Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Come Together

Last Friday night, Cat Cora cooked me dinner.

Well. Me and about 100 other guests of Macy's, who had "Come Together" to share a meal and show support for aiding the hunger crisis.

I had so much fun, I wanted you to be a part of it. So I took a picture of every course, and saved the menu.

Marcus Samuelsson (Aquavit) did an amazing job as the MC for the evening. He was promoting his book, New American Table, and said some moving words about America's table being open and welcoming to not only him, but in general to foods and ethnic dishes from everywhere in the world. Cat Cora (Iron Chef extraordinaire) made two delicious courses that went perfectly with the Trapiche wine and pastry chef Nancy Olson's (Gramercy Tavern) show-stopping goat cheesecake with concord grape sorbet. It was all in the spirit of coming together.

The menu is pretty small on screen, but the first course was Bittersweet Chocolate Agnolotti with Roasted Butternut Squash, Sage Brown Butter and White Chocolate Emulsion, and the main course was Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Black Rice, Pistachios and Orange. The dessert was Goat Cheese Cake with Fennel Semolina Crust and Concord Grape Sorbet.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Squid and the City

To those who voted: thank you. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was having my fate decided by forces outside of myself. The grand-banquet buffet of options for “things to do in NYC” can be absolutely paralyzing at times, and it’s not entirely uncommon for me to just lie in bed and whimper on weekend mornings. Or to simply fall into the farmers market/dog park/cook something/eat it/watch movie/go to bed early routine, which I can do just about anywhere on the planet. Sometimes the awesome-ness of New York propels me to go out and embrace its powerful experiences, but sometimes it overwhelms me so much I want to cry. Then I feel guilty for not embracing all it has to offer. Then I feel overwhelmed again. Then I reluctantly acknowledge that I am a neurotic weirdo.

What made last weekend even more exciting was the fact that the voting was still happening throughout (since I had forgotten to change the settings of the poll to have it end on Friday), and on Saturday morning, it was still anyone’s game. Since “Curry Hill” finally emerged as the clear winner, I promise to do that one soon, but last Sunday afternoon, squid pulled into the lead with a whopping 2 votes.

Saturday went like this:
Nathan: “What should we do this weekend?”
Me: “I won’t know until more people vote.”
Nathan: “Huh?”
Me: “Here are the options: Little Italy in the Bronx for fresh rabbit, but that has no votes, or squid shopping, or the Greek neighborhood in Queens, or Curry Hill; those all have one vote.”
Nathan: “It’s nice out. All those sound good. What do you want to do?”
Me: “The Bronx or Queens. Those are the furthest away. And I know the rabbit stew has no votes yet, but I kind of want to check out the Bronx Zoo. Plus, if something else winds up with more votes, there’s always tomorrow.”

So that’s how I ended up with the best pasta ever. After about 90 minutes wandering around the zoo (with Nathan asking every 30 minutes or so, “Any more votes?”), we headed East a few blocks over to the historic Arthur Avenue/E. 187th Street “Little Italy” neighborhood of the Bronx. Unfortunately it was pretty late in the day by the time we arrived, and Vincent’s Meat Market was closing up shop. I still had no votes for rabbit stew, so I shrugged and told myself I can always come back (the train ride wasn’t THAT long). I did arrive just in time to Borgatti’s on E. 187th to pick up some homemade ravioli – creamy ricotta pillows encased in fresh pasta dough, perfected over their 70 years in business.

On Sunday, I kept an eye on the mini-web browser on my phone, and when squid received its second vote, I scooted over to Citarella to consult the friendly gentlemen behind the fish counter. I practically ran the 15 blocks to get there. When I arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes – no squid in the squid spot. There is ALWAYS squid in the squid spot. I silently cursed the mini-crowd around the fish counter as if each person was there specifically to buy up all the squid and consciously foil my day. Too late to go to Chinatown; should have gone out for squid earlier; I bet that woman over there bought all my squid – she’s probably eats squid every Sunday – leave some squid for the rest of us, lady! My general New York neurosis was not helping one bit.

Deep breath, my rational brain waves kindly reminded me. “Excuse me; are you all out of squid for today?” The guy behind the counter smiles and says four magic words, with a wink: “Oh I’ve got squid.” He waves me down to the other end of the counter, goes back behind a wall for about 3 seconds, and emerges…with squid. “It’s nice and fresh, too, how much would you like?” I sputter “one-half pound please” in barely comprehensible vernacular because my general New York neurosis and rational brain waves are doing cartwheels of joy together.

(Cease cartwheels)

Suddenly I remember: I have never cleaned squid (or cooked with it for that matter), but I wouldn’t mind trying to figure it all out. “Is it cleaned and gutted and all that?” “Yeah lady, don’t worry.” “Oh. Okay. Thanks.”

I try to look relieved rather than reveal my disappointment. I know exactly what to do with clean squid, but I was kind of intrigued by having to figure out how to do all the dirty work myself. Maybe I will have to get a Chinatown squid sometime after all.

I decided to make “Squid Scampi” as a first course to the delicious fresh pasta dinner. It’s a typical scampi recipe, just featuring squid instead of shrimp.

Recipe for Squid Scampi:

Note: This dish would be even better with shrimp. I should have left that in the recipe. And maybe even added more seafood elements like scallop, mussels, etc. If you decide to up the quantity of fish used, up the other ingredients as well.
  • ½ lb fresh squid, sliced (see photo)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • ½ of a bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp of dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • Fresh chopped parsley for garnish
  • Salt

Heat the oil on medium-low heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and the bay leaf. Cook for a minute or so until garlic sizzles golden but not burned. Toss in the squid (and shrimp if using). Squid and shrimp need very little time over the heat. They cook fast, and can overcook easily. Sprinkle a little salt over the dish. After 20-30 seconds the squid will turn opaque, then you really need to watch because as it just becomes opaque and firms up, it is done. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and wine, and discard the bay leaf and garlic chunks (if you prefer). Top with parsley and serve with crusty bread.



To prepare a cleaned squid, simply trim the tentacles and slice the body horizontally into rings.

The finished product looked like garlic Squidy-O’s.

We ate the ravioli with tomato sauce. Molto bene!

Monday, September 21, 2009

If I had a Pig Head

What does one do with a van full of watermelons?

Last weekend I saw a parked van with its sliding side door swung wide open, exposing the vehicle as a mobile watermelon treasure chest. Of course I had to stop what I was doing and take a picture.

No one was selling the watermelons. There was a little stand nearby, but from what I could tell they were peddling frozen treats. Not whole watermelons. That's just ridiculous. Some little kid on the playground: "Mommy! I want a watermelon!" (points to the van) Mom: "No no sweetie, it's not like picking a Halloween pumpkin." Kid: "But I want this one!"

So, seriously, what do you do with a van full of watermelons? They must be headed somewhere. Maybe somewhere interesting. A party. A big one. A big party for Brad and Angelina and their 6 or 7 (right? I totally lost count) kids out on Long Island. Yeah.

My husband is used to me. He knows what it means when I say, "hang on..." and I slow down my step and start digging in my purse for my iPhone-with-handy-built-in-camera. It means I've come across some sort of New York oddity that must be documented so that when I inevitably return to the Midwest I can maintain a worldly sense of perspective (Not all vans are full of soccer equipment, I'll remind myself 10 years from now. Some are full of watermelons. Watermelons that go to fabulous star-studded Long Island parties.).

Exhibit B: Giant, sparkling hot dogs, being prepped for what I imagine to be some decadent outdoor soiree in Madison Square Park, featuring, oh, let's see, the guy-who-always-wins-those-hot-dog-eating-contests and the cast of Saturday Night Live.

Then there are the pig heads. The pig heads disturb me.

Not even for obvious reasons (what, like that they're flat-out creepy looking? That the eyes are fair game, but God forbid they leave the skin on??). I am cool with other cultures and their cuisines and whatnot. I'm even a pretty adventurous eater. What disturbs me is that these guys are in a cafeteria-style bin right next to the register, as if they might be considered an impulse purchase. "Let's see... I got everything I need... hmmm...... well, what the heck, I think I'll just get a pack of gum, too. And a People magazine. And I better get one of these pig heads."

If I had a van full of watermelons, I'd make sangria. If I had a sparkling hot dog, I'd display it on my porch. If I had a pig head, I have absolutely no idea what I'd do with it.

(On quick personl rnt, my "A" key is not working nd it's relly frustrting. If I wnt n "A" I relly hve to push down on it quite forcefully, more thn once, nd then mybe, just mybe, my keybord decides to give it to me. Don't worry - I'll try not to let it interefere with my postings. Fortuntely, my "E" key works, s it's the most commonly used letter in the English lnguge. Food for thought.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Has It Really Been That Long?

Nostalgia takes over me as these days grow shorter and also (seemingly) warmer. It was a nasty summer in New York, but late August and September have been perfectly lovely. It reminds me of Minnesota summers - they always seem to save the best for last. I can't help but daydream about the warm-with-a-slight-fall-crisp-in-the-air late summer/early fall weekends that I used to spend “up North” at my family lake home.

Weekends at The Lake were quiet, wonderful weekends. Busy, yet lazy. Chores were rewarded with long naps in a large hammock suspended between two oaks. The soothing sound of the crystal-clear water lapping on the shore that plays on eternal repeat in the background. A tall glass of coke in one hand, which, for some reason, always tasted better than any other cokes in any other moment, and a favorite book in the other.

Of course, in the midst of all my great memories is food. My dad, being the pizza-loving guy that he is, built a wood-burning oven in the lake house to make homemade wood-fired pizza. We would go through the whole process: make the dough, pound the dough, let it rise, pick out our ingredients, etc.

When you’re at The Lake, time and schedules don’t exist. We do have a clock. We do know that time still passes. We just choose to ignore it. Dinners at 11 p.m. are not uncommon at The Lake. We don’t even notice.

Fortunately, the intense fire in the wood-burning oven can cook a pizza in about 2 minutes flat.

It’s not that I can’t recreate some delicious pizza in New York. It’s that I can never have The Lake. In a city where I have grown accustomed to being able to obtain anything, anything at all that I could possibly want, do anything, see or be anything, I can’t be the person I am when I am in the presence of The Lake.

I’ll frequently walk over to the Hudson River and try to pretend that it’s My Lake. Minus the gridlock traffic nearby. And the honking and yelling. And the Jersey skyline. And the distant sirens. And the hundreds of people I am inevitably in contact with every time I step foot outside…. Sigh.

To be in the correct “Lake” frame of mind when I eat pizza, I must make the dough myself, the way my dad would. And I must top it with extra cheese and artichoke hearts, the way I always do when I am at The Lake. My apartment barely provides room for a miniature oven so a wood-burning fireplace remains in my daydreams. I crank the little guy up to 500 and make do. It's not exactly The Lake pizza, but the Hudson isn't exactly The Lake either.

Oh, and yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my blog. Has it really been that long? Yikes. Thanks for reading!

Recipe for The Lake Pizza:

1.) Make a batch of good dough. 2.) Make a compound butter with lots of basil. 3.) Dice your artichoke hearts, and if you want, shred some prosciutto or jamon or something. Slice some fresh mozzarella into thin rounds. 4.) Pound out the dough and pinch the crust, and brush the room temperature basil butter all over 5.) Top with cheese, then the artichoke hearts, etc. Sprinkle a little dried oregano, salt and pepper on top, and grate some parmigiano-reggiano as well. 6.) Bake at 500+ on a baking stone sprinkled lightly with cornmeal until golden brown and bubbly. At 500 it will be about 10-12 minutes. If you have a wood burning oven, spin it around in there for about 2 minutes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Freakin’ Green Tomato Mac

Today I am in a “mood,” and for no good reason whatsoever. No one pushed my buttons at work. No one hassled me on the subway. My pugs are behaving like angels. Still, for some reason, everything is “f-ing this,” and “f-ing that,” and I just can’t seem to turn on the sunshine. No humans are actually getting any rain from my mental storm clouds. No dogs, even. Just my chores (the dishes and whatnot. Sorry All-Clad pots, but I know you can take it!), and occasionally the cheery disposition trying desperately to creep back inside my head that an irrationally pissed-off disposition keeps flicking at like a big bully.

So, that’s how an abundance of green tomatoes that led to a delicious baked green tomato mac became Freakin’ Green Tomato Mac.


  • 2 cups of bowtie pasta, cooked al dente
  • 2-3 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 green tomato, diced
  • ¾ cup of grated cheese (I used Swiss, because I had it in my fridge. Use whatever cheese you freakin’ want.)
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat your oven. 400 should do the trick. Cook the pasta and drain, and return the empty pot back to the stove. After frying the bacon, wipe out most of the grease and heat the pan on medium low. Toss the diced green tomatoes in the pan and let them soften a little. In the pasta pot, melt the butter over low heat and stir in the flour. Whisk in the milk, then the grated cheese. Stir in the pasta, green tomatoes, and bacon. Taste for salt and pepper. Spread out the pasta in an oven-safe baking dish. Meanwhile, toss the Panko with olive oil, and sprinkle it over the top of the pasta. Bake for 10 minutes or so until the top is nice and golden.

And I just noticed that my freakin' fortune cookie stopped working. How long has that been going on? Sigh.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hooray for Fall!

Tonight marks the start of NFL regular season games. Can you feel the excitement? I have the television on right now as I write this, anxiously awaiting the kickoff.

I consider myself someone who lives in the moment. I hate making plans; when forced into structure, I am a terrible planner. I have never been able to stick to a routine of any kind. I try new things. I take detours. I explore everything. I shake things up. There are, of course, exceptions to every tendency. My particular exceptions are less like chronic habits, and more like sacred traditions. Fall is the season that houses most of these sacred traditions. Football is one.

Football season means several things. I spend much more time on the couch. Sundays, Monday nights, and occasionally Thursdays, are strictly off-limits to other events and activities. My beer and carb intake inevitably increases, contributing to the annual arrival of the very thin fatty layer that keeps me warm as the temperature drops. This works out nicely since I like to eat artery-clog-worthy food while watching football, plus it helps me prepare for winter.

Being averse to routine, I have never really been good at sticking to a workout plan, which also helps to preserve the extra winter insulation. I feel like I’m in decent shape; I walk a lot, and take the stairs. Occasionally, if I’m running late to catch the subway or if I’m walking my pugs and they decide to chase a squirrel, I might even break into a “mini-jog” (a term coined by college friends when we would sort of half-run, usually while wearing heels and trying to catch that last bus to the off-site frat party). Besides, the last time I tried to conquer a treadmill, I got so sore that I vomited. Therefore, I think I will just stick to walks, stairs, the intermittent mini-jog, and couch yoga while watching football. Especially since I’m okay with what I see in the mirror when I step out of the shower, and I don’t hear any complaints from the one other person who sees me naked, so couch yoga and artery-clogging it is. Hooray for fall!

Another sacred fall tradition is fried green tomatoes. I find ‘em, I fry ‘em. They can be elusive, but check out farmers markets over the next couple of weeks and you should be able to turn some up. Or you can just do what I do: try to grow tomatoes over the summer, fail miserably, and pluck the underdeveloped green tomatoes as they mock you.

I wrote a green tomato blurb last year with a family recipe that you can read by clicking here. I finally added some photos, too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Spice is Nice

Fall is upon us, and typically the temperature of the air is directly proportionate to the amount of rich, aromatic spices I use in cooking. As the outside temps cool off, the general spiciness of my meals heat up. Spice cupboards always need a "fall cleaning." If you find spices hanging around that have been there for over a year, it's time to give them the boot, unless they start paying you rent. In fact, the length of their lease should really be about 6 months, if you're being strict about it.

Always a mystery is, what on earth made me decide to buy such a large quantity of a spice I rarely use? Is that curry powder back there? What made me think I needed that much curry powder? Did I decide I was going to master a new cuisine because I'm such a worldly New Yorker now? Didn't I realize that Indian restaurants deliver $4 curry dishes at all hours?

Didn't I understand that curry powder is at its best flavor for only about 2 months??

You get the gist. I needed to do something with this particular spice blend (yes, curry powder is a blend of, like, 20 other spices). I was so excited that Chelsea Market was selling bulk spices for cheap, that I had ditched my rule of buying ground spices in small quantities. So I was in possession of a whole lot of it. Chicken + curry powder is usually a safe and tasty combo. This recipe is fast and easy.

Recipe for Spicy Chicken Curry:
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne powder
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I like Fage)
  • Kosher salt
  • Serve over cooked rice

In a heavy pot with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat, and stir in the onion, garlic, and ginger. Stir occasionally until soft, and then stir in the curry powder, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, and some salt. Stir in the pieces of chicken and brown the outside for a few minutes. Mix in the tomatoes and yogurt. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 8-10 minutes. Taste for salt - it will probably need it - and stir in the fresh cilantro. Serve the spicy chicken curry over rice.