Thursday, March 31, 2005

always look on the bright side

last night i had a terrific evening with cerry and ethan, which included a delightful dinner at punch and judy on clinton street, a strange movie at the sunshine, and good conversation. we talked about the necessity of staying positive and the dangers of becoming bitter over failures, disappointments, etc.

bitterness as a state of mind and being can crush a soul, and make a person unpleasant to be around. being in the profession i've been in (and i'm not talking about grants and contracts here, people), i have had to negotiate a tremendous amount of disappointment and failure. it's been my great quest to keep the stank of bitterness off myself; i've seen it sour people i know, and once it's there, it's hard to shake (like the smell of cat pee or something). better to keep it away in the first place. also true of/in love. being a bitter gal, unable to take joy in other's people romantic successes is mean-spirited, kind of a bummer to be around, and certainly won't bring any more love your way.

so here's to looking on the bright side of things, because hell, it's there, i totally promise.

tomorrow i am LITERALLY heading to the bright side of things--los angeles. here's to fish tacos, avocados, smoothies, produce, and hopefully some kick-ass korean and thai food.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

highlights

ok, a food roundup of the past few days:

la palapa-- spent friday night at the bar at this mexican restaurant on 8th street and 1st ave. tasty, if weak, margaritas, excellent guacamole, delicious sweet plantains and corn/epazote quesadillas. after 6 drinks, it was like i had three, which incidentally, is too many for me. i staggered home. i love la palapa for the lively atmosphere and the authentic and delicious mexican food.

orange ricotta pancakes--after a tipoff from the home cooking board of chowhound, found martha stewart's orange ricotta pancake recipe. i highly recommend them. they are easy to make, and light and unusual. served them to lesley with syrup, orange slices and powdered sugar on top.

beef bourgignon-- dinner party at ethan and alexia's. haven't had a hearty stew like this in soooo long. hunks of bacon and a meaty rich sauce. not to mention at a perfectly set table, everything elegant and matching.

tabla bread bar-- have begun frequenting this place again after a long hiatus. the elegant experience without the prices of the upstairs restaurant. i am in love with their rosemary naan. also had a terrific chickpea soup with calamari on top.

breakfast bruschetta-- at noho star this morning, had toasted bruschetta bread with goat cheese, softly scrambled eggs and sundried tomato pieces, pesto and olive oil drizzled over the top. it was excellent!

Friday, March 25, 2005

tuna

apparently we're not supposed to eat tuna these days. my friend's sister works for the EPA and has the inside scoop; she says the once-a-week rule is even too lax. knowing what she does about mercury, she stays the hell away from tuna and other fish pretty much all the time.

so if tuna can only be eaten once in a blue moon, you'll really want to pack a punch. no crappy tuna from a can slapped together with some mayo and chopped celery. last night i went out for dinner with my aunt and as part of my "fish: welcome back to my life!" program, i ordered my old fave tuna nicoise.

this salad is called "nicoise" because of the small french nicoise olives it must have. other necessary ingredients include tuna (obvi), haricots verts, potatoes, tomatoes and hard-boiled egg. other optional additions are capers and anchovies.

when i've made it for myself, i usually proceed as follows:

TUNA NICOISE

sushi-grade tuna steaks, salted and peppered and pan seared
green beans (or the nice thin haricots verts if you can find them) steamed or blanched
hard-boiled eggs
grape tomates (or big tomatoes, if they're in season. the ones last night were hard and flavorless)
boston or bibb lettuce, cleaned and dried
thinly sliced red onion
nicoise olives (if in a bind, use kalamata and you can call it "tuna kalamata")
small red potatoes, quartered and roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper (trad'l= simply boiled)


dressing: red wine vinegar, olive oil, dijon, minced shallot, anchovy paste optional

dress the lettuce, onion, beans and tomato
make a bed with it on the large dinner sized plate
quarter an egg and arrange on the plate
artfully place several potato quarters on the plate
slice the tuna and add last to the plate
finally you can sprinkle fresh basil ribbons and nicoise olives on top

healthy, delicious, and all your food groups (including mercury!) on one plate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

abundance/scarcity

new york city contains the most amazing juxtapositions of abundance and scarcity. i don't mean this in the obvious way (the mexico, india way) of really really rich people right up next to really really poor people. instead i mean that nyc itself contains an abundance of resources and yet they can also feel scarce--real or imagined.

the obvious scarcity is square footage. 400 sq. feet per person is luxurious (at least for the people i hang out with). a box in the sky must serve as a palace. a 600 sq. foot restaurant holds an entire kitchen and 20 tables. in this way, the scarcity breeds a kind of abundance--space is abundantly maximized, people must be abundantly creative. the obvious abundance is choice. four dry cleaners in three blocks, 7 italian restuarants in four blocks, etc.

last weekend was a weekend in which i kept encountering the paradox of abundance and scarcity. first i decided to check out the popular "sculpt" class at my gym. i actually try to avoid the gym on weekends since it is so crowded, but i made an exception in this case. i got there 45 minutes before the class start time and got the second to last space! then, once they opened the doors, i had to scuttle in and grab the necessary weights (i eavesdropped on the conversation outside and gleaned some inside tips). it was a crazy free-for-all, way too much stress. the class was ok. pretty good. but i will never go back. the wartime feeling of desperation in the face of scarcity over a GYM CLASS was too strange.

the next morning my mother, brother and i tried to get into my local brunch joint at 10:50 am. this used to be the place i went when i didn't want a wait. i can't even print the name here because the place has gotten so g-damn popular it really doesn't need any more kind words. but at 10:50 am, the wait was 45 minutes. and the line kept growing, people huddled in the chilly rain under their black umbrellas. we ended up at a perfectly fine place down the block which was half empty. new yorkers seem to thrive on this feeling of getting in on something scarce, i realized.

nyc is a city overflowing with choices, overflowing with resources, and yet i often find myself waiting on a line, cramming myself into a too-tight space, fighting for 3-lb. weights as though my life depended on it.

Monday, March 21, 2005

dad

it was five years ago today that my father died. as the years have passed i have started to recognize the ways in which he was my culinary guide. actually, as the years have passed i have started to see and understand lots of new things about my father, and about the ways in which i was more like him than i ever suspected.

dad was an improvisor in the kitchen--i never saw him use a recipe. he was very experimental (especially with leftovers). most of the time his experiments worked, sometimes they failed. the great majority of these experiments involved a wok, ginger, and garlic.

about a year or so after dad died, i was reading an article in the paper about a man in texas (go figure) who was being executed that day. they described his request for his final meal, and it got me thinking about what i'd request for my final meal (if being executed in texas. work with me, people). i began to weep, realizing that what i wanted more than anything was dad's chicken chow fun, his specialty that my brother and i so revered, we would request it whenever we came home from college. i never really watched him cook it with any sort of attention to the detail. it never occurred to me that i wouldn't be eating chow fun for the rest of my life.

dad occasionally had meetings near city hall, and would walk home through chinatown, buying asian vegetables and chow fun noodles as he travelled. there was no recipe, of course, yet each time he hit a homerun outta the park with this dish. i have never had this dish in a chinese restaurant and not been completely disappointed. if it's not dad's, i don't want it.

today, in honor of dad, i am going to try to recreate his chow fun. after work, i'm heading to chinatown to buy ingredients. then i'll walk home to mom's house, just like he did, and use his wok, and try like hell to make the dish. then mom, ethan, and i will eat it, and if we're lucky be transported, through food, to a place and time when things were more whole.

much love love love to you, dad.

Friday, March 18, 2005

regeneration

it's all well and good to paint an egg, or dye an egg, or hide it or whatever. me, i want to eat an egg. spring begins two days from now, and eggs have traditionally, across many cultures, been a symbol of spring. i myself need no bidding to eat eggs, i do it all the time, but i am usually doing it with no nod to their symbolic significance.

i could use a new beginning right about now (and so could a few of my close friends--you know who you are), so i am really pleased about the new season. the warmer weather and the arrival of produce beyond potatoes and cabbage doesn't hurt either.

i offer you now 3 ways to enjoy hard boiled eggs :

1. EGG ON TOAST. Hard boil an egg. This takes longer than you might think. Keep that puppy in the boiling water for 15 minutes or so. Seriously. If it's undercooked, it'll be a bitch to peel. Toast a piece of your favorite bread. Spread a nice whole grain mustard on it. Slice the egg, place on the bread, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Enjoy.

2. DEVILED EGGS: Slice a dozen hard boiled eggs in half lengthwise. Scoop out the yellow parts all together in one bowl. Add a tbsp or two of mayonnaise, a tsp of good mustard, cracked black pepper. Spoon filling back into egg halves, sprinkle with paprika.

3. LENTILS/SPINACH/EGGS: This oddball recipe seems strange, but is hearty and truly delicious. From Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Cook french lentils simply in water. Saute onion rings until deeply brown, on the verge of caramelization. Saute spinach in garlic. Hard boil a few eggs. One portion looks like this: a bed of garlic spinach, topped with a mound of lentil, topped with a small mound of onions, topped with one chopped hard-boiled egg.

here's to eggs. and spring. and new beginnings/possibilities.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

food and ritual

today is st. patrick's day and i made two different kinds of irish soda bread. i am not irish, and i have no personal history of eating or making irish soda bread, but i appreciate creating a food that i know is part of a long and rich history on this day.

when my family has its chanukah party, i try to hand-grate potatoes and make latkes from scratch. the story of chanukah is no more a part of our holiday these days than the story of jesus' birth is part of most christmases, but i love maintaining a part of the story through the making of the food.

sometimes certain foods are ritualistic not from a national history or a religious tradition, but simply from personal history. it's comforting knowing that when connie hosts a breakfast or brunch, there will be maple-glazed ham. when joan and i go for breakfast, we'll have coffees and granola with fruit and an order of baguette. the ritual of it all is soothing and delicious.

next week is purim--i really ought to make hamentashen.

what food rituals do you have?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

freezing

my mom loves to freeze stuff. obvious things like steaks and chicken breasts, yes, but also nuts and spices, syrup and baguettes and once i swear i came upon frozen olive oil in the freezer at our old country house. as a result i am a bit freezer averse, but there are a few things for which i make an exception.

i have a cookbook i inherited from my mom (stole), written by the owner/chefs of a now-defunct restaurant. called "the frog commissary," it sounds vaguely mooosewood-ish with its down-home, community-oriented vibe, unpretentious recipes, and hand illustrated designs.

there is one particular recipe that has stolen my heart. i love these pancakes fresh, but also, they freeze incredibly well. put 3 or 4 in a ziploc baggie, throw them in the freezer. when ready to eat them, just plop them in a toaster oven or in the actual oven.

OATMEAL SUNFLOWER SEED PANCAKES

½ cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¾ cup raw sunflower seeds
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp corn oil
2 cups milk
1 egg

Preheat oven to 300 degrees
Spread coconut on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 5-7 minutes until light brown
Cool and combine with other dry ingredients

Beat together oil, milk and egg
Add wet ingredients to dry ones and stir to combine
Cook pancakes on greased griddle

Serve with sliced bananas and maple syrup.

Monday, March 14, 2005

i'm the sort of person who

i am assisting/observing a cooking class for inner city kids. every week these kids have to confront some food they have either never seen before, or have seen but “don’t eat.” mushrooms, asparagus, butter (!), fish. it’s thrilling to see a 17 year old guy try cod en papillote for the first time. you can see him experiencing the flavors playing off his tongue. you can see him thinking “if i was wrong about fish, what else am I wrong about…”

when we were 19 or so, my friend adam pointed out my habit of saying "i’m the sort of person who…” he urged me not to use the phrase, not to pigeonhole myself all the time.
i agreed to stop saying it about myself and others, and I found that it really did have the effect of expanding my sense of self. it sounds goofy, but it worked.

every time we try something new, something we thought we could not do, or something we thought we did not like, we are expanding the possibilities of who we can be. in oaxaca i balked at eating a grasshopper, but forced myself (it wasn’t so bad actually), knowing that any limitation i put on myself is the equivalent of saying “i’m the sort of person who…..(doesn’t eat grasshoppers).”

COD EN PAPILLOTE

1 cod filet
1 handful washed and trimmed spinach
¼ cup julienned red pepper
2 thin lemon slices
1 thin pat butter

using parchment paper or tin foil.

preheat oven to 375 degrees
take paper and fold in half. imagine you are filling a beef patty (pile ingredients on one side, in a circle in the middle of the side)
lay down spinach and peppers
lay fish on top
place lemon slices and butter on top.
fold edges of paper tightly, in the manner of a beef patty (c’mon, people, beef patty!)
if using parchment, brush top with melted butter
place in oven on a cookie sheet
cook for 20 minutes
slice open top of parcel, watch the steam pour out.

Friday, March 11, 2005

i am the greatest writer who ever lived

being snarky, like eating candy, is something that feels good for a sec, but then you start to feel bad/sick. i was already snarky in one post this week, so it is with reservations that i tell you today about a completely snarky and thoroughly delightful blog about frank bruni's NYTimes food reviews.

check out http://brunidigest.blogspot.com

i read a lot of restaurant reviews, theatre reviews, and film reviews. sometimes (anthony lane, john lahr) i forgive the reviewer anything because his/her writing is so exquisite and hilarious. more often, though, the whole practice of reviewing seems like an elaborate form of ego massage on the part of the reviewer.

i'd like a film review that says merely: "hey, check this one out." or: "this one is kinda good." how about a restaurant review that says: "cool atmosphere, interesting food." i understand that it is good to have someone's opinion before you go plunk down $10.50 (movie), $45 (theatre) or $500 (masa), but i don't need a 6 paragraph rhapsody.

the bruni digest made me laugh out loud. definitely check it out.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

informed eating

these days people read the nutrition labels on their food to check for calories, fat content, and carb content. it is also a good idea to read for ingredients. how long is the list? are you unable to identify any of the ingredients? is high fructose corn syrup listed in the first three?

i myself am trying to stop eating fake food. it is very difficult in this city when you are in a rush, to buy things that are real food. in the ubiquitous corner deli i find your best bets are:

bag of nuts
banana
individual stonyfield organic yogurt

I am also trying to avoid food with high fructose corn syrup. this means there are practically no bottled juices i can buy at the local korean deli/bodega. it has also meant giving up a lot of the fake energy bars i used to eat. i try now to stick to odwalla bars, luna bars, and clif bars. the ingredients are all totally identifiable and none of them are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. i used to adore balance gold bars (they taste like a piece of giant passover candy. yummmm). then one day i looked at the ingredient list and about 3 of the first 6 ingredients were different types of sugar. jeez! just because you can buy something in a health food store, doesn't mean it's healthy.

so, in honor of my trip to spring street natural with shannon tonight, i declare this "pay attention to your food" week. make every bite count.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

things turned out surprisingly well

today i was reading an article about a man who survived a massive heart attack. afterwards his daughter reportedly said to him: " you must have had more you needed to do on this earth." as if the people who are unfortunate enough to die don't really have much more to offer.

for some reason this reminds me of reading two interviews within a short span, in two different magazines. one was with oprah, one with gwyneth paltrow. both women expressed that they had "always known they were special." i felt the need to tell them that most children feel inside, in some secret unspoken place, that they are special and destined for greatness. for most of them, though, this dream/expectation is never realized.

i just wish people understood better the concept of luck. everybody feels they have lots more living to do and that dying now would be too soon. some people are lucky enough to survive it (the heart attack, the car accident, the pancreatitis). everybody dreams of someday being a famous movie star/published author/award-winning scientist. some people are lucky enough to have this dream come true. if only people weren't so tempted to see everything in this oprah-ish haze of deeper meaning, and a reason for everything. if only they understood what a huge part luck plays in just about everything.

i propose that the daughter of the heart attack victim should turn to her father and say:" wow, dad, things turned out surprisingly well!" or that gwynnie and oprah should turn to each other at spago and say:" wow, life has turned out surprisingly well!"

here's a dish that turns out surprisingly well. it's called

CAULIFLOWER RICHMOND

one big sweet onion (vidalia, spanish, whatev)
one head cauliflower, cut into florets
olive oil
brown sugar
tomato juice (1 cup?)
grated parmesan cheese

slice the onion
saute it in a soup pot until onion is richly browned
add cauliflower, toss
add tomato juice and one spoonful of sugar
add salt and pepper, toss again
cover, cook until tender
move it into a baking dish, cover with parmesan cheese, run it under the broiler

dig in, enjoy this dish with friends. then take a moment to think how lucky you are for good friends and good food.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

sideways

typically, i do not notice the "sides" on a menu. i look at appetizers, main dishes, that sort of thing. shouldn't a dish come with its own built-in sides?

the first time i ate at hearth, i was directed beforehand to partake of two particular sides, and this opened my eyes to this sometimes forgotten part of a menu. at hearth i had hen-of-the-woods mushrooms (also called maitake mushrooms, i think) and some lighter-than-air gnocchi. i think you really should not eat there without getting these two dishes. craft, as i understand it, makes a whole menu of sides.

i recently ate at ouest for the first time. since i was at the bar, and not wanting to get carried away (and since this place is a little pricey), i went with two sides. a few months ago i ate with some folks at lavagna, and watched jealously as my tablemate ate scrumptious looking sides of polenta and sauteed spinach. remembering that evening, i ordered the same at ouest.

at lavagna the polenta was rustic and italian looking, a deep yellow. this polenta at ouest is really more like a bowl of butter and cream--somewhere between cheese grits and cream of wheat. it was pale and smooth, and utterly delicious. the spinach, too, was just right (bright green and garlicky).

so, next time you go to a restaurant, don't forget the sides.

Monday, March 07, 2005

pain perdu

two weekends ago, i had the best french toast i have ever had. i feel it necessary to give a shout out to jane, on houston, whose brioche french toast was the perfect consistency, practically a souffle in the middle. the other brunch selections are also terrific, including eggs with cheese grits (i'll eat cheese grits for pretty much any meal of the day). this probably explains the long lines for brunch (that and the complimentary cocktail). not exactly my crowd, and the ambiance does nothing for me, but i will be back for that heavenly french toast.

"pain perdu" is the french name for french toast. it means "lost bread," and probably refers to the fact that it's a good use for old bread that you would no longer want to eat plain.

i myself make challah french toast that'll suffice for the home chef. it's my rendition of the french toast in the "fields of greens" cookbook.

CHALLAH FRENCH TOAST

eggs (usually about 2-3 per person)
milk
a splash of OJ (the cookbook said orange zest, but i'm more likely to have OJ around than an actual orange)
a splash of vanilla
a large shake or two of cinnamon
day (or two) old challah

like all things made in a skillet or on a griddle, the second batch always has the perfect exterior, first batches are so hard to get right. there's a metaphor for life somewhere in there.

Friday, March 04, 2005

rock and serve

not all plastic food storage containers are created equal. about a year and a half ago, i moved, and decided it was time to buy new tupperware for bringing my lunch to work. i tend to bring all kinds of messy things to the office: dressed salads, things with sauces...these not only tend to leak all over your bag, they tend to leave the tupperware stained and smelly.

after some research i was directed to the tupperware website where i purchased from their "rock and serve" line. the title of the line is enough to get a person excited, i think. i shelled out a pretty penny for two different sized containers and i have never regretted it! they are air-tight, it's quite amazing. i have never had a leak. plus they still look brand new--odorless, and clean as a whistle. i cannot recommend these highly enough.

(and i guess this is another example of when to buy expensive. cheap tupperware is penny wise, pound foolish).

Thursday, March 03, 2005

to be or not to be

to be or not to be a vegetarian? i have been wrestling with this question ever since i took "religion and ecology" as a sophomore in college. as an animal lover, and an informed eater, i reject meat. as a gastronome, i know that no soup tastes as good as the one made with bacon, that no vegetarian dish can get the depth and complexity of flavor that a brisket has.

some vegetarian dishes make me nearly content. one such is the tofu b.l.t. which i modeled after the sandwich at candle cafe on manhattan's upper east side. i used to make and eat it all the time, now i haven't had one in over a year. i will post the recipe here, and hopefully that will inspire the reintroduction of tofu b.l.t.'s into my life.

2 slices high quality wheat or "health bread"
2 pieces "smart bacon"
extra firm tofu
lettuce
tomato
avocado (if it's around the house)
mayonnaise

a day or so in advance, drain the excess water off your tofu by putting it in a dish with a lip, covering it with a plate, and weighting it down with something heavy, like a big can or a big cookbook.

after about an hour, there will be lots of water in the lipped plate, which you will pour off.

cut the tofu into 8 rectangular pieces, lay in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar. sprinkle various italian seasonings on top. now you can either broil the slices, or bake them at about 350 until they firm up and turn a little brown. this is enough tofu for four b.l.t.s

toast your bread.

slice your tomatoes.
prepare your lettuce.
sizzle up your fake bacon.
spread mayo on bread.
assemble (tofu can be hot, warm, or room temp, use 2 slabs).
cut in half.
enjoy.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

the dessert that eats like a meal

last week i told you to keep overripe bananas in your freezer for banana bread. this week, i will enlighten you with a second use for them:

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE BANANA SMOOTHIES

into your blender, toss one frozen banana cut in two and the peel cut off
one giantly heaping tablespoon of chunky all natural peanut butter
about a cup or two of chocolate soy milk
one scant tablespoon of vanilla frozen yogurt

blend.

enjoy sipping and/or with a spoon.

i often get home late, around 9 pm, not having eaten any dinner. this shake is perfect because it crams dinner and dessert into one quick meal.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

eating for a good cause

most of the time when i stuff my face i think: no good can come of this.

last night i was wrong!

my mom, ethan, alexia and i attended the CCAP benefit at pier 60. CCAP is a program started by rick grausman (jen's dad) which trains public school high school students for careers in the culinary arts. it is a terrific organization and i love going to their benefit every february. many big name chefs have tables there. you can rub shoulders with daniel boulud and watch marcus samuelsson work his magic. also you can see wylie dufresne's cool mutton chops, not to mention eat his food.

the highlights of last night's tasting were for me: the oyster shooter from blue hill. with fresh grated horseradish and edamame on top. also loved the foie gras creme brulee from, um, oh shoot! the amazing octopus salad with purple potatoes, eggplant and string beans was from olives i think. also i ate snails. and a lamb tamale (dos cominos) and short ribs (kitchen 22). and parsip soup (fleur de sel). and lamb chops. and key lime cheesecake. and brown sugar cake (craft). and some savory cream thing from fauchon. all topped off with a cappucino at the illy stand.

although you have missed the event this year, it is never too late to make a charitable donation to CCAP.

Share!