Tag Archives: cooking

Like A Lamb

2 Jan

2009 crept in while I slept.

Hudson River Sunset

For the first time since my age was in single digits, I slept through the transition from old to new year.  And though I would have liked to watch the tail-end of 2008 slink away into the shadows of history, I’m okay with my decision to get some sleep.  It bodes well for the new year. Maybe this one will contain more serenity (and naps) than the last.

For, like many, I am not displeased to have 2008 behind me.  In reality, it was a pretty good year for me.  I got promoted, and we bought the house, we went to Italy, my second nephew was born, I mastered pie crust, went to the county fair, was party to the world’s best dinner party story ever and had a successful surgery that will hopefully keep me hale and healthy for many years to come. These are good things.

But I also worked my tail off in 2008, as did Isaac, and while good things hopefully lie ahead for both of us, we could both use a calm 2009.  So, a toast!  May your 2009 be healthy and happy, full of friends, family and delicious food.  May your house retain its value, may your bank accounts stay in the black and may your new year be as full of naps as your heart desires!

But back to 2008 for one minute.  The thing that I have spent the most time thinking about during my break away from the blog has been recipes.  Turns out that, after careful consideration, the writing of recipes is the thing that keeps me from posting more frequently.  You see, I’m not a very organized or disciplined person when it comes to cooking.

Click here for more sheep.

Crusty Perfection

31 Oct

I’m always amused when it happens.

When after 10 years–a decade–the City throws me for a loop.  It crystallizes for me how confusing and dynamic and thrilling it must be to be a newbie or visitor here all over again, and reminds me why I live here, gives me that old thrill for just one second.  It also makes me blush like hell and mutter a bit to myself like a crazy lady.

Take Tuesday for example.  I had jury duty at Brooklyn Supreme Court.  What a simultaneously fascinating, and frustrating, experience!  Whatever algorithm the Kings County court system is using to ensure a diverse jury pool sure does work.  Sadly, the processes they use for picking juries are still a bit outmoded.

I got paneled for a case that I couldn’t sit on because the trial is scheduled for while Isaac and I are in Colorado visiting his family.  Could I tell the lawyers this and go back into the jury pool to possibly get on a jury I could sit on, thus possibly helping a fellow New Yorker?  No.  I had to sit there, for four hours and listen to the droning lawyers until my name was called, at which point, I could finally, officially, tell them I couldn’t sit on the jury because I wouldn’t be here.  Sigh.

But I did learn one very important lesson.  If you are forced to listen to a lawyer who is passionately in love with his own voice, don’t fight it.  No matter how smart you think you are, you’re never going to be able to read the Economist.  Do yourself a favor and bring a copy of US Weekly…. Just in case.

And that was it.  I was released back into the pool where I sat down, did some work, and was then, a few hours later, released back into the cold, windy, wet world.  Brooklyn’s court house perches on the edge of one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of Kings County, Brooklyn Heights, but sadly, it was too icky of a day to enjoy it. So I scurried to the Court Street subway stop as quickly, and dryly, as possible.

And here’s where the city threw me for a loop.  Court Street is a very deep, very old station. The sides of the walls are rounded, the platform is narrow and the trains feel very close.  It’s also a disorienting station with trains arriving in both directions and scarce singage saying “This way for Manhattan” or “This way for the rest of Brooklyn.”  So, I relied on my internal compass, something every New Yorker has whether they know it or not.

A train arrived.  My internal compass said, “Yep, that’s the one! That’s the train that will get you home hours earlier than you’ve gotten home in months and months and months.” So I hopped on, grabbed a seat and resumed reading about why the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

And then, after a few stops, I looked up, expecting to see us pulling into the Atlantic-Pacific station only to see scaffolding and workmen.  “Heeeey,” I thought to myself, “That looks like Cortland Street station in Manhattan… How’d I get here?”  And then, a few feet further on, there were the station signs.  It was, in fact, Cortland Street station in Manhattan.  I had been duped.

This is the point when I started blushing and muttering to myself.  Not that anyone on that rainy day-R train could possibly have known that I, seasoned New Yorker, humbler of the forgetful, mocker of the mistake-maker, had just pulled an “Oopsie!”  Regardless, I was embarrassed.  I slyly exited at City Hall, crossed the platform and re-started my journey home.  I still made it home hours early, but I had been humbled, for the umpteenth time, by the city I thought I knew so well.  It was kind of refreshing, actually.

So why am I telling you all of this?  Because sometimes after a great triumph, one must fall.  And what was my great triumph.  Pie crust my friends!  Isaac, for weeks, has been agitating to make both caldo verde and pumpkin soup.  And while I love soup, we settled on him making a version of the Portuguese kale soup over our long weekend and, riffing on his pumpkin idea, I decided to make Christina’s winter squash quiche.

But, before one can crack a few eggs, butter and flour must meet.  And since I was using up the bulk of our beautiful, incredibly tasty free-range eggs from farmer Dan, and a beautiful kabocha squash from the Chatham farmer’s market (which we finally got to go to since it’s held, rather inexplicably, on Friday evenings from 4-7pm), I knew the crust had to be special.  So I checked with Martha.

All of her crusts say to use a food processor.  Which is fine, I have one of those.  Only problem, it was down in the city, and I was up in the country.  So I decided to continue on anyway with my God-given food processor.  My hands.  I remembered reading somewhere about a lady who made the most wonderful pie crusts in all of creation, and her secret was using her hands.  I figured if she could do it, so could I.


I followed Martha’s pate brisee recipe, cutting the frozen butter into the flour with two knives until I got tired, at which point I used my hands, rubbing the butter into the flour and working in the water.  I didn’t over work everything, believing that the crumbliness would hydrate in the fridge. And I was right.

I know this is a “like duh” moment, but you don’t need a food processor to make absolutely perfect pie crust.  Seems logical given that women have been making pies for centuries and the Cuisinart has only been around for a few decades.

And so, we had an everything-must-be-in-a-crust dinner, and it was delicious.  Christina’s quiche is so magical.  It’s custardy and sweet and tangy and smokey and elusive and mysterious and gosh darnit delicious.  If you make it for friends, they will beg you for the recipe, she’s right. I can’t wait to make it for my family for Thanksgiving dinner.  And the pie? Oh my god, the pie.  It’s been so long since I baked an apple pie, and back then, it was kind of a disaster.  The crust was bad and the filling was meh.  But this time?  Sublime.

So if you’ve got some pumpkin guts hanging around from your pre-Halloween carving activities, roast them up and toss them with some eggs and make yourself a pie crust with your hands.  Don’t be shy. Go ahead, get a little dirty. Apparently they make guilt-free choose-a-size paper towels these days.

So make a mess!  It’ll be tasty, guaranteed.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Christina’s Squash Quiche and Ann’s Apple Pie.

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Bean There, Done That

16 Oct

Last night, I was in the same room as Martha Stewart, Daniel Boulud and a Beastie Boy.

And yes, Carol, it was MCA.

There were other famous people in the room too, but I’m terrible at identifying famous people. I’ll stand and stare and think to myself, I know that person… But can never figure out how, until weeks or months later when I see them in a movie or on TV and blurt out, Oooooh! I talked to that guy at a party once!  The person I most wanted to talk to was Michael Colameco, the über-mensch of New York City public television food shows, but, by the time the speeches were over, I turned around and he was gone.  I was bummed.

So where was I?  At Chanterelle.  It was a launch party for David Waltuck‘s new cookbook.  The book is beautiful and the party was swish and the food delicious, but $54 was too rich for my blood. I think I’ll be putting it on my Christmas wish list. And even though I was having a blast, I decided to leave early, so I would be home in time to watch last night’s debate.

As I was walking up Thomas Street to catch the bus, I heard that unmistakable whine and stutter that New York City’s buses make.  I looked up, and there it was, the X27 passing by.  I broke into a full run, blasted around the corner onto Broadway, only to see the bus pulling away from the stop.

I slowed down, but then the bus stopped, so I took off again at a full gallop.  And then the bus pulled away again, but I was already running, so I kept going, and after about five blocks, I finally caught up to it.  But let me tell you something… After a handful of hors d’œuvre and three glasses of Pol Roger, five blocks at a full tilt is tantamount to the New York City Marathon.  Thank god I wasn’t wearing heels!

I made it home in time to catch the debate (I swear if McCain said Joe the Plumber one more time I was about to lose the very cute, incredibly delicious deviled quail eggs I had gorged on earlier in the evening) and to peek at the winner of Project Runway (I won’t spoil it, but I will say that I’m very pleased).

But you know what? This wasn’t my favorite cookbook event of the week, not in any way.  Nope.  Last Wednesday, I was able to sneak away from my desk for 30 minutes, to finally meet my bean-guru, Steve from Rancho Gordo.  He was in town spreading the bean gospel, signing copies of his cookbook at the Union Square greenmarket.  We chatted while he signed my book, a bargain at only $20, discussing beans and cooking and gardening and business.  It was the most pleasant break I’ve taken from work in months.  And when I walked away, I was inspired.

On Saturday, I made a loaf of Rose Levy Beranbaum‘s basic hearth bread, roasted a chicken (the rest of which is waiting patiently in the freezer for stock making next weekend), and boiled up some beans.  Earlier in the summer I went absolutely nuts at the greenmarket buying up, in bulk, every kind of shell bean I could find.  I bought pink ones, and blue ones, black ones and red ones, fat ones and skinny ones and one sort that are so beautiful, they look like the night sky.  Issac and I spent hours shelling them and then gently tucked them into the freezer.

A few weekends ago I made Tuscan Magic Beans with fresh cannellinis from my stash (I also made the world’s most glorious lasagna entirely from scratch and never told you about it).  The beans were a revelation.  People always say that dried beans and canned beans are just fine, that nothing is lost in the processing.  To them I now must say, malarkey.  Fresh cannellini beans have as much in common with canned cannellinis as canned artichoke hearts have in common with spring’s first, tenderest, most beautiful tiny purple artichokes served shaved as a salad in a Florentine trattoria.

The beans I made over the weekend were a mix of Steve’s fool-proof method and my version of the Tuscan magic way.  I sauteed onions, boiled beans, and then at the last minute added some raw onion, lemon zest and chopped olives.  The beans had an alluring, attractive, secretive aroma that traveled all the way down.  They were delicious with the bread and chicken for dinner, but definitely were better the next morning as breakfast, refried, on toast with poached eggs.

And while I enjoyed my rub with real celebrity; I mean, let’s be honest, if someone had walked over to me and said, “Ann, allow me to introduce you to Martha Stewart,” I would have lit up like a Christmas tree.  But in reality I found my little chat with a bean celebrity far more fulfilling and inspirational.  I just never know what to say to celebrities. I know I would hate having people walk up and babble at me, but isn’t that what being a celebrity is all about?  What do you think?  Should I have tried to meet Martha?

Head below the jump for the recipe for Perfumed Dinner (or Breakfast) Beans.

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Macro-Micro

12 Sep

New York City is never more beautiful than when it’s seen from afar after dark.

Seeing its pulsing, sparkling lights, flowing and dancing at a languid, dreamlike pace from a plane coming in for a landing at JFK can bring tears to my eyes.  And the city is never more alluring than when seen from the Triboro Bridge or the BQE, as it plays a glittering game of hide-and-seek between the monolithic, brutalist shells that pass for housing along the highways of the outer boroughs.

Since I don’t love driving in the city after dark, Isaac has been pulling the return leg of our upstate forays, allowing me to sit and gaze out on the view of the city I love the most.  When the sun has set and the lights are on, all the hard edges and drab grayness fade away and New York becomes the city of dreams and possibility.

Each tiny apartment, lit up like a Russian egg, glowing golden with the light over the kitchen sink or silvery cool from the television, is a little bastion of hope and exertion, a refuge from the hurly burly that is daily life in New York.

Because, it is this daily life that makes New York so hard to crack.  Even once you’re inside the city, walking through its hallowed halls, standing upon its celestial corners, it’s still the dream city.  It isn’t until you live here, really live here, that the trials begin.  The scrimping of money, the oppressive noise and heat, the long, dark, cold winters, year upon year of toiling, hoping it’s enough and waiting for that big break or genius stroke of luck.  That’s when New York becomes the fabled she-lion that gobbles you up and spits you back onto the streets, naked, shivering and lost.

It’s a giant, heroic struggle, pushing against a Herculean tide of people, time and ambition, locked in constant battle with hope.  Life in New York is big and diffuse.

My yard is never more beautiful than when seen just before the sun sets.

In the country, I’m finding that my cares exist on a far more granular level.  I forget about work and ambition and our noisy neighbors, about the herds of NYU students that have invaded my favorite ramen joint, about the crazy lady who sits on the corner near my office and sings, about where the markets are going and why.

Up there, the little things are what I care about.  The tenths of inches my kale has grown in a week, the tenacity of the spiders to not be vacated from their cozy corners, the miracle of a day lily blooming before the deer decided to make it a delicious afternoon snack.  This is what occupies me when I’m 200 miles north of New York.

It’s like splitting my time between the two halves of my favorite New York treat, the black-and-white cookie.

Which brings us to food.  Shopping for dinner upstate is so much more fun than down here.  It’s the same farmers with the same produce as I see at the greenmarket in Union Square, but up there, they seem much happier, too.  There’s time to answer questions and chat about the weather, to swap recipes and discuss pest control.  The farmers seem less guarded, less tired.  Perhaps it’s because they’re not being stalked by magazine writers, chefs and foodies.

This past weekend we made our first foray to the Kinderhook farmer’s market. It was wonderful, despite the threat of rain.  I was seduced by gorgeous yellow beets and a sour cherry tart.  Isaac fell for potatoes and corn.  Rounded out with delicious chicken from Olde Hudson Gourmet, and we had ourselves an epic meal of locally grown and produced goodness.

We cooked the beets and potatoes together and then mashed them and stirred in some delicious garlic, local butter and the beet greens.  I roasted the chicken and made a sweet-sour Anaheim chile relish that was as good with the chicken as it was stirred into the mash. And we ate it all with a salad of the world’s pepperiest, most delicious arugula ever.

And while I love cooking simple food made from simple ingredients and padding about in the grass, I miss spending weekends in the asphalt jungle a little bit.  So I’m looking forward to next weekend when we’re going to stick around in the city.

Now, if only I could decide which side of the half-moon cookie New York is.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Beeten & Mashed.

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Arroz con Cranky

5 Jun

I fear I’m not always 100% truthful with you, especially on one very salient fact.

West Village Puddle

New York City and I do not always get along. From the timbre of many of my posts, you’d think I walk around in some sort of Disney princess bubble enveloped in a halo of chirping birds and hopping bunnies, magically making my way untouched through the seething throngs of grumpy commuters, clueless tourists and the hopelessly deranged. But this is not true.

Japanese Maple, Raindrops

Sometimes, for no conceivable reason, the city just pisses me off. The anger is not acute. No, it’s not usually one specific thing that sends me round the bend, it’s more of a crescendo of annoyance.

The mockingbird imitating a car alarm for hours. Our upstairs neighbor playing GTA IV at 5am. The ingrate that forces me to miss my train into work. The destruction of yet another piece of my city’s gritty heritage. Almost being hit by a bike messenger (again) careening the wrong way down a one way street. Yet another endless line full of tourists with no sense of urgency at my favorite coffee place.

May Showers, May Flowers

Yes, they’re little things, and probably make me sound a little petty, but man, sometimes, a girl just can’t take it anymore. We New Yorkers live so close together, so cheek by jowl with one another, so constantly in each other’s faces that it can really begin to wear on a being.

Nap Time at the Dog Spa

I try pretty hard to stay positive. I say excuse me when I run into someone, I smile at the checkout girl that’s just had to help the umpteenth pensioner from Spain figure out how to pay for his coffee, I grumble under my breath as the train-I-needed-to-be-on-so-I’d-be on-time-for-my-meeting pulls away without me, and I take photos in an attempt to help remember those old spots that won’t be there for the next generation.

But sometimes, a girl just needs to snap.

Won't Be Needing These For Awhile

Take this past weekend for example. I should have been buoyant and joyful; the weather was beautiful, my work was done, all I had to do was sit back and enjoy 48 blissful hours of sun, fun and food but no, I was cranky. The trains were all kerfuffled, the sky opened up and let fly like it was Armageddon and the farmer I wanted to buy baby kale from wussed out and left the West Village greenmarket early.

Statues & Man

So there we were, Isaac and I, skirting the edge of Washington Square Park, heading for the Union Square greenmarket, when I just snapped. I stopped like a stubborn donkey and began stomping my feet like a two year old mid-tantrum. I wanted to go home. The city, its chaos and closeness, its clamor and commotion had done me in. I was beaten.

TK TK TK

We got back to the apartment and I ran for the solace of my kitchen. I began chopping: spring onions, green garlic, jalapeños. Some went into a pot of Steve‘s magic beans, some went into a pot of rice, some went into a red salsa and the rest went into a green salsa. After a few hours of stirring and prodding and chopping and tasting, I finally felt better.

Vaquero Beans

And who wouldn’t if they were sitting down to a meal like this? Spicy rice, tender, fragrant, achiote-marinated shrimp, zippy pico de gallo, sublime salsa verde and, of course, those perfect, wonderful, fragrant, intoxicating beans. It was a perfect meal.

And yet, I woke up with the crankies again the next day, and the next, and the next.

But then, on Tuesday morning as I was harumphing and grumbling my way through my commute, I pulled my nose out of my Economist and noticed the gentleman sitting across the subway car from me.

Camarones y Arroz con Cranky

He was amazing.

In his 80s, he was impeccably dressed. A perfect summer-weight pinstripe suit, beautiful tan leather shoes, a flawlessly tied tie with matching pocket square, a straw fedora that was a work of art, waxed handlebar mustaches, Col. Sanders beard, and to top it all off, a yellow rose in his button hole.

Suddenly my outfit, which I had been so proud of earlier in the morning, felt completely disheveled. And yet, I was happy. This man, this one single man, who seemed pulled from another time; a kinder, gentler, more caring era, sitting next to a rockabilly-tattooed hipster chick, plastered a smile on my face that still won’t go away.

Vaquero Beans

Perhaps I’m a little hard on myself. Perhaps I really am just a giddy, wide-eyed, New York City optimist. Or, perhaps, I’m just a real person in love with a difficult city. Disagreements are bound to happen, but we’ll always make up.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Arroz y Camarones con Cranky.

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