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.