Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Is For Dining Alone

Eating alone is a trying thing for some people, writing cooking and eating off as products of a banal bodily necessity. I love to eat and cook alone, using the kitchen as an improvisational laboratory to experiment with recipe ideas, flavor combinations, and cooking techniques. MFK Fisher, a witty food writer with a fluid, deeply expressive writing style bursting with gastronomic knowledge, shared my passion. She was one of the best food writers out there, blurring the lines between the genres of food anthropology, ecology, travel literature, and cooking. Simply put, she made being a foodie cool long before it was fashionable. Her great strength as a writer is her ability to drag you into her prose to taste, smell, and feel your way through her experiences in and around the kitchen. Mary Frances was not afraid to dine alone, in fact she loved it, and one short and sweet chapter of her An Alphabet For Gourmets sums up her point of view. “It took me several years of such periods of being alone to learn how to care for myself, at least at table. I came to believe that since nobody else dared feed me as I wished to be fed. I must do it myself, and with as much aplomb as I could muster.” In regards to eating alone, I have taken a page from her book, and as a result treat myself to lavish meals regularly. I was in the mood to wine and dine myself tonight and decided to make a big bowl of curried mussels. This is a fantastic way to make mussels, which steam to perfection in five minutes accompanied by their cooking liquid enriched with coconut milk. The East meets West vibe is an interesting selling point of the dish, with the use of Schneider Weisse (an amber-mahogany hefeweizen) and exotic spices like turmeric and curry powder. I beseech you to shed the irrational fear of dining alone and treat yourself to a fancy meal from time to time. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Curried Mussels
Serves 4

5 Lbs. Mussels
1 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1 Large Shallot, minced
1 Tsp. Lemongrass, minced
1 Tsp. Fresh Ginger, grated
1 Garlic Clove, pressed
1 Jalapeno, rib removed and minced
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 C. Beer
1/2 C. Cilantro, chopped
1/2 C. Parsley, chopped
1 C. Coconut Milk
1/4 Tsp. Turmeric
1/4 Tsp. Curry Powder
1/4 C. Scallions
Salt & Pepper

1. Heat the butter over medium heat in a large stockpot. Cook the shallot, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, jalapeno, and bay leaf until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add mussels, beer, cilantro, parsley, and salt & pepper to the pot, cover, and cook over high heat for 5 minutes shaking occasionally.

2. Remove mussels and set aside, discarding all unopened ones. Filter the cooking liquid and return it to the pot over low heat. Add the coconut milk, turmeric, curry powder, and scallions to the sauce and whisk until combined. Bring to a low simmer.

3. Shell the mussels, reserving 10-12 intact for presentation, and add them to the sauce before serving. Serve with crusty bread and a sprig of both parsley and cilantro.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Graduate Vegetarian (Mostly) Feast

Last weekend was a very fun one indeed. My friend Risher was to be conferred a Bachelor’s degree at Bard College so Matt, the soon-to-be grad, and I piled into a rental and dashed upstate. Graduations are not your everyday party and they happen rarely so when they come around, you have to take advantage. We spent the whole weekend partying our faces off engaging in all sorts of commencement shenanigans like tent parties, diner breakfasts, and fireworks. When our ragtag crew arrived safely back home with splitting headaches and hungry bellies, I hit the gourmet grocer and set to work preparing a mostly vegetarian meal. The three of us did not really feel like eating meat for the third or fourth night straight and given our tender stomachs and overall sluggish nature I thought a light meal would snap us out of our hangovers. The first course was a corn bruschetta with herbed ricotta, bell pepper, and scallions. The dish was both sweet and savory with the corn bringing a nice crunch to the party. I really loved this dish, which was a total experiment, and will certainly be making it again as sweet corn season hits this summer.

After collectively swearing off alcohol that morning over breakfast, the three of us rethought our rash severance with drink and treated ourselves to a little hair of the dog, in this case a sixer of Stella to drink with the food. The second course was a bean dish that I make often with whatever fresh bean or pea I have on hand. Lima beans with red onion, mint, and sea salt is as easy to make as one would imagine given it only has four principal ingredients. I usually blanch shelled beans in salted water for three minutes before throwing then in a pan with butter, minced red onion, and finely chopped fresh mint which brings a bright herbal flare to the beans. A healthy pinch of flaky sea salt like Maldon’s or fleur de sel completes the dish. I highly recommend this easy and powerfully good side; all it takes is a knife and about fifteen minutes. It is also very versatile with any number of fresh or canned beans possible; I have even used edamame though fava are my go to bean in this scenario.

The third course was one of my personal favorites; prosciutto wrapped asparagus. These tender little bundles blanketed in crisp ham are so damn good and addictive that it is hard to share a platter of them. It was definitely the hit of the night which I gleaned from the quickness they were devoured. Just blanch the asparagus for a couple of minutes and then wrap them individually in a thin sheet of prosciutto. Bake them in a layered baking dish at 350 for fifteen minutes, sprinkle them with grated parmesan and balsamic vinegar, then return them to the oven to melt the cheese. It was great to spend the weekend with two good friends, especially to celebrate such a momentous occasion. This mostly vegetarian meal was the perfect way to cap a debaucherous though sentimental weekend. After six years, a super super senior, my man Risher got handed the diploma and the keys to the next chapter in his life. Way to go buddy. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Knock The Rust Off Dinner Party

I am jokingly titling this post “knock the rust off dinner” because it seems like ages since I last cooked for a decent sized group. I have stretches were I host people a couple times a week if I get into a serious cooking rhythm rife with inspiration. Even when a few weeks elapse without entertaining I try to not go more than a week without cooking; it is simply too much fun and I find that I often eat better at home without running the risk of spending too much money in this gastronomic metropolis. A few friends of mine from Los Angeles and I gathered last weekend to watch a Lakers game and I invited them over for dinner afterwards. The first course was a recreation of a pasta dish my Uncle prepared a few days prior and I really wanted to see what I could do to jazz it up. I had a small bag of the ramps we had foraged outside a cemetery and used them in the sauce. I sautéed sliced baby leeks, ramps, and garlic in a pan and then added a couple spoonfuls of fresh ricotta, parmesan, and residual pasta water. I tossed cooked cavatelli in the pan with the sauce to make a creamy, oniony pasta served in small bowls. I think my Uncle Hitch’s pasta was still better but at least my guests liked it.

The second course was a chickpea dish that I make quite often because it is simple enough to make and requires very little prep. I have the recipe listed in my cookbook archive at right though I dressed this particular incarnation up with a few extra ingredients. I tossed some chickpeas and Italian tuna in olive oil, well drained of their liquid, in a large bowl with minced roasted red peppers, Meyer lemon, capers, and green olives. To continue with the Mediterranean vibe I dressed the colorful salad with a little lemon juice and Greek olive oil to give it a peppery bite and some richness. I served the chickpea salad with a side of micro greens dressed with olive oil and sea salt to mellow out the flavor packed beans. So far I was batting two for two and decided to end the savory part of the meal with a cheese course.

There is no better way to close a meal than a slab, slice, spoonful, or wedge of good fromage. Whenever my father comes to visit from France he brings me a package from my favorite cheese shop in Paris, Marie-Anne Cantain. His recent trip was no exception and my fridge has been packed with stinky gems ever since which I very graciously shared with my friends. The first cheese, the orange one at the top, is Mimolette, a relative of cheddar that is soaked in dark beer and aged for several months. The second one, moving clockwise, was aged Comté which is similar to Gruyere. It has a strong grass or hay flavor with a high salt content, pale yellow pâte, and nutty aroma. It is one of my standby cheeses that I try to always have on hand because it is versatile and absolutely delicious. The third cheese, the flat and round blue, is Fourme D’Ambert, a lesser-known French cheese typically served alongside fresh or dry fruit. It has a zesty flavor and very pungent aroma though it is deceptively mild for a creamy blue with tons of moldy patches. I think my friends enjoyed this one the most, even those who typically shy away from blues particularly the stinky ones. The final cheese is select Roquefort produced solely for the Cantain boutique in Paris. Everyone at this point is familiar with Roquefort and there are even Vermont cheese makers that have begun experimenting with it in the States so I will spare you a description of this supremely tasty cheese.

I rarely make desserts because I have no talent or patience for them but when I do they are usually thrown together on a whim and a prayer. It is fun to buy already made ingredients and then dress them up individually for guests, bringing a touch of elegance to otherwise banal desserts like pie and ice cream. I made each diner a little spread of multiple sweet treats including coffee-beer float. Sounds weird but it was actually pretty darn good. I tossed a scoop of coffee ice cream into each cup and topped it with a dark beer called Rare Vos from the Ommegang brewery in Cooperstown. The other three elements on the plate were purchased from the farmer’s market and bakery. The first was a slice of sweet potato pie, the second of key lime, and the third was a black and white cookie from my local cafe. The dessert course was mediocre at best though thankfully people were preoccupied by a raging religious debate sparked at the end of the cheese course. Someone launched an attack against Mormonism and the rest felt the need to respond being intelligent college graduates or doctoral candidates. At least we had a little drama and heated conversation to conclude the meal, getting everyone involved and making for a pretty raucous debate which carried into the midnight hours. The dinner party was a hit overall and the food was pretty good, allowing me to shed some rust and get back into the swing of entertaining and feeding others. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Unexpected Breakfast

The morning after our fabulous dinner prepared by my Uncle Hitch I awoke to the smell and sight of an alluring breakfast spread. Hitch is a great host and loves to entertain friends and family at his Greek revival farmhouse, always putting the needs and wants of his guests above his own. The dinner he made was super good and needless to say it was accompanied by an array of wines. We drank a few New Zealand whites from the Marlborough region and then moved to a heady bottle of Pauillac, a commune in the Gironde department of southwestern France. This is one of my favorite wine regions, smack in the middle of two heavy hitting producing areas; Saint-Julien and Saint-Estèphe. Hitch had anticipated a groggy morning and made a simple breakfast from scratch to facilitate the recovery. When I descended the staircase from the bedrooms there were two small jugs of drip coffee and milk sitting on a platter alongside a dish of muffins. The breakfast was entirely unexpected since we had to drive back into New York City that morning and thought we had little time to eat before our departure.

Hitch had gotten up a few hours earlier and for the sheer reason of delighting his guests set to work making muffins from scratch. He used a combination of corn meal and wheat flour and then added dried currants and pine nuts to the dough before baking. They were sort of dense with tons of flavor and crunch due to the nuts, perfect for dunking into black coffee. As I mentioned in the previous post, Hitch is a phenomenal baker and these muffins attested to his skill in the pastry department. I thoroughly enjoyed the whopping four muffins I ate spread with sweet butter and Bonne Maman strawberry jam. Thanks to Hitch’s unexpected breakfast we got to have a little snack before jumping on the highway. Much to my delight we sat for a few minutes in the beautiful morning light enjoying our coffee and pastries. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pranzo Allo Zio

This past weekend I went up to the Ithaca area to look at houses with my buddy Nick Roth. It was and exhausting weekend to say the least as we packed our schedule with listings, seeing about six a day in pursuit of the perfect house. My uncle Hitch also lives in the Ithaca area so Valerie and I usually stay with him when we travel upstate. He is a wonderful cook and a fine gourmet with a taste for Italian cuisine and French wine, two passions we hold in common. In addition to his culinary talents Hitch is also a renowned gardener and landscape designer; his garden upstate is not to be believed with over a dozen species of lilacs. This past Saturday Hitch cooked a lovely dinner for us to celebrate our arrival to the area and wish us well on our house hunt. The first course, in Italian fashion, was pasta with ramps and ricotta. These were not just any ramps; the three of us harvested them in the local woods. After I mentioned how much I loved ramp season, Hitch promptly grabbed a shovel and threw Valerie and I into the back of his station wagon. We pulled up outside the local cemetery, sounds weird I will admit, and began trekking into the swampy woods. After about fifteen minutes we stumbled upon a few green shoots and dug up their tasty roots bursting with onion and garlic flavor. We took our wild leeks home and sautéed them in a pan with olive oil, fresh ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg which we then tossed with penne. It was a scrumptious pasta made special by the fact we had foraged the principal ingredient ourselves.

The second course consisted of pan roasted lamb chops and semi-wild salad. The lamb chops were rubbed with rosemary, thyme, sea salt, and coarse black pepper and sat at room temperature for about a half hour. Hitch cooked them in two cast iron pans over high heat to give them a toothsome crust without jeopardizing the tender pink meat inside. They were cooked medium-rare and served with an intriguing salad. Hitch took me out in the late afternoon sunshine to forage for wild herbs, shoots, and greens. We walked around his property with a large bowl kneeling down to identify and pluck a number of wild plants like
bishops weed, primrose, dandelion, and a little pink flower that tastes of fresh peas to name a few. There were literally ten wild varietals to which we added bagged mache to constitute the “semi” part of the salad. I tossed the greens with a little olive oil and coarse sea salt to highlight each and every leaf’s unique flavor. The dish went excellently with the meat, serving simultaneously as a fibrous vegetable side and green salad.

The final dish, a rhubarb tart, looks a little weird but it was really tasty. Hitch is an accomplished baker in the pie and tart department so I always look forward to dessert when I am invited to his dinners. He painstakingly prepared a demi-feuilletée or half puff pastry with layer upon layer of butter interspersed in the dough, an integral element of French pastry making. The dough makes for a thin and crisp crust or tart shell that can then be used in a host of applications. Hitch went with a custard of rhubarb, sugar, eggs, and cream which he poured into the blind-baked crust and cooked for an additional fifteen minutes until golden brown. It did look a little weird but the tart flavor of the rhubarb and eggy sweet custard matched perfectly with the airy crust of the demi-feuilletée. This was an exceptional meal and I am thrilled by the proposition of moving upstate and eating Hitch’s food at least once a week. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Spring Snacky

Spring is a wonderful time of year to be a foodie. The farmer’s markets start to overflow with fresh produce, spring cheeses, and other tasty treats as the season shifts from cold to rainy and sunny. And let us not forget the gorgeous pencil thin asparagus and oniony ramps that dominate the market place every late April into early May. Spring also brings the dormant bulbs to bloom around the city parks and gardens in a floral spectacle brightening the urban landscape. Aside from the delicious ingredients on offer in springtime, the season also connotes a sense of renewal. Spring cleaning is of course what I am referring to which extends to the mind, body, and soul, not simply the attic or living room. Whether it is the guilt of being cooped up all winter or the pounds gained throughout, spring is a great time to be active and take advantage of the beautiful weather. It is also a great time to explore the fresh produce abounding the farmer’s markets and gourmet grocers, facilitating an increased intake of fruits and vegetables. In honor of spring cleaning I have started running again and have been playing tennis as well as eating much better overall. This sandwich however is not an example of my recent dietary regime. I was going for a run and needed something to put a little bounce in my step both calorie and taste-wise. I love making sandwiches and am in pursuit of the ultimate sandwich which is a tall task given the number and variations out there. This one was made with arugula, ricotta salata, Tuscan salami, and roasted red peppers on a sourdough roll dressed with Dijon mustard and olive oil. The sandwich was salty, peppery, meaty, and sweet all at once making a tasty pre-run snacky. Go out there and enjoy the bounty of spring! As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Mother's Day Dinner

Mother’s day is of course a Hallmark holiday but unlike some of the more commercially driven celebratory occasions it has good intentions driving it and I don’t feel as bad buying into it as I do for Valentine’s day. There is really only one good restaurant near the hamlet of Andes, where my mom’s farm is located, so Emma and I thought it would be nice to treat her. We ended up staying in and cooking which was totally cool with me since I always welcome an excuse to cook and eat at home. As I have mentioned in numerous past posts she is a wonderful cook and I relish the opportunity to eat her food let alone watch her whiz around the kitchen. The main dish for mother’s day dinner was a stunning glazed ham, one of my mother’s signature dishes which is her go-to for any number of special occasions. It was studded with cloves, roasted, and then glazed with a mix of brown sugar, dry mustard, whiskey, and orange juice. The spicy tang imparted by the cloves and orange juice paired nicely with the caramelized crust achieved by the sugar and alcohol. I have been eating this ever since childhood and am willing to bet that it is the best glazed ham out there.

Aside from the massively large ham that we carved off in thin slices, my mother prepared a couple of side dishes to complete the meal. The first was steamed new potatoes with sweet butter and fresh herbs, a dish commonly made in France to accompany fish or poultry. Her garden has started to come up and there are tons of delicate herbs just waiting to perfume dishes like tarragon, chives, and curly parsley. The dish was simple yet elegant with tons of bright flavor, a perfect accompaniment to the salty ham. The second side was my mother’s famous coleslaw, the same recipe that she has been making for years which she inherited from my grandmother Violet. The recipe is sort of a secret but I will say that it contains purple cabbage, carrots, and onion. That is all I can share but that should by no means stop you from making your own variation of coleslaw which you and yours can keep secret. The three of us sat down to a huge supper in honor of our mother and by the end we were all stuffed and a little drunk which is exactly where you want to be after a home cooked meal at the farm. Emma and I did not regret staying in for dinner one bit after enjoying a fabulous meal with our mum in the comfort of her charming farmhouse. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Saturday Lunch At The Farm

My sister Emma and I drove upstate this past weekend to celebrate our mother at Red Hen Farm, her property in the Catskills. The farm was exceptionally beautiful in the pristine spring weather with lettuces and flowers beginning to pop from the rust red earth of the gardens and the hilly surrounding ablaze with wild dandelions. It is the best place to enjoy the tranquility of the countryside with the added bonus of good food and even better company. Upon arrival, Emma and I were greeted by our old English setter Annie and a fabulous lunch of ribs and pasta. She roasted pork ribs in the oven until they browned nicely and coated them with a combination of barbecue sauce and Chinese duck sauce. The glaze was smoky, sweet, and exotic all at once, caramelizing well under the broiler.

The second dish was a simple roasted cherry tomato pasta. Roasting tomatoes is an awesome way to draw out their natural sweetness while condensing their flavor. My mother layered a baking dish with tons of fresh basil and then added whole cherry tomatoes, minced garlic, fennel seeds, and good olive oil. The tomatoes were cooked at 350 for 10 or 15 minutes until they collapsed a bit. I have been using this technique for years thanks to her and it always turns out wonderfully. Just toss the saucy tomatoes with your favorite noodle and you have a tasty meal ready to roll in under a half hour. The lunch was a nice treat after being on the road for a few hours and marked the start of a mighty weekend of eating. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pregame Dinner With Sis

I happen to follow NBA basketball and have a deep affinity for the Los Angeles Lakers, my hometown team. Baseball never really did it for me and neither did hockey. Football is fun during the playoffs (Super Bowl) and I find soccer amusing if it’s French national team action. There is great enjoyment in plunking down with friends to watch a basketball game, especially if the Lakers are involved. I have suffered from a glaring handicap throughout the season however, no cable box or suitable television. My sister Emma has been kind enough to allow me access to her living room a few nights a week to watch my beloved franchise. Quite frankly her television is ginormous and her sofa miry which make it the ideal place for viewing. To thank her for the use of a sizeable portion of her apartment for long hours at a time I thought it would be nice to cook her a meal. I do not cook nearly enough for Emma and it means a lot to her when I do which made it a nice reciprocation of her kindness. For the pregame dinner we had a couple of rustic Italian dishes loaded with all things delicious. We had an arugula salad of tender baby leaves tossed with grated Parmesan, lemon, and olive oil; why mess with a classic when it tastes so good each and every time.

This saucy red mess with the little fluffy white plop in the middle is a gnocchi dish that got ahead of me as I was bringing the meal together. I oversauced the pasta severely after getting caught up in how delicious it was going to be and effectively hid the potato pillows completely. The dish I was going for was gnocchi with marinara and fresh ricotta known as “the priest stranglers” at Supper, a pizza/pasta joint on the Lower East Side. They make theirs with squiggly noodles and house “Sunday” marinara, a combo that is nearly impossible to recreate at home. No matter how much I try, I am just not from Naples. The mild creamy ricotta mellows the acidity of the tomatoes nicely making an absolutely stunning sauce. I cheated and used Scarpetta marinara sauce which is actually pretty tasty. I prefer to make my own of course but hey, sometimes laziness beats la gourmandaise. The dish had good intentions but was completely overpowered by the sauce however delicious it might have been. I think Emma was happy with it and was buttered up enough for me to watch some wicked ball at her apartment. Just kidding. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Amuse-Bouches Experimentation

I read an article a few days ago about amuse-bouches, the small introductory tastes offered by the chef before a fine meal, and ever since I have had my mind on them. They are a great way for a chef to express him or herself with a fun little one or two-bite treat. Good amuse-bouches are as much a visual feast as they are an edible one, setting forth the culinary philosophy of the chef while marking the start of the meal. I have never thought to serve an amuse to guests at dinner parties so I decided to experiment. People obsessed with food and eating as a whole whether you call them gourmets, foodies, slow food advocates, what have you, do excessive things in the kitchen from time to time. I admit to baking entire pies, cooking massive meals, and eating far too many snacks in a day when left to my own devices. I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen and occasionally it goes so overboard that I cannot help but laugh at my behavior. For instance today after eating a fantastic Saba filled breakfast my mind wandered to amuse-bouches as a thought popped in my head; risotto cakes. After rummaging through the fridge I had a small pile of ingredients to work with and set about bringing my risotto cake with tomato jam and sun dried tomato vinaigrette amuse to fruition. I rolled little balls of leftover risotto from the night before and fried them in olive oil. After they were crispy with a dark brown crust on both sides I plated them individually with a dollop of tomato jam, something I bought at the farmer’s market, and vinaigrette. For said vinaigrette I pureed sun dried tomatoes with smoked paprika, olive oil, and sherry vinegar. The bright red sauce had a smoky tomato flavor that contrasted with the sweet taste of the jam and the cheesy risotto cake. I know it sounds a little weird to hang out prepping amuse-bouches at home on a Monday afternoon but believe me I got a kick out of it. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Saba And Scramble

It seems I have grown overly attached to poached eggs, shunning other egg incarnations in favor of their delicate texture and perfectly runny yolks. Don’t get me wrong, poached eggs are fantastic and versatile whether on their own or as a garnish to salads, soups, and warm appetizers. Despite my high opinion of poaching it is time move on and reincorporate other methods of cooking eggs into my arsenal. Omelets used to be my go to but they are hard to make for a group of hungry hung-over diners on Sunday morning, making you feel like a short order chef. I then moved on to scrambles, the most basic of techniques, using several ingredients loosely with lots of improvisation to see what flavor combinations would work. My favorite is chorizo, smoked Gouda, and scallion scramble accompanied by wheat toast generously buttered with Kerry Gold Irish butter. Scrumptious. The last of my egg periods prior to my poaching bout was devoted to frittatas or tortillas as they call them in Spain; the thick fluffy egg dishes that look almost like quiches or cakes. They typically serve them in tapas joints with bell peppers, onions, and potatoes involving a combination of sautéing and then broiling to evenly cook the eggs. I made one for Easter lunch as a matter of fact with bacon, bell pepper, and scallions mirroring the Spanish paragon. I closed my poached egg chapter this morning with a scramble, returning to my most trusted method of cooking eggs. I tossed three of my mother’s Red Hen Farm eggs with Greek feta, a minced shallot, and salt & pepper. After the eggs had cooked, just firm and in large curds, I topped them with fines herbs namely tarragon, cilantro, and parsley. The eggs were perfectly cooked and packed with Mediterranean flavor that I gobbled up in two seconds flat with a little toast and a unique preserve.

My good friend Jessica’s mother, a wine maker and distributor extraordinaire, owns and operates Topanga Vineyards in California. Sandy is extremely knowledgeable and boasts a formidable array of wines. She also happens to be a very nice person and a true foodie. Jessica recently gave me a small jar of Saba, a wine byproduct made by Sandy herself. It is a thin jam or conserve with a deep purple color and intense grape flavor. It is not overbearingly sweet and has a light tannin taste with a fruity background of both fresh and dried grapes. It is absolutely delicious on anything from toast and pancakes to roasted pork or cheese boards. Saba is definitely worth checking out though I have no idea about its availability since I was lucky enough to be gifted a jar that I have been eating with shocking speed. Here’s to a tasty breakfast of Saba and scramble. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Rainy Risotto

There is nothing worse than a dreary day being locked indoors waiting out a rainstorm. So instead of chilling in the sunshine at central park or on the tennis court I spent the day lazily in front of the television and computer, rearranging the blog while watching a few ball games. The rain does have one perk; the bad weather motivates me to stay in and cook. This drizzly morning I was craving poached eggs and set right to work on some eggy goodness. After my tasty breakfast of two eggs on English muffins with smoked paprika, I already had my mind on dinner. My mother came into town this afternoon to spend a few days in the city so I wanted to cook something nice for her that we could sit together and eat. The two of us enjoyed a truffle and parsley risotto, green salad, and cheese course. Risottos are super easy to make and are absolutely delicious when cooked right. I began the dish by sautéing some chopped onions and garlic briefly in a pot before adding the rice to toast for a few minutes. I then deglazed the pan with a little dry vermouth, the only alcohol I had on hand, though it did impart a sweet top note. I used homemade vegetable stock flavored with tons of fresh herbs, ramps, and carrots, gradually ladled in as it became absorbed. I finished the risotto with a few healthy squirts of Italian white truffle paste, truffle salt, and a handful of chopped parsley for color and vibrancy.

I have been on a Bibb lettuce kick recently and tonight was no exception. Beets are another one of my current favorites and I eat them regularly whether roasted, boiled, or pickled. Roasted beets have a lovely earthiness that adds character to any dish and I love their color particularly when set against green lettuce leaves. I tossed the leaves and quartered beets with some leftover feta vinaigrette that I made a few nights ago. The salad looked beautiful plated and the cheesy dressing added richness to the crisp greens and roasted beets. It was great to sit and chat with my mother after not seeing her for a few weeks, especially over a couple tasty dishes and cold beers. I guess rainy days can be enjoyable after all. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Anthropologist Dines

Last night Valerie and I stayed in for a quiet meal at home. We had a few episodes of Big Love left to catch up on so I made us a little supper before we tucked into the couch. The menu consisted of Boston lettuce salad with feta vinaigrette and carrot soup with cilantro. This delicious soup and salad combo was mighty fine eats if I may say and the creamy dressing of pureed Greek feta, sherry vinegar, and olive oil was out of this world. Besides cooking and feeding others I am fascinated by anything related to agriculture and food provisioning. One of my favorite things to do is peruse the farmer’s market and talk to local participants. In my foyers into food anthropology, my academic passion, the organic movement and farmer’s markets have taken center stage in my research. In the spring of 2007 while living in Santa Cruz, I conducted a short-term ethnographic project among a small group of local farmers at the local Saturday market. Over a twelve-week period I hung out and interviewed farmers in hopes of understanding the multiple meanings of and motivations behind organics. I participated as consumer, casually walking through the market; vendor, packaging produce and talking with customers; and researcher, taking photographs and conducting interviews. During my time I witnessed firsthand the fusion of farming, rebellion, and identity driving organic farmers. At the heart of my research was the dynamic between farmer and consumer coupling food safety with cultural identity established, celebrated, and propagated in the interactive space of the market. Anyway without running the risk of sounding too jargony, it is safe to say that I am a big proponent of organics, sustainability, and high quality fresh food.

In the spirit of sustainability I have recently gotten way into using every bit of foods whether scraps, trimmings, or leftovers. I have been keeping my cooking fats, reusing sauces or unused raw ingredients, and bits of otherwise wasted materials like vegetable stems or peels. There is a bag in my crisper where I toss all my reject pieces of organic matter and produce byproducts from the preparation of meals to make stock with. The bag reached full capacity recently; a mix of carrot peels and tops, herb bottoms of nearly six different types, and tons of ramp greens. I threw everything into a pot with a couple of onions, garlic cloves, and bay leaves, covered it with cold water, and simmered the whole thing for about two hours. I strained the aromatic amber broth and used it in the carrot soup that imparted a lovely onion and herb flavor to the dish; a superbly flavorful substitute to canned stock or water. I recommend making this light and simple yet intensely flavored soup at home for your friends on a cold rainy day or as a starter for a dinner party. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Carrot Soup With Cilantro
Serves 4

1 Small Yellow Onion, chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
8 Large Carrots, cut into 1/2” rounds
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Cup Cilantro
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk, plus more for garnish
1 Tsp. Curry Powder
Salt & Pepper

1. Heat a bit of olive oil in a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium high and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and cook about a minute until fragrant. Add the carrots and cook until just tender, about 8 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a steady simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes until the carrots are tender.
2. While the soup is simmering, throw the cilantro and 1/2 cup of olive oil into a high-speed blender or food processor. Blend until completely emulsified and strain through a fine chinois or cheesecloth. Set the cilantro oil aside.
3. After the soup is done cooking, puree it in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour into a saucepan over low heat. Add a 1/2 of a cup of coconut milk along with the curry powder, salt, and pepper. Heat through, stirring often.
4. Serve in individual bowls with a swirl of cilantro oil, coconut milk, and a cilantro leaf for garnish. Enjoy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Sandwich: Tuna Melt

I have been feeling a little under the weather recently. I don’t mean in the sick sense of the word though I have been coughing a bit which leads me irrationally to believe I have contracted swine flu. I mean generally run down due to a lack of sleep and my stubborn allergies. Ever since I frolicked around out of doors as a toddler I have suffered from seasonal allergies; mainly spring when flowers go crazy and pollen runs rampant. Sniffling, sneezing, and itchy eyes are the principal symptoms of this springtime malady which rears its ugly head at the first sign of warm weather. This morning I awoke after a fantastic night’s sleep, hitting the pillow early and rising late. I was feeling a sandwich given I had missed the breakfast window and rummaged around the refrigerator to see what I could throw together. I have been on a sandwich kick since I revisited my early Pomander posts, the first one in particular featuring a warm chicken salad sandwich on wheat. I found a can of tuna in olive oil in the pantry along with a few slices of honey oat bread. Thankfully there are always a ton of fresh herbs in my crisper, one of the guiding flavor components in my cooking. I whisked together some mayonnaise, dill, cilantro, parsley, chopped caper berries, and salt & pepper to make an herbed mayo. I added the flaked tuna, drained well of excess olive oil, to the mayo and spread it on a piece of toasted bread. I broiled the second piece of bread topped with a few slices of aged Comté, the same cheese I used on my chicken sandwich. The resulting dish was both tasty and filling with a generous mound of herbed tuna salad and nutty, salty cheese to compliment the fish. What can I say except sandwiches are great. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!