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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.

Dash & Hash

14 Dec

Oh people, it’s the holidays!

Of the last seven nights, I’ve been invited to parties on five of them. I only attended four. Of this I am proud.

LES At Night

Usually by this week on the calendar I’m exhausted, sick and cranky, just in time for my parents to make their annual trek down to the city. They come to finish their Christmas shopping, eat and spend time with Isaac and I.

This year I’m only feeling like I might possibly be coming down with something. I consider this a minor victory.

On the one night I managed to spend at home this week, Isaac and I feasted on some very good, heartwarming and delicious leftovers; Celeriac Hash. With a piece of salmon and my crazy beet salad, this was dinner on Sunday night.

I know I said salmon is the one thing you will never see on this site. Well, I lied. I still don’t like it. At all. But, much like the walnuts, something’s happening to my palate. I’m craving things that for years I have forsworn. This is all to Isaac’s great delight. He loves fish. If it were up to him, this site would probably be called A Salmon In Every Granny Cart.

Perla Meyers' The Seasonal Kitchen

But it’s not, and so rather than talking anymore about the fish, let’s talk about the hash. The inspiration came from two huge celery roots that Isaac brought home from the greenmarket and a cool old cookbook I picked up months ago at the Strand from 1973 by Perla Meyers called The Seasonal Kitchen: A Return to Fresh Foods.

If the title doesn’t grab you, the book’s design might. The cover is an elegant orangey-red on which the title is embossed in perfect Helvetica and the end papers are the most brilliant shade of vivid royal purple. Inside, the recipes are presented in an elegant fashion, both as complete meals and courses with cool symbols on beautiful, thick beige pages in sepia ink. It’s the ultimate gift for every foodie/design dork on your list!

Perla Meyers' The Seasonal Kitchen

Ms. Meyers’ recipe, Celeriac a l’Italienne, sounds amazing, but heavy. Cream, butter, cheese. Who wouldn’t love that? But I wanted something lighter, I mean, my diet over the past week has been largely made up of those three food groups, uhm, I mean ingredients. My version is a delicious, easy, hearty, and yes seasonal, side dish or quick late night supper mixed with some leftover roasted beets and a crumbling of blue cheese.

Celeriac Hash

But now, I’ve got to dash. I have work to do, decongestants to ingest, an endless shopping trek through freezing rain to plan and reservations to confirm. Happy weekend all!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Celeriac Hash.

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Red, White & Blueberry

3 Jul

I was involved in a long conversation yesterday about clichés.

YAY!

We were discussing lazy journalism and it’s reliance on hackneyed phrases, bad puns and, yes, tired clichés.

Food writing, at any level, is especially prone to these journalistic foibles. Writing about food is simply difficult to do with an original voice, eschewing all the literary turns that have come before. As food writers, I feel we must pick our poison. Me? I like bad puns. So for this post, I’m pulling out all the stops!

YAY!

There’s something about The Fourth of July that simply screams out for clichés. Hot dogs! Strawberry shortcake! Jello salads! Beer coozies! Inflatable wading pools! The 1812 Overture (with real canons)! And of course… Fireworks! My favorite Independence Day cliché of all.

The thing is, there shouldn’t be anything cliché about the holiday. It’s a serious one. But, it’s been decreed by the government that we have fun, and so fun we shall have!

Me? I’m planning on going to the Greenmarket to score some sweet corn, maybe some buffalo steaks, a few sausages and definitely tomatoes. Oh, and berries. Lots of them. Whatever’s available. I don’t know how berry season’s been where you are, but here? It’s been ridiculous.

Strawberries

Every time I walk amongst the farmers’ stalls, I’m seduced into impulse purchasing something. Strawberries. Blueberries. Sour cherries. Black cherries. And now the raspberries and blackberries are on their way!

(And just so you know I’m not crazy, yes I do know that cherries are technically not berries but are actually fruit, but in my mind they all belong together in one happy, berry fruity universe).

The problem is, I buy them with the intention of snacking on them at work, but inevitably I’m too lazy to take them to the kitchen for a rinse, and too grossed out by the thought of washing them in the ladies room sink. So they come home with me where the linger in the fridge until I feel guilty and come up with a way to eat them all at once.

Strawberries & Blueberries

That bowl of blueberries and strawberries? That’s not ice cream on top of them. That’s goat’s milk ricotta with a little fresh cracked black pepper and a light glaze of aged balsamic vinegar. That’s how sweet the berries are this year. They need no extra sugar and actually benefit from a bit of acid to draw out their lusciousness.

Strawberries, Blueberries, Goat Ricotta

And that big fluffy pancake looking thing? Oh, that. That’s just my first attempt ever at making a clafouti!

Black & Sour Cherry Clafouti

I was cruising around Tastespotting on Sunday morning when this sour cherry clafouti caught my eye. The ingredients list had too much stuff in it (flax seed & soy milk do not belong in dessert) so I turned to my old pal Roy Andries de Groot. I figured if anyone would have a simple recipe for a seasonal French pastry it would be him. And I was right.

Black & Sour Cherry Clafouti

It couldn’t have been easier to knock together, and reminded me an awful lot of the Dutch Babies that my mom used to serve us for dinner when I was a kid. Soft and luscious, not too sweet with the surprising bits of candied ginger scattered about, the clafouti was both the perfect finish to an all-American meal of clams and biscuits and the perfect breakfast to bring into work.

Black & Sour Cherry Clafouti

And so I say unto you. Go forth and enjoy your Fourth! May your hot dogs be plump, your beers frosty and your fireworks spectacular. Oh, and don’t forget the berries. They’re berry delicious!

Head below the jump for the recipe for the recipe for Berry Cherry Clafouti.

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The Mexican Candidate

11 Jun

I’ve only been to Mexico once. I consider this a tragedy.

Manhattanhenge

My year-of-cultzy-waitressing was done at a Mexican boite with a very good (and patient) chef. For some reason he put up with me, the waitress with the heart of a chef, and even encouraged my endless questions. Why that chile? What’s a huachinango? Where can I buy huitlacoche? Why is crema so delicious? How do you make chilaquilles?

When I re-joined the 9-to-5 world, I was singularly obsessed with trying to recreate the level of authenticity Chef brought to his meals. I could no longer afford to eat his cooking and most of the cheap Mexican joints I knew of were pretty unauthentic. I was on my own.

Old Ads

With a notebook chock full of the chef’s wisdom and a few old cookbooks I had found at the Strand I began my quest. Turns out, Mexican cuisine isn’t all that hard of a nut to crack. Just like our classic European cuisines, if your ingredients are ripe, fresh and delicious, dinner’s going to turn out alright about 99% of the time.

My Mexican food mania has waned a bit over the years (I blame Persia and Poland) but I still love a meal of mole verde and black beans probably more than any lowlander East Coaster probably has a right to.

Remembrance

And so it was a lovely coincidence that the Boy and I had near simultaneous guacamole cravings last week. I also wanted to cook up those Anasazi beans we’d carted back with us from Colorado, so all we needed was a main course.  We settled on Huachinango Veracruzano, aka Snapper in the style of Vera Cruz.

If you’ve never tasted this Mexican classic I implore you to run out tonight to your best neighborhood Mexican joint and try it. It’s snapper cooked in a Mexican version of the greatest sauce ever, Puttanesca. Capers flirt with chilies. Tomatoes mingle with limes. Olives cavort with cloves.

If someone sold jars of this stuff, I’d probably find myself standing at the fridge in the middle of the night eating it with a spoon. It’s that good.

Empire State Building

An intensive search through all my Mexican cookbooks led me to one recipe I deemed authentic enough for our needs. It comes from a very strange source, a book called The Mexican Stove: What To Put On It And In It by Richard Condon. Wait, Richard Condon… That name rings a bell… Didn’t he write, wait, The Manchurian Candidate? Oh yes, he did. And Prizzi’s Honor, and apparently, a Mexican cookbook. A very good one in fact!

The intro is very heavy handed, full of longing for the ’60s and anti-governmental propaganda, but if you can get past all the dystopic claptrap and millenialisit mumbo jumbo, this is a very solid cookbook, Bianca Jagger’s favorite Aztec pork pie included.

Huachinango Veracruzano, Smoky Anasazi Beans & Guacamole

If you make this, be sure to make some rice or have tortillas on hand to soak up the tart, salty sauce. If you can’t find snapper, you can substitute just about any other firm-fleshed white fish. Tilapia would be ideal.

The fish guy at Fairway talked me into trying Nile Perch. I wish he hadn’t. It was delicious, yes, but weighed too heavily on my conscience.

Richard Condon probably would find my uneasiness amusing and enlightened. He feared that Americans would be eating exclusively canned food by this time, and there I was, stressed because my fish wasn’t sustainable. Ah, how our fears have changed!

Head below the jump for the recipes for Huachinango Veracruzano and Smoky Anasazi Beans.

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On A Cloud

26 Apr

I’ve conquered my fear of couscous.

I thought you’d all be excited to hear that.

And who was holding my hand throughout the entire harrowing affair?

Well, Claudia Roden, of course.

She has quickly risen to the highest level of my pantheon of cooking gods. She’s joined Nigel and Bert and Roy and Madhur at the apex of my culinary esteem.

Claudia Roden

First she helped me conquer my fear of rice. Then she introduced me to a new way to pickle cauliflower. Now couscous? The decision to deify her was a snap.

So why should any grown woman have a fear of couscous? I blame the ’80s.

My mother has been a lifelong subscriber to Aramco World. For those unfamiliar, it’s a free magazine published by the Saudi oil consortium to further understanding of the Arab world and the Muslim religion. I was never interested in it as a child unless they had a feature on Arabian horses. I was obsessed with them, and I mean, who wouldn’t be. They’re gorgeous. They look so fragile and yet they’re some of the most sturdy equines in the world. They’re intelligent, loving and did I mention beautiful?

But I digress…

The magazine is also a wonderful resource for people interested in the Arabic kitchen (oh and look, Claudia Roden wrote for them). I figure this is how my mother was first introduced to couscous. I have this vision of her scouring the shelves of the local co-op and the Grand Onion for years and years hoping to spot couscous, until one glorious day in the ’80s when it finally appears. And, not only has it appeared, but it’s instant! Cooks up in 5 minutes! Comes pre-flavored! Serve alongside your favorite chicken recipe!

Oh, Near East foods… Thank you for introducing the world to couscous. But curse you for making that couscous so unlike the real stuff. You’re cheating people out of one of the greatest culinary experiences ever!

Couscous, The Right Way

It was only recently, during a lunch at La Maison du Couscous, that I discovered what a culinary hoodwink has been pulled on the children of America. Couscous is not supposed to be soggy. It’s not supposed to be flavorless. It’s not supposed to be gummy. It’s not supposed to be hard and crunchy. It’s not supposed to be lumpy.

It’s supposed to be airy, ethereal, toothsome, silky and so light that if you inhale wrong it can easily go straight up your nose. In short, it is supposed to be exactly everything instant couscous is not.

Vaguely Middle Easter Stew

Of course, cooking couscous the proper way is not nearly as simple as emptying a bag, adding one cup of water and one tablespoon of butter to a pot and allowing to simmer for 5 minutes. Yes, it takes an hour, but dear god, it’s so easy and downright enjoyable to make it fills me with sadness that this method has fallen out of favor.

Here’s what you do:

  • Take a large colander (big holes are okay) and place it in a pot that it will fit snugly in. Take the colander out and put a shallow layer of water into the pot. It must not touch the bottom of the colander. Place the colander back in, place on the stove and bring to a simmer.
  • Pour as much couscous as you want into a bowl. Sprinkle it lightly with cold water. It will cause little lumps, that’s okay. Use your hands to rub the lumps out and to distribute the water evenly amongst the couscous. I found this to be a great pleasure. It was so tactile and earthy. And it made my fingers feel really cool!
  • Once the water is simmering, gently pour the couscous into the colander. There will be some collateral damage, you will lose a few, but it’ll be alright. Do not cover. Allow the couscous to steam, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  • Using a pot holder remove the colander from the pot and pour the couscous back into the bowl. Some will most likely be stuck to the bottom and really sticky, scoop them out too. Lightly sprinkle the couscous with cold water again and season with salt. Rub the grains again to distribute the moisture, break up lumps and make the grains airy. Return to the colander and allow to steam, uncovered, an additional 30 minutes.
  • When the time’s up, return the couscous to the bowl and rub a nubbin of butter into the grains and toss them about to make them airy. Serve and enjoy!

That’s it. That’s all the work that goes into making a perfect bowl of couscous. I served mine with harissa marinated lamb, a vaguely Middle Eastern stew and a classic cucumber and yogurt salad.

Kirbys In Yogurt

Claudia says that traditionally the grains are steamed over a stew that’s been cooking for hours. I’m sure it adds flavor but might be a bit awkward if you, like me, do not have a couscouserie lurking about in your cabinets.

And so, yet again, culinary superhero Claudia Roden has righted another egregious culinary wrong. First rice, now couscous.

What culinary fear will she help me conquer next? Might it be okra? Dates? Tahini? Stay tuned to find out!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Vaguely Middle Eastern Stew.

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