Wednesday, April 29, 2009

ramping it up

I know you've all been anxiously awaiting the big reveal. I promised you a farmer's market-inspired spring dinner, so without further ado, here goes:

Springtime supper
Meyer lemon soda
Asparagus, prosciutto, and fried eggs with ramp pesto
Strawberries with rose petal jam

This menu is tasty but light, which is what I'm always in the mood for this time of year. And it's also quick enough to throw together on a weeknight, on the off chance people are coming over after work. A recipe for the asparagus, prosciutto, and fried eggs isn't really necessary. It's one of those great dishes that was born out of what happened to be in the fridge and can be easily thrown together. But it looks and tastes way better than the sum of its parts.

Here's what you do: blanch a bunch of trimmed asparagus (throw them in boiling water for about five minutes, then drain the asparagus and submerge them in ice water), while you fry up a few eggs in a pat of butter. I like two eggs per person for a main dish, but one egg per person could work if you're serving other things. Divide the asparagus up among your plates and drape a few slices of prosciutto prettily over the spears. Top with the fried eggs, a shaving of parmesan, and a few dollops of garlic-y, onion-y, ramp pesto.

A few quick words about ramps (a.k.a. wild leeks). In the April issue, Bon Appetit offers a few helpful hints on working with them, mainly removing the slippery film that covers the end of the bulb. Otherwise, you can treat ramps like spring onions or leeks. Just chop off the roots, and use the bulbs and leaves. To make the pesto, you briefly sauté the stems and bulbs, then puree them with the leaves, some tarragon, and the usual pesto suspects: cheese, nuts, and olive oil. But this isn't your typical basil pesto.

Ramps have a pungent, spicy flavor that lingers well beyond dinner. Needless to say Dan and I weren't smelling like roses after this meal. I actually woke up the next morning with the taste of ramps still in my mouth. (TMI?) But like lots of delicious, stinky foods, they are well worth it. And if you and your partner are the only ones eating, then who cares, really? Otherwise, mouthwash recommended.

Ramp pesto
I made a few tweaks to the recipe, from Bon Appetit. I substituted parmesan cheese for Asiago and pine nuts for Marcona almonds because that's what I had on hand. I also added a squeeze of lemon in the end, for some much-needed acidity. And I mixed the cheese by hand, which creates a nicer texture, in my opinion. In the original recipe, the pesto is served with seared salmon and linguine, if you have leftovers and need inspiration.
(Serves about 6 people)

2 Tbsp. plus 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
2/3 cup thinly sliced trimmed ramp bulbs and slender stems plus 3 cups thinly sliced green tops (from about 8 ounces ramps)
1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese (I used parmesan)
1/3 cup Marcona almonds (I used 1/2 cup pine nuts)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 lemon, juiced

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2/3 cup ramp bulbs and stems to skillet and sauté just until soft but not browned, reducing heat if necessary to prevent browning, about 5 minutes. Transfer sautéed ramps to processor. Add green tops, nuts, and tarragon to processor; process until finely chopped. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup oil and puree until almost smooth. Transfer pesto to bowl. Add the cheese and lemon juice and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Strawberries with rose petal jam
I realize that rose petal jam isn't something most people have on hand. I didn't have any myself, but my mom bought a jar while she was visiting us, and then realized it was more than three ounces so she couldn't take it on the plane. Her loss, my gain.

I've been devouring (literally and figuratively) the recipes in David Tanis' cookbook, A Platter of Figs. It's full of delicious-sounding dishes and is organized by menu, which I find really helpful and inspiring, even if I don't always make everything he suggests in the order he suggests. And even though he's an Alice Waters devotee, his voice and cooking style is very down to earth.

One recipe, which is so simple I almost flipped right past it, is for rose-scented strawberries. He writes that strawberries are botanically related to roses (interesting, right?) and that they taste wonderful together. After reading that, I immediately bought some berries and cracked open Mom's jam. It was the next best thing to rose water, I figured, so I mixed about a half a cup of jam into a pint of sliced strawberries. And he was right. While the jam has a very subtle, floral, honey-like flavor, it melded extremely well with the berries. Not to sound corny, but it was absolutely ambrosial. If you have some actual rose water on hand, I'd love to know how it goes.

Rose-scented strawberries
Here is the original recipe. I substituted about 1/2 cup rose petal jam for the sugar, rose water and kirsch.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

2 pints organic strawberries
Kirsch (fruit brandy)
Organic rose syrup

Rinse the berries briefly in cold water and lay them on a kitchen towel. Discard any imperfect fruit (or make jam out of it). With a paring knife or huller, remove the leaves and cores, taking care to leave the natural berry shape. Cut large berries into wedges or slices. Cover and keep at room temperature until ready to serve. Just before serving, put the berries into a mixing bowl, sprinkle lightly with sugar, splash with a little kirsch. Add 2 teaspoons rose syrup and toss gently until all is glistening. Put the berries in a beautiful bowl and take them to the table. [Aren't his recipes so poetic?]

Monday, April 27, 2009

market inspiration

What could be better cooking inspiration than the farmer's market on a sunny, 75 degree day? Here are some shots from last weekend, and later in the week, I'll show you what I made. (Hint: it involves the above photo. I know, the suspense is killing you.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

a delicious no-brainer

Pint of ice cream + bag of cookies = instant dessert

This is a really no-brainer idea, but it is a lifesaver when you're having company over and don't want to fuss or bake (well, I suppose you could bake the cookies) but would still like the illusion of serving something not straight off the bakery shelf. Although that's okay in my book as well.

On that note, happy weekend. Keep things simple and go enjoy the cherry blossoms.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

when life gives you absinthe examine the bottle's pretty label and put it on a shelf. And look at it. For weeks. (If you're me, that is.)

It's not that I'm afraid of absinthe. I just wasn't sure what to do with it. It feels incredibly decadent and, well, sort of wrong to sit around sipping absinthe while watching Number One Ladies Detective Agency. I don't live in an opium den.

My only experience with absinthe was when I went to Europe after graduating from college. It was one of those tours for people under 30, which attracted a mixed crowd of couples, Australians, and a few lone, single Americans, like myself. We all drank our way through England, Amsterdam, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy, where I first tasted absinthe.

We were in Venice, I think—these memories are all hazier than I'd like them to be—at a dinner with a few other tour groups. We sat in a semi-tacky dining room and there was lots of wine and some sort of forgettable pasta dish, and we all sang "That's Amore" at one point. Things were getting sort of rowdy when our tour guide produced a bottle of absinthe. "Dude! That stuff will make you go blind," said one of my American traveling companions. Before I could even brace myself, my head was suddenly pulled back and there was a burning, licorice-flavored sensation shooting down my throat. The tour guide went down the table, just like that, pouring long shots of absinthe into everyone's mouths. The women squealed and puckered their lips and grabbed for their water glasses, the men pounded the table and asked for more. My first real shot of espresso in Rome was much more pleasurable.

Sometimes PR people read this blog and send me products to try, mainly alcohol for some reason. Dan wants to know why I never get sent edible things, like a whole ham. (Honey Baked Ham people, are you out there?) A few months ago, I was sent a bottle of Mata Hari absinthe, which is supposedly good for mixed drinks. I've read about absinthe cocktails and seen them on bar menus—they were all the rage when the liquor became legal in the U.S. a few years ago. And eventually, after staring down that bottle on my shelf, I found a recipe worth trying in Imbibe magazine, a journal of cocktail culture and anything else relating to beverages, alcoholic and not.

The recipe is for an absinthe frappé, which is not what it sounds like: a blended smoothie-like drink. I believe frappé refers to the type of glass, but I could be wrong. Anyway, the cocktail is a peppery mix of absinthe, soda water, simple syrup, and herbs, served on the rocks.

The verdict? Quite a step up from my surprise attack in Venice. It has a very strong herbal flavor from the basil and the absinthe, which also give the drink a pretty, pale green hue. If you like aperol, or drinks made with Campari, I think you'd dig it. But if the mere thought of licorice makes your toenails curl, I'd go with something milder. Like a beer.

Absinthe frappish
The original recipe calls for mint, but I used basil instead. It was unclear to me whether I should strain out the basil or not, so I left it in. I also made a few other tweaks, thus the name. Imbibe editors: I am clearly not a cocktail expert, but thanks for the inspiration.

1 1/2 oz. absinthe (like Mata Hari)
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. soda water (I doubled this)
6 to 8 mint leaves (I used 4 large basil leaves)
Crushed ice

Muddle the mint leaves in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add absinthe and simple syrup to an ice-filled shaker and shake vigorously until outside of shaker begins to frost. Pour the contents into glass filled with crushed ice, top with a splash of soda (or more).

Monday, April 20, 2009

a public service announcement

If you come across muscat grapes in your grocery store, grab them up like there's no tomorrow. Elbow that little old lady out of the produce aisle and be greedy. I'm being serious. These are, without a doubt, the best grapes I've ever eaten. Rosy and golden in color, they taste like a musky, slightly sweet glass of white wine, which makes sense because that is what they are primarily used for, especially sparkling wines like Asti Spumante.

Use them to fancy up a cheese plate, roast them with pork, freeze them for an icy snack, or just eat a pound of them straight out of the bag, like I did at work last week, dribbling juice all over my keyboard. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, April 17, 2009


In honor of tax week, here's a round-up of budget-minded links. Even if the IRS didn't help itself to the contents of your wallet (and couch cushions, and coin purse, etc.) this year, it always feels good to save a little money.

Consumer Reports (via Serious Eats) has tips on saving money at the supermarket. And there's even more good ideas in the comments section: shop at ethnic markets, eat less meat, use bulk bins for grains and other pantry staples, stock up on basics when they are on sale. All good things to be reminded of. [via SE]

Box wines: yea or nea? Southern Living food editor Donna Florio (also my former roommate!) found a few inexpensive brands worth drinking. [via Eating My Words]

Cheap eats:
Wednesday Chef tries Mark Bittman's egg noodles with soy broth [via Wednesday Chef]

The always-lovely Pink of Perfection reminds us that date night can be spent dining in at home, and be just as fun. [via POP]

Smitten Kitchen makes a luscious-looking potato gratin that would be great served up with a simple salad, I bet [via Smitten Kitchen]

And over at Pithy & Cleaver's month-long grilled cheese extravaganza, there's enough options to make your head spin. I don't know how those girls are eating all of those sandwiches! [via P&C]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

easy like (easter) sunday morning

Dan and I spent Easter at our friends Mike and Johanna's new apartment in Brooklyn Heights. We, and a few other friends, ate doughnuts and the gorgeous Spanish tortilla you see above in their sunny living room until the sun actually started to set and we wondered where the whole day went. It was the nicest Sunday afternoon I've spent in a long time, and a perfect example of how to feed a group of friends without making yourself crazy.

Everything was delicious, a perfect ratio of homemade and store-bought stuff. I brought a salad and Mike made the tortilla: puffed and golden layers of egg and onion and potatoes, cut into wedges. There were also bagels, cream cheese, and lox, and completely over-the-top doughnuts from Doughnut Plant. People helped themselves to a big pitcher of bloody Marys and Jo poured (and poured) mimosas.

Later in the afternoon there was a giant chocolate Easter egg from Jacques Torres that we cracked open with a wooden spoon. It took many tries, which I think was more of an indication of the cocktails consumed, not our communal strength.

And out came a little chicken! And an egg! Aww.

Even though this might have been the largest gathering Mike and Jo have had in their admittedly small (Mike called it a "view with a room") studio, they were not flustered in the least. The food and drinks seemed totally effortless on their part, although I know it never really is. I think part of the reason it looked so easy is because they did some careful shopping along with a little cooking.

You don't have to make everything from scratch. Sometimes you feel tremendous, irrational pressure to put out a fabulous spread and cook everything yourself. At least I know I do. And sometimes you're in the mood to cook up and storm and it's fun. And sometimes you don't want to cook at all and just order in. All of which are fine options--well, not option A, but it happens. So save yourself the angst and do a little of both: cooking and shopping. Everyone will think the meal is wonderful, and more importantly, that you're wonderful.

Having a killer view doesn't hurt either.

Easter brunch at Mike & Jo's
Bloody Marys
Spanish tortilla
Bagels with lox, cream cheese, tomato, and red onion
Assorted doughnuts
Arugula with pears, endive, and hazelnuts
Humbolt Fog cheese
Chocolate Easter egg

Spanish tortilla
This was so good. And it's so smart for brunch because you can serve it warm or at room temperature. Not to mention that it feeds a crowd for next to nothing. Mike says: I used two skillets of about the same size for this, but it could be done using just the one, especially if it's non-stick. Your skillet needs to be large (the size of the tortilla) and fairly deep, about 2 to 3 inches.
(Serves about 8 people)

8 eggs
1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 or 2 onions, roughly chopped (depending on how oniony you'd like it)
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Beat the eggs in a bowl. Season them with salt. Heat a frying pan with abundant olive oil and fry the potatoes. Turn them to try to brown both sides. Once the potatoes have browned a bit, add onions to the pan, stir. After 3 or 4 minutes, cover the pan to let potatoes get a little mushy, but keep stirring and flipping them so they brown and cook evenly (I didn't see any browning once I added the onions, so you'll probably want to brown them to the level you want before adding). When the potatoes break easily with a spoon, they're ready. Transfer the cooked potatoes and onions to the eggs, reserving the oil in the pan. Mix it up well. If necessary, add more oil to the pan. It doesn't have to be as much now as when cooking the potatoes, but you don't want sticking; if you're using two pans, well-oil the clean one now. Cook over low-med heat. When the pan is hot, add the mixture and quickly distribute it around pan. When the edges of the tortilla are hard but the center is still runny (around 5 minutes), it's time to flip it. Use a plate larger than the skillet of course and do it over the sink because a lot of eggy, juicy stuff will run over the edges of the plate. Transfer back to pan immediately to cook the other side. It will cook through in around 5 mins. That's it!

Alternatively, if you wanted to avoid flipping, you can just transfer the pan to the oven once you've poured your eggs/potatoes/onions back into it. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until browned. (I've never tried this version.)

Arugula with pears, endive, fennel, and hazelnuts
Although it's not really Latin at all, this salad is inspired by a recent dinner at Palo Santo, a very, very good Latin American restaurant in our neighborhood. I served it with a wedge of Humbolt Fog on the side, but you could crumble blue cheese into the salad instead.
(serves about 6 to 8 people)

For the salad:
3 pears, cut into 1/2 inch-wide slices
1/2 lemon, juiced
4 handfuls baby arugula, washed
2 endive, washed and sliced into 1/2 inch-wide slices
1 small head of fennel, washed and sliced into 1/2 inch-wide slices
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

For the dressing:
2 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup
3 Tbsp. grainy mustard
4 Tbsp. white wine or Champagne vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

In a small bowl, toss the pears in the lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. In a large bowl or on a large platter, arrange your greens and top with the pears. Sprinkle the nuts on top. To make the dressing, whisk the first three ingredients together until blended. Slowly whisk in the oil until it's emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the salad just before serving.

Monday, April 13, 2009

guest post: pasta prima donna

Now that my lovely wife is blogging fondly about boyfriends past, I'd say it's time for another guest post. Just kidding! I've been meaning to write this one for a while. It's a response to all those comments saying, "Does your husband know how lucky he is?" And my response is: yes. But I can cook, too! Really! Look at me!

I’m not saying I’m a virtuoso of the whisk and ladle like our beloved blogger. But I’m competent, more or less. And what better time to prove said competence than when your in-laws are visiting?

Lisa’s parents are just as happy huddled around our coffee table at home as they are at a restaurant, which was more than fine by me. It’s easy to get foodied out in this town, especially when your wife writes about fancy parties for a living and you get to tag along. You already read about the fabulous dinner Lisa made for all of us. That Sunday night, it was my turn.

Of course, I wasn’t about to whip up a pie or roast grapes or undertake any other daredevil culinary feats. The last thing I needed was for David and Donna to learn that the man to whom they entrusted their daughter has a tendency to set things on fire…things like croutons, recipe print-outs, and his own arm hair. Nor did I want to run the risk of killing them with undercooked pork chops (a specialty) or improperly sliced blowfish.

Did I mention that I’m a competent cook? I really am! But you know what it’s like when you have the performance pressure of cooking for a group. (Well, you don’t, Lisa, but the rest of us…) I needed something fool-proof. Fortunately, I had a secret weapon: the 30th anniversary issue of Food & Wine, which has turned out to be one of the best cookbooks we own. Every recipe is simple, quick, and delicious.

I went for the pasta with sausage, basil, and mustard dreamed up by British cookbook author Nigel Slater. This is one of those peculiar pastas that don’t rely on cheese, butter, or garlic for their flavor. The key, I think, is the spicy mustard, although, obviously, the better and hotter the sausage, the stronger the kick.

I suppose you’re waiting for the disaster that inevitably ensued: like I forgot to buy the right mustard so I had to go with the yellow squeeze-bottle stuff, or I watched in horror as Lisa’s dad slurped up the sausage casing I thought I’d discarded. Sorry to disappoint, but the evening went off without a hitch. No, really! I’ll admit I did have some trouble getting a stubborn cork out of the wine bottle. Lisa, hovering over my shoulder like an angel of mercy, asked me several times if I wanted help. And like any husband fully comfortable with his manhood, I said I wanted no such thing. Thus the Prima Donna part of the title. Also, my mother-in-law’s name is Donna. Get it? It’s a play on words! [Ed note: I would have called this post "Dan Can Cook."]

Special thanks to David and Donna for seeming to enjoy my dinner just as much as Lisa’s. I think about the parents of some of my past girlfriends (I had to work the past girlfriends in here somewhere!), and once I’ve recovered my Buddha nature, I realize how lucky I am to have the unqualified acceptance of two such great people.

A couple of notes about the recipe: I used corn pasta so that Lisa could eat it. It’s not bad actually, and it works better with this recipe than with others because it only comes in small shapes. And while I said that this recipe doesn’t use cheese, a little parmesan or pecorino never hurt anyone, right?

And one note on tools: Kitchen shears work best for removing sausage from its casing. I will spare you the messy trials and gruesome errors that led me to this conclusion.

Sunday Night Dinner a la Daniel
Pasta with spicy sausage, mustard, and basil
Arugula with tomatoes, fennel, and a lemon vinaigrette

Pasta with spicy sausage, mustard, and basil
A winner from Nigel Slater via Food & Wine.
(serves about 6 people)

1 lb. penne or medium shells
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
8 hot Italian sausages, meat removed from casings and crumbled (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp. grainy mustard
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 cup thinly sliced basil

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente; drain. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the sausage meat and brown over moderately high heat, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and simmer, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the cream, mustard and crushed red pepper and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat, add the pasta and basil and toss to coat. Serve at once.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

link-o-rama (and a geronimo update)

I typically celebrate Easter with a sleeve of Peeps, but I realize many of you might be cooking. So here are some ideas:

A beautiful Greek-style leg of lamb from Golidilocks Finds Manhattan [via GFM]

Mini egg tarts for an Easter brunch from Hostess With the Mostess [via HWM]

Steamed artichokes would make a lovely (seasonal) Easter starter. [via NYT]

More Easter menus and ideas. [via Epicurious]

And on a completely unrelated note, many of you have inquired about Geronimo since my original post, wondering if he is still alive, or whether he still likes eating pecans or has moved on to walnuts. I just might have to start the Geronimo Fan Club. Anyway, for those of you who are interested, I am happy to report our little furry friend is all grown up, even learning how to fly. Go, Geronimo, go! [photo via Megan & Butch]

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

dinner for eight (on the road)

Our trip to Philly was so much fun. More fun than the usual giddy feeling you get from being on vacation—the thrill of a change of scenery, time off from work, the
yes-I'll-have-another-margarita-please, kind of feeling. It was even better because we went with our friends, Colin and Anne, whom are not only great travel companions, they also hooked us up with a place to stay at the home of Colin's cousin and his wife. A three-story row house, I might add. (Why are we still living in New York again?)

Anyway, Philly is a beautiful city and a really easy place to get around and eat well. Which we did: smoked salmon omelets at Honey's Sit & Eat, pistachio gelato at Capogiro, taco after taco and incredible ceviches at the funky Distrito, and a retro brunch complete with tater tots at Jones. But Friday night, after we got in, I did something I've never done before: cook dinner in a stranger's kitchen.

As a way to thank our hosts, Anne, nice person that she is, suggested that we cook dinner Friday night. And by we, I mean Colin and me. On the train ride to Philly we "brainstormed", i.e.: flipped through a copy of Food & Wine and ate gummy bears, until Colin and I decided to throw caution to the wind and just let Whole Foods be our inspiration.

Maybe I'm just used to crappy New York City grocery stores and bodegas, but I find Whole Foods to be gloriously overwhelming. Like a lot of shopping experiences that are better in the suburbs (Target, Forever 21), Whole Foods in New York is way too much of a zoo for anything other than quick run in, run out shopping. But in Philly, as in other places, it was a wonderland. Fully-stocked aisles! Friendly customers! Cara cara oranges! Shopping at 3 PM on a weekday doesn't hurt either. We mulled over menus as we pushed our shopping cart around and around. Ideas nixed: spaghetti and meatballs, lamb sausage sandwiches, fried fish sandwiches. Just as I was starting to get nervous and desperately throw things in the cart, we stopped before the seafood counter. I wanted to buy one of everything, which made me think about cioppino, Italian-style seafood stew. How about a big seafood stew, and a nice salad? Maybe some rice on the side? Everyone agreed. Dinner was decided. The guys retreated to the cheese counter.

We carried the groceries home and got caught in a spontaneous sun shower. As we rounded a corner and the rain trailed off, I noticed a crowd of people standing outside of a deli, looking up in the sky and taking photos with their camera phones. There was a double rainbow behind us, streaking across the grey sky. Everyone seemed so delighted by this that it warmed my heart. Sometimes I think New Yorkers wouldn't stop in their tracks for a dead body on the sidewalk, let alone a double rainbow.

Back at our cozy digs, we assessed the kitchen. I opened every drawer looking for a large spoon, which felt delightfully voyeuristic. There was olive oil, there was salt, and there was plenty of Le Cruset (score!). Cooking in foreign territory is kind of exciting, as long as you know you have enough basic stuff to work with. We unpacked the food and I found some wine glasses, so we opened a bottle of wine and ate some cheese. Eventually, Colin's cousin came home and we started making dinner. Colin mysteriously disappeared during most of the prep, but luckily, Dan was there to help out. I am so lucky to have a husband who doesn't mind chopping.

Did I worry about whether everyone would like what I was making? Yes, a little. I only knew three out of the six guests, which meant that I was unaware that Colin's brother doesn't eat seafood. Luckily, it all worked out. (Note to self: always make a big salad.) Everyone helped themselves to the stew and we ate and drank and some people drank and drank. Many toasts were made that evening: to pretty girls, and vacations, and being Irish, and more bizarrely, to Mao. There were so many toasts that Colin was completely out of commission the next day and missed all the good sightseeing. But even he would tell you the cioppino was a good idea. Much more so than all of those gin and tonics.

Philly dinner for eight
Cheese, muscat grapes, and crackers
Cioppino and rice
Butter lettuce with oranges, fennel, and black olives
Ice cream sandwiches

You can use any type of seafood that you'd like, but I recommend a combination of at least three different kinds of shellfish or fish.
(Serves 10 to 12 people)

Olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium-sized fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 28 oz. cans whole plum tomatoes
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 handful of oregano, torn off the stem (or 1 Tbsp. dried oregano)
2 cups dry white wine (I used pinot grigio)
1 lb. mussels, rinsed
1 lb. hake (or other firm, white fish), cut into 2-inch chunks
1 lb. bay scallops
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
salt and pepper

In a large stock pot, add a few glugs of olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Heat the pan over medium heat. Before the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion and fennel. Saute until the vegetables are soft, but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for about one minute. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, oregano, and wine. Bring to a boil, and break up the tomatoes with a long-handled spoon. Once the sauce is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the mussels. Cover the pot with a lid. Let the mussels steam and open, about five minutes. Uncover the lid and add the fish and scallops, stirring to coat with sauce. Cover and let simmer for about ten minutes. Uncover and add the shrimp. Cover and simmer for about five minutes, or until all of the seafood is cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with extra oregano and serve over steamed white rice or with a toasted baguette.

Butter lettuce with oranges, fennel, and olives
Whole Foods had Cara Cara oranges, large red-fleshed citrus fruits that taste like a cross between blood oranges and grapefruit. They were $1.99 each, but I was on vacation and into the cart they went. To give these beauties the attention they deserve, I tossed the oranges in a salad with some sliced fennel and calamata olives, and used the extra juice to make a citrusy vinaigrette. If you have parmesan on hand (we didn't), shave some on top.
(Serves 6 to 8 people as a side dish)

1 large head of butter lettuce
2 oranges (Cara Caras, or regular oranges), peeled, and cut into sections, reserve the peel, pulp, and pith
1 small fennel bulb, sliced thinly
1 handful pitted calamata olives
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Place the lettuce, fennel, olives, and orange sections in a large bowl or platter. Squeeze any remaining juice from the peel, pulp, or any leftover orange bits into a small bowl. Whisk in the remaining three ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Monday, April 6, 2009

sweet potato pie, an ode to

In my early twenties, B.D. (before Dan), I dated a guy from Memphis, Tennessee. We met after colliding into each other, inebriated, in New Orleans. Which pretty much set the tone for the entire relationship. I use the term "relationship" loosely—we mainly drove and flew long distances to spend time together which generally involved eating fried food, going to indie rock shows, and you can probably imagine what else. Although it was not a romance for the ages, it was a lot of fun, mainly because I was able to experience Memphis through the eyes of a born-and-bred local. Some of my happiest travel memories took place there, in the company of that guy: hanging out in the city's seediest and best karaoke joint, turning a corner and unexpectedly seeing the Lorraine Motel under a full moon, feeding a jukebox at the perfect neighborhood bar, touring Graceland and feeling slightly superior to the average slack-jawed tourist, and perhaps most importantly, eating the sweet potato pie of my dreams.

The pie, or should I say, The Pie, resides at Cozy Corner, a small and unassuming barbecue joint. Cozy's is appropriately hazy inside, like all good barbecue establishments. The sweet smell of sauce and spices and meat hits you at the door, promising something really, really good even before you take a look at the menu, which is posted on a wall. There are ribs, and Cornish hens, and pork, and barbecue spaghetti (yes), but what stands out most in my mind is The Pie. After all these years, it is still the sweet potato pie all other sweet potato pies must measure up to in my mind. If I were to describe it—flaky, buttery crust, velvety filling with a hint of spice, soft but not too soft, firm but not too firm—it would sound completely ordinary. But it was perfect.

I've made and eaten many sweet potato pies since then, and I always think of Memphis when I do. Does my pie add up to the legend? Not exactly. I think the ambiance of that smoke-filled restaurant has sweetened my memory a little bit over the years. Isn't that how all good food memories work? I remember eating the pie out of its plastic container and hopping back in the guy's car to go god knows where, feeling young and not knowing what was in store for me, not having a clue that I would move to New York, that I would soon fall in love with my future husband, whom I'd already met six years earlier. Life can be so sweet and so strange.

Sweet potato pie
I like Ruth Riechl's recipe from her book Comfort Me With Apples. It's exactly what you want when you're going for a classic, no-frills sweet potato pie. I used a pre-made crust to save time, but it is immensely better if you make a homemade crust. The pie is also immensely better if you listen to Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings while you make it, but that's also your choice.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and roast them on a shallow baking pan in the middle of the oven until very tender, about 1 1/4 hours. Cool to room temperature. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees, and place a shallow baking pan on the bottom rack. Scoop the flesh from potatoes into a bowl and discard the skins. Mash the sweet potatoes with a fork until smooth. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in the sugar. Add the melted butter mixture to the sweet potatoes with the milk and the eggs and beat with a whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining ingredients (the filling will be quite liquid). Pour the filling into the pie shell. Carefully transfer the pie to the heated shallow baking pan on the bottom rack of the oven and bake until the filling is just set, about 40 minutes. Transfer the pie to a rack to cool. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with cinnamon.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Just in time for Passover next week, the Times has a story about families who do dairy seders, a dinner with milk, but not meat. The featured menu includes special dips for vegetables and ice cream for dessert. [via the NYT]

BA and Gourmet have some more traditional menus and dessert ideas [via BA and Gourmet]

BA also has some lovely-looking spring dinners (sautéed chicken cutlets with asparagus, spring onions, and parsley-tarragon gremolata, anyone?) [via BA]

And over on Design*Sponge, Jewels of New York have a beautiful spring brunch menu. [via D*S]

We're on Amtrak heading to Philly for the weekend with our friends Colin and Anne. On the agenda: gelato, the Italian market, Rittenhouse Square, and a little neighborhood-hunting, just in case we decide to flee New York. Maybe. Someday.

Have a good one!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

dinner for mom and dad

My parents were in town from Florida last weekend. And luckily for me, they didn't want to go to ground zero, or Times Square, or anywhere, really. At first I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that they didn't want do much sightseeing. But then I remembered their last visit three years ago, and how, wanting them to fall in love with Brooklyn as much as I had, I planned lots and lots of activities for their very first three-day stay. In retrospect, a week's worth of activities. We went to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens to admire the summer roses, to Grand Army Plaza green market for apple cider donuts, took a blustry late afternoon walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to admire the Manhattan skyline just before dusk, stood on line for pizza at Grimaldi's and walked the Brooklyn promenade. Did I mention this was all in ONE DAY? My parents were near collapse that night, and so were Dan and I.

So no playing cruise director this time around. Instead, I didn't really plan much at all. We took leisurely walks around the neighborhood, ate a few cozy meals in the apartment, and squeezed in a trip to the Natural History Museum. We also managed to check out the Union Square green market and a small swath of Central Park, where Mom squealed like the Beatles Super Fan that she is upon the sight of the Dakota, the former haunt of John Lennon. We also got caught in a hail storm (I hate you, March), but I won't get into that.

On Friday, the night my parents arrived, our friends Mindi and Tom came over after work and I cooked for everyone. There was Neko Case on the stereo, and lots of wine, and pork with roasted grapes, a dish you must try very soon. As I stood in the kitchen, stirring this and that and listening to everyone's voices, I couldn't help thinking about how rare and wonderful it was for my parents to be a part of my normal life, my real life, even just for a few days.

Dinner with Mom and Dad, Daniel, Mindi, and Tom
Pork tenderloin with grapes and shallots
Roasted asparagus
Wild rice
Sweet potato pie

Pork tenderloin with roasted grapes
This is a riff on a recipe I found for veal chops with roasted grapes. Grapes might sound like an odd thing to eat with meat, but when roasted, they break down into a deliciously tart compote.
(Serves about six people)

2 1 lb. pork tenderloins
Olive oil
1 Tbsp. rosemary
1 Tbsp. thyme
1 lb. seedless red grapes
½ cup white wine
3 shallots, thinly sliced
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F. Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick ovenproof skillet (I used a cast iron skillet) over medium-high heat. Add pork and sear until all sides are brown, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Transfer pork to plate. Cool slightly. Press the thyme and rosemary into the pork, covering the meat evenly. Add about 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Add shallots and grapes and sauté over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Place the pork atop the grape mixture and transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast until the grapes are soft and the meat is cooked through, about 15 minutes (a thermometer inserted into the center of pork should register 150°F, or if you stick a knife into the center of the pork, the juices should run clear). Transfer pork to platter and tent with foil. Let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the wine over the grape mixture in the skillet. Stir over high heat until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cut the pork on diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange on a platter (or plates) with the grape-shallot mixture on top.


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