Archive for the Food musings Category
Last Thanksgiving, I was truly enjoying my new baby as we were just getting past the why-is-she-crying-all-the-time-gah! stage. I was counting down the days (with no small amount of sadness) until my return to work. Looking forward to our first holiday as a family, we went to Trader Joes and bought a Tofurky because we had never had one and thought it would be funny (and it was). I made a green bean casserole with hand-fried shallots for topping and homemade, from scratch, cream-of-mushroom soup as a base (to make amends for the Tofurky). I again appreciated the simplicity of making delicious homemade cranberry sauce and wondered why anyone ever bought it in a can. I insisted on getting up early to watch the parade (on tv) for the first time ever, just because it was our first Thanksgiving as a family, and even though I knew the baby wouldn’t remember it.
But I missed this column by Maira Kalman in the New York Times. Maybe if I hadn’t, I would have skipped Trader Joes and the Tofurky. Even though it was funny.
[photo via Wikipedia]
My baby loves apples and just dove right in when we received a slew of them in a recent CSA share. The real story: I was horrified to walk into the kitchen to find my husband burying our precious baby in apples for the purpose of this photo. Ha!
Apologies for the absence, but I had a baby in early September! I have been kept much busier than I anticipated. I have had some culinary adventures, but little time to share them. Most of note that I have eaten lately is sweet–after denying myself sweets during the pregnancy because of the gestational diabetes, I have been making up for lost time! Of special mention: A pressed croissant, filled with dulche de leche and homemade marshmallow, at the City Bakery recently. We enjoyed it along with some of their famous pretzel croissants and of course their hot chocolate (no photos, sorry!)
I will try to update more often from now on. Thanks for your patience!
Earlier this summer, I received an email asking if I would like to review this book. If I would, the publisher would send me a gratis copy. After reading the press release, I must admit I was intrigued, mostly because I had no idea what this book was. The press release takes pains to point out that this is not a cookbook–indeed, there is not a single recipe among its pages. But it also didn’t seem to be a book on technique (which might show me how to, e.g., properly debone a fish or sharpen a knife). Instead, the book was a collection of notes, a “primer” that offers “insights that will help anyone become a better cook.” Going on this vague information, I am not sure I would have paid for the book, but as they were sending one for free, I decided to indulge my curiosity.
It is a good looking little book, with a robin’s egg blue, white, and gray dust jacket. It is quite a slim volume at 143 pages, and would take mere hours to read if you wanted to just plow through it. But it really isn’t meant to be plowed through. The authors clearly intend it as a thoughtful little tome meant to make you pause and reflect on not just the way you do (or should) cook, but why you cook.
The first six chapters are full of some basic suggestions about what one should and shouldn’t do as a cook. The pithy bits of information range from common sense (read the recipe before you start cooking) to good sense (read at least three other recipes for the same dish to get a sense what variations on the recipe might be) to uncommonly good sense (use the highest quality [but not necessarily most expensive] ingredients you can. This produced perhaps my favorite phrase from the book: “Garbage in, garbage out.” Awesome!). There are some BS-y mantras thrown in for good measure (“The cook’s first job is to delight” or how about “Feel the sounds. Taste the smells [n.b. shouldn't that be "aromas," anyway?]. Touch the flavors.” Sounds like The Who song as covered by tribute band The Who’s Hungry). The book excels where it offers true advice, but it doesn’t where it offers words without value–e.g., I don’t need a book to tell me what constitutes a compliment on my cooking.
Chapter 7 is where the serious learnin’ begins. The notes on how to best implement heat and cold when cooking, and advice on the use of different categories of ingredients (pantry items, meat, stocks, dairy, etc.) are for the most part quite valuable. One of the most important notes opens up the “Pantry” section on p. 51: “Don’t fear salt.” Hallelujah! Under-salting is the most widespread offense among cooks, I do believe. Over-salting may be the more serious crime in that it is harder to correct, but under-salting is much more pervasive and insidious, leading to many more disappointing meals. An interesting exception to the salting rule, according to this book, is stock, to which apparently one should never add salt (or pepper). Someone should alert Swansons. I had never heard this before, but it makes sense. Since stock is one ingredient in a larger dish, a salted stock risks over seasoning the final result.
There are interesting little tidbits of information to improve your kitchen skills, along with some basic information that you probably already do, or should, know, scattered throughout the rest of the book. I eagerly anticipated getting to the “Repairing Food” section–who hasn’t disastrously over salted a stew or broken a sauce, and not known what to do to rescue it? This chapter, though, was disappointingly brief. Their repairs for acidic, spicy, or bitter food are helpful, but the repair for over-saltiness was a letdown. For something liquidy, the suggestion is to add more liquid. But of course that affects the consistency, and also dilutes the other flavors of the dish, so it is not really an ideal option. My mom always said that adding a potato to such a dish helps absorb some of the salt, but I have never tried this out myself. There are endless things that can go wrong in the kitchen, and this book couldn’t possibly address them all, but it would have been nice to have a bit fuller coverage in this chapter.
There are three appendices following the afterword. The first is a list of food adjectives, which is very helpful to food bloggers(!), though perhaps not many others. The second is a list of “Classic Combinations,” which is also of limited usefulness, mostly because of its organization: “duck & orange; orange & fennel; fennel & arugula….” Maybe if the ingredients were listed alphabetically, and say I had a Japanese eggplant and didn’t know what to pair it with (miso, btw), then I could look alphabetically under “J” to find the authors’ suggestion. As it is, though, I am just not clear on what the practical use of this is. The last appendix, however, is very helpful indeed. It is a list of the most essential tools needed in the kitchen. I feel like a bit of a sham now for not owning a proper saute pan or thermometer (I know!), and for not having cheesecloth on hand. But the list is something to aspire to, and not so lengthy that it seems unattainable. The book ends with an annotated list of recommended reading, which is also very helpful.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book as a gift for that foodie friend who has everything and is impossible to buy for.Â It is an attractive volume, perfect for gifting. Your foodie will enjoy the quick read, and probably refer back to some of the more helpful advice in the book again (there is an index, which will help guide said foodie). I wouldn’t call this book indispensable, but it is a quick, enjoyable read that will likely teach you something to improve your game in the kitchen.
Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich, Notes on Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft (New York: RCR Creative Press) 2009. [$21.95 from the publisher or $14.95 from amazon.com]
I am not even sure I can call this a ratatouille, conformiste ou non-, seeing as I totally made up the recipe without reference to a single recipe for actual ratatouille. [Quelle dommage!] Oh, and this was my first attempt at making ratatouille. [Zut!] But we all know what the basic components of ratatouille are, right? Luckily for me, it is a forgiving dish, and this whatever-it-was that I made and am calling ratatouille was delicious.
I was inspired by our lot of goods from the CSA last week, where there was buzz that all the veggies that day screamed to be made into a ratatouille. So, susceptible to suggestion as I am, I decided to make it. In the box were: yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, eggplant, onions, and garlic, among other things. Not included in our CSA lot were tomatoes, so I had to go buy some of those.
The non-conformiste part of the recipe comes mostly from the treatment of the eggplant, which was grilled before being added to the dish. I did this because I thought it would add some smokey interest to the pot, but also because the eggplant we had added to stir frys past had turned out unpleasantly oil-logged; I thought grilling the ‘plant first would keep this from happening. Another element that might seem odd to you is the addition of the poached egg. I did this to add some protein to the dish, but it was actually inspired by a long-ago lunch in Paris I enjoyed: a ratatouille crepe with an egg cracked on top, gently cooked only by the heat of the ratatouille.
This is not the most flattering photo possible, mostly due to the inelegantly shaved cheese that was allowed to sweat from the heat a bit before I snapped the pic. But ratatouille is a humble dish, not meant to impress the eyes, but only the mouth. And at that, at least, this succeeded.
What follows is more of a technique than an actual recipe. As with most non-baking kitchen endeavors, I encourage you to play with proportion of flavor and texture to suit your taste. I love a lot of garlic, but you may not. You might have a glut of zucchini in your garden, but no crooknecks. Or maybe you have some mushrooms or other non-conformiste vegetable you need to use. Go with that!
white or yellow onions
and/or summer squash
dried or powdered thyme
tomato paste or powder
balsamic vinegar [or wine]
Put thick eggplant slices on a piping hot grill (or cast iron griddle if you are stuck indoors). Brush with a little olive oil, flip slices, brush with more olive oil. Cook until browned and charred in spots, drain on paper towels.
Heat a good amount of olive oil, add some sliced onions (at least one medium), saute until softened a bit. Add a few sliced squash (I did a half-moon shape) and a couple cloves of minced garlic. Sautee for a few minutes until the squash is beginning to soften and the mixture is aromatic. Do not let brown. Add a few tomatoes, roughly chopped, along with some basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and black pepper, to taste. Your eggplant should be cool enough to handle by now, so chop that roughly and add it to the pot and give it a good stir. Add some water, a bit of tomato paste or tomato powder, and a splash of (white or traditional) balsamic vinegar [You can instead add some white or red wine here, but I elected not to as I am preggers]. It couldn’t hurt to add a little more olive oil at this point, too. Stir, and then cover.
Let simmer for 15 minutes or so until the squash is soft and the flavors have mingled. Taste and adjust seasonings as usual. If it is too thick, add a touch of water (you need it to be pretty liquidy to poach the eggs). Now, crack an egg into a little bowl or ramekin and transfer gently to the simmering mixture. Repeat until you have one egg per mouth to feed. Try not to let the eggs touch each other. Use a ladle to spoon some of the hot liquid from the ratatouille over each egg. Cover again and let cook until desired doneness. An almost raw yolk would be the most appropriate, but as I am pregnant, and the Hubs doesn’t like raw yolks, I must confess I cooked the hell out of these eggs. But, do as you wish!
Spoon the ratatouille into bowls, placing an egg in the center of each bowl. Top with shaved parmesean, and voila! Dinner is served.
My pregnancy, and the dietary restrictions it–not to mention gestational diabetes–comes with, continues.Â Our CSA has been a boon for our dinner table, though. It is nice to get to enjoy so many salads on these muggy days. We haven’t been getting too creative with the veggies, preferring to keep it simple and delicious. Besides salads, we have been doing mostly simple sautees and stir-frys (fries?). I did make a surprisingly killer old-school cole slaw with a small head of CSA green cabbage (cabbage, mayo, white balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper. The key is to extremely finely shred the cabbage–I used my new v-slicer/mandoline!)
You are killing me, Food Mayhem! Killing me! Look at her review of Sweet Revenge in the West Village. I must have their namesake cupcake which involves peanut butter and more peanut butter. Come mid-September, this will be mine… [photo via Food Mayhem]
One of the things I love about Mark Bittman, is that he is one of the few very respected experts in the culinary world that doesn’t abhor, and actually almost seems to embrace, vegetarianism. Witness the vegetarian version of his book, How to Cook Everything. There is weekly evidence found in his blog, too. Just keep an eye on it. This week he made a, well, interesting recipe. It is a hot-breakfast concoction of bulgar, coconut, and tofu. Oh, and fish sauce (he admits this is not vegetarian). Strange, yes, but say you aren’t intrigued!
I love the idea of the tiresome-mango-salsa-alternative cantaloupe salsa over at Smitten Kitchen. (Another post-pregnancy must-try is her sour cherry slab pie–hand held goodness!)
Constantly on the search for decent Mexican food in NYC (I have not yet found one I love. Why can’t anyone make proper refried beans?), the review of Rachel’s Taqueria in Park Slope by Eat It: Brooklyn caught my eye. I get the sense that the food is good, but not outrageously delicious. But if only just to catch a glimpse of the awesome “Mayan” mural, the place looks worth a visit.
The Good: We have started getting the goods from our CSA! Our pick ups started about a month ago. At first, I think due to all the rain and unseasonably cool weather, perhaps, the pickin’s seemed pretty slim. But lately there has been more variety and a larger bounty. Last week is was zucchini, crookneck squash, cucumbers, beets, kale, lettuce, and blueberries. We got the unexpected surprise of fresh garlic with our haul the week before. Fresh garlic is basically like regular garlic, but with moisture-rich fresh skins and membranes separating the cloves, rather than the familiar papery skins. It also tastes a little less strong than “aged” garlic. To the left is picture of a salad we made from an early pick up. I look forward to tomatoes and stone fruit later in the summer!
The Bad: I have been recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This severely limits my diet, which was previously pretty carb-heavy (I didn’t realize how carb-heavy until I had to quit them!). The newest wrench thrown into my diet (on top of the usual pregnancy restrictions), is in part why I have not posted much of late (another reason is that I have been incredibly busy at work–working late an unusual amount–and have just been too exhausted to blog once I get home).Â This all means, no more pasta, no (or not much) more rice. I can’t even eat my old cereal any more. Desserts are out. I never had much of a sweet tooth, but now that I can’t have sweets of any kind, I can’t tell you how I miss them! I can’t eat fruit in the morning or on its own–only with meals. Even beans, my beloved beans, must be restricted. Sigh! So, not much I have been eating lately has been blog-worthy. As I get used to it, though, I am trying to become more inventive, so keep checking in. Luckily, most everything we get through our CSA is on the table!
The Ugly: Me, bereft of pasta, potatoes, fresh summer corn, bread, beans, and sweets!
A few weekends ago, the Hubs and I decided on a lark to walk from the Borough Park area of Brooklyn, where we were shopping for baby stuff, over to Bay Ridge to see what Middle Eastern delicacies we could find for dinner. Along the way, and quite by accident, we happened across the bustling Circus Fruits (who I was shocked to learn have a website!), located on Ft. Hamilton Parkway. Having no decent vegetable market in or neighborhood, we were drawn to it like the most seductive of siren songs.
It was truly a wonderland of not just fruit, but all sorts of vegetables, with in-season goodies prominently displayed. Baby artichokes were 99Â¢ a pound. They were in really good shape, though, unfortunately, the stems were cut to the quick, but hey, whaddya want for 99Â¢ a pound? We bought about 8 of them. They also had some gigantic–I mean larger than a large grapefruit–purple globe artichokes that were gorgeous and perfect. We picked up one those as well. They also had some lovely, slender, spring asparagus. (By the way, when you are at the store, go for the slim stalks of asparagus. The American credo that “bigger is better” does not hold in the case of asparagus–trust me, I am from the asparagus capital of the world, or maybe the country, or at least California. Oh, just trust me on asparagus, ok?. Thick stalks of asparagus are woodier and not as green and flavorful as young, thin asparagus. So I guess you should stick to that other American credo that young and thin is better.) We bought a bunch of that as well. Our total bill came to $2.70. What a deal!
Off we went to Bay Ridge, where we stopped into a store that sells nothing but Middle Eastern sweets, from baklava to pistachio nougat. We bought more than we should have and munched on a couple pieces of nougat as we moved up 5th Ave. We stopped into a simple grocery and bought some Cypriot haloumi cheese, and were intrigued by a haloumi-style cheese that was made in California of all places, and so picked up a package of that too, along with a can of fava beans and some pita for our meal that night.
By the time we got home we were starving, and so we got down to cooking right away. I started a pot of water boiling as I cleaned the tiny artichokes. Not much needed to be done, just a quick trim of the outer leaves and the brown base. Then I sliced them in half, and cleaned out (using a grapefruit spoon–one of my favorite kitchen tools!) the nascent choke that had formed in a couple of them. before dunking them in acidulated water to keep them from browning. After the water boiled, I fired up our cast iron stove-top grill, boiled the ‘chokes for a few minutes, drained them, tossed them with some olive oil, and threw them all on the grill. I also put some sliced haloumi on the grill to brown up. After the baby artichokes had browned a bit on each side, I tossed them with a mustardy vinaigrette I made while they were grilling. (A note: next time I would toss the artichokes with a dressing made without oil, as the oil from grilling added enough to serve as that component in the dressing.)
We ate the haloumi and baby artichokes (above) with the fava beans that the hubs had heated up with some olive oil and spices, some pita, and (store bought) hummus, then baklava for dessert. We started out our day with no thought to what would be for dinner that night, but ended up with a simple and delicious meal, all thanks to our serendipitous discoveries of some of the gastronomical gems that Brookyln has to offer.
5916 Ft. Hamilton Pkwy
Brooklyn, NY 11219
Intriguing post title, no? Whatever could it mean?
The answer is much less obtuse than you might think: These are the names of two cookbooks; one that I gave to the Predicate for Christmas and one that she gave to me. I have blogged previously about Eat Me, which was a thoroughly enjoyable read.Â Now I am writing specifically about the recipe from the book I made, and also about the dishes that the Predicate made from Turquoise: A Chef’s Travels in Turkey by Lucy and Greg Malouf. Turquoise is a really gorgeous book, filled with not just recipes but also with spectacular photographs and personal essays. If you are at all interested in Turkish culture and cuisine, I would recommend this book.
Since she gave me a cookbook, and I gave her one, we of course had no choice but to have dinner party featuring dishes cooked from each. The fact that Eat Me is heavy on egg and other breakfasty recipes made it a bit of a challenge for us to coordinate what would go together, but we persevered.Â She decided to make some zucchini and feta fritters and cacik (the same thing as tzatziki–but don’t tell the Turks that!), which I thought might go well with soup, especially on this chilly evening, so I went with the African green curry soup (recall be damned! I love those legumes!).
The soup recipe, unusually, calls for Thai green curry, which Shopsin explains seems to have the same flavors as African spice mixes. Lemongrass? Thai basil? These ingredients don’t leap to mind when one thinks of cuisine from any part of the African continent. I admit that I was skeptical, but also intrigued.Â I followed Shopsin’s recipe faithfully, with the exception of adding some more colorful vegetables than the all-green mix called for by the recipe. (My mother also mandated that her meals be “colorful,” and I guess that rubbed off on me!)
When the soup was nearly finished, I gave it a taste, and wasn’t happy with it–it just didn’t have a lot of flavor, and the flavors it did have didn’t work well together. I added more peanut butter. Still no good. More curry? That definitely didn’t help. Still more peanut butter. No dice. Hey, maybe some siracha would give it a kick? No. There was just no way this was going to be a good soup, I realized. It could have been a matter of the type of curry used. I bought the only type available at Whole Foods, which was Thai Kitchen brand, and as the cookbook happens to illustrate the tub of curry that Shopsin uses in his soup, i know that it is a different brand. In the end, I don’t think the Predicate minded the soup as much as I did (or she was just being polite!), but it definitely wasn’t a make-again winner in either of our books. I am tempted to go to the restaurant to see if I like his version of it, but that will have to wait until my bad memory of this concoction is long gone.
The Predicate’s fritters and cacik, on the other hand, were fantastic. She showed up armed with the fritter batter already made, and of course the cacik was prepared in advance too (anybody who has made tzatziki knows that it is better after sitting a while). I fired up the frying pan for her, and looked a little warily at the batter–it looked awfully thin. But the fritters really held together well while being pan-fried, and boy were they delicious! The perfect balance of veggies and fats, and a subtle melange of spices. They went perfectly with the cacik she had made using Greek yogurt (tzatziki tip: if you can’t find Greek yogurt in your area, then you can strain regular yogurt–but do look for the Greek type!), garlic, cucumbers, and lots of fresh dill. She left out the mint that the recipe called for, but it was still so delicious. Winners, both! I can’t wait to try other dishes from the book.
It is hard to compare the two cook books. One is about Turkish food and the other about American sort-of-but-not-really diner food, but they are both part personal essay, part recipe book.Â In short, if you want to read a thoroughly entertaining, food-centric biography featuring kooky New York personalities, make a grab for Eat Me, but if you are interested in some totally dreamy recipes, accompanied by beautiful photography, then Turquoise might be the book for you.
I received this book as a Christmas gift from the Predicate. Incredibly, she hadn’t even seen my post waxing nostalgic about my one and only visit to Shopsin’s General Store (i.e., restaurant) and my determination that the book was worth buying if only to get the recipe for the caramel pecan coconut bread pudding french toast. I guess that is just how tuned in to my taste!
Eat Me is sort of half-memoir, half-cookbook, and equal parts raunch and sweet nostalgia. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, even if you have never had the pleasure or endured the disdain (experience determined by whether Kenny Shopsin liked you on sight) of eating at Shopsins. He discusses the origins of the restaurant (it started as a general store, which explains the name of the place) in the colorful West Village, made even more colorful by the decade (the ’70s). He relates tales of his customers, his friends, and his family, who all play a large part in the running of his restaurant. He also talks about the evolution of his menu, which though enormous, is much smaller than it once was (it peaked at 900 or so items). He also explains his rules, such as no parties larger than four (and, if there are six of you, don’t even try to come in as an unrelated party of four and a party of two. He will catch on and he will kick you out), no copying other people’s orders (he believes everyone should be able to make up their own mind), and no cellphones (this should be a rule in all restaurants).
As to the recipes, I have tried one and it wasn’t terribly successful (more to come on that). But I am sure the fault is all my own, and not Kenny Shopsin’s. Or that is what I would tell him, in case he knew who I was or cared about my opinion, which I assure you he doesn’t. There are a bunch of great-looking egg recipes that I look forward to trying, though. (Alas, there is no recipe for the bread pudding french toast!)
All-in-all, if you are interested in food, in uniquely New York voices, or into hearing the stories and smart individuals who have lived unconventionally, Eat Me is worth buying.
One of the unintended outcomes of this blog has been that restaurants and other companies have contacted me to offer free meals or products, I assume in exchange for a review/plug on my blog (This condition hasn’t been explicitly stated in any of the offers). Such propositions don’t exactly pour in, but I have been surprised to receive the offers that I have. Thus far, I have not taken anyone up on it. In fact, the first time someone emailed me to ask them to be their guest at their restaurant, I deleted the email, thinking it fishy. I have since learned that this sort of thing is pretty commonplace in the food blogging community.
When I review a restaurant, bar, or product on this blog, I have paid for it with my own money, received nothing in return, and the review should be considered as true and pristine as freshly fallen snow on the butt of a newborn baby. Or something like that. (I should also mention when I blog about cool products that I don’t actually own, I am not doing it at another party’s behest–these are just products I happen to come across on various websites.)
I must say, if I were ever to accept one of these invitations for free products or meals, I would still review the product in an honest, warts-and-all, manner, if I even chose to review the product at all. I would, of course, also disclose the fact that this was a freebie in my review.
I lean toward continuing to not accept such offers, but what do you think? Would this sully your opinion of my reviews? Or am I crazy to refuse, as long as I adhere to the tenets of disclosure and honesty?
Please let us know what you think by commenting below (comments are working now, btw).