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A Leite Dinner

20 Jan

I’ve been thinking a lot about my colleague‘s recent conversion to what he calls “mostly veganism.”

Now, before we go quibbling about his choice of terminology I should tell you that this gentleman is an older, highly conservative Republican, red meat-eating, god-fearing capitalist and that he came to this state not out of any sense of environmental obligation but rather through sports physiology.

But, no matter the route, the destination is the same: A diet that is better for him and for the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about vegetables too and how much I miss them and can’t wait to start pulling them out of our garden again.  This is the season that tries my soul.  I want to eat lots of unhealthy things like beef and pork and cheese and Christina’s Mama’s lemon sour cream pie, while I know I should be eating vegetables and grains and fish.  I want to be planting plants and digging around in the dirt but rather I’m stomping through slush and standing by the sink and staring at the fluffy, puffed-up birds while clutching a cup of tea, absorbing every last hint of warmth from it.

It’s a hard season to eat, and despite the insistence by the journalist and author Tom Standage at the AMNH’s recent lecture on curry economics that at some point getting your food from half-way around the world costs less in terms of carbon than raising it locally in a greenhouse, I still find eating at this time of year difficult.

It was all these complex thoughts that were rattling around inside my head as I was thumbing through David Leite‘s excellent cookbook The New Portuguese Table.  It was a Christmas gift from Isaac’s  mom and had sat sadly neglected on the ottoman since its unwrapping.  But on Saturday morning I was finally able to give it a good look.  And boy is it a beauty. So many wonderful recipes for interesting meats and creative ways to cook fish, but I was looking for simple, vegetable-centric ones.

You need to know about two recipes; a bread and a sauce below the jump.

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.

Colorful Food

30 Sep

Many of the dinners we’ve eaten this summer have been rather monotone.  There’s been lots of green punctuated by little stripes and dots of red pepper.  It’s been a season devoid of the wild colors of heirloom tomatoes.  But this weekend, when we stayed in the city, we hit the greenmarkets and bought every colorful tomato we came across, and then I took them home and roasted them.

For years now I’ve seen recipes for oven-roasted cherry tomatoes on blog-after-blog but I never made them. The cool weather just never seemed to coincide with the end of tomato season.  But in this weird weather year, the conditions I’ve been waiting for have finally occurred and I made up for lost time¹.

We roasted some wickedly sweet little round red tomatoes on Saturday, then drizzled them with good balsamic and ate them with roasted duck breasts and yet another version of that gorgeous squash soup (this time with white beans for creaminess and a purple opal basil yogurt crema).  And then on Sunday I roasted a mix of colors and shapes and served them over smashed red bliss potatoes alongside a pan-roasted fillet of Spanish mackerel and another purple opal basil crema made zippy with one third of a Jawala pepper.

And now, after having had two dinners in a row graced by oven-roasted tomatoes, I can say this to you: Do not make my mistake! Roast when it’s roasting out if you must, but do roast some of your most perfect cherry tomatoes and serve them with whatever you’ve got .  Pasta, duck, fish, salad, beef, pork, chicken, polenta, rice, bread, quinoa, kasha, grits, jerky, tofu, ostrich, cardboard.  Anything.  Just make them.  You can thank me later.

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¹ Set the oven to 325°F.  Wash a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes, put them in an roasting dish or dutch oven, coat with a few glugs of olive oil, a pinch of salt and a minced garlic clove or two and place in the oven.  Roast the tomatoes–scoot them about the pan with a toss or a spoon once or twice–for an hour or so until they’ve collapsed in on themselves, taken on a burnished hue and released their juices.  Remove and mix in a handful of torn basil.  Enjoy!

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.

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.

Click here for more.