay ahead. You have been warned.

roastedAnd just so as you all don’t think I’m the only one that personifies her sprouts, check out “An Inconsolable Sprout” for some more fun with cruciferous vegetables. I’ve never met Erielle before, so I can’t personally vouch for her sanity, but I do love her “voice,” it seems perfectly sane to me.

And what of the leftovers? More on them later this week.