Search results for 'purée'

Mmm… Bière

7 Nov

Oh friends, have I got a treat to share with you.

Autumn in Prospect Park

I discovered a recipe this weekend that is so delicious, so sexy, so perfect, and yet so simple and rustic that it simply begs to be served at your very next dinner party, or for Christmas dinner, or for Saturday dinner. This is the kind of dish you can serve to your mother-in-law with absolutely no fear. You are guaranteed oohs and aahs, and that your guests will make happy little oinking noises while they’re sopping up the delicious sauce.

Have I piqued your interest? Are you just dying for me to tell you what this most perfect dish might be? Not just yet…

Autumn in Prospect Park

The Boy and I were doing some Western Orthodox Christmas shopping on Saturday at our favorite non-used bookstore when I spotted this gigantic, gorgeous volume, of rustic French cooking. We were having a glorious fall day. The weather was crisp and I was wearing my favorite scarf (the one that makes me feel like I’ve just gotten back from an assignment for National Geographic to Marrakesh to write the definitive work on camel’s milk cheese), NoLita wasn’t overrun by giddy European tourists taking advantage of their currency being worth two-times as much as the dollar, and we were planning to go out for an anniversary dinner that night, so there was no pressure to think about cooking.

Autumn in Prospect Park

But ever since I had put one toe out the door, all I could think about was cooking. It was so cool and delightful, the air was crystalline blue and held the promise of a chilly evening. I wanted to cook something warm and comforting, a dish as snuggly and delicious as my favorite cashmere sweater, so I promised myself that I’d bring it up only if I happened to think of something or happened to come across something.

Autumn in Prospect Park

And so, there i was thumbing through The Country Cooking of France while the Boy was nosing about in the serious literature when it jumped out at me.

Coq a la Bière.

Autumn in Prospect Park

The recipe sang to me of warmth and simplicity. I had to make it. So I called him over and asked if he’d like to stay in this evening rather than go out for a big fancy dinner, and then I sweetened the deal by promising to make mashed potatoes. It didn’t take long for him to agree.

I briefly contemplated buying the book, but I just couldn’t part with $50. I had a purse crisis recently and ended up dropping some serious dosh on a new bag. I felt the need to scrimp and so I tried my best to memorize the recipe, promising the book I’d come back for it on a more flush day.

Autumn in Prospect Park

We popped over to the Whole Foods on Houston Street to visit their new beer room. Serious suds people! They’ve got beers from around the world and lots of American microbrews too. Sure, they sell some beers that you can get at the very finest bodegas, like the Indian ones near 6th Street or heck, even my beloved Eagle Provisions, but what is exciting is that much like the good folk at Bierkraft, they sell growlers of locally brewed hoppy delicacies. I picked out a brown ale from France and a cider from Normandy, then we headed home.

I’d forgotten that cooking with beer is awesome. Unlike cooking with wine, where you can just recork the bottle and stash it in the fridge, once you open one of those fancy corked bottles of beer, well, there’s no way to save the fizz, so, well, you’ve got to drink the beer. Bummer, right?

Autumn in Prospect Park

I measured out my cup and a half of ale and then drank my half of the leftovers while pulling together dinner. It’s the easiest thing I’ve cooked in months. You brown the chicken, chop some vegetables and then let it stew for an hour or so. At the end you stir in a pat of butter, crème fraîche and brighten it up with a shot of vinegar.

Coq a la Biere

The mashed potatoes were a happy accident. I took my eyes off the garlic for one minute, and when I turned back they were a nanosecond away from turning into tiny little lumps of char, so I threw in the lacinato kale (I never got my second salad) to stop that from happening. The resulting potatoes smelled a little like the very best of garlic bagels. The toasted garlic are delightful points of flavor amidst the silky purée made a little sour with crème fraîche.

Toasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Kale

The resulting meal is so French. It’s the food equivalent of that beautiful Parisian woman we all know, the one who can throw on a sweater, a skirt and a scarf and look more radiant and pulled together than I ever could, no matter how much time and money I had at my disposal. And, to top it all off, it’s so much simpler, and slightly more unusual, than its more famous cousin Coq au Vin. There’s no futzing about with cooking each vegetable separately, no marinating, no peeling pearl onions (does anyone enjoy that task?), and it may encourage you to go out and buy a nice bottle of gin.

My Notes

Never having been to France, I’ve never thought much about the classics of French cooking. But between this Coq a la Bière and the Sole à la Meunière and the utterly delicious cherry clafouti from over the summer, I’m beginning to think I really should go back to the beginning, start boning up on my classic French technique.

I’ve got the weekend to myself while the Boy is away celebrating Western Orthodox Christmas and Ratatouille up next in my queue. Who knows where inspiration will strike next!

And, check it out! Abby, the assistant Web editor over at OrganicGardening.com did an interview with me, and she posted it today on her blog Good N Planty! If you’ve ever wanted to learn even more about me and the Granny Cart, hop on over there, or just go over and support her NaBlaPoMo efforts! And be sure to check out all the gardening knowledge on their site, these people are experts! Thanks Abby, my mom will be so proud!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Coq a la Bière and Garlic Bagel Mashed Potatoes.

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Pumpkin Eater

2 Nov

The Boy and I pulled a Fergus Henderson on a pumpkin this weekend and indulged in some real stem to blossom-end eating.

Through My Window

We butchered a very large cheese pumpkin, then we gutted it. While the pumpkin parts roasted in the oven, I sorted through the pumpkin’s innards for the seeds. After a quick wash, the seeds went into a pot of salted, boiling water for 10 minutes, were drained, tossed with salt and olive oil and slipped into the oven to roast at 350°F for 15-20 minutes until golden-brown and delicious. The seeds got a mahogany coating of three peppers, a la the pepitas from the lost and mourned for East Village restaurant Uovo.

And that was the extent of my involvement in the evening’s meal. I washed my hands and left the kitchen while the Boy carried on.

Pepitas

It was lovely.

He scooped pumpkin flesh and sautéed onions while I propped my feet up on the ottoman and finished a disturbing and silly novel (I have a new back of cover rule, any books described with the words “gothic” “chilling” and “passion” are now verboten).

The Boy and his family celebrate what they like to call “Western Orthodox Christmas,” that is, Christmas in November in Colorado. They’re a busy family, spread out over a few states, who find it hard (and expensive) to get together exactly on December 25th, so they do the best they can.

A few years ago the Boy’s mom gave him a funny Western Orthodox Christmas present; a hand blender and a recipe.

3 More Peppers

At the time, he and I had been together a little while and were only just beginning to cook together in earnest. I guess it showed, though. His conversations with his mother were peppered with culinary allusions which, being a good mom, she picked up on. So she thought she would share her latest obsession with her newly minted foodie son: puréed soups.

The recipe is simple: sautée aromatics, add something delicious like potatoes, squash or root vege, season with fun spices, purée, add a little dairy, eat. The Boy has become the soupmaster of the house. His creations are always inventive, exciting and, best of all, delicious.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

So when he suggested he make a spicy pumpkin soup as a way to celebrate the season and use up the three surprise peppers that grew on my plant after we thought it was done, I couldn’t have been happier. I’d get a day off and a delicious dinner. Who’s the luckiest girl in the world?

I must say, it was hard to keep myself out of the kitchen. I kept piping up, “Did you put Pimenton de la Vera in there? It smells smoky?” To which he’d reply, “Yep.” At which I whined, “But I was hoping to taste the pure flavor of the peppers!” To which he replied with silence. I kept trying to remember the marvelous quip from Judith Jones in the Times a few weeks ago:

When your husband is enjoying himself in the kitchen, keep your mouth shut even if you could do better.

I find it applicable to boyfriends as well.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Homemade Creme Fraiche and Three-Pepper Pepitas

I can’t tell you his exact recipe, but I do know he flavored the soup with the aforementioned smoky paprika, ground cloves and just a hint of dried mustard. Garnished with some crème fraîche we made (which oddly enough turned out lumpy) along with the pepitas and leftover breadcrumbs from my beloved kale salad, it was a delicious, seasonal and relaxing dinner.

It was even better as leftovers a few nights later. Especially when we remembered to add some frozen corn I had saved from an aborted July 4th party.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Homemade Creme Fraiche and Three-Pepper Pepitas

So ladies, it’s November now. Want a night off? Go out and buy your man an immersion blender. When he asks why, tell him it’s a Western Orthodox Christmas present.

Then sit back, put your feet up, read a trashy novel, feign abhorrence while discussing the book over a delicious dinner, oohing, aahing and feigning nothing.

Happy weekend!

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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The Beet(en) Generation

31 May

Getting back into the groove after a long, relaxing vacation can be no easy feat.

The house always looks a little sad and dejected and in need of cleaning. The fridge is always empty. There’s a mountain of laundry to be done. Photos need to be uploaded and sorted. Spam needs to be deleted. Bills need to be payed. In fact, it can be so depressing, all that hard won relaxation can just *poof* disappear.

U of C Boulder Campus

But this time was different.

A few months back I started some basil and sage plants from seed. I fretted over their survival endlessly before leaving for Colorado. I had no plant nanny to look after them, no self-watering pots. I had to put “the kids” out on the back fire escape and hope that nature would take care of them, that they would learn to stand on their own.

And just like real kids who have been granted their freedom, my “kids” thrived. This was exactly the result I was hoping for. I had promised myself and The Boy that if they survived the week we were gone, we could plant a real “garden” on the fire escape.

Baby Sage

And so on the bright, balmy first day back, we hauled home 40 pounds of potting soil, various pots, 6 pepper plants, 4 strawberry plants, 1 English thyme plant, 1 French lavender plant and 6 tomato plants of 3 varieties. We sat on our front stoop, arms and legs covered in dirt and transplanted all the new “kids” into their new homes. Neighbors stopped by to chat and offer encouragement and extra pots. It made being home feel that much more amazing.

I also planted some radish and carrot seeds. Nigel Slater wrote in The Kitchen Diaries that radishes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow in one’s kitchen garden; that they’re fast, can be planted multiple times in one year, and obviously delicious.

Peppers, Basil, Strawberries, Lavender, Sage, Thyme & the future home of Radishes

I’m sure Nigel meant that they’re wonderful to grow in terra firma, but we thought we’d give it a go in a container. So far the radishes have gone gonzo, they sprouted in one day, and are already about 1/2″ high (my “kids” are such overachievers!), the carrots? Not so much. There’s maybe 2 sprouts to be seen. But I’m sure they’ll catch up. Carrots are the smartest vegetables in the root vege family.

With so much time lavished on the hopes and dreams of dinners future, I totally forgot to think about dinner present. There was nothing in the fridge so I turned to my pantry. As usual, she had my back.

High up on the top shelf, shyly hiding behind my box grater was a vacuum-packed flat of roasted beets.

'maters!

Years and years ago someone gave my Mom Diane Seed’s More Great Pasta Dishes (the “More” is a reference back to her original work, The Top 100 Pasta Sauces, also worth searching out). I was vegetarian at the time, so Mom methodically worked her way through all the veggie recipes until she got to one that caused a serious kerfuffle amongst the family.

Me: Mom, what’s for dinner?

Mom: Pasta with roasted beets?

Me: Whaaaaat??? EWH! But Moooooooooom! That sounds disgusting!

Step-Dad: Awh gee Beck, really? Pasta? With Beets? I think I have to go with Annie on this one.

Mom: Oh will you two just stop. I’m going to make it, and you’re going to eat it.

And make it she did. And eat it we did. Every. Last. Speck.

I think my step-dad might have even licked his plate.

Beet Pasta

The concept is a little strange, but ohmygod, this might just be the one of the best pasta dishes on the face of the earth. My step-dad now requests it every year for his birthday dinner.

I prefer to roast my own beets, but as anyone who has ever roasted their own beet can tell you, beets take a loooong time to roast. It was Sunday at 6pm. I was not about to tromp out to the Korean deli, buy beets and then wait two hours for them to cook, oh no, not when I had some already roasted, and diced I might add, on hand.

And so as I stirred and whirred I was able to simultaneously scare the beejezus out of some baby squirrels that wanted to play in all my freshly planted dirt. Fred may have disappeared, but luckily the next door neighbors tuxedo cat (whom we have dubbed Black Fred (you know, like Black Bart, the pirate and/or cowboy)) is always up for chasing and harassing squirrels. And I think having her around has worked. I’ve seen no more evidence of squirrely activity since then (knock on wood).

Beet Pasta

The boy was as skeptical about this dish as my step-father and I were all those many years ago, but just like us, he was won over by the earthy, sweet, salty and minty sauce. In the past I’ve made other variations on this dish. I’ve made it as a pasta salad (pretty good) and as a risotto (very good). Someday I’d like to adapt it into a soup as well, maybe with a mint pistou.

And so, plants planted, beet phobias set aside, emails deleted, pictures sorted, house tidied, we’re both impatiently awaiting tonight’s dinner when we get to eat the leftovers with some local asparagus thrown in for good measure.

My stomach’s already rumbling in anticipation.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Beet Pasta.

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Super Spargel

10 May

I’m having a lot of trouble with random ladies lately.

The Building That Put The Times In Times Square

Last night on my way home I had my subway fare stolen. The MetroCard of the lady in front of me had expired, but I didn’t realize it until I had already swiped and she just breezed through on my fare. She finally came back and swiped me through on her other MetroCard, but it was too late, I’d already missed the express train.

Why am I telling you this? Because by missing the express I then had to take The Slow Train To Cleveland home.

Walking For A Cause

Those not living in New York might not know this, but each subway line actually runs on a schedule. This means that if your routine is regular enough it’s possible to begin “knowing” the personalities of the men and women that drive the trains.

Back when I lived on the F line there was a Caribbean guy who had the most wonderful accent. It was proper and British, yet dreamy and exotic. I loved catching his train. On the weekends there’s a guy that runs an R train who sounds like he should be a newsreader on the radio, or doing the voice-over for some crazy computer that’s about to takeover the world. I’ve never heard someone with such precise diction in my life.

Someday I'll Tackle One Of Their Sandwiches

Then there’s the humorous and sassy drivers. They’ll offer observations, crack jokes, sing little songs, impart neighborhood wisdom and insult people that are keeping the train from staying on schedule. One of the most glorious New York experiences is to be amongst a car-full of people who have all been forced to laugh by a subway conductor. It’s an experience that’s become more and more rare as the iPod has continued it’s tramp towards inevitable world domination.

These are the good drivers. Fast, efficient, capable of disseminating knowledge.

And then there’s The Slow Train To Cleveland (TSTTC).

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall? You Walk There

Have you ever seen Family Guy? You know Peter’s friend Cleveland, who talks all slow and low and mumbly? Yeah, I think they’ve got him running this one R train that departs Union Square around 6.40pm these days. And he drives as unagressively as he talks. It’s frustrating. What should be a 40 minute train ride turns into a nearly hour long epic journey under his tutelage. 20 minutes may not sound like much, but when you’ve managed to get out of work on time and just want to get home and cook dinner, it feels like an eternity. That’s the hell the fare-swiper consigned me to last night.

Petrossian

TSTTC first came to my attention last Friday night. It’s rare indeed when I get to leave the office before 7.30 on a Friday, so I was extremely excited. The boy had initially wanted to take me out for my birthday, but since I was getting up very early the next morning to walk for a cause (and the only way you will ever catch me in Times Square), I suggested that we stay in and relax instead. The problem is, it’s hard to relax when you’ve just been tortured by TSTTC.

After a few minutes of freaking out, exhorting the gods to obliterate TSTTC from the face of the earth and talking at very high speed, I finally calmed down. The prospect of asparagus can do that.

Central Park

How wonderful and strange is asparagus? My mom had a patch of it in her garden when I was a kid. When their strange snakey stalks would finally break through the rough, wintered earth we knew Spring was finally, actually here. We would eat them for every dinner for as long as they were around.

Pan-Roasted Asparagus, Truffled Egg, Polenta

I love the tops the most, especially when drenched in butter and lemon. And I love them puréed into risottos and soups. And I love them whole, pan roasted with lots of garlic and tomatoes, served alongside polenta with a truffle-scented fried egg on top.

Pan-Roasted Asparagus, Truffled Egg, Polenta

It was easy as chips to make and brought me down from my TSTTC-induced pique, plus it was hearty enough to get me through a 5k walk (yeah, I know that’s only 3 miles or so, don’t worry, my friend and I tacked on at least another 3 afterwards).

So, R trainers, beware of TSTTC and fare-swiping ladies.

Be prepared. Keep calm and carry on. Asparagus will not always be there to save the day!

Head below the jump for Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Truffled Eggs. Continue reading