Friday, January 26, 2007

Going out into the cold to buy chocolate ice cream

It's Friday and D and I stopped in Chinatown for fish for the weekend before going home to Brooklyn. We made tilapia with olives and mushrooms in a butter sauce on a bed of sauteed spinach with tomato and garlic alongside roasted veggies: garlic, onions, carrots, and beets, with a slice of lemon. Quite a meal; a good cure for a stressful week. The meal was so good, we didn't even want to eat our (very French) post-dinner salad.

We bundled up and headed out in the frigid cold of New York to the bodega to buy some chocolate ice cream. I said a lemon sorbet would be better (to go with our dinner), but he wouldn't hear of it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Farewell my friend

I haven't written in ages. Most recently, the reason has been that my dear friend Pete died on January 12. I have a link to Pete's blog on the right side of my blog entries; it's MorseKode. Pete's uncle gave the most moving speech at the memorial service in San Francisco last week, and I wish I had it word-for-word, but here's my recollection. He said that he's in aviation, and he knows a lot of pilots, a lot of experienced pilots, who know all there is to know about safety and flying. And every once in a while, the universe twists, and it takes one of them in a random accident. They know that flying is a risk, but they take it anyway, they do their best to be safe, and sometimes fate takes them. He encapsulated more about the losses we suffer in harm reduction in that one statement than I've heard in a long time.

This is what I said at the closing:

We can’t have Pete back, but his death is another reminder, another call to action.

To hold each other more dearly…
To not turn away from the camera when people want to take your picture…
To return the phone call even if you think you don’t have time…
To hug a little longer…
To kiss more slowly…
To speak up a little more…
And to ask the questions that we may be too afraid to ask.

Because this is the work that Pete was engaged in; this is harm reduction. We need each other to stick around for the party when we’re through this mess. When we can dance without a background of sadness and loss.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Single ingredient inspiration

You should always try to use all the leftover ingredients when you're cooking. It can be both the inspiration for a tasty meal the next day, or it can bring back childhood memories of a relative saying, "Eat up! There are children starving in Africa." If you're lucky, both.

D said our meal this evening was not noble enough to warrant blog, but don't worry, I wasn't planning to. (green leaf lettuce salad with mushrooms, grape tomatoes, pepitas, and raisins alongside a big, thick sirloin burger with a side of sauteed onions.)

I just wanted to advance the idea that you can always find use for your leftover onions, chives, scallions, ginger, garlic, or parsley. Or eggplant.

There's about a cup of sauteed onions left from dinner, and I put them in a jar in the fridge to use for tomorrow night's dinner. Sometimes its fun to build a meal around a single ingredient, kind of like a home-version of the Iron Chef. If I had a dedicated fan base, I'd have you all write in with suggestions for how to build a gourmet meal out of leftover sauteed onions, a little bit of feta cheese, and some cabbage. 'Cause that's what's sitting in the fridge.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Sauteing Quince

I came across a box of quinces (is that right? or is it just quince?) at the farmer's market this past weekend, and I thought it might be good to try a quince crisp, instead of an apple one. The guy who owned the stand told me to treat the quince just like an apple in terms of baking methods and time, but I think he was wrong. I sliced up the quince, which was not easy. The inner core was tough and thick, and I found that I didn't get much fruit out of two big quinces. I tasted a slice and wasn't impressed. For me, the fruit seemed a little bitter. So I started cutting the slices thinner, and I did what for me is the unthinkable in a crisp: I sprinkled sugar all over those quinces. And then I added some dried cranberries for some extra sweetness. I mixed together a cup of oats, a cup of flour, 3 TBSP brown sugar, 5 TBSP melted butter, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon for the crisp topping. I still worried about how dry the quince was, so I added about 1/3 cup of lemon juice to the fruit, then put the crisp on top. I popped it in the oven at 375 for about a half an hour. By 25 minutes, I could smell the was a really nice fragrance. I added some chopped walnuts and a few pats of butter to the top and put it back in at about 400 degrees.

Disappointing. It was very very dry. We had to put some whipped cream on top so that it was edible. Next time, I would definitely saute the quince with butter and lemon juice, and maybe even put in some cream. Or maybe not even do a quince crisp at all. Just enjoy it in jam and leave the crisp to more amenable fruits like apples, strawberries, and pears.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Crazy Head Parsnips

I really love the farmer's market at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Park! It was an insane 72 degrees in New York today, so there was no way I could resist doing a run around the park before hitting the market. I got there a little late and wasn't surprised to find that there wan't a whole lot left. I'd hoped to pick up a bunch of ginger and some tiny onions for pickling this weekend, but no luck. Checking out one of my favorite stands that sells root veggies and sprouts, though, I spotted the funniest looking things I've ever seen. They were curly-headed parsnips! (picture to the side on this page)

You can imagine the first thing I thought: pickled parsnips! How crazy it would be to pickle these things...they'd look so cool in the jars. I asked the woman who runs the stand how she cooks them, and she said she'd never heard of picking them, but she likes to soak them for a few hours to get all the dirt out, and then just roast them whole with all the curly stems, which get crispy and crunchy. It's always a good idea to get an idea about the taste of a veggie, I think, before you pickle it, so I set my excitement for pickling aside and took them home to roast for dinner.

That morning over breakfast, I dug out my two old Bon Apetit and Cooking Light magazines to look for a recipe I had seen for a navy bean salad. I found that recipefor Cauliflower, White Bean, and Feta Salad, but also found a recipe for Ponzu-Glazed Flank Steak and decided that's what we would have for dinner. It was delicious, and looked festive and fun on the plate. If we ever did open a restaurant, this could be a good meal for kids. The steak was sweet and tender, the cauliflower salad looked like little clouds on the plate, and the parsnips--we decided we'd call them "crazy head parsnips" might entice even the most veggie-resistant. We drizzled some butter garlic sauce with rosemary over the parsnip heads.

I also picked up two big quinces, and asked the man who ran that stand how to cook them. He said I could treat them just like apples, and I asked him if he'd ever made a crisp out of them. He said he hadn't, he'd made pies, though, but that I would have a hard time doing it. He said I'd end up eating all the quince slices before they made it into the crisp dish! That's the great thing about having a local market like this. You can ask the sellers all kinds of different questions about their produce.....and they always know the answers! I'll be away for the next two weekends, but the next Saturday morning I'm back in Brooklyn, you'll definitely see me up at the market buying a pound of two of crazy head parsnips for pickling!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Pickles and Eastern Europe

I went to a party tonite with old colleagues from an international organization that I used to work with. We were talking about what we were all working on, and I told them that pickling was my new interest. People who live and work in the U.S. and Western Europe were sort of bemused, but you should have seen the gleam in the eyes of people who live and work in Eastern Europe, and Russia in particular. You know why? 'Cause it is COLD there, and in the wintertime, many people don't have access to fresh vegetables; pickled veggies are staples.

So back to the problem of do I get these Americans that I know to eat my pickled vegetables. People had several ideas, much better than my idea of buying fancy plates and putting out signs. One woman suggested that I just serve pickled vegetables in place of any other type of vegetable....kind of force my guests to eat them. I liked better the idea of having very small dinner parties, just three or four more people (I actually like to invite 3 single people over for's much more interesting than two couples, who often end up talking about themselves and their coupledom). You bring the pickles out as a sort of discussion piece, like artwork. And then you can initiate a conversation about pickles. And I think it's fun to talk about them; everyone has something to say about pickles. Or maybe that's just my perception, and people think I'm crazy when I start talking about them.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

It’s good to date a chef

So D called this afternoon while I was at work saying that he was going to come over and hang out with me tonite because he had some work to do near my house tomorrow morning. All day long, I was periodically checking my regular cooking websites to come up with something snazzy but simple and healthy to cook with him tonite. But no luck. I don’t know why, I just wasn’t inspired by any of the recipes I saw. Not a disaster, as we could make a great meal out of just stuff I had in my cabinets and fridge anyway, so I didn’t despair.

After work, we met in the park for a run (about 2 miles) and on the way home, we stopped at D’s butcher shop. We both just stood there, I think still reeling from the food over the holidays, and looked at the meat case. I still wasn’t inspired so I asked him to pick. Pork chops. And he said he’d cook while I took a long indulgent shower. Sweet.

So this is the menu we came up with. It’s good to date a chef. ‘Cause even when you’ve run out of ideas, your chef will always have one.

Cheese and Triscuits
Green Leaf, Feta, and Pickled Beet salad
Herbs de Provence Braised Pork Chops with Fennel, Zucchini, and Cranberry Chutney
1 Lindt chocolate truffle & Earl Grey Tea with milk

Herbs de Provence Braised Pork Chops with Fennel and Cranberry Chutney
2- 1 in. thick cut port chops
½ Spanish onion
1 medium bulb of fennel
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 zucchini
½ grated carrot

Season with salt and fresh ground black pepper and herbs de provence. Sear in a hot cast iron pan with 11/2 Tblsp olive oil. Brown on both sides, remove, and set aside. Saute the sliced onion and fennel with the chopped garlic. Add onion before garlic browns, then add fennel after. Cut zucchini into one-inch cubes and add to the onion mixture. Hit with a splash of white wine. Add the grated carrot. (D likes to use the carrots to make the mixture a little sweeter) Place pork chops back on the mixture, cover and cook for 7 minutes. (Note: You should actually cook them medium to medium-rare because when it’s cooked through all the way, it’s dry and tougher.) Arrange on a plate with 1 heaping Tbsp of cranberry chutney and enjoy!

Prep time: 30 minutes
Servings: 2

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Happy New Year!

Whew! I feel like I just got off a rollercoaster after the holidays. Even though I planned to try to take it easy, it seems the hours were filled with making pizelles, potato pancakes with zucchini, and salad for a get-together with D's family, veggie lasagna for my mother and sister who visited during one of the craziest times to come to New York, and french onion soup and braised BBQ short ribs for a New Year's Eve dinner party.

And putting out pickles at every event.

The lesson I learned over the holidays was that I need to present my pickles in a better way so that people want to eat them. Because once they do, they generally love them (although I've gotten quite a few helpful suggestions on how to make them better, too).

I usually put them out on a nice plate, but people don't really know that they are my pickles. So I think maybe putting up a label on a little stand in front of the pickles is the way to go.

I'm excited about the New Year.....there are lots of new pickle recipes to try, and lots of friends on their way to visit with recipes of their own to share with me. If you've got a recipe for a special kind of pickle you can share, please send it to me, I'd love to try it and post the results here.


2 Spanish onions
2 cans of beef broth (or, for the vegetarians, veggie broth)
1/8 tsp thyme powder
1/4-1/2 tsp pepper (depending on your taste)
pinch of salt
12 thin slices of Swiss cheese (or Gruyere if you want to be fancy)
Sourdough bread (6 pieces, sliced thickly enough to come to the top of a ramekin, and toasted)
Romano or parmesan cheese to grate for the top
4 tbsp butter
6 ceramic ramekins (little soup bowls)

Pre-heat your oven to 550 degrees F. Slice the onions and saute in the butter for about 20 minutes on low heat so that the onions are tender and creamy, but not brown. Add broth, thyme, pepper, and salt, bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer for 15 minutes. Toast the bread in the oven (which is at 550) and place the slices in the ramekins. Pour the broth and onion mixture over the bread just as your guests arrive, and layer with 2 slices of cheese each. Grate a bit of the Romano or parmesan on top, and pop in the oven for about 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese gets a little bit brown and bubbly.

Serve steaming hot, but warn your guests about how hot it will be. Enjoy!