Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine Flu = Bad

I am happy to report that the dreaded Swine Flu cannot be contracted from doing one of my favorite activities: eating bacon. In fact, it cannot be passed on to humans via the consumption of any pig-derived foodstuffs. However, in light of the recent reports citing the presence of this dangerous viral strain in NYC, I have decided to change my habits slighty:
  1. Up my hand washing to approximately 1,000 times per day. As if I didn't have enough bacteria and GodKnowsWhat to worry about on the subway.
  2. Cease and desist all daydreams that involve me lying in the beach in Mexico. I'm sure Hawaii is just as lovely, if not lovelier, in my imagination.
  3. Cancel all upcoming petting zoo excursions.
  4. Avoid the general public.
  5. Hide in bed. Oh wait, I've already got that one covered.

You really can never be too careful when it comes to your health.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jucy Lucy

Lately I’ve seen several references to the Jucy Lucy popping up in my food magazines. I also recently saw it written on the back of some dude’s softball t-shirt. A Jucy Lucy is a burger that originated in the Twin Cities. My mom would make it for me occasionally. It reminds me of home.

It’s nothing fancy, or even overly creative. But it is overly delicious and indulgent. It is a big burger with cheese that oozes out of the middle when you bite into it. Anything I make for my husband that can be smothered with BBQ sauce, and requires rolls of paper towels for chin clean-up, seems to be a hit.

The choice of cheese is a key step. My English Stepfather, bless his good intentions, once tried to make a Jucy Lucy with good quality, sharp English cheddar. I think it actually disintegrated into the meat somewhere in the grilling process. American cheese is a great choice. While I would pick English Cheddar over American Processed in many cases, this is not one of them. I actually like to use both American and Monterey Jack Cheese, for extra gooey melted goodness.

Recipe for a Jucy Lucy (4):

  • Four soft rolls, cut in half, buttered
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 4 slices of American Cheese
  • 4 slices of Monterey Jack Cheese
  • Salt/pepper/beef seasonings of choice
  • Ketchup/mustard/toppings of choice

Heat the grill, or skillet, or whatever you are using to cook your burgers. Toast the rolls/bun a little on the inside where they have been halved, until golden toasty brown. Mix the ground beef with egg, and whatever seasoning you like. My personal favorite all-purpose seasoning is the Sandwich Sprinkle (aka, crouton seasoning) from Penzeys Spices. It is a blend of salt, pepper, garlic, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram. Divide your meat into fourths. From each fourth, divide in half, leaving one half bigger than the other. Press out the bigger half into a large thin patty, and place one slice of each cheese in the middle. The meat should extend beyond the cheese. Press out the smaller half into a thin patty and place on top of the cheese. Take the extra meat along the edge of the bottom half, and curl it up around the cheese, pressing it into the top half, and totally encasing the cheese. Repeat for the other burgers. Cook to desired doneness. Dress to your liking. Eat with caution – the cheese will be superhot. Don’t forget the paper towels.

Who am I? Who are you? What are we Eating?

This morning I dreamed several abstract scenarios, all of which involved me deliberately wasting my life. I didn’t need my dreams to tell me that. I wasted a gorgeous morning simply by lingering in bed. My list of morning activities, stacked neatly in my mind from the night before, are all left undone. I have nothing but regret and contempt for my lack of will.

Yesterday it hit 80 degrees for the first time this season, and the sundresses and short-shorts were out in droves. I’m certain that not a single person was indoors, if they could help it. I often describe living in New York as constantly exiting a sold out concert. You’re not going anywhere as fast as you’d like, so deal with it. And try not to punch someone.

So last night it was ridiculous for us to think that we would be able to have a lovely stroll around the charming West Village, and with no reservations, find a good restaurant with an outdoor table waiting for us. Could be Midwestern naïveté, or pure stupidity. I think we thought we’d just get lucky. The more we walked, the more tired and hungry we became, and the less patience we had for long waits. As we pressed on, the sheer volume of people in the area continued to grow, and our chances were looking slim.

We found ourselves eventually in an area somewhere between The Village and SoHo that was mysterious and unfamiliar. The crowd had gradually thinned out, cute sidewalk cafes gave way to warehouses, and soon we found ourselves completely alone and exhausted. We eventually made our way back to civilization, but being alone on the street for that moment was kind of nice. I found my thoughts quieted for once. I am acutely aware of my own insignificance; I constantly wonder what my place is in the world. Why am I here, what is my purpose, what the hell should I be doing with my life, and all those existential questions that inevitably arise in our subconscious. I find those thoughts haunt me now more than ever, surrounded by the New York mob of people traveling through life together.

Our Saturday evening did not have a happy ending, I’m sad to say. And this morning I hid in bed. But I have been given an opportunity for redemption – today is another beautiful day. I still have time for some of those activities I wanted to do, and I have time to plan dinner tonight. I control my destiny.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sight, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Swish, Swallow. Savor.

Last night I went to my second-ever wine tasting event, and it was the most fun I’ve had on a Tuesday night.

My first-ever wine tasting event, about 2 years ago, was lovely. I was served really good food, and really great wines, but I didn’t learn a thing. Actually, that’s not true – I learned that I love steamed calamari salad.

Confession: I don’t know a thing about wine, other than the fact that I like it. Nay, love it. But picking out wine always makes me uncomfortable. At restaurants, I tend to look at the wines available by the glass, decide if I want white or red, and try the one that is priced somewhere in the middle. In liquor stores, I just try to act invisible.

There’s a delightful little wine shop in my neighborhood called Best Cellars that I frequent. This place is totally unpretentious. They know everything, and are helpful but not snooty. All the bottles they carry are 15 bucks or less, and they don’t have a million to choose from, only their favorites. Best of all, they are laid out by category: fizzy, fresh, juicy, smooth, etc. Each bottle has a snappy little description.

So when they asked me if I wanted to sign up for their Tasty Tuesday tasting, titled April in Paris, for 10 bucks, I said, “Oui, sil vou plait!” Actually, that’s not true – I just nodded my head. I have no business butchering beautiful languages with my awkwardness.

I assumed we would just have some sips of a few French wines, mingle with strangers, and be gently pressured to buy a few bottles. I almost skipped it to watch American Idol. When we arrived, we were welcomed with a wine glass and a menu of what we were trying. Each wine was broken into three lines, the name of the wine, the names of the grapes and year, and the region from which the wine hails:

Chateau du Plessis Muscadet
Melon de Bourgogne 2007
Loire Valley, France

Jaillance Cremant de Bourgogne
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligote, Gamay NV
Burgundy, France

Domaine de l’Arfentiere “Les Maranches”
Chardonnay 2007
Macon-Uchizy, Burgundy, France

Domaine de Houchart Rose
Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre 2008
Cotes de Provence, France

Chateau Vieux Chevrol
Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Lalande-de-Pomerol, Bordeaux, France

Domaine Montmartel
Grenache, Syrah, Carignan 2006
Cotes-du-Rhone, France

If you’re still reading this after I just dropped all those French words on you, I am really impressed. Wine makes me so uncomfortable, that I skip any pages in my Gourmet and Bon Appetit about wine. I have subscriptions to about every food magazine except Food & Wine. Why? Too many articles by people who know wine. It might as well just be in Chinese.

The point is, I really learned a lot last night. I drank a lot. Oh, and there was food. I ate a lot. We went over the six “S” steps of wine tasting: sight, swirl, sniff, sip, swish and swallow (or spit).

Sight. Each glass we examined in the light, against a white background, to look for color, clarity, and carbonation. I had no idea this step could tell you so much about a wine. We drank two whites, one darker than the other. They told us that the darker might have been older, but since they were both 2007 grapes, it was likely aged in oak. If your white is cloudy, that could indicate it has gone bad. If there are lots of bubbles, you don’t want to swirl the wine.

Swirl. Swirling the wine increases the surface area exposed to oxygen. Oxygen causes a chemical reaction that allows the flavors and scents to open up. Next time you have a glass of wine, sniff it with out swirling. Then swirl and sniff. I noticed a huge difference. I used to operate under the perception that you only swirl red wine, not white. I have no idea where that came from, but it’s not true. The only wine you don’t swirl is sparkling.

Sniff. I still can’t distinguish the subtle nuances of oak, spice, fruity, and floral. But I’m working on it. My nose isn’t known to be very reliable. An epicurean handicap.

Sip. My favorite step.

Swish. Let the wine roll over every taste bud, or you might miss something.

Swallow. Spit if you’re trying a lot of wines. Or have to drive home.

Some other great tidbits I took away from last night:

Sparkling wines pair really well with greasy, salty food.

You can drink white wine with red meat; it should just be a heavier white wine. The “Les Maranches” Chardonnay (the deeper in color of the whites) was heavenly with the pate we ate, and it would have also gone well with Beef Bourguignon or some stinky cheese, like Epoisses (my favorite!).

Generally, wine from a region will pair well with food from that same region.

Cotes de Provence in France is known for their Roses. Roses tend to go with everything.

2005 was a good year for Bordeaux, because it was hot and dry. Cheap Bordeaux wines are generally not good. The one we tried was one of the few “expensive” wines they carry, at $28. And yeah, it was good. We bought a bottle.

Last, but not least, when you swirl wine, look for tears that run back down the side. Those tears indicate high alcohol content. So you know what you’re getting yourself into from that first swirl!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Simply Spring

Spring has officially sprung in New York. Hallelujah! Yesterday the sun was shining, and the air was finally warm enough to ditch my coat. Of course, I work on Saturdays. The fact that I was recently laid off was no exception. Sigh.

On Friday night I ate post-Easter jelly beans for dinner, and I woke up feeling dirty. I forced myself into work, and tried not to daydream about the farmers markets. By 4pm I was a goner - my mind had long since wandered off without me, into the world of culinary possibilities that come with the new season. I envisioned myself spending the evening in my garden, a pug curled by each foot, catching up on Gourmet and sipping some crisp white wine. The only hole in my perfect fantasy was the food.

It is the right time of year for asparagus, artichoke, and morels, and I could not get those off my mind. Especially asparagus since I happened to have a gorgeous bunch in my fridge that had tried to seduce me earlier that morning. I thought, "What if I can find morels on my way home? Then I could make something with both morels and asparagus." I knew it was a long shot, so I tried not to let myself get too excited about that scenario. But even the possibility, all the wonderful possibilities that come with spring, got me feeling giddy. I ached for something fresh, simple, delicious. Maybe even indulgent. I felt I deserved it.

I'll cut to the chase - no fresh morels to be found between West 80th and 89th (aka, my convenient walk home, leading me to believe a visit down to Chelsea Market on West 16th is in my near future). I almost went with my back-up plan of a leek and asparagus frittata, when I had another idea. I maneuvered myself and shopping basket through the crowd at Zabars to the frozen - yes, frozen - section, and my hunch was right. They had Dufour puff pastry. Why is this exciting? Dufour is the best puff pastry you can buy. Unlike nearly all other brands, it is not made with any oils or crazy ingredients you can't pronounce, it is simply butter and flour, with a little water, salt and lemon juice. And it smells like what I hope heaven smells like: buttery goodness.

I left with the Dufour, some goat cheese, and prosciutto. Oh, and I almost forgot, a bottle of wine. Twin Vines Vinho Verde, via Northern Portugal. So good. Eight bucks. I trotted home – yes, trotted - as fast as I could, put the wine in the fridge and began caramelizing some onions (this morning my neighbor asked what smelled so good last night, the answer is onions on the stove for about 30 minutes). The end result was asparagus, goat cheese, prosciutto and caramelized onion wrapped in puff pastry like a calzone. I’m not sure what to call it, but dammit it needs a good name, because it was the perfect inaugural meal for our new patio furniture.

Recipe for Puff with Asparagus, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto and Caramelized Onion (for 2):
  • 5 fresh asparagus stalks, outer layer peeled off and sliced to 1” bits
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into strips
  • 2 pieces of prosciutto
  • About 2 tbsp crumbled goat cheese, a little more if you like extra cheese
  • Dufour frozen puff pastry
  • A little olive oil or butter (aka, the fat)

The puff pastry will need to thaw out. Thaw in the fridge a few hours beforehand, or if you’re like me, it never even makes it off your counter from when you unpacked your groceries. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet over medium-low flame, heat the fat and add the onions. Stir occasionally until well caramelized. Transfer to a plate. Add a little more fat and cook the asparagus for about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to the plate to hang out with the onions. The puff pastry, when unpacked, will be folded in fourths. If you are only making for two, then take half of the puff pastry out, and put the other half back in the freezer. Divide what you have in half, so there are two rectangles. Roll them out with a rolling pin a little bit, this will help to tame the puff. Scatter the onion and asparagus in each rectangle, and cover with a few bits of torn prosciutto and crumbled cheese. Fold the pastry over and pinch the edges together a little. Place on a non-stick baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Not one of you likes ballpark food? Really? I prefer the nachos.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Holidays are the best. Not only do you get to celebrate something meaningful, you get to eat great meals with people you care about. And eating great meals is always cause for a celebration in itself, in my opinion.

I made lamb for Easter. For some reason I can't explain, lamb intimidates the hell out of me. Which is ridiculous because it's so easy. Maybe it's the pressure of holiday cooking that is the true intimidator. Oh well; who cares? It was good, which is all that matters.

First, I found some good-looking rib chops. Asparagus is fat and gorgeous right now, so I went with that, too. I recently made some chicken stock, so I decided to make risotto with roasted asparagus and Brie cheese (the Brie was not a good idea, by the way. The flavor got lost in the risotto. I think I'll stick with Parmegiano. The asparagus was great). I rubbed the rib chops with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and tarragon (I decided rosemary would be too predictable), and covered them in the fridge to let them marinate while I made the risotto. Then I heated a skillet, and cooked the lamb over medium heat, about 3 or 4 minutes per side, and served on top of the risotto. It was a filling dish, but I still had plenty of room left over to polish off my big chocolate bunny.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Breakfast & Flower Bed

The apartment above ours was recently rented out. The ad for the apartment boasted, "beautiful garden views."

Um, I guess I better learn how to garden.

Up until yesterday (massive spring cleaning), it was more like, potentially beautiful garden views. And lots of dog poop.

I would love to have a gorgeous little oasis of flowers, herbs, and, if I can keep the caterpillars under control, tomatoes. I went to the Macy's flower show for some inspiration:

I walked down 6th Avenue to the Union Square farmers market and returned home with cilantro, basil, thyme, parsley, dill and a big fern. It's a start.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How to Lose Your Job in Good Taste

What began as one cocktail to take the edge off, became the afternoon of the most exciting dining adventure I have had to date in New York.

Genny, my boss and friend, is a serious foodie, and she has become my New York dining guru. Before she was my boss, she opened and managed some major restaurants. And she's eaten everywhere. I have a wish list of all the places in the city that I would like to try. Not only has she been to every one, she can tell me the best dish on the menu, provided they have it in fresh that night.

So as we sat at the Upper East Side Marriott for a company-wide meeting earlier this week, we picked and complained about the buffet tomatoes, that had clearly been frozen at some point, and braced ourselves for the inevitable news: we were all getting laid off.

When the announcement was made, the questions answered, and the meeting adjourned, the two of us shot each other a knowing look. Drinks? Yes.

It was pouring rain outside, and decidedly chilly for early April, the perfect weather to accompany such circumstances. We walked around the corner to the warm and welcoming Avra. As soon as we sat down and Genny said, "Belvedere, dirty, extra-dry martini please," and I said, "Uh... me too," I had happily relinquished my afternoon and taste buds. We noshed on the char-grilled octopus, served with red onions in a red-wine vinaigrette, which was amazing. I have had octopus before, but nothing like this. We snacked on the complimentary hummus, served with marinated radishes, crusty bread, and Mediterranean olives. We complained about our employers a little bit. We decided we were having way too much fun to stop.

We took the train down to Chinatown and Soho, two of my favorite places to explore. We were like two little kids trading secret treasures - she showed me her obscure foodie locales, I showed her mine. We sampled all the delicious treats along the way. We ended our journey at the bar in Aquagrill in Soho, an experience that left me speechless. I sipped The Glacier, a martini made with citrus vodka, fresh mint syrup, and served with a small scoop of homemade grapefruit sorbet on top. I snacked on the best (and undoubtedly the freshest) seafood I've ever had. A variety of oysters, clams, followed by peppered tuna carpaccio - each bite was exciting. I also tried mysterious periwinkles for the first time. A periwinkle is an earthy-tasting sea snail that, once you maneuver its curly flesh out of the shell and dip in aioli, is quite addictive.

Coming back to realty is never easy after spending the day in foodie-fantasy land. But since I'm inevitably joining the ever-growing unemployed, at least I'm going in with a satisfied smile.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Not 'Cho Average Nachos

Sometimes you just need some nachos for dinner. This is another great dish that allows you to use up whatever you have hanging around the kitchen. I like mine with smokey black beans, sweet yellow peppers, tomatoes, Monterey Jack cheese, green onions and a dollop of sour cream. Jack cheese is great because stays soft and melty to the last bite.

Recipe for Not 'Cho Average Nachos:
  • Tortilla chips
  • Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • One can of black beans, drained (you'll use about 1/2 can per plate of nachos)
  • 1/4 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 small tomato, seeds and juice removed and diced
  • 2 green onions, sliced thin
  • Sour cream
  • Optional extras: guacamole/avocados, salsa, corn, jalapenos, chicken, beef, etc. I like to cook the beans seasoned with minced garlic, hot Tabasco sauce, cumin and kosher salt.

Heat the oven to 425. In a skillet over medium heat, cook the beans with the minced garlic, hot sauce, a pinch of cumin and a pinch of salt. Cook for about 4-5 minutes. Arrange the first layer of chips on an ovenproof plate and prepare the other ingredients while the beans cook. Scatter the beans across the chips, and add desired amount of shredded cheese. Arrange another layer of chips, and top with more cheese. Scatter the tomatoes, peppers and green onions across the top. Stick the plate in the oven for about 5-8 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the edges of the top chips start to brown. Remove from the oven (don't forget the hot pads!) and top with sour cream. Devour.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Use it or Lose it

Whenever I need to make something out of nothing, fried rice is usually the answer. I almost always have rice and some kind of veggie hanging around the kitchen.

A few keys to fried rice: the rice should be cold. Leftover rice from that Chinese takeout you got last week is perfect. You know - you order the meal, you only eat about 1/5 of the rice they give you, then that little cardboard box hides in your fridge until you eventually throw it out. Don't throw it out, make fried rice! Rice = cold, wok = hot. Also, unless you like your rice with scraps of rubbery egg bits, throw the egg on top of the hot rice (rather than cooking it separately) as illustrated in the photo below, and stir directly into the dish. The hot rice will cook the egg, and the dish will have a nice overall taste and texture.

How to make Easy Vegetable Fried Rice:
  • Rice (cold)
  • Veggies (what 'cha got? Onions/scallions, peas, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli...)
  • Oil (I like vegetable)
  • Soy Sauce
  • Egg

Heat a small amount of oil in your wok over medium-high heat. Cook the veggies until soft. Start with the more dense veggies (like broccoli) as they will take longer to cook. Then add the rice and toss with a generous amount of soy sauce. To get a feel for it, start with a little and keep adding more until the rice has reached your desired color/taste. Once the rice is sizzlin' and the veggies and soy sauce are incorporated, stir in the egg and cook for about a minute more. Yum!