Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Roast Pepper, Garlic, and Pumpkin Soup

My Halloween experience has morphed into a series of half-assed costumes, morally questionable decisions, and inappropriate quantities of alcohol, often ingested through the coarse whiskers of a fake mustache. But it wasn’t always like that, I used to be passionate about All Hallows’ Eve, and it’s not that I have something against adult women wearing lewd summer outfits on 30 degree October nights, it’s just that some of the magic of childhood seems to have faded.

As a child, both my parents, and in this case probably doubly so my father, truly celebrated Halloween; although in retrospect, I think my father was probably more attached to mischief night, but was having a hard time sharing that with his eight year old. Unlike school concerts, swim meets, and little league games, Halloween was almost as much about them as it was me; uncommitted parents rarely dress in full costume to take their 18 month old trick or treating. And while Christmas lights were usually hung on the coldest night of the year, after my father came home from work, Halloween decorations were an all day affair.

Faux gravestones lined our long driveway, with some of the creepiest sounds you can imagine reverberating from hidden outdoor speakers, as jack o lanterns and candles lined the walkways. And once the mood was set, ghosts and goblins were strung on elaborate pulley systems rigged to pop out and scare unsuspecting candy fiends. Yet in my neighborhood, rather than being the exception, our house was the rule, with competition growing yearly, so much so that my most successful of neighbors had several years where some of the youngest children refused to visit his house. It was good times, with a strange mixture of excitement and fear, creating the perfect cocktail to get a young boys adrenaline pumping. I suppose the only challenge now is to somehow recapture those feelings of yesteryear;….although admittedly, that fear driven rush is a little harder to capture after a healthy dose of moonshine.

Roast Pepper, Garlic, and Pumpkin Soup
Serves: 8
3 Red Bell Peppers
2 Cherry Bomb Peppers
1/8 c Mustard
1 Whole Garlic Bulb
Olive Oil
2/3 C Chooped Shallot
1/2 tbsp anise
2 tbsp butter
1 3/4 lbs edible pumpkin or squash
4 c chicken stock
2 c water
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c cream

Preheat the oven to 375°. Cut the top off of the garlic bulb, drizzle with olive oil and salt and wrap in tin foil before placing in the oven for 30-40 minutes. When cool squeeze out the garlic and set aside.

Increase the oven temp to 500°. Place all five peppers well coated in olive oil and salt on a cookie sheet and place in the oven. Rotating until the peppers are completely charred, at which point they can be removed and placed in a glass bowl covered with saran wrap to cool. This will help to loosen the skins which can be removed once cool.

Cook the shallot, garlic, and anise in butter over medium heat until the shallots are soft. Add the pumpkin, stock, and water and simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender. Add the roast garlic and peppers and continue to simmer for an additional five minutes.

Puree the soup in a blender or food processor in 2-3 batches until very smooth and return to a clean pan. Return the soup to a simmer and add the cream. season with salt & pepper. Serve.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reason #43 to Live in Brooklyn

#43. Spicy Homemade Garlic Pickles waiting on my doorstep courtesy of my Landlord.

I constantly laugh at the predictable facial reactions that result when I tell non NYC dwellers (and some newly minted Manhattanites) that I live in Brooklyn. Their eyes either fill with pity as they imagine my grave financial woes or conversely they become very inquisitive about the one room crack den that I must have inhabited with Biggie Smalls and Jay Z circa 1986. Clearly they are not from around here, can’t differentiate Brownsville from Boerum Hill, and haven’t seen my rent. There are a lot of reasons to live in Brooklyn, the majority of which for me are food centric, yet none of which involve saving money.

Brooklyn is without question the home of the East Coast DIY movement, with such a large array of small batch, locally sourced, artisanal products created within the borough that it would take months of concentrated effort to sample them all. And while Williamsburg may be the NYC craft foods Mecca with its rooftop farms, buzzing apiaries, and the ever expanding Brooklyn Flea, there isn’t a neighborhood to be found that isn’t incubating a newly minted business or housing some of the most back to the earth home kitchens in the country.

I live within walking distance of three farmer’s markets, two butchers, two fish mongers, two cheese shops, a brewery, two Michelin star recognized eateries, an artisanal chocolate shop, and a bakery….and that’s without getting on the subway, let alone getting in my car and leaving the boroughs. Within a block I can dine on the cuisine of roughly a dozen nations, sip on a glass of wine crushed and fermented mere miles away or slam back half a dozen pints, from Sixpoint brewery, who uses their expended grains to feed their flock of rooftop contained chickens on the Southern Coast.

Yet the streets are not inhabited with the latte drinking, guitar carrying, misanthropes you would imagine, but instead a new breed of hippy, disguised as cutthroat business tycoons, who applied for MBAs shortly after abandoning flannel in favor of foie gras. A group that bakes their own bread, searches out heirloom vegetables and meats, spends their weekends volunteering on local farms and not so reluctantly counts me as a member. See, aside from the two privately owned rooftop farms, and the cooperative in Red Hook, one needs to leave the city in order to get their hands dirty, and between my family’s house in the Catskill mountains, and a number of local u-pick farms, this summer was filled with just that.

I jarred tomatoes, roasted peppers, and made French fries just hours after I had ripped the potatoes from the ground. Spread homemade bread with homemade blueberry jam. Macerated freshly picked berries and mixed them with home churned butter, while I braised pork ribs and ground my own burgers. I picked lettuce greens by the handful, smoked chickens with hand cut apple wood, and ate more than one meal that I personally plucked from the sea. And right now I have pizza dough in the freezer, a marinating hangar steak in my fridge, pickles fermenting on the window sill, and grandiose plans to make an herbed goat cheese in the following weeks. Clearly it was a busy summer, and while the highlight was certainly my newly acquired sister in law, I am pretty sure that even she would agree the below pickle recipe is a close second. (Recipe by Mark Bittman, and any and all quality pictures were taken by my sister in law, the crappy ones I took myself.)

Mark Bittman’s Kosher Pickles
1/3 c kosher salt
1 c boiling water
2 lbs Kirby Cucumbers, washed and quartered
5+ cloves of crushed garlic
1 bunch fresh dill or 2 tbs dried dill

1. Coming the salt and boiling water in a large bowl and stir to dissolve. Add a handful of ice cubes to cool the mixture and then add the remaining ingredients.
2. Add cold water, or preferably vinegar to cover. I like to do this in canning jars, or old pasta sauce jars, but any container will do. Set aside at room temperature.
3. Begin sampling the pickles at 4 hours, although it will most probably take between 24 and 48 before they suit your taste.
4. Refrigerate for up to one week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Garbage.....or not?

On the first attempt at butterflying and de-boning a chicken, one of two things will happen, it will take you far longer than you would have preferred, or you will cut yourself, possibly not so superficially. I suggest cutting yourself. As there is a good chance that her search for a band-aid will grant you just enough time to swiftly move those lovely stock bones into the freezer. The alternative usually goes a little something like this… “Why are you putting that in the freezer? That’s garbage….are we out of garbage bags?” This however, is not the time to panic, nor is it the time to put her in the freezer. Resist the urge, kiss her on the forehead and promise that they will be gone tomorrow.…they won’t, but wasting a good creative lie on chicken bones seems overkill. While a freezer full of bones and shells may seem entirely reasonable to me, I'm learning this is not a universal opinion, and arguing that human bones would be far worse, somehow does not seem to do the trick. But with a little bit of patience, a little bit of experimentation, and a bouquet or two of fresh flowers, the tide of public opinion will begin to sway. After each bowl licking soup, or bread swabbing sauce, smiles will emerge, as will an acceptance of your crazy habits, knowing that each flavor emerged from what others once thought to be garbage. And while they may still look at you with puzzling eyes, debating the merits of an intervention, those that have tasted the flavors of your secret stash, will know that you and your bones are worth keeping around.
The below is simple, light, and fresh, sourced from my farmers market, CSA, and Union Market but the soup that proceeds is made entirely from what I had sitting around the house, and a good deal of what she used to refer to as garbage and now simple calls Adam’s "stuff"….with only a slight rolling of the eyes. As a side note I do realize that not everyone has cognac just sitting around in their apt....but then again, whose fault is that?

Tomato Shrimp Bisque
½ c heavy cream
Medium tomato
Shrimp boil
Splash of cognac
Dash of paprika

Core, peel, and dice the tomato, allow to simmer at a medium heat in the heavy cream for about 5 minutes or until soft, add the shrimp boil, cognac, and a bit of salt and pepper, blend and serve. Sprinkle with paprika.

Shrimp Boil
Shells from roughly a ½ pound of shrimp
Odds and ends of onions, garlic, or shallots
Dried hot pepper or two
Black peppercorns
Bayleaf….and or other spices

Cover with water in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil, simmer until thoroughly reduced, strain and discard solids. Can be frozen for storage.

Tequila Shrimp over Corn Fritters
½ lb of shrimp
2-3 slices of grilled pineapple
Black beans
Diced white onion
Quart grape tomatoes

Shell the shrimp and toss them into a sealable container with the juice of a lime, and a good splash of tequila, move to the refrigerator to marinate while you prepare the other ingredients. Grill and chop the pineapple adding it to the other ingredients, before grilling the shrimp. I cut the shrimp into smaller pieces but it is not necessary. Add salt and pepper to taste and pile atop the corn fritters.

Corn Fritters
2 ears of corn
¼ chopped scallions
1 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 eggs (beaten)
½ c milk
¼ c melted butter

Grill the corn and remove from the cob, add the other ingredients and mix, form into small, thin, burger like patties. Heating oil in a sauté pan, cook on either side until the fritters reach a medium brown. Top with the shrimp concoction and serve. If any tequila made it through the cooking process some pineapple margaritas would be a good start.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bacon...and some other stuff.

For years, I have been what you might call a Bacon devotee, believing that bacon improves everything it touches. I won’t go so far as to say it became my religion, but certainly a guiding philosophy. And as the years came and went the list of things made better by bacon grew, and the list of undesirable combinations remained at zero. But then the unthinkable happened. Twice, in a period of less than three months, bacon, a substance to which I was blindly devoted, let me down. The first instance was a bacon chocolate bar. Vosges, the maker of fine artisanal chocolates had blended two amazing flavors in a single candy bar; and for a brief moment I was overwhelmed with the flavor possibilities, thinking I had quite possibly stumbled upon perfection. But then I tasted it, and as the chocolate melted in my mouth, so too did my dreams. I literally could not give the remainder of the bar away, for as I had learned, bacon and chocolate, do NOT belong together. Strike one.

But you don’t abandon a lifelong friendship over a simple infraction, this small dent in bacon’s normally impenetrable armor was oddly endearing, and closer to my friend I grew. But the young man inside me was eager to experiment, and to taste all the world had to offer, so when I caught wind of a bacon-infused Maple Bourbon cocktail recipe, it was mere minutes before I had set out to create it. Strike Two. I won’t say it was undrinkable, because I made more than I should have, and I finished it all, but it was unnatural. A bit like a barking cat at the pet store, after the initial shock wears off, you might pet the cat, but you aren’t going to be bringing it home.

Ok, I’ll admit it. Bacon has it’s faults, and I don’t expect it to be walking on water, or parting the red sea anytime soon, but despite this I remain devoted, and many years from now, when my bacon-fat corroded arteries, slowly choke the life out of my wrinkly body, I will still be one of bacon’s greatest ambassadors. The below recipe was unabashedly stolen from “The Bite Size Blog”, who are doing some amazing things, you should read their work, I changed an ingredient here and there, mostly based on what was in my kitchen, and paired it with French fries for a more complete meal, but they were the originators and the inspiration, and one must give credit where credit is due.

Scallop BLT’s w/ Fries
Six Large Sea Scallops
Small head of bok choi
Small heirloom tomato
Three slices of bacon
Two large russet potatoes
Honey Mustard Glaze (below)
Herb Mayonnaise (below)

Blanch the bok choi in boiling salted water, and after less then a minute remove and immerse in an ice bath to halt the cooking process. Bake the bacon, while waiting for the water to boil. Over high heat, sear the scallop until golden brown, about 1 minute per side, near the end, add a tbsp of butter to the pan, and spoon over the scallops as they cook. Allow them to cool for a minute before halving. To assemble layer the scallop, bok choi, tomato, bacon, herb mayo, and finally the top of the scallop. Pair with a heavy helping of French fries.

Herb Mayonnaise
½ c Mayonnaise
½ tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Chopped Sage
1 tsp Basil
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp Ancho Chile powder
Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix, and season to taste.

Honey Mustard Glaze
2 tbsp Mustard
1 tbsp Brewed Coffee
3 tsp Maple Syrup
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cinnamon

Line a baking sheet with tin foil and lay out three slices of bacon. Mix the above ingredients in a bowl and apply to the strips of bacon with a pastry brush. Bake at 450° for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into one inch strips once cool.

French Fries
Peal and slice the fries, submerge in heavily salted water for a good thirty minutes, dry, and drop into 320° oil for 5-6 minutes. Remove and dry off the excess oil. Raise the oil temperature to 375° and fry for an additional 1-2 minutes until crispy. Serve.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Green Zebra's and Eight Legged Monsters

I was in the shower Saturday by 804; this is now what I refer to as sleeping-in. Luckily, the French press helps, as did breakfast with Heston, with whom I slowly poured over a litany of potential recipes for this weekend. Not with much success mind you, the man is a molecular gastronomic genius, and the amount of skill and equipment required to complete his recipes, is only slightly exceeded by the amount of time required to surmount their daunting complexity. Sufficiently irritated with the lack of time I had to dedicate to such a maneuver, I headed to my brothers to drop off some peppers, and my compost. And while the pre-noon beer in his quickly expanding pumpkin patch, did help restore some sense of euphoria, it quickly dissipated on the mile long walk home. That was until I eyed Fish Tales, which I headed into with the sole purpose of cooling myself. The heat must have been messing with my brain, when have I ever walked into a fish market and left empty handed. Loaded with two and half pounds of octopus and 2 rainbow trout I headed home, screw that pretentious Briton, this week I’ll ride solo. Yet, once I arrived home a picture started to form, one filled with multi-colored heirloom tomatoes…the nearest of which were located at Union Market, a round trip just shy of two and a half miles, which needed to be covered on foot, in 100 degree weather. So a short while later, I found myself leaning against a freezer in the frozen foods section, nervously holding back overwhelming feelings of nauseous, coming to grips with the fact that it was 3pm and I had only had toast and coffee all day. Beginning to question my own sanity, I quickly pulled it together, I mean, what choice did I have, clearly, I needed those tomatoes. Beyond their amazing color, heirlooms have unparalleled flavor, and when lightly dressed and topped with grilled octopus, it made a light, satisfying, and summery meal, that could be a great change up for backyard BBQs.

2-3 pound whole frozen octopus
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Red Wine Vinegar
Fresh Thyme

Octopus is a fairly tough product untreated, and needs to be thoroughly tenderized. Freezing and boiling the octopus both achieve this effect, and buying the octopus frozen helps to get the first step out of the way. The octopus should then be thawed and boiled for about an hour or longer, where it will shrink massively, (the tentacles below started out at roughly the length of my arm). It can then be cooled, cut, and placed in a bowl with enough oil, and vinegar to cover, at a ratio of about 2 to 1, and sprinkled with a generous amount of fresh thyme, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. After about an hour or longer in the marinade, the octopus can be moved to the grill, and placed on the salad once well browned.

6 assorted medium heirloom tomatoes
2-3 stalks of celery
1 medium red onion
10-12 basil leaves

Slice the tomatoes and alternately lay them across the plate, chopping the pieces that don’t lend well to slicing. Likewise slice the onions, celery, and basil thinly on an angle and with the chopped tomato toss together in a bowl with a light dressing of good quality olive oil, champagne vinegar (don’t substitute, white vinegar is too strong), salt, and pepper. Pile this down the center of the tomatoes and top with the grilled octopus.

The dish would be aptly complimented by a mildly acidic Pinot Blanc, Gavi, or a lightly hopped Pilsner.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Reason to Buy Yourself Flowers....

While I’ve learned that most men buy flowers in efforts to apologize, I generally find myself buying them in attempts to distract her from my rather odd and idiosyncratic behavior. Over the last week I have developed an interesting habit; I walk in the door, grab my electric toothbrush, and crawl out the window of my fire escape. A behavioral pattern that most certainly drew an outlandish stare the first time it was witnessed. The issue isn’t that I have some inane desire to brush my teeth in the fresh air, but that my tomatoes, which I treat like children, are spouting flowers left and right with no fruit. I’m not certain if it’s related to colony collapse disorder, the fact that my tomatoes lie on a second story fire escape, or the lack of bee balm plantings, but I can’t seem to get bees to naturally pollinate my plants. So there I am, toothbrush in hand mimicking the natural vibration of a honeybee, praying that this will effectively turn some worthless tomato flowers into beautiful bulbous heirloom tomatoes. On the other hand, when it comes to vegetables like zucchini the end product is not nearly as desirable as the flower. With its delicate flavor and unique shape, it just begs to be stuffed, and while you can grow your own, they are readily available at most farmers’ markets, for a relatively reasonable price.

Typical recipes call for a large amount of goat cheese and herbs stuffed into these little beauties, but having made them following this method some time ago, I found the filling to be too dense, and opted to create a variation of my own, using a small assortment of vegetables and a non fat ricotta…they are already being deep fried no need to add to the guilt. Seriously try to make these, they’re fantastic.

12-24 Zucchini flowers (about six per person as an app)
16 oz ricotta cheese
1 large portabella mushroom
1 c baby spinach
1 medium red onion
2-3 minced garlic cloves
Tsp red pepper flakes
Dash of salt and pepper

This creates more filling than you’ll need, however, the excess is great for stuffed shells or manicotti. Clean and roughly chop the mushroom, spinach and onion, adding them to a frying pan with a little bit of olive oil and the minced garlic, sauté until they are lightly browned and there is little to no water in the pan. Allow to briefly cool and remove to a cutting board where they can be finely chopped. Add them to a bowl and mix with the ricotta, about 1 tsp of filling can be added to the bottom of each flower. Make sure to check the inside of the flowers for bugs before stuffing, it’s rare, but they have an undesirable crunch.

1-2 medium eggs
1c unbleached white flour
Tsp salt
Tbsp dried Basil

One the flowers have been stuffed, whisk an egg in one bowl and combine the flour salt and basil in another. At this point you can begin heating a few inches of oil in a medium pan; oil tends to heat up very quickly and is difficult to cool, so I suggest you use a frying thermometer and heat the oil slowly, aiming for a temperature between 260 and 280 degrees. Dipping the flowers first in the egg wash, followed by the flour, they will then be ready to fry, and can be done roughly a half dozen at a time. They should only take a few minutes and are rather delicate so it’s best that you watch them to assure that they don’t over brown. They can be cooled/slightly dried on a rack while you fry the remaining flowers and should be served with a tomato based dipping sauce; marinara or vodka sauce will do fine.

There are now two tomatoes growing on my plants, victory is mine.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stifling Heat Bakes Brain....

A quick glimpse at my alabaster skin and it becomes readily apparent that my ancestors were cold weather people. And with temperatures topping 100 degrees multiple days this past week my brain lost ability to function. It tried mind you, but every time a glimpse of thought crept into my brain it was quickly pushed out by an all encompassing focus on staying cool. For this particular reason there is a lack of my usual rhetoric this week, which I would imagine comes as a pleasant surprise to most.

The galette, formed with peaches from our CSA, was made with whole wheat flour, as I was too lazy to head to the store after realizing I had run out of white. Don't do this. The variation in flour changed the flavor and consistency of the dough, leaving us to spoon out the delicious filling and practically trash the rest. The below recipe is quite good, with the proper flour.

Galette Dough (makes about two)
1 5/8c unbleached white flour
½ tsp salt
8 tbsps butter (1 stick)
3/8c cool (not cold) water

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl placing the butter in a well at the center. Coating your hands in flour begin to break up the chunks of butter, maintaining a fair amount of flour between your hands and the butter in efforts not to melt the butter with the heat from your hands. When the butter is the size of small peas, pour half the water in and gather it into a ball, adding more water if necessary. Divide the dough into two equal portions and refrigerate until ready to use.

3 Peaches peeled and sliced (parboiling helps with peeling)
2 tsp brown sugar

Generously flour the surface of the counter, the top of the dough, and the rolling pin, before rolling the dough out to an even thickness of less than a ¼ inch. Pile the filling in the center of the dough, folding the edges back to leave a small circular area of exposed fruit. Brush the outside of the dough with egg wash and place in the oven at 350°, baking until the crust turns a golden brown, approximately 30 minutes.

The terrine, with beats sourced from the Brooklyn Borough Hall Greenmarket, and herbs sourced from my parent’s garden, turned out well, however, in retrospect I would have sliced the beets slightly thicker, and layered the goat cheese more thickly as well. The below citrus dressing which is not incorporated in the picture, provided a fantastic acidic balance with the flavor of the beets and cheese.

Beet Terrine
2 bunches of beets (red and golden)
12 ounces goat cheese
3-4 tbsp chopped herbs (I used basil and thyme)
Tsp salt

Remove the beet greens leaving about 1-2 inches, and place in an ovenproof pan with ¼ to a ½ inch of water. Make sure to use a different pan for both beets as the colors will bleed. Cover with tin foil and roast in the oven at 400° for 1 to 1 ½ hours depending on the size of the beets, they are done when you can easily slide a fork into the side of the beat. Allow the beets to cool, and peel by hand; once peeled, they can be sliced evenly, with a Japanese mandoline.

Evenly layer the slices, overlapping each by about a ¼, and covering in a generous layer of goat cheese that has been mixed with salt and chopped herbs. Cover and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before serving.

This should be topped with a mache salad, preferably mixed with walnuts and coated in dressing mixed with 2 tbsps orange juice, ¼c champagne vinegar, ½ cup olive oil, and a generous helping of chopped chives.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

International Markets

Regardless of national identity, everyone is born in a place that resonates in their hearts as home. A home they view through slightly different eyes, following bouts of travel that effectively open their minds to new sights, sounds, flavors, and emotions. Our South American trip had a duel effect; evoking a sense of pride as a citizen of the freest nation on the globe, while simultaneously conjuring a sense of embarrassment at the state of the average American abroad, (fat and sloppy) and the tepid pace at which we are progressing in efforts to maintain our competitive edge. The US is cruising down the highway of progress at 60mph in a brand new Cadillac, but the developing world is chasing us at 110. True, they are 2000 miles behind, and traveling in a 94 civic, but they are quickly closing in, and sadly our hubris has allowed us to avoid looking in the rearview mirror.

Our leadership status has convinced many that America possesses all the answers, and some that it is our responsibility to spread the American way of life globally. While my personal experience has verified that this is not entirely untrue, and many great American ideas are being internationally adapted, to the great benefit of local societies, there is also a great deal that we can learn from developing nations. As many of these nations are facing pressing threats of poverty, violence, and corruption on a daily basis, and have utilized new and innovating ideas to combat these impediments to progress.

When traveling, local markets provide some of the best insight into a particular society and a true view into everyday life. Awash with local fruits, vegetables, fishes, meats, and most importantly street vendors, markets are my second home. Luckily our trip provided us with the opportunity to visit two such markets, one centrally located in Cusco, Peru, and the other, an open air seafood market in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The markets themselves, appearing indicative of the current state of affairs in the two cities, could not have been more different.

Cusco, a city riddled with tourists, had a uniquely local market, devoid of outsiders, filled with produce, glass, textiles, spices, and a number of services. Sopa, the street food of the day, was offered at numerous locales in variety of flavors. The small shop in which we stopped for breakfast served a large bowl of sopa de cordero (lamb soup), which despite being a bit salty, was a pretty good breakfast for three soles, and only a pinch more expensive than the ham empanada I grabbed for 2 ½ soles. All in all it was a bustling market, filled with people, dirt, and any product you could imagine, from oranges to Nike backpacks. However, it was difficult to remove yourself from the abject poverty that surrounded you. One shop owner was unable to make change for a five sole coin….a little more than a dollar seventy five American.

The fish market in Guayaquil was in stark contrast to what we had witnessed in Peru. As a model of urban renewal, the city had undergone a decade of infrastructure development, and possessed an economy independent of tourism. Arriving on a small guided tour, we were greeted by welcoming, friendly shop owners, insistent to have their photo taken and incredibly proud of the product they were selling. Young and old were grabbing their wares and widening their smiles in the hopes of being caught in the camera lens. Unfortunately, as I would be unable to cook in the hotel, I left empty handed. But I can promise that walking through a clean, odorless, open air fish market, filled with cockles, squid, butterfish, tuna, and crabs, straight from that morning’s catch, left me with a pretty serious craving. Luckily the exceedingly lovely family of the bride, following the wedding, invited us to a cebicheria, quenching my thirst for creatures from the sea.

Returning home in time for the fourth, I purchased a US grown watermelon, what could be more summer than that? And in true American fashion, I liquefied and spiked the little bastard. It’s truly refreshing for these oppressively hot summer days.

Watermelon Punch
4c watermelon juice (about 1/3 of a melon)
3c ginger ale
Juice of 1 large lemon
1c mint leaves
2tbsp sugar
1 ½ - 2c vodka (add vodka to taste)

Cut the seedless watermelon into large chunks and liquefy in a blender or food processor. Unless you like pulp, strain. Muddle the mint with the sugar in a large glass and add to the pitcher. Add the remaining ingredients, including the vodka to taste. Fill the remainder of the pitcher with ice and serve.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Streets of Beirut

After ten days, two countries, four cities, one Ecuadorian Wedding, and a rather thorough drug search, compliments of airport security, we touched down in JFK; just in time for our first CSA delivery. And before I was able to upload photos from the trip, I was surrounded by radishes, apples, cherries, herbs, and more greens than I really knew what to do with. Not to mention purslane and dill, both of which are commonplace flavors in middle eastern cooking....count me excited.

Long before I knew it as a pseudonym for beer-pong, I had fallen in love with Beirut, and for that matter, the entirety of the Middle East. I'm not certain why, maybe because I was a nerdy little news junkie as a child in the 80s, or maybe because I have some sick fascination with hijabs, but I long to visit streets filled with hookahs and the smell of grilled lamb.

But while I wait for that dream trip to Beirut, I modeled the below with the sandy deserts of the fertile crescent in mind. Grilled chicken kabobs, rice, diced cucumber salad, and some dill yogurt, coupled with 93 degree temperatures, an oven heating pita, and an unplugged AC, it might as well have been the streets of Lebanon.

Chopped Cucumber Salad
Half a white onion; chopped
Two to three large radishes; chopped
One medium cucumber; seeded and chopped
One large tomato; diced
1C purslane; coarsely chopped
1C parsley; finely chopped
Juice of a large lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Combine the vegetables in a large bowl, cover with lemon juice and a few tbsp's of olive oil and toss, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Dill Yogurt
8 oz unflavored yogurt
2-3 tbsp chopped dill
pinch of salt

Served with some grilled chicken, warmed pita bread, and rice, it's kinda like street meat....without the indigestion.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Poussin in Every Pot.

Unlike the cheese eating surrender monkeys internationally known as the French, most of us sadly work more than 35 hours a week, and do not count eight weeks of vacation as a job perk. This I would imagine directly correlates to the fact that they are enjoying soufflés, cassoulets and spicy bouillabaisse dishes on a random Tuesday evening, when most of us are sifting through take out menus. And while I do enjoy takeout, although probably far less often than most, there are some pretty good reasons to cut back on the habit, heart failure falling somewhere near the top of the list, and the contents of a chicken McNugget trailing shortly behind.
Yet there are a number of obstacles that make cooking a challenge, such as limited time, a strict budget, or a drinking habit that makes extensive use of knives an unwise decision. So the below is a recipe for a simple one pan roast chicken with root vegetables. I was home alone this night so I used a 20oz Poussin, but if feeding more than one person it makes sense to seek out a small three to four pound organic chicken. And if you are one of a large number of people intimidated by the concept of cooking a whole chicken, look yourself in the mirror and repeat "I am scared of a chicken" until you are thoroughly embarrassed enough to try the below.

Simple Roast Chicken
Small to medium sized bird
a handful of small white potatoes per person
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425. Rinse, pat dry, and proceed to truss the chicken, (the link is a great video on how to do this). Placing it in the middle of a frying pan, and seasoning with herbs, and S&P. Make sure to do this from high above, to assure that they are evenly spread. Slice the potatoes into halves or quarters, and lightly toss the potatoes in olive oil, herbs, and S&P, before spreading around the outside of the bird. Roast for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the bird. The internal temperature should reach roughly 160 and the skin should be a golden brown. If the skin appears to be darkening quicker than desired, cover the bird in tin foil. When the bird is done, plate the potatoes and move the chicken to a cutting board to rest. In the meantime, using an oven mit, move the frying pan to the stove-top on medium heat, add some white wine, or water, scraping the bottom and reducing to form a sauce, adding sliced mushrooms if desired. Slice and plate the bird alongside the potatoes and cover in the thickened sauce. Serve.

This was a woman's out of town kinda night, so I ate it with scotch....lots of scotch.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Money, Mayhem, and Maine

I like fish, and not just fish, but crustaceans, mollusks, and cephalopods. In fact, with the exception of sea urchin roe, which yes, I have tried, I will eat just about any of the sea's many creatures, most times, raw. With our own national waters supplying numerous species including lobster from Maine, salmon from Alaska, sailfish from Florida, and a bevy of shrimp from the Louisiana bayou; the choices and the supply appear nearly limitless when harvested utilizing sustainable fishing practices. That is of course, as long as we don't cover the oceans in oil.

Forty seven days have passed since the April 20th BP oil well explosion, and numerous media centric questions still remain. Does fault lie with BP who pumped the oil, Transocean who owned the rig, Halliburton who performed the construction, or the questionably negligent regulatory authority of the MMS? Do we now, or will we ever accurately know how much oil is leaking daily? Did the White House respond in a timely and effective manner, and more importantly, can we rely upon the government to right such disasters, for which they appear so ill equipped?

But are these the questions that we should be asking and do the answers even matter? Yes, the cleanup process will be long and arduous, and in many cases irreversible damage has been done, but BP will be held accountable, regardless of where true fault may lie. And the Obama administration will survive, albeit stymied, and possibly even a little embarrassed, as attempts to increase the role of government, following numerous failures by both parties, will be further examined by supporters and detractors alike. Yet, the one question that has been pushed to the back burner, is the one that we can all personally influence; how do we avoid repeating such a catastrophe?

Well we can start by dipping our sushi in soy sauce, not light sweet crude. Limit driving, increase the use of mass transit, like the bolt bus currently carrying me to the still pristine shores of Maine, and seek out high mileage vehicles whenever possible. Support local and national efforts to pursue a cost effective, carbon neutral energy grid, and remind politicians that energy independence is a national , not republican or democratic concern. Buy local. Reducing the distance from farm to plate limits the need for heavy transport, and subsequently lessens the demand for oil. I'll say it again. Buy local, and buy organic. Visit a farmer's market, join a CSA, and get to know the man or woman who raises your food, preferably without the use of oil based chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. You won't regret it, hell, you might even make a new friend....a friend who actually has knowledge that could keep you alive, unlike the skills that help most of us excel in the modern work environment. Oil companies are convenient whipping boys, but weaning ourselves off the black gold that they so ferociously seek to mollify our own demand is the difficult but ultimate solution.

The fact that fish tastes good is indisputable, and oil, well anyone who may have unscrupulously siphoned gas a bit too aggressively knows it tastes like liquid fiery death. So the next time you walk a few blocks as opposed to driving, or pay thirty extra cents for organic carrots at the farmer's market, or even grab a reusable shopping bag think about how great some sockeye salmon, or soft shell crab would taste right about now. And when the inevitable time comes when your friends mock your environmentally conscious ways and brandish you a dirty hippie, invite a crowd over for a seafood fest. Start with the ceviche or sushi below and serve the naysayers their meal, covered in oil.

1/3 pound fillet of white fish, (good guide here)
juice from two large limes limes
juice from half a lemon
1/2 medium size tomato, chopped fine
1/3 medium red onion, chopped fine
1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed, and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c finely chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Place the sliced fish in a nonreactive container. Mix the remaining ingredients and spread over the fish. Let it set for a few minutes and then shake the container to mix and ensure everything is well marinated. Refrigerate and mix several times over the next 8-12 hours. Serve.

Sushi Rice
1c rice
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Move the cooked rice to a nonreactive bowl, add the vinegar and begin to toss the rice, with a non metal spoon. Add the salt and sugar and continue to toss, cooling the rice as you season.

While making great sushi may require numerous years of proper training, technique and extensive knowledge to master the art, when making sushi at home, it pretty much comes down to the quality of your ingredients and how you season the rice. If you live in the middle of nowhere, Whole Foods may be your only choice, but I would highly recommend seeking out a local fish monger, The Lobster Place in Chelsea is excellent if you are in NYC.

I layered the rice, cucumbers, wild caught salmon, avocado, and hamachi tuna, in a small tower, with soy sauce to dip, and served it along side the ceviche, which pairs very well with a Long Island based Viognier, which has a very floral bouquet and complements the citrus flavors..

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bayonne Thin Crust

Native New Yorkers, and the vast majority of those who adopt this city as their own, routinely push their differences aside, uniting under the audacious belief, that New York City is in fact, the center of the known universe. This is however not meant to belittle the beautiful diversity this nation provides, expanding across the Pacific mountain ranges, through the Midwestern plains, and up the salt licked East Coast. And seldom will you find a New Yorker who doesn’t have a true appreciation for the international wonders of Melbourne, Paris, or Hong Kong. However, every story of trips taken, scenery viewed, foods tasted, and cultures enjoyed, ends with the same few words….."it just wasn’t New York." This local devotion to all things New York is exponentially magnified when applied to a simple slice of pizza. More commonplace than a burger and fries, no one meal is more thoroughly reviewed, discussed, and waited in line for, than the perfect slice. A commodity so deeply ingrained in the fabric of the city, that economists have long measured its economic strength by the prevailing cost of a slice.

And while I do often unapologetically subscribe to this philosophy of superiority, pizza is where I draw the line. As a native son of New Jersey, I know something most New Yorkers do not. The best pizza in the states, if not the world, does not come from New Amsterdam, and it sure as hell is not Chicago style deep dish, no the best pizza in the world comes from the small city of Bayonne. Located less than five miles from the Italian strongholds of lower Manhattan, and Brooklyn, the city of Bayonne did something borderline unimaginable….they took an old world New York style pizza recipe…..and made it better. Yes, there are pizzerias in NYC where you can obtain such a slice, but it was born in New Jersey, and since that time it has been gathering devotees with the first bite of every slice.

Below is my not so humble attempt to recreate that magic, using quality organic ingredients, and NYC tap water, straight from the mountains of the lower Hudson Valley.

3c flour
1 5/8 c water
2 tsp salt
1 tsp honey (or sugar)
1/2 tsp yeast

While this can certainly be mixed by hand, and then kneaded on an appropriately flat surface, I prefer to use an electric mixer. Add a 1/4c of warm water to the bowl, along with the honey and yeast, stir, and allow to rest for five - ten minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and let the dough hook work them together at a medium speed for about 4 minutes. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and allow it to rise. I like to make this a day ahead of time, as the flavors seem more robust and developed, but 2-3 hours should be sufficient if you double the amount of yeast and reduce the water by a 1/4c.

Basic Sauce:
14 ounce can of organic tomatoes
4 large cloves garlic
2 tbsp chopped basil
1 tbsp chopped oregano
2 tbsp chopped shallots
Extra virgin Olive Oil

Lightly coat the bottom of a pan with olive oil, and add the garlic and shallots. Sauté the alliums over medium heat for 1-2 minutes before adding the herbs. After an additional minute, add the tomatoes and cook on medium-high heat until it begins to reduce. At this point the tomatoes should be soft, to create a smoother sauce, crush the tomatoes with a potato masher, and continue to reduce until you have a relatively viscous sauce, adding salt to taste.
*You should grow your own, but if using dry herbs, cut the quantity in half.

When it is finally time to unwrap the dough, divide it into four equally sized portions, and using your hands on a well floured surface, create relatively flat circles. From here I
lightly flour the surface of the dough and using a rolling pin, thin the dough as much as possible, leaving slightly more at the edges for the crust. Once the dough is flat, cover it in saran wrap and allow it to rise slightly while you prepare the other ingredients. Set the oven to 500F.

Once the oven is hot, and the toppings are ready, ladle the sauce onto the center of the pizza spreading it out to form a thin layer. Add the other toppings sparingly, as too much moisture can hurt the crust, and brush or spray the edges of the crust with a light dusting of olive oil, before placing the pie on a preheated pizza stone. You can do this on a baking sheet, but the resulting crusts aren’t nearly comparable. If adding things such as fresh basil, make sure to add them near completion, as they are unable to withstand the high heat and will quickly turn black.
*I prefer a combo of mozzarella and parmesan.

Flip the light on in the oven and keep an eye on it, removing the pizza when the cheese starts to bubble and the crust turns a golden brown.
Pairs pretty well with a medium bodied Shiraz, Cabernet, or light Chianti. Also not so bad with a six pack.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

1st Harvest

While I can certainly understand that the average person is less inclined than myself to attempt back flips at the sight of a radish; allow me to briefly explain my level of excitement. This tiny red globe, born from seed, spent a mere five weeks nestled in the dirt before reaching its potential, but mentally I planted those seeds months prior.

Two weekends in October, six friends, gourmet fare, and conversation thoroughly lubricated by a consistent flow of alcohol, resulted in an obvious, albeit astonishing, revelation. Everything has changed; well more specifically our perception of everything has changed. Perhaps experience has made us a little smarter, a little slower to judge, a little more receptive to opinions we would have previously dismissed as not in line with our own. Or perhaps the realities of the recession have forced us to realign our priorities, while the visible aging of our parents has enhanced a sense of our own mortality. But regardless of the source, the resultant is the same, a desire to leave a lasting legacy, regardless of its size and somehow fulfill our social responsibility.

Although equally likely lies the scenario that these revealing verbal exchanges were nothing more than a bunch of overeducated, financially privileged, late 20-somethings waxing poetic about problems that they do not now, nor are they likely to experience in the future.

Yet without paying much regard to the previous sentence and potentially blindly ignoring the potential hubris involved, a theme emerged: Sustainability.

And not the overused, holier than thou, altruistic image most commonly associated with the word in modern times, but sustainability in the sense that a genuine effort will be made to sustain my physical and mental self, the relationships in my life, and the greater community through a re-evaluation of the food system in general. Minimizing waste, by using the entire product, whether plant or animal, sourcing humanely raised and organic ingredients, and to the limits that my Brooklyn fire escape will allow….growing my own food. And probably most importantly talking about it….not everyone has a compost pile of their own, but simple decisions, like buying organic over conventionally raised products helps in it’s own little way to protect the environment and the world at large. I believe that there is very little we can do to the earth, that with ample time, it cannot successfully repair. However, whether the planet keeps humanity around for that process.... is still up for debate.

I ate the radishes with nothing but a spread of butter, and sautéed the greens in olive oil with salt and pepper.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

New York Strip

Starting with the domestication of fire, and culminating in the post WWII suburbanization of America, the grill has long been the domain of men. A fact that I imagine unjustifiably upsets a large number of feminists. And I say unjustifiably because they should take solace in the fact that even a modestly trained primate can season and flip a piece of meat; coupled with the fact that despite claiming dominance of the grill so many centuries ago, weekend after weekend, men manage to murder perfectly good pieces of meat, proving yet again, we truly are the (mentally) weaker sex. So let's go over the few simple steps required to maintain your manhood, and the respect of your guests.

Hopefully, you have selected some grass-fed, organic beef from a butcher like Paisanos, but even if you make your purchasing decisions like a modern day troglodyte basking in the rays of the industrialized food system, it should still taste good, so.... Brush both sides of the steak
with a dab of olive oil and liberally apply salt and pepper. Toss on a hot grill and rotate after about 3-4 minutes and then flip after another 3-4 to create well defined x-cross grill marks. I would suggest this as a good time to prepare a salad or grill some veggies or other nonsense, but I have to start that at least a few minutes prior, because I have a very tiny attention span, and am quickly mesmerized by the fire jumping up to kiss the meat. I charred up some zucchini, tomatoes, portabella mushrooms, and onions, but maybe some thinly sliced cucumbers and tomatoes with feta in a vinegar based dressing....sounds perfect right?

Ok, so the steaks have been on the grill for about 8 minutes on each side.....here comes the important part...take them off, put them on a plate, and leave them the eff alone. I mean it, don't murder a perfectly good steak, wait 10....15 minutes, and then you can start thinking about serving your masterpiece....having trouble waiting? Grab a beer and a lawn chair, quality takes patience.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

WILD Ramps.....

I bought my first bunch of ramps roughly two years ago, and at the time I literally had no idea what they were. While I am not usually in the habit of following the crowd, when I saw the long line of hungry, feverish eyes, I obediently joined the end of the queue; I was pretty upset that they were keeping a secret from me, and I was intent on getting to the bottom of it. The link above provides an in-depth description, but basically they are wild leeks, with a flavor reminiscent of a garlic/onion cross. Second coming of the lord they are not, but they are certainly worth the often sizable line required to obtain them. Local, seasonal, and delicious, they can be prepared in a number of ways. Since they became available about three weeks ago, I've had them in omelets, pesto, and  grilled in all their naked glory, but this week I decided to slip them into a potato-leek recipe for one of the last chilly days of spring.

The below is quite easy, and relatively quick, I served it along side some grilled cheese sandwiches with some fresh heirloom tomatoes.

Ingredients (serves 4):
4c chopped ramps (2-3 bunches)
4c chopped potatoes (I used 1/2 la ratte and 1/2 la rouge)
4c chicken broth
1/2 a medium onion (diced)
8 oysters
2 garlic cloves (minced)
white vinegar (preferably champagne)
Salt & Pepper

Peel and chop the potatoes, and then throw them in a pot of salted water to rest as you prepare the other ingredients. Clean and chop the ramps, basically you are just removing the roots and dirt, you are going to want to use the entire ramp in this recipe. Heat a few tbsp's of butter, or duck
fat if you have it, in a heavy bottomed pan and add the garlic, onions, and ramps. Sweat the veggies for a few minutes, but stir occasionally to assure that they don't brown. Now drain and add the potatoes, cooking for an additional 8-10 minutes, all the while watching to make sure they don't brown.
Add the chicken broth, and bring the entire thing to a low simmer, cooking until the potatoes
are finished through, approx 30 minutes. Now add the ingredients to a blender, or food processor and liquefy, emptying into a clean pot. Return to a simmer, adding the vinegar, salt and pepper a little bit at a time, to achieve the appropriate flavor....tasting things as you cook should be mandatory.

Now you want to shuck the oysters, a task that may not prove that easy at first, adding two raw oysters, and the liquor (oyster liquid) to the bottom of the bowl. Ladle the hot soup on top, and add just a dash of cream or creme fraiche. Serve.
All ingredients were sourced from within 100 miles, excluding the organic broth, and sustainably farmed oysters.