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ilsl: Real Pasta (No Cans Involved)

27 Jul

Ah yes, another month, another reason to pick on ole Dandy Sandy (aka I Loathe Sandra Lee). Many thanks to Joe and his evil friends for presenting him with the calendar that fuels our monthly stab at the Food Network‘s most useless “cooking” show.

This month’s dish came to me while I was home from work sick and laying on the couch. I was watching the excellent Food Network shows that cradle the noon-time hour like a perfect hot dog bun; Boy Meets Grill, Molto Mario, Sara’s Secrets, Paula’s Home Cooking and Everyday Italian, getting hungrier and hungrier. No matter what you think of these five celebrity chefs, on these shows they bring something to the table that’s useful to home cooks of all levels.

So how is this related to Dandy Sandy? Well, they kept showing her commercial. He grating voice, her useless tablescapes, her stupid matchy-matchy outfits, her lurid, technicolor “cocktails”. I was on the fence about what to have for lunch. Should I call for takeaway? Should I not move and just starve? Should I just eat the block of Gruyere moldering in the fridge because it would be easy? Oh look, there’s Sandra Lee, again. NO. I will not be like her! No matter how shitty I feel, I. Will. COOK!

And so cook I did. I boiled up the shells leftover from the blueberry pasta, tossed in gorgeous, halved Greenmarket grape tomatoes, harvested some basil from the plant on my windowsill, pulled out some Salem blue and asiago cheeses, added a few capers and finished it all with a healthy glug of my extra special Croatian olive oil. It was delicious, comforting and soul satisfyingly easy. And, most importantly? Not a can in sight. (Okay, there was a jar for the capers, but seriously people, you can’t expect me to make my own capers too!).

So, of the ingredients in this months I Loathe Sandra Lee “recipe”; sour cream, McCormack curry powder, Dole pineapple chunks, an avocado, an apple and bowtie pasta; I used only one, and I used the “wrong” shape to boot! How’s that make me feel? Great!

I’m posting this early as I’m headed up to the ‘dacks for a few days with my family, and you know what? This means there’s still time for all of you guys out there to enter!

Just make something real from one (or none) of the ingredients listed above, post it, and then email the link to: joe AT foodienyc DOT com by July 31st! Happy REAL cooking ya’ll!

heirloom·modern: Snow Almonds

25 Jul

After making Cold Almond soup, we had a lot of almonds left over. Most people see them as the perfect snack food. I am not one of those people (whereas the boy most certainly is). In fact, I don’t like nuts all that much at all.

I’ll eat the odd filbert. (Excuse me, hazelnut. But isn’t it just so much more fun to say filbert?) I’ll eat peanuts, but never peanut butter. (Yes, I know peanuts are legumes). Every now and then, I’ll nibble on a flavored pistachio, but never, ever will I eat brazil nuts, or walnuts, or ugh, cashews. Seriously, I just don’t like nuts.

But these nuts, yes, these I like. In fact, I’ve come to crave them. They’re silky and salty and cold, the perfect snack after a long, hot walk around the city.

The recipe comes from Bert Greene’s Kitchen Bouquets, the same place I got the idea for making Basil scented bevandas. This is one helluva cookbook. Bert, who is my new cooking companion (sorry Nigel) says, “These almonds are most salubrious to the palate even with the frostiest martini a host can provide.” Amen!

Mr. Greene borrowed this recipe from The Art of Turkish Cooking by Neset Eren and so now I’m borrowing it from him and giving it to you as my third installment of heirloom·modern. Bert says, “Although I amended Ms. Eren’s original dictum with a grain or two of salt, the dish is otherwise traditionally Ottoman.” In Turkey, these nuts were served on ice with no additional garnish. Bert, it seems, liked a dusting of fine salt on these, I’m assuming, to help whet the appetite for a second martini. Amen!

It seemed only right to adapt Mr. Greene’s recipe a bit, since he adapted Ms. Eren’s. Since I’m not serving these all at once at a fancy cocktail party on a bed of ice, I have deleted his step of soaking the nuts in unsalted water for one day before serving. Instead they remain happily in my fridge in a nice salty brine which I change every couple of days. They keep getting plumper and plumper and just ever so slightly more salty. But they are constantly delicious! I hope you try them and enjoy them as much as we are.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Bert Greene’s delectable Snow Almonds.
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Oh Give Me A Home…

24 Jul

Where the buffalo roam. And the carrots are all gilded and sweeeeeet!

Okay, sorry, no more singing. I realize this is my entry for the monthly wine and food pairing event Combinations and not a spaghetti western. But seriously folks, I have a new addiction. Bison.

Since finally jumping in and trying some of the goods from Elk Trail Bison Farm (Saturday’s at the Union Square Green Market), it’s basically all I can think about. The buffalo are, as they should be, free to roam. They’re raised down in Pennsylvania on a purely grass-fed diet. Check out the site, they’re really cute (unless you don’t like knowing that the meat you eat was cute at one time, if that’s the case, don’t check out the site).

Grass-fed bison, and even beef, is much much better for you. It’s leaner, has less cholesterol, more trace minerals and lots of omega fatty acids. Plus, it cooks faster (which is great in this heat) and tastes better.

I wanted a steak that would cook really quickly, so the nice guy at the stand sold me a “butcher steak”. He said it was part of the shoulder, but a little research shows me that it was probably actually a hanger steak or in French, onglet. The two steaks cost about $8 and didn’t shrink up at all. So go on, give bison a try!

To serve, I was thinking traditional steak house fare. Mushrooms. Potatoes. Green beans. But then we saw these baby carrots. Tri-colore no less! And I knew by the look in the boy’s eyes that we had a winner. He also spotted some rocambole (or hard-neck) garlic at a random stand I’ve never seen before, and I can honestly say… Best. Garlic. EVER!

And just because I’ve been on a roll with doing things a little over the top, I threw in some squash blossoms. You know, just because I could…

I steamed the carrots ever so briefly in water and olive oil with garlic and sage. While they were getting a wee bit soft I made a glaze of sherry vinegar, honey and lavender flowers (just a few). While the carrots were glazing, I cooked the bison.

The guy says that since buffalo meat is so very lean, the only way to cook it is lower and slower. I grilled these (sadly inside and on a pan) over medium-low first on one side until the blood rose to the top, then flipped and cooked until just medium rare by touch. I let them sit and rest until the carrots were done and then served the whole thing up!

The dinner was absolutely delicious, healthy and light. And since it was slightly cooler and red meat was involved, I just HAD to have a red wine…. I am getting kinda tired of whites and roses. I miss my reds…

So I broke down and pulled out a bottle I’ve been saving for eons, a 2004 Domaine Rimbert Les Travers de Marceau from Langeudoc. In my house, this is affectionately called “bunny wine” for the odd angly rabbit on the label holding a bunch of grapes. The 2003 Le Mas au Schiste is actually my favorite wine in the entire world, but the Travers is lovely too. It has more fruit, especially dried red fruit than that 2003 which is all about green chilies and roses. If you see anything from this vineyard ever, grab it. Truly delightful!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Gilded Glazed Carrots.

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Cold Almond Soup, Gilded

17 Jul

It’s hot in New York City. As I write this now, it’s 87°F (dele, now it’s 92°), the same temperature it was when I went to bed last night. It’s so hot I just might (and this is a big deal) overcome a mortal fear and take the bus to work. Yes, that’s hot!

So, how do you beat this kind of heat? Walk very slowly in the shade, drink lots of water, watch old movies, read a book, put a bag of frozen peas on your neck, try to leave work by 5pm (since they turn the AC off at that time, but I never get to leave work before 5pm, so then I sit and boil), eat lots of salads and cold soups.

On Saturday I talked the boy into going over to Boerum Hill in Brooklyn to watch the Bastille Day petanque tournament on Smith Street. I promised him lunch at our favorite restaurant, sweaty Frenchmen and cheap wine. Yeah, none of that happened. Our favorite restaurant was closed for renovations and the petanque tournament was on Sunday. Doh!

On the subway ride home we decided that the best way to salvage the day was with a fabulous dinner, Cold Almond Soup. I was SO excited to make this because it meant that I could finally squirt almonds! I never thought I’d get to indulge in this activity because to be quite honest, I don’t really like nuts of any stripe. Luckily with enough olive oil and garlic applied in the proper way, I do like nuts.

We stopped off at the best new place in the Lower East Side; Formaggio Kitchen (actually, is’s a tie for b.n.p.i.t.l.e.s. between Formaggio Kitchen and Saxelby Cheesemongers). Max, the seriously knowledgeable manager hooked us up with some delicious cheese for snacks and a bottle of gorgeous sherry vinegar from Andalucia (they have huge vats of vinegar and olive oil that you can decant into your own pretty bottle for $1 off!)

Next we bopped over to Economy Candy for some almonds. I couldn’t remember what kind of almonds this recipe took so we got some plain and some roasted. Turns out we only needed plain. (The boy had this soup once about a year ago at the lovely Uovo. We looked up recipes at that time so I was working from memory on this soup).

I think it was the memory of that meal at Uovo that inspired one of the garnishes for this soup which is traditionally served with halved red grapes (or maybe I just wanted to play with fruit some more). The chef at Uovo is a wizard with pickles. One time, he sent my fish out garnished with pickled summer squash, another time we went for the deep fried pickle (I loved, boy hated).

In crafting this soup, I was afraid to make the vinegar taste too intense, so I figured the pickled melon would be a good way of controlling that. And then well, who can say no to garlicky fried bread crumbs, and well, why not just gild the lily and season them with the saffron salt lurking in my pantry? Saffron’s just as Spanish as Ajo blanco, even if one is a peasant food and the other a treat of the bourgeoisie, who says they can’t get along?

And get along they did. Let me just say that this soup was just as beautiful in the mouth as it is in pictures. This is a wonderful, impressive dish for a swanky summertime dinner party, and it’s pretty darn cheap to make too!

Head below the jump for the recipes for this delicious soup and its gilding garnishes.

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The Greatest River & A Good Salad

14 Jul

The Hudson River. I grew up on the River. We would take daylong boat trips when I was a kid. I remember one Father’s Day when my dad stranded us on a sand bar. I thought it was the greatest day ever… I can’t be sure, but I think my mom was not amused!

For those that don’t know, the Hudson is a tidal river. In fact the river’s original name (in it’s original Native American tongue) meant “river that runs both ways.” The Hudson got a bad rap in the 70s & 80s (thanks GE) for being disgustingly, terribly polluted. As children, our parents would begrudgingly allow us to swim, tube and water ski in the River, but we were hosed off in the yard before ever being allowed back in the house. We also fished, but never caught anything more than disgusting, slimy eels.

While I loved the River it took a stint in the hospital (never, ever, sled after the age of 18, promise me this!) and a wonderful book, Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale to make me truly love the Hudson. Suddenly, I got it. Every train ride home to visit my mom was a journey to be anticipated.

As soon as the train would leave Penn Station I would put down my book and as long as the sun was up, I would just sit and watch, devouring the landscape. For years it’s been my dream to write a guidebook to the sites one can see on this amazing train ride (called the Adirondack it is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest train trips in the world). I also count bald eagles. Yes, the eagles are back and thriving! My best trip ever I saw 12 of them.

The return of the eagles is one happy result of the years of good stewardship of the River that are allowing it a renaissance. Thanks to good people like those sailing the Sloop Clearwater, I bet kids can swim in the Hudson again (without fear of an icy hose shower in the front yard upon returning home).

Last weekend I was hoping to at least stick my toes in the River. The boy and I headed up to the tiny town of Cold Spring. It’s a little town I’ve seen probably more than 100 times in the 13 years I’ve been taking this route. It always intrigued me with it’s little shrine overlooking the Hudson looking out towards West Point (actually, its a church, but I will continue to imagine that it’s a shrine to a saint that protected whalers while at sea). It has beautiful homes and quaint streets. I wanted to go! So go we did, catching Metro North at Grand Central Station (which always makes me feel so glamorous… running across the Great Hall to grab a train with minutes to spare).

Cold Spring did not disappoint. It is a gorgeous River town, clinging to the hillsides carved out over millenia. That day the volunteer fire department was preparing to celebrate their 110th anniversary with a parade and fireworks. The town was atwitter. I was nostalgic. All that was missing was a game where I could win a goldfish and I probably would have cried.

We wandered, poked about in stores, threw stones in the River (which due to the floods further upstate looked a bit like Yoohoo) and finally ate. Boy did we pick right. At the east end of Main Street is a little joint with a serious identity crisis called The Meeting House (this place is so a candidate for Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, serving classic American fare, a dumpling du jour, a raw bar and sushi).

Luckily, we ordered right. I had the Best. Burger. EVER! It was thick and dense, 100% meat, topped with gorgeous cheddar, some lightly sauteed portabella mushrooms and two pieces of applewood smoked bacon. But the real kicker? A few leaves of basil tucked into the lower bun. Genius! Restrained but absolutely delicious. I will be craving this burger for years to come.

It was a wonderful day, but very hot. Even though we walked and walked, we were still feeling a bit full upon return to the city. So we bopped into Trader Joe’s and picked up some stuff to make a light salad for dinner. Butter lettuce, radicchio, raspberries, Salem blue cheese and dill with a dressing of olive oil, walnut oil and a dash of vinegar. It was yummy, light and very, very easy. A simple way to end a day full of happiness.

Image of one of my favorite Hudson River School paintings, Julian O. Davidson’s “The Hudson River from the Tappan Zee, 1871″ courtesy of The Hudson River Museum.

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