Tag Archives: seasonal cooking

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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To Market…

26 Jun

Grocery stores have become a big controversy in my neighborhood.

Marathoners & Pharmacy

Rents in the city are high and seem to inevitably climb higher. This makes it hard to run small businesses and shops, especially when landlords get greedy. Essential services like grocers, cobblers, bakers and florists are, not so slowly, being replaced by banks and pharmacies.

Bay Ridge Summer Night

The chain of events goes like this: You realize you need your shoe fixed. You start looking around and out of nowhere you realize that, every day for the past five years, you’ve walked past a cobbler on your way to the subway. You bring your shoes to the cobbler and fall in love with the delightful, ancient, Russian man who’s hands are dyed by his trade and move on their own while he sits and gossips and tells tales. He fixes your shoes and you leave, vowing to return as soon as possible. And then you forget.

And then, by the next time you need a pair of shoes fixed, he’s gone; replaced by another CVS or Walgreen’s or Chase or Capital One.

Koi

This is happening endlessly all over the city, not just in Manhattan but also in the outer boroughs. The necessities of life are being replaced by things that no one needs or wants in their neighborhoods, to the detriment of people’s health.

This situation is currently burning through Bay Ridge slowly and deliberately. There’s been huge controversy because one of the last, larger grocery stores is being closed, to be replaced by, yep, another pharmacy. My neighbors are, to say the least, up in arms about this. But, I do not agree with them.

Verrazano Bridge

One of the reasons I wanted to move to Bay Ridge is because it is such a great food neighborhood; and one of the things that makes it so great is its amazing proliferation of small, independent, family-owned ethnic grocery stores. I can think of at least three dozen places to shop for wonderful, fresh, delicious food within a 20 block radius of my apartment.

But this doesn’t seem to be the mindset of my neighbors. “Oh no! Where will we shop now?” None of them seem to be stopping and asking why the grocery stores are fleeing. I mean, there has to be a reason, right? Chain groceries don’t just up and leave for no good reason, do they? No, they do not. And I think I know why.

Stop

Bay Ridge is a car neighborhood. People drive here as if they’re living in suburban Denver or Los Angeles. If you’ve got a car, why on earth would you shop at the cramped, expensive Key Food in Bay Ridge when you can hop in your SUV and drive to Costco or Fairway or the enormous Price Chopper out in Sheepshead Bay?

Cars are also to blame for Bay Ridge not having a greenmarket. The city tried to give us one, but no. “We” told the city “no thanks” because it would take away parking. At a church. On Saturday. Because, so many Catholics go to church on Saturdays, right?

rainy

But one gentleman in the neighborhood has a plan. He has proposed a co-op. Where everyone pools their money and shopping lists and… Drives to big grocery stores and buys Triscuits and beer. Here’s the perfect chance to do something exciting for the neighborhood. We could start a CSA! Or go back to the city and say, “Hey, you know what? We really do want that greenmarket!” But no.

God Sky

It seems shocking to me that between gas at $4.45, the neighborhood’s eye-popping obesity problem and our brush with global warming (tornado in Brooklyn anyone?) my neighbors are sill so reluctant to embrace steps that can improve their health and the health of the neighborhood; like using public transport, walking and supporting small, local, independent grocers.

I’ve never lived in another neighborhood that has two quality fishmongers, two amazing butchers (one of whom is also a sausage maker!) and purveyors of decent, reasonably priced fresh fruits and vegetables every couple of blocks.

Bay Ridge Cabbages

And, as if that’s not enough, the city’s marquee greenmarket sits at the other end of the subway line that runs right through our neighborhood. Four days a week, the region’s very best produce, cheese and meats are available for everyone.

14th Street, Union Square

And then, there’s the yards. So many people have both front and backyards in this neighborhood, but what do they use them for? Parking, of course. What could they use them for? Even though I think this guy went a little overboard, there’s lots to learn from him. With a little knowledge, a little exertion and a little patience, it is possible to grow your own fresh, safe, healthy and delicious greens, beans and tomatoes in your own backyard.

Fire Escape Tomato, 100% Safe

But, I fear I have run overlong on a topic that I find endlessly interesting, but which has, at this point, possibly bored you to tears! So, in return for listening to my rant, I offer you a delicious recipe for a seasonal, healthy, tasty pasta dinner.

Pasta with Beet Greens & Peas

All the ingredients can be purchased at the greenmarket, or, if you’re lucky, pulled from your own backyard.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Pasta with Beet Greens & Peas.

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Rhubarb-barb-barb-barbara-ann

15 May

I am currently obsessed with azaleas.

Azaleas, Bee

Against an expanse of verdant, emerald green grass the shocking crimson, cerise and magenta bushes are my new favorite harbinger of warmer days. And to think I wasn’t even aware of their existence until Saturday.

After a dim sum brunch, Isaac and I decided we needed a bit of a walk. So we started walking, until we ran into a fence, and behind that fence were the azaleas. They’re magnetic. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, even to look where I was going. Needless to say, I very nearly walked into quite a few telephone poles.

And it’s not just me. My friend N told me she had been out biking and had the very same experience, except a bit more dangerous. She was on a bike and very nearly running into cars.

Azaleas, Robin

Where were these magnificent azaleas, you might be asking? In a cemetery. But not just any cemetery, Green-Wood Cemetery. Pastoral, elegant, and only a little bit creepy, Green-Wood was founded in 1838 on the rural cemetery model first made popular in Europe.

Itwas always meant to be a place where families would go for recreation, to walk around and look at the beautiful graves and to stop and have a picnic. In fact, its popularity was an impetus for the planning of Central Park.

Green-Wood Door

It’s not quite as popular a destination today as it once was, which I’m okay with, because it has to be just about the only spot in all of New York City where you can spend two hours strolling up and down hills, gawking at birds, smelling the flowers, marveling at the blueness of the sky and the sweetness of the wind while only running into about five (living) people.

Stained Glass, Reflection

But it’s not all just beauty and peace. Green-Wood contains the location of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, the first battle of the U.S. army, and the first battle lead by a young general, George Washington.

It was the Battle of Brooklyn. At the top of the hill where skirmishes were fought, in commemoration of the lives lost, stands Minerva, forever saluting her sister the Statue of Liberty down in the harbor.

Minerva, and if you look just under her right shoulder, you can just barely make out the cruise ship the Queen Mary 2

Green-Wood is also a birder’s paradise. It is known as a pit stop for a wide variety of migratory birds, as well as for its immense and varied population of locals. But, like so many places in New York, it is most famous for its immigrants. In this case, immigrant parakeets.

Minerva In Green-Wood

Parakeets? Oh yes. A rogue population of feral, acid green Monk parakeets live in the turrets of the Gothic gatehouse. I once went on a tour at the cemetery. We met in front of the gatehouse, and the parakeets were in such a lather over the size of our group, that the tour leader was forced to halt his remarks until he handed a megaphone.

Crazy Old Pine Tree

Upon bidding the parakeets adieu we didn’t feel quite walked enough, so we kept on walkin’ on and ended up in Propsect Park. It was such a happy, busy place. Hundreds of parties and picnics and Little League games and Frisbee tossers and creative anachronists and happy, snuffly dogs. We walked its length and ended up at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket just as all the stands were shutting up for the afternoon.

Can you believe this is New York City?

This is my biggest complaint with this greenmarket, the stands sell out so quickly and close up so early. At a quarter to four there was only one stand remaining with anything other than bread, apples or cheese. Lucky for me, they had both ramps and rhubarb, so I grabbed some.

When we got home I whipped up a simple ramp risotto for dinner. It was gentle and rampy, satisfying and delicious. I saved the rhubarb for Sunday.

Green-Wood

I love rhubarb. I love its gentle, springy, somewhat azalea-like coloring and its alluring fragrance. My plan, since last year, in fact, was to make a glaze for some pork chops. And then I opened the refrigerator and saw how much rhubarb I had bought. A lot. There was no way I was going to need all that for a simple glaze. So i started pouring through my cookbooks.

Green-Wood Allium

I love pie, especially strawberry-rhubarb pie, as much as the next person, but I prefer my pie to be made by that next person. I’m just not a pie baker.

So I was looking for something different, something unusual, something that I could bring into work if I made too much of, and there, lurking in a book devoted to the seasonal cooking of the Hudson River valley, was the answer.

Rhubarb bread. Ms. Rose says it is the specialty of Mary Film of Buskirk, N.Y., who makes the bread for selling at bake sales in support of the restoration of the Knickberbocker Mansion in Schaghticoke.

Prospect Park

This is just about the easiest bread in the world to whip up, and oh my god… the smell! I wish that I could have invited you all over just so you could smell the aromas wafting out of the oven and through my house. It was beyond intoxicating. It was drool inducing.

By the time the bread was out of the oven both Isaac and I just stood next to the stove staring at it, willing it to be less than molten hot so we could tear into it.

Rhubarb Bread

Finally, it was time. We cut big, moist chunks off one loaf and tried not to bite our fingers amidst the mania induced by this bread. It is delicious. Rhapsodic. Purr-inducing. I’m ashamed to admit this, but we easily ate half the loaf, and probably could have eaten the whole thing if some part of my brain hadn’t snapped back into sanity and stopped us.

If you’ve got a friend with a large rhubarb patch, ask her for some, then bake her this. She’ll love you forever.

Rhubarb Bread

So I take it all back. I now think azaleas are beautiful, and can’t wait for the day when I can plant one in a yard of my own, but what I am truly obsessed with is rhubarb bread.

And you should be too.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Ramp Risotto and Rhubarb Bread.

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Whoopie!

1 May

Did you know there’s a season for whoopie pies?

Wind

Neither did I until yesterday. A bunch of my co-workers are obsessed with a brand of packaged “cookies” called “cakesters.” I hesitate to give you a link, as I’m afraid it will only fuel the mania, but, since I can hear you asking, here it is.

They’re so obsessed that they went out and bought a case of the ooey, gooey treats. I find this terrifying. Why? Because I cadged one, and seriously people, these aren’t soft, pillowy Oreos. They’re whoopie pies. And whoopie pies are something I hold very (very) dear to my heart.

Reflection

I’ve long suspected (like, since I was in junior high long) that there is a correlation between Oreos and whoopie pies, and this new development, of the “cakester,” serves, to me, as a confirmation. Growing up, the family that lived at the bottom of the hill in our neighborhood was from Lancaster Co. The mom was a champion baker, and her specialty was, of course whoopie pies. I loved (lovedlovedloved) going to their house because she always had some on hand and because they had a gigantic Old English Sheepdog who was the most awesome dog ever.

So, I can understand my co-workers’ obsession with tender chocolate cookies and sweet, fluffy filling. But only to a point. What I can’t get over is their fetishizing of a product filled with chemicals and high-fructose corn syrup, when as well paid, sentient adults they could be fixating on something worthy. Like the whoopie pies, baked fresh in Lancaster Co., and brought to the Union Square greenmarket a block away from our office a few times a week.

Chelsea

I’m passionate about food, something you’re probably aware of. But what you might not know is that I’m also kind of loud. So it’s easy for me to come across as a bit strident and bloviating (known to some as annoying), especially when I insist on say, harranguing every person that walks past my desk with a “cakester.” “Whoopie pies are better you know!”

Luckily, people still like me despite this minor personality quirk and put up with my abuse, but only up to a point. I could tell that it was time to stop talking and start acting on my whoopie pie assertions.

Shadows

So, despite being desperately late to work yesterday, I dashed into the greenmarket, no mean feat as they’ve changed the layout (p.s. I hate it), and found the stand I was looking for. I glanced around. Meats. Check. Scrapple. Check. Stone-ground corn. Check. Lots and lots and lots of plants. Check. Whoopie pies? Uhhhh… So I asked the guy, “Where are the whoopie pies?” “Oh, they’re seasonal, fall and winter only.”

Whaaaaaa? I had no choice but to believe him. I mean, you can’t argue with someone who doesn’t have whoopie pies. So I turned away, and slunk off to the office with my metaphorical tail between my legs. Getting my co-workers off the “cakesters” just may take a bit more effort than I had initially assumed.

Swoon

But, there’s a reason I bring this up, and that’s seasonality. Who knew that there was a season to whoopie pies, and who knows the reason why? At Pegasus, our favorite Greek-Cypriot spot in the neighborhood, the owner make the world’s best avgolemono, but, much like the whoopie pies, only in fall and winter.

The soup I can understand. So much whisking and standing over a hot stove, no one wants to do that in the middle of summer! But whoopie pies? I mean, wouldn’t the machines and stoves do most of the work?

Saint

But really, the point I’m trying to make is that this is a tough season for eating. The weather can’t make up its mind and the culinary standbys of the past season are gone while fresh, new vegetables that make spring so exciting are only just beginning to make an appearance. It was one of these vegetables that I was obsessing over this past Saturday. Asparagus.

As I lay napping on the couch, I dreamed of supping on lightly pan-roasted asparagus topped with a gently poached egg and pillows of lemon and black pepper flecked fresh goat cheese. Then I woke up. At 5.30pm. In Bay Ridge. An hour’s subway ride from Union Square. It was never going to happen. So I rubbed my eyes, shook the cobwebs out of my brain and snapped to attention. If we were going to have a delicious dinner, I needed to act fast.

Shadows

I roused Isaac, slipped on my shoes and dashed out the door. We headed to the fish monger. Isaac had seen that he had halibut fillets earlier in the day, but they were gone, so we settled on flounder and some colossal shrimp. We ran across the street to the Korean market and grabbed leeks, mint and lemons. They had asparagus, but it was flown in from somewhere that wasn’t upstate New York, so I left it there. I can wait for local asparagus.

Copper

The meal was composed entirely on the fly. I made a quick shrimp stock from the shells and then melted the leeks. I decided pretty late in the game that the dish needed bacon. It was a good move.

This meal is seriously delicious. And the leftover sauce was exceptional a few nights later as a post-work dinner with pasta, a dash of sherry vinegar and a flurry of grated cheese.  And, in it’s way, being based on wintered-over leeks and citrus, it is in fact seasonal.

Flounder Smothered in Melted Leeks

I know it’s kind of a cruel turn, to start with whoopie pies and end with flounder, but I hope that, like my co-workers who put up with my occasional tirades and bursts of vulgarity, you’ll forgive me. It is my birthday after all.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Flounder Smothered In Melted Leeks.

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Love/Hate

23 Jan

Little fish, big controversy.

Pugs On Patrol

Some recent night after work I was watching the Iron Chef battle between Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver, Isaac was reading. “Oooooh!” I said. “Look, Pasta con le Sarda!” “Huh?” “Mario’s making pasta with sardines. I’ve always wanted to make that. I think it’s totally weird that it’s got fish, raisins and fennel in it.” “Pasta? With sardines? I’m sold.”

It seemed like the perfect dish. I love pasta but I’m not so keen on fish. Isaac’s the exact opposite. It seemed like a match made in heaven. And then we started discussing the dish.

This is where the pugs live.  Lucky pugs.

I wanted to change some things around. I didn’t want to use sardines. Where on earth would I get sardines? In Bay Ridge? On a Sunday? Tell me that… So, what do you want to use? Tuna. Tuna? Ewh. Why would you use tuna? Because I like tuna and I don’t really like sardines. Well why on earth would you suggest making something with sardines then? Etc. Etc. Etc.

The discussion never got heated, just testy, but just testy enough to make it seem like a good idea to shelve the dish for a while. So we made spinach pie. Spinach pie. The peacemaker. Who knew?

Cold, Winter Tree

Then, on Saturday, piscine providence provided.

I had already settled on roasting a chicken and making some Asian-esque soup with dumplings from the leftovers as the weekend’s culinary activities, but Isaac came back from the gym with amazing news. Cosentino’s, the local fish market, had fresh sardines.

They were beautiful, shiny, plump, glistening and as fresh as fresh fish can be. They smelled of the ocean and were soft and silky to the touch. Their eyes were so bright and shiny, like they were still chasing tiny krill through the icy waters of the Atlantic. But I couldn’t. Nope.

Tree Lined

I don’t know when it happened or how, but I don’t like fish. Okay, that’s only about 87% honest. I don’t like most fish. I love cod, but feel guilty eating it. And don’t even put a bowl of clams in front of me, because they’ll be gone by the time you turn back around. Tuna’s alright, especially when smeared in mayonnaise and hot sauce and wrapped inside seaweed and gulped down with pickled ginger. I also don’t mind fish on vacation, like in Croatia, where it was all even fresher than the sardines I was staring down. But at home? Not so much.

So I stood there, waffling. I knew how much Isaac wanted them. I knew that they were local, and seasonal. But I failed. I settled on a hunk of tuna and some clams. I could feel the disappointment emanating in waves off both Isaac and the fish guy. The fish guy said he only brought in the sardines when they were exceptional, and that he knew no one would buy them. It felt awful proving him right.

End

I was wracked with guilt on the walk home, hugging my tuna airlifted in from warmer climes. I had just failed miserably as a foodie. I had left the delicious delicacy from the sea back in that store on a bed of ice. And so, I relented. I asked Isaac to go back and get the little fishes, but to make sure the guy gutted them. I hate gutting fish.

The sauce is, as the Naked Chef would say, easy peasy. You cut some vege, cook the vege, add tomatoes and stew. The cleaning of the fish though? Far more than I expected. I figured the fish guy would not only gut them but remove their spines too. Oh no. Nope. He left that for me.

Canon

The first one was difficult, but by the end I had the hang of it. You just insert the tip of a knife under the spine near the tail and drag backwards, pulling out the tail. Then you lift the spine and pull towards the head. Where the spine breaks, you cut off that part of the fish. The ribs will be too big and thick to melt in the cooking process. But this is not a neat procedure. Little bits of fish fly everywhere. You have been warned.

The sauce turned out well, very well in fact, but for me the star of the meal was the pasta. I took a cue from Mario and rather than adding saffron to the sauce, I added it to the noodles. I made pappardelle because I love them, and these noodles might be the ones I *heart* the most in all the world. They are spectacular.

Pasat con le Sarda

The first bite of the meal was, to me, a little too fishy, but by the end I was very happy. It’s kind of a cross between puttanesca and Huachinango Veracruzano, but with more depth and mystery. I’m not sure I’ll ever make it again, even though the leftovers were excellent on some Trader Joe’s artichoke ravioli. It was just too contentious. Too stressful.

Dinner should be delicious, not fraught.

Head below the jump for Ann’s recipes for Pasta con le Sarda and Golden Papparedelle.

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