Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Smitten with Bitten

If you haven't gotten hooked on Mark Bittman's NYtimes blog, Bitten, I seriously suggest you take a look. Today he blogged about radish salad. This is great! I always want to buy radishes at the market because they look so nice, but honestly I have no clue what to do with them. (A quick tangent about radishes while they're on my mind: I was treated to a remarkable gazpacho this weekend at a dinner party in Bushwick. I've never liked gaspacho, but this was slightly creamy, almost like chilled bisque. I would have never guesed radish is what gives this dish a special kick.) I love his conversational, light tone; his ideas about food and how to approach the kitchen are welcoming to the novice and encouraging/inspirational for the foodies and unabashed cooks among us. Wednesday is the Times' Dining & Wine Section day which is such a nice thing to look forward to and pleasantly marks the milestone of a passing week. Today Bittman (so gently!) addressed cutting down the meat in your diet.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Amherst Weekend 2008

Every year, my friend, Sarah, takes me with her out of the city to her parent's house in Amherst, MA for Memorial Day weekend. We ride through the fields with the windows rolled down listening to pop music from the '90s, we watch movies, we hang out with her folks, and consequently, we eat great food. Highlights from Amherst Weekend 2008 include:

Greene St. Café in Northampton-- a restaurant after my own heart in so many, many ways. On the front door there was a simple list of all the local ingredients that were incorporated into the evening's menu: swiss chard, asparagus, and wild mushrooms to name a few. The decided favorite at our table was the lavender creme anglaise we ate by the spoonful for dessert.

Flayvors at Cooks Farm in Hadley-- eat your ice cream and wander around the farm. What could be better? Their signiture flavor is grass ice cream, so you can graze just like those happy cows you're moo-ing at.

The Roadhouse-- the apple does not fall far from the tree. At age 25 my dad opened the Fleetwood Diner in Ann Arbor, MI. He ran it for three years and surprisingly still loves (always has) a good diner breakfast. What can I say? I'm my father's daughter, and The Roadhouse offers up nothing but the best-- sour cream coffee cake, asparagus goat cheese omlettes, banana bread french toast, and always very crispy, very brown, garlicy potatoes. Sarah often suggests other breakfast places to try, but I will not be deterred-- Amherst Weekend only rolls around once a year, and I won't take my chances.

The only tough part about Amherst Weekend is tearing myself away from those green pastures of the Happy Valley and boarding a train to go back to New York. As luck would have it tough, the strawberries had arrived by the time I made it home, and just like that I was back in the swing of the city.

Rhubarb and Seas of Strawberries

A few weeks ago, when the rhubarb had just come into the market in the city I bought some of those bitter, biting stalks and packed them in my bag to go to Amherst, MA for Memorial Day weekend. I offered the still-sandy rhubarb to my hosts as a gift, and effectively we got to do a little cooking together. What exactly do you do with rhubarb? How much sugar do you need to add to take the bite out? I would have just gone in head first, adding and tasting until my tongue was raw from all that tartness. My hostess, Sally, is (luckily) so much more practical and found a recipe.

1 1/4 lbs. rhubarb
1/4 c. water
3/4 c. sugar
2 tbs. Grand Marnier

Wash and chop up the rhubarb, throw it in a pot, and add the water. Stir until the mixture has come to a boil. Add sugar and stir constantly until the rhubarb has mostly disintigrated. Remove from heat and add grand marnier. Chill and serve over vanilla ice cream.

It was, of course, as simple as it sounds, and even more delicious. When the dinner guests asked where on earth the rhubarb had come from (it was not nearly in season yet in Western Mass.) I smiled and said I picked it from the city.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sing It, Dan!

In case you missed Dan Barber's Op-ed in Sunday's Times...his closing line "The future belongs to the gourmet," is music to my ears.

Spring Soup for the Allergy-prone Soul

In a snap I have gone from sympathizer to sufferer: the allergies have hit. Since my mother is far from here, the next best solution to fixing a sore throat is to fix a bowl of soup. In my fridge I've got greens, greens, and more greens, and I'm in a race to polish them off before I go back to the market tomorrow! So, spring soup.

Here's what I came up with on the fly:
1/2 purple onion, diced and sautéed in a little olive oil
1 cube vegetable boullion
2 c. water

I let this all simmer while I washed the following:
1/2 c. fresh flat leaf parsley
1/2 a bundle of arugala (about 1 c. when chopped)
2 c. chopped baby spinach leaves
4 scallions

I chopped up the greens, added them to the boiling stock, let it all cook down for a few minutes, and voila! lunch. I'm feeling better already.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Annette's Recipes

Last fall I called my grandma from Central Park on a Sunday afternoon to check in and say hello. I'd just started a new part-time job (I didn't tell her it was really more of an unpaid internship), was looking forward to a trip to Africa, and was working shifts at a cafe to make ends meet. "Are you ever going to pick a career and really do something with your life?" she attacked. Of course my plan of piecing little jobs together felt questionable to me too, but no one in my family has ever questioned the decisions I've made, and she touched on some very raw nerves. "How old are you now? 25?" she went on, digging deeper into the wound. "When are you finally going to settle down?" Actually I was only 23, just a year out of college, and I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I didn't need her to restate the obvious, stability was nowhere in sight and I knew it. A sob had already erupted; I shut the phone off and threw it into the grass. A few minutes later I called my mom "I'm never going to call her again!" I wailed. And, for a few months I didn't.

By the time I was about to leave for Africa she'd written me a letter of apology, and by the time I went home for Christmas we silently agreed to forget the whole thing had ever happened. By then I'd begun writing about food which is what she used to do for one of the local papers, and ever since our conversations have stuck closely to recipes and techniques which is intriguing and safe ground for both of us. Now I call on the way to the grocery store to ask how she makes her pearled onions (it's a special kind of thickener called Wondra), or what is in the dressing on her grapefruit and fennel salad (the key is a little anise licour in the dressing). Just yesterday I received the first of what I hope will be many hand written recipes, scrawled out in her French handwriting on an index card, complete with a list of ingredients and a shopping list with a note saying that this is the most practical way to go about preparing to cook a new dish. The recipe is for ginger and barley soup, and she promises a note on how to make St. Honoré, a French birthday cake, is on its way next. I called to thank her for the letter, and she dove right in, just as if we'd been mid-conversation in her living room back in Michigan. "Now if you're really serious about cooking, and I think you are, you need to have about twelve basic recipes under your belt." I was on the way to meet a friend at a block party. As she noted that soufflés were a must for the twelve, as is a good hollandaise, I passed abandoned lots just north of Flatbush, and let her lessons distract me from the grey industrial buildings and gray sky and the fact that I was running late. "If you can make a good hollandaise, you can dress up many things. And you know, you're going to have to get over this meat thing because you'll have to keep it interesting for the people you're serving." It has taken her six years to figure out how to leave a message on my cell phone, and three to remember where she's written down my address in New York so she can send me letters. It is quite fitting that she's remembered these key details of communication only now that the messages she has to convey are about what to cook. She was all business about the top twelve, and after I got off the phone I thought how lucky I am to have this French grandma.

In Cooking for Mr. Latté, Amanda Hesser writes about building her repertoire in preparation for becoming a wife. For months leading up to her wedding she tries to narrow down eight dishes that will be her standbys-- the recipes she'll be able to cook wherever she is, for whomever is coming to dinner-- those that will be known and remembered by all as signature Amanda. When I read this, the notion seemed decidedly old-fashioned, very dowry, and man-takes-a-wife rather than man-and-woman-take-each other. Unlike many tidbits my grandmother has passed along over the years ("that gray t-shirt does nothing for your eyes") the top twelve seemed practical, and even touching. The last time she tried to address how I was coming into myself as an adult I hung up on her. What does she know about the perils of being a young person in New York in an age of cell phones and blogs? I wouldn't have her balking at my tiny triumphs, and I wouldn't take the time to explain why, say, securing an unpaid internship at a top food magazine was in fact something to be proud of. While I don't know that she will ever cling on to the vernacular of blogs, or flogs, or vlogs, she does know food, and I have grown up hearing stories about a bouillabaisse she made once that quieted an entire table of ten dinner guests with the first sip. I have heard about the curried eggs she made for my parent's wedding brunch, and I remember her testing variations for pie crusts and chocolate mousse in the early years of my parent's inn in Maine-- these were the recipes that guests begged for at the end of their meals. She got married before she graduated from college, a fact that in my mind has always separated us in terms of where she was when she was my age. But despite the vast differences in how we passed our early 20's she just might know a thing or two about learning one's way around a kitchen, and now we both might be old enough to talk about how one goes about learning these lessons.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Midnight Snack

I know, I know, it's terrible to eat before you go to bed...but I was hungry! And I'd missed dinner in order to attend a community garden meeting, and then I came home, starving and boggled by how much bureaucracy goes in to organizing a communal space to grow flowers in this city. I needed to unwind, and my belly was longing for a snack. In the ice box I found the last of the baby portabellas and asparagus I bought on Saturday at the Greenmarket, and then I had to use up the scallions, oh! and there was the fresh goat cheese rolled in cracked pepper. I might have been easily sated by a cup of tea and a piece of toast, but late night inspiration got the better of me, and in no time I was steaming the asparagus and sautéeing it with garlic and soy sauce. In went the carefully sliced mushrooms and the rounds of scallions. Then, because I couldn't help myself, I took out a bag of rarely-used corn meal and mixed a spoonful with some hot water to make a quick cornmeal mush. The porridge thickens almost immediately when you add the cornmeal to the boiling water and it has such a nice, light, barely-sweet flavor to it. I spooned this into a favorite bowl, then poured my vegetables on top and finished the dish with a medallion of goat cheese. Everything except for the cornmeal and the soy sauce was local, and all of it sang me right to sleep.