Saturday, December 23, 2006

village

My job is in DUMBO, and I have come to find that DUMBO is its own little village, a kind of urban industrial waterfront arrondissement, replete with a French chocolate shop (Jacques Torres) and neighborhood bakery, the almighty Almondine. In Paris, there is this wonderful certainty that on every corner you can find a terrific baguette and a darn good croissant. In New York City, there is no such guarantee (in Ohio you are up shit's creek without a midwestern paddle).

It calms me to know that four short cobblestone blocks away I can find terrific baguettes, outstanding pretzel bread, financiers, fresh quiche, daily soup specials, sandwiches--with ingredient lists that read, for example, "prosciutto, butter, artichoke hearts(!)..." and a variety of cookies, pastries and cakes.

For Thanksgiving, I bought a pumpkin pie, and was corrected in my previous belief that pumpkin pie isn't worth eating. The pie, sadly, could not save Thanksgiving, but that wasn't the pie's fault. A pie can only do so much.

For Chanukah I bought a traditional German Christmas stollen, which may seem sacreligious, but our Chanukah parties need all the icing sugar they can get. A stollen is a light airy fruitcake made with yeast, water and flour, and usually dried citrus peel, dried fruit, nuts, and spices such as cardamom and cinnamon. The finished cake is sprinkled with icing sugar, and though it too cannot save a family dinner, it can provide you something with which to stuff your face and avoid conversation. Plus it is good for days and days and makes for a nice breakfast. Why Almondine is in the business of making German fruitcakes, I do not know, but mine is not to reason why, mine is only to eat the darn thing and then sing from the moutaintops that this limited edition loaf of loveliness is a MUST HAVE.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

coming home

Waking up from a three week stint as someone who resembled me but wasn't me was like coming home. Suddenly back in my own skin, feeling my own rhythms (quick, muscular, motivated), seeing my true face in the mirror, it was like emerging from a chrysalis after too much time.

In the name of homecoming, I write about two newcomers to my neighborhood--one I love, the other left me underwhelmed.

Bocca Lupo ("in the mouth of the wolf," literally; figuratively it means "good luck"), on Henry and Warren is just what my 4 block radius needed: a wine and panini bar that doesn't seek to be anything other than what it is, which is a good neighborhood place. The salads and panini are really solid, and the atmosphere is warm, and the wine keeps flowing and is very delicious.

Lunetta on Smith between Pacific and Bergen left me wishing we'd gone to Noodle Pudding instead. I had a great glass of Valpolicella and delicious fried artichokes, but we followed the waitress' suggestions and ended up with three mediocre dishes. Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage lacked seasoning but had cream. Cream? The penne with braised lamb was a little dry, and probably should have been tagliatelle, or a noodle, not a tube. The cripsy friend chicken was extremely tasty but seemed better suited for a Chinese restaurant and came with nothing on the plate except the many large chunks of deep fried chicken. Hmmmm....odd. Probably will not go back. With such good Italian in this city, there is no reason to eat anything less than something excellent.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

round-up

1. Pasha: As the children of NYC pounded the pavement dressed as genies and princesses and slutty fairies, Z took me to Pasha, home of the Turks on West 71st street. She ordered everything, and everything was good. Little "ravioli" in a yogurt sauce, filled with chopped lamb, a soft artichoke heart, excellent olives (firm and salty), zucchini cakes, lamb, etc. For dessert, 2 milky, cream-based confections whose names I have forgotten. I always find that with Turkish food, it is the appetizers and the desserts that excite me the most. In this case, it was the company that excited me the most; it is a rare delight to get quality face time with Miss Z.

2. Flatbush Farm: haven't had the food yet at this ParkSope/Prospect Heights newcomer, but the bar is lovely--spacious, and feels like it's been there forever.

3. 5 Borough Ice Cream: From a tip in "Edible Brooklyn," I sought out this small batch ice cream at Forager's in DUMBO. I bought "Soho," which is cappucino ice cream with hazelnut biscotti crmbles and espresso chocolate chips. It rocks. it resides in the freezer at work, and is making the perfect afternoon snack.

4. Sugar-covered apple cider donuts:not just for people! Brought back a few from the farmer's market this morning and Seymour, the cat, got her way into the bag. She emerged with sugar crystals on her nose, purring like a fiend. She stumbled around, high on sugar, rolling on her back, snuggling my ear. No surprises there, I mean sugar is delicious; it makes me roll around too.

fast food nation

I read Eric Schlosser's book "Fast Food Nation" in 2001, the year it was published, and the year it began its 2 year residence on the NYT bestseller list. Joan handed it to me and said: "you must read this." I was a vegetarian at the time, and fairly health conscious, so I hadn't been in a fast food joint in several years. After reading the book, I felt strongly that:

a) I would never, ever set food in a fast food joint ever again.
b) I was against the industrialization and commercializtion of the food supply.
c) There are a few, a very small few examples of compassionate capitalism; it is possible, if only greed weren't so seductive, so slippery and delicious (like a Big Mac, or a large fries, washed down with a supersized Coke).

That book was the beginning of my journey into the world of food and food politics.

The other night I attended a preview screening of the film of "Fast Food Nation," which is not a documentary but rather a narrative feature film written by Schlosser (and the director Richard Linklater of "Dazed and Confused" fame), inspired by the book. It is an ambitious and important and strange and ultimately (I think) unsuccessful movie. I am eager for it to come out so you all can see it and we can discuss it, because my head's in a bit of a muddle about it. In the meantime, for those of you who have not yet read the book, it is never too late. It only becomes more and more relevant; and if you are looking for a way to break yourself of your occcasional fast food habit, I guarantee this book will do the trick.

(in related news, I have not had a Diet Coke in 6 days, and have not used a pack of Equal in even more. Adios, fake sugar, we're through!)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

baking cakes

In the book (and movie) "The Joy Luck Club," there is a painful scene in which a woman, separated from her husband and unlikely to get back together with him, bakes him a cake. He will come over that afternoon and the cake--the result of much effort, a manifestation of the love she feels for him and the lengths she will go to for him--remains uneaten and unappreciated.

At age 22, after watching the movie, Mara and I vowed that we would stop "baking cakes" for guys. Sometimes we succeeded, sometimes we did not. Mara bakes cakes now, but she does not "bake cakes." When you're married to someone who would do the same for you and more, it is no longer a metaphor, it's just a cake.

When I visited Mara and CJR at their home (their first one, not the new fabulous one) last year, Mara baked me a cake. It was what I have always dreamed a chocolate layer cake could be. Mara is a very good baker, so I had no way of knowing if its excellence would be easy for me to repeat. I finally attempted it this past weekend for Mom's birthday. It was pretty easy and amazingly good. It looks like the Duncan Hines cake on the box , but actually tastes good, moist and rich.

Mom's Chocolate Cake
Food and Wine, March 1990

2 c all purpose flour
2 t baking powder
2 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 c sugar
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
6 T butter
1 t vanilla extract
2 eggs lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8 x 1.5 round cake pans. Line bottoms with wax paper (I used parchment paper).

2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt. Set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar with 2 c water. Bring to a boil over high heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Add chocolate and butter and let sit, stirring occasionally, until melted and slightly cooled. Stir in vanilla. Or if you're me, forget to do this part. Whoops.

4. Beat the eggs into the chocolate mixture using hand mixer until combined.

5. Add dry ingredients all at once and beat at medium speed until smooth (It will be liquidy).

6. Divide batter evenly between pans and bake for about 25 minutes or until the top springs back when pressed or a cake tester comes out clean.

7. Cool cakes in their pans on a rack for 25 minutes, then invert onto the rack to cool completely.

Chocolate frosting:

1 1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cup sugar
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 stick and 2T butter
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. In a medium saucepan (you can use the one from the cake), bring sugar and cream to a boil over moderately high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally until liquid reduces slightly, about 6 minutes. Pour mixture into medium bowl and add chocolate, butter, vanilla and salt. Let stand stirring occasionally until butter and chocolate are melted.

2. Set the bowl in a large bowl of ice water. Using a handheld mixer, beat frosting on medium speed scraping the sides occasionally with a rubber spatula until thick and glossy, about 5 minutes. Use at once.

3. Put frosting on top of the first layer, cover one cake layer with the second. Then frost entire outside of cake.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

growth

personal growth is good, if it's of the metaphorical kind. when it's a literal, physical growth, you go to the doctor. here i am, post-surgery, and lovin' my growth-free life. my first meal was a chocolate milkshake, and as i slurped i wondered "why the taboo against milkshakes for dinner?" it felt so darn good, i'll definitely be doing it again.

the growth i love the most is the growth of good stuff by the farmers who supply my CSA. tonight i made string bean salad with the lovely yellow beans i got last week.

string bean salad

trim ends off of raw beans
boil water, heavily salted
cook beans for 4-5 minutes
drain

in a small bowl, mix a few glugs olive oil, a few glugs white wine vinegar and a tbsp of dijon mustard
salt and pepper the mixture and add a pinch or two of dried tarragon
whisk

dump in the warm beans and toss, using tongs
enjoy immediately, although also good after a few days in the fridge, i bet.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

bon voyage

"bon voyage thyroid! though we hardly knew ye...i guess we'll miss you," toasted c. and then we ate ourselves silly at al di la. heirloom tomatoes, grilled calamari, corn tortelloni, pork ribs, risotto, saltimboca, affugato, and on and on.

because "it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other and to eat each other's cooking and to say it was good."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

what would you do for a klondike bar?

How far will I travel, to what lengths will I go for the perfect meal? You and I both, I think, know the answer to that question. Now and again, though, I take a look at myself making some ridiculous pilgrimage in the name of food, and I think: "woman! get a hold of yourself."

Last week I took a cab, a plane, a train, and then another cab to make it to Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA in time for my 9:15 pm reservation. Well, I wasn't on time, but I did make it. My heart racing, my gastric juices churning, my imagination running wild, I showed up and breathlessly handed to the hostess my overnight bag, and my dress for that weekend's wedding.

First we ate bread. Really really good bread, and excellent butter. And olives. Oooh, I loved those olives.

Then began the set meal for the evening:

Green bean salad with farm egg and pancetta. Which doesn't even mention the teeny, explosively delicious cherry tomatoes. And doesn't even begin to suggest that the pancetta was in thin little delicate strips, salty and crispy. or that the egg was soft boiled with a yolk the color of sunshine.

Salt cod ravioli with yellow tomato coulis and basil oil. If you've ever had salt cod, you know it's a bold choice. I liked it, despite its intense fishiness. And the tomato sauce was basically hot, pureed golden tomatoes, with chiffonaded basil. Excellent.

Grilled Wolfe Ranch quail, with figs, corn, wild mushrooms, onion rings, and stone ground polenta. A moist, succulent little bird plopped on top of all kinds of good things. The figs were especially delightful, as were the thin thin thin red onion rings on top. A surprising touch.

Then we did the unthinkable--ordered the optional cheese course. In an effort to eat ourselves to death, apparently. The cheeses were good, but not transcendant, and I wish I'd taken a pass on them.

Dessert was amazingly, unbelievably good, even though there wasn't a lick of chocolate in sight (well, unless you count those truffles they brought at the end of it all). Roasted Red Cal peach with raspberry granita. Which doesn't even mention the creme anglaise. Or the whole raspberries. Or the sinfully good almond tuile-type cookie that accompanied it. WOW!

This is excellent cooking, but simple, so simple. But one is struck by the basic truth behind a place like this--if the ingredients are excellent, and if they are each chosen for being at their absolute peak at this moment in time, your meal will reflect that. It will be wonderful. And it was.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

on the farm

On the urban farm, the sun crisping my neck and shoulders, crouched over, grabbing leaves of dinosaur kale, cursing the bugs who are enjoying the lack of pesticides, I look up at my surroundings:

Roxbury, inner city Boston, apparently a hard part of town, segregated, isolated, bleak? Not to me. Here lies the urban farm of the Food Project—the oldest, largest, most successful example of youth development through agriculture.

I’m surrounded by teenagers, both “urban” and “suburban,” harvesting cranberry beans and swiss chard and helping neighbors to remediate their soil to address its high lead content.

And tomorrow we’ll head to the suburbs and in the pouring rain we’ll plant lettuce and the 16 year old next to me will give me agricultural tips while she explains that she’s been held back in school. Her mom died last year and she missed too many days of school. We talk a little bit about that. We plant more lettuce. We get very wet.

I leave my 3 day institute in love with The Food Project, in love with their mission and their ideology, yes, but even more so with how damn good they are at execution. How easy to dream up something like this and how rare and amazing to realize it and keep it going strong and vibrant for 15 years.

slow

My very first blog entry, about a year and a half ago, was a call for change. Change has been slow for me, sometimes not deliberately so. But it makes it all the more fitting that my new job--finally--is at Slow Food.

Going to work each day feels oddly sinful. Sitting in a room with ten or so food-obsessed compatriots, thinking, talking, planning, writing, all of it in the service of a movement devoted to the preservation and enjoyment of food.

For more on this very cool new job of mine, check out the website www.slowfoodusa.org.

how to order well

At an excellent restaurant, one assumes, every dish on the menu soars. Yet experience has shown me that there is variation, a gap between the best items on a menu, and the worst.

On a glorious sunny Sunday—hot and bright—six of us met in Pocantico Hills, NY at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The interior, a refurbished dairy barn, is a study in coolness, a respite from the blaze outside. It is not a place to curl up and get familiar, but I appreciate the crisp elegance; it feels like a special occasion. Most of the food comes from just outside the windows, and the kitchen is run by experts. When the runners bring your food, they circle the table, six at a time, silently and synchronized, placing plates.

The winners: the culinary student among us notes that, if something as mundane as meatloaf is on this elegant menu, it must be something special. She is correct; it is outstanding. The panzanella with seared tuna freaks me out in description but in actuality is tremendous. The secret weapon: heirloom tomatoes, perfectly in season. A lesson duplicated by the unexpectedly sublime green bean salad—they, too, also at their natural peak. The pasta was apparently a disappointment. Lesson 3: it had nothing in its description that was perfectly in season and no meat to wow or lend favor.

It helped me start to think about how to navigate menus, and how to make the right choices. At Blue Hill at Stone Barns, however, it is hard to go too terribly far afield. Even the losers were winners (like corn soup with a crab cake), and the desserts--thanks ot our man Tony in the kitchen--can right any wrong.

Monday, July 24, 2006

hillary

Many of my favorite meals have been prepared by or with Hillary. After college we lived together for a year and I have fond memories of big burrito meals, and even of meals made entirely of cheese and crackers (good cheese. Good crackers). I have eaten very well at buffets at her mom’s loft. I remember the summer after my father died, going to visit her at her dad’s country house. We sat together in the evening light outside, eating one of her trademark delicious salads, a hunk of Vermont cheddar and a big beautiful bread. Since then there have been many happy times in Millbrook, with corn, sausage, lasagnas, apple crisps, and butternut squash soups. Up in Cuyler, at Cerry’s parents’ house, she made the best peach and corn salsa (ok, maybe the only peach and corn salsa) I have ever eaten in my life. For my 30th birthday, she made platters of heirloom tomato salad that made everyone’s jaws drop.

Like many things she is good at, Hillary does not present herself as a cook. Her style is simple, fresh, and abundant; it is impossible to go hungry at her table. So it was only fitting that this past weekend, her wedding to Kofi, I had some superlative meals. Hillary and Kofi, it seems, not only make good food themselves, they attract similarly gifted cooks to their sphere, including Andrew and Jennifer. My first night in Chatham, I was greeted by Andrew’s grilled ribs, collard greens, fried green tomatoes (from the garden) with buttermilk dipping sauce and fresh mac and cheese. For dessert? Jennifer’s blueberry tart made from freshly picked blueberries. Eaten with white wine at an outdoor table as the sun set. Absolutely one of the best meals of my life.

The wedding was a feast in every way. A feast for the eyes—Hillary and Kofi, beautiful and radiant, weeping and smiling, the most beautiful brew. A feast for the ears—their voices as they read their vows, the sound of the rawest, truest emotion, voices that knew the depth of what they were saying. A feast for the heart—love, love, love, all around me love.

And of course, a feast for the stomach. The buffet looked like it could have been in Hillary and Kofi’s home: grilled asparagus, tomato/mozzarella/basil salad, and corn. The highlight was our take-away; each of us got a jar of jam, made by Hillary and Kofi with fresh-picked berries from the Hudson Valley.

As I danced my heart out all night long, I was filled with the most electric sense of sheer joy, for them, of course, mostly for them, but also for me—to know these two beautiful people, and to eat with them, for the rest of my life.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

reviews

I have some shout outs that are long overdue.

1. Franny's. Joanie Joan finally gave me a reason to get my butt over to Franny's on Flatbush several weeks ago. I didn't socialize much at the birthday party. Instead I holed up at the bar, chowing down on their organic, sustainable, local, amazing menu. The bruschetta with ricotta cheese and fresh peas was so good tears came to my eyes. The bartender saw, and he understood; he works there for chrissakes. The zucchini fritto was delicate, crispy, summery. The pizzas were perfection. And Joan's boyfriend showing up to surprise her as a birthday treat? Well, that was the icing on the proverbial (organic, sustainable) cake.

2. The Good Fork. Well, you know how I feel about Red Hook. This place is one more jewel in Van Brunt's crown. It is very cute, very good, and the service (though problematic the night we were there) is friendly. I had their signature "steak and eggs and kimchi" and it was weird and wonderful: slices of flavorful juicy steak, nestled into a ball of kimchi rice, topped with a fried egg, eaten with chopsticks.

3. Queen. If you have ever walked down Court street, from Borough Hall to Atlantic, you know it is a gastronomic wasteland. There are some bad delis, a few pizza joints, Wendy's, McDonald's, some tacky looking Italian joint...wait! That tacky looking Italian joint is a FANCY RESTAURANT! And, wait, are those REVIEWS in the window??? It is so very unlikely, but Queen is an excellent Italian restuarant masquerading as a mediocre, suburban mall restaurant. And although few people I know have been there, it was full the night I was there--a Thursday, by the way. The maitre d' is adorable-knowledgeable and friendly. The menu is extensive, and everything we had was terrific. The focaccia they bring to the table is soft and fluffy. We followed it with a fritto misto (calamari, zucchini, lemon) that was so flavorful, red dipping sauce was unnecesary. The arugula, mozzarella, pesto salad was perfect. We had three main courses, one better than the next, with scallops stealing the show.

sorrel

I love my CSA. I paid for my share, but that was weeks and weeks ago, so when I enter the church on Court street, sign in, and start grabbing beautiful produce to take home, I feel like I've won the produce lottery. Last week I got, peaches, cherries, lettuce, radicchio, onions, fava beans (!), and a choice of rosemary, dill, or sorrel.

I had never seen sorrel or tasted sorrel, so I grabbed a bunch figuring I'd learn something. It turns out that sorrel is somewhere between a green and an herb: lemony, earthy, and unique. If used in salads, people suggest mixing it with other greens, because its flavor is very strong. I found several internet recipes for a Jamaican favorite: sorrel soup. I tweaked them some, made my own, and was pretty pleased with the results.

Sorrel Soup

3 cups veggie broth
2 handfuls basmati rice
1 bunch sorrel, washed and de-stemmed
1 tbsp half and half
salt and pepper

Boil veggie broth, add rice
Let rice cook for 8 minutes, stirring now and again
Add sorrel, stir for 1 minute, turn off heat
Use immersion blender to puree the soup
(Rice pieces may fly out at you)
Add half and half and salt and pepper
Stir.
Eat.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

i love ditch plains

I’m not sure why, but I think I can count the number of new restaurants I have been to in the past year on one hand. Ack—maybe even on 2 or 3 fingers. I read about restaurant openings, but it is so hard to keep up; they are cropping up like weeds. A few weeks ago I made a short list of places I intended to try this summer, and on this past Monday night, I checked off my first one.

I love Ditch Plains.

Named after a surf area on the North Fork of Long Island, this place purports to be a beachy fish shack, but it’s a bit too clean and classy for that. It serves the ubiquitous NYC $23 lobster roll, clam chowder, mussels, oysters, salmon, burgers, fries, etc. But the food is elegant and excellent, and if it was served in paper baskets and brown paper cones, I really didn’t notice. I remember white porcelain; I wonder if that’s the case.

P and I had:

1. Friendly service. We stayed for nearly 3 hours taking up a huge booth and we were treated with nothing but smiles, and languorous generosity.
2. Good white wine.
3. A spicy fried calamari salad that was unusual and delicious: chopped romaine and radicchio with battered and fried calamari and a spicy red chili salad dressing.
4. Oyster shooters: basically bloody Mary shots with a raw oyster at the bottom. Fantastic.
5. Steamed littleneck clams with our chosen sauce of shallots, white wine, parsley, and butter. They were tiny and flavorful. My only complaint: no bread to soak up the marvelous leftover sauce at the bottom of the pot. We used spoons (classy).
6. A lobster roll that certainly rivaled, if not surpassed, Mary’s Fish camp, served with excellent sweet potato chips.
7. Mississippi Mud Pie, served with our own bottle of whipped cream. Awesome.

So, my dear readers, surf on over to Bedford and Downing, in Manhattan, and if you can walk by ‘ino without being sucked in there first, pop into Ditch Plains.

Monday, July 10, 2006

ireland

There are people who are not very interested in food. A friend of mine in grad school used to eat cup o’ noodles every single day for lunch, and it was clear to me that food, to her, was merely sustenance. There was no pleasure taken in the eating of it, no disgust with too much sodium, no boredom with eating the same thing day after day. The truth was, I think she barely noticed what went into her mouth, and though I pitied her, I was also envious. If I stopped thinking so much about what to eat and when, or how to find the perfect lunch, or fondly remembering the perfect dinner, think how much brain space I would have for other things! Also, nota bene, she was skinny.

The past two weeks I spent in Ireland, and I discovered a nation of cup o’ noodles eaters. When I went to eat in Dublin, I checked two different guidebooks, and the paucity of food recommendations was my first clue that, although a pretty cool city, Dublin is not a place you go to for the food. Things I ate a lot of in Ireland: bacon, sausage, mayonnaise, scones, brown bread, chips and crisps. For two weeks I was hard-pressed to find a vegetable. Chicken curry was served with rice and chips (that’s French fries). It was like “side of vegetables” was never invented. A side salad could be found with some searching, but it was iceberg lettuce with a tomato wedge, some canned corn and “salad cream” on top. Once, my salad had olive oil AND salad cream. One salad, two forms of fat. Very efficient.

But enough negativity; let me mention the few fabulous things I did find. And let me also say that Ireland is a lovely country, full of friendly people, beautiful countryside and amazing history.

1. Sheridan cheese mongers. Right off of Grafton street, in Dublin, this place was a small haven, filled with wheels of cheese from all over the world. I asked a saleswoman to help me with some local Irish cheeses. She guided me through a tasting, based on my likes and dislikes, and I left the store with three wedges of excellent cheese, and a recommendation for a nearby bakery. With cheese that good, why was I having such bad food experiences?
2. La Maison de Gourmets. This French bakery, on Castle Market, was the bakery to which I was directed. I sought it out hoping to find the best scones in the city but discovered when I got there that it was—as the name suggested—strictly French. I bought a traditional boule and an almond croissant, and both were excellent.
3. Angela’s Coffee Emporium. In Clonmel, a small rural city, I struggled mightily with finding decent food. I found it finally here, at Angela’s, an organic sandwich and coffee bar where I could rely on getting good cappucinos, very good scones, and even (gasp!) fruit salad.

Rather than focusing on the worst sandwich ever made, at “The Gourmet Store” in Kilkenny, or the kebab in Dun Laoghire that gave me food poisoning, I will remember those cheeses, goat’s milk-tangy, richly cheddared….

Monday, June 26, 2006

my old haunts

For the past six years, rehearsing different plays has been a way for me to spend concentrated time in different neighborhoods of New York City. The fall and winter of 2002-2003 were spent in the West village, and I got to know all of my favorite cafes and cheap eats. The winter of 2001 was spent in Soho and I came to love La Jumelle, the Soup guy attached to Fanelli, Gourmet Garage, and Pain Quotidien. Several springs were spent on way west 42nd street, and I got to know the 9th avenues treats very well.

This past week was spent rehearsing at Clemente Soto Velez on Suffolk and Rivington, a few short blocks from my old home(s), and I had the opportunity to go back to some old favorites and find a few new treats.

Highlights of the week included:
Sugar Sweet Sunshine, home of rich and delicious cupcakes, and—I found out—an excellent iced coffee.

The Dumpling House on Eldridge, of which I write about often. I introduced it to my castmates, who marveled at the goodness and the cheapness.

Tiny’s Giant Sandwich shop, which has expanded into a not-so-tiny-at all space, with excellent air conditioning and an amazing veggie burger.

Nicky’s Vietnamese sandwiches on 2nd street, home to some truly good banh mi, probably the only real deal banh mi above Houston street.

Frankie’s Spuntino on Clinton, a new place I mentioned in my previous post. Actually, it is an offshoot of the original Brooklyn Frankie’s, which a little researched revealed is only blocks from my apartment. Sometimes you have to travel “far” from home to find what’s right outside your door.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Favism

Hannibal Lecter enjoyed fava beans with roasted human flesh “and a nice Chianti,” understanding, I suppose, the importance of pairing wines appropriately with food. I haven’t had his dish, but I have spent the past 6 or so early summers eating as many fresh favas as I possibly can.

Known sometimes as broad beans, horse beans, Windsor beans or pigeon beans, favas are a little tricky to prepare but absolutely worth the effort. They are starchy and sweet, like peas, but larger and meatier, and hence, more satisfying. Apparently there is a disease called favism, which I assumed was what I am afflicted with: obsession to the point of mania. In fact, it is a potentially fatal response to fresh, raw fava beans that afflicts some people of Mediterranean descent. There are many possible preparations, some of which intrigue me, but I tend to gravitate towards the classic preparations. In the past month I have had several fava dishes that have made me extremely happy.

The first I had at Otto, Mario’s pizza place on 8th street and 5th avenue. He serves thinly sliced cured meat with a mound of favas in the center of the plate. From what I could discern, they were mixed with minced garlic, grated lemon zest, and minced pecorino. This dish was eaten by taking a slice of meat and grabbing a bit of fava, wrapping the meat around the beans, almost like eating Ethiopian food with injera.

The second was my own version of Mario’s. I sautéed favas with garlic and olive oil, then mixed them with halved grape tomatoes and minced grana padano (like parmiagianno reggiano but a little cheaper), and sprinkled with sea salt. It was incredible, if I do say so myself.

The third was the most simple and classic, at Frankie’s Spuntino on Clinton Street: sautéed favas, olive oil, shaved pecorino, and sea salt. I could have licked my plate clean, EASILY. In fact, the waitress tried to take the plate when there was still one bean on it, and like an alcoholic who freaks out when the bartender removes a glass with alcohol residue at the bottom, I lost my cool. Very embarrassing, but that’s what happens when you suffer from favism.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

reunion

The eyebrow ridge (minus eyebrows) crushing down on my brain. The parched tongue, the raspy throat. Hazy, sitting at breakfast alone in my small college town. The older couple next to me-- retired professors likely-- discuss housecleaning and later Hans Blix and Mozart's requiem. They know the waitress, know the proprietor, know every single person who passes by.

"This is not New York City," I think to myself. They order "the regular," as the entire young cast of "Peter Pan" sits down for brunch. I order a hangover cure: coffee, water, and sausage/egg/cheese on a bagel.

I had been nervous about coming here. 10 years it's been, and I feel lost, feel scared I have nothing to show for it. I bite into my breakfast sandwich, the cheese dripping grease onto my paper plate. I savor a sausage bite and try to remember if I was a vegetarian when I graduated. In NYC, I don't allow myself breakfasts like this; in NYC, I am never hungover like this.

Chewing slowly and enjoying the silent comraderie of this place, I become pensive, but also I ease up on myself, forgive myself for not knowing exactly where I am going, for having mixed feelings about where I have been. This town, this school, perhaps even this cast of "Peter Pan," they are forgiving and nurturing. They always focused on my best qualities, always encouraged a brand of self deprecation that says: hey, I may be screwing up right now, but I have brains and a lotta potential. These people, they take me as I am.

Hangover Cure

One toasted sesame bagel
2 breakfast sausage links
2 eggs
shredded yellow cheddar cheese

Fry up sausages in a pan, cutting them into pieces as you go
Lower the heat a little
Add two beaten eggs, and later, the handful of grated cheese
Stir slowly, until eggs start to come to the consistency you like
Scoop out onto toasted bagel
Cut in half with a big knife

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

nature's bounty

"But imagine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few unremarkable things: What it is we're eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost. We could then talk about some other things at dinner. For we would no longer need any reminding that however we choose to feed ourselves, we eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and what we're eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world."
--Michael Pollan, "The Omnivore's Dilemma"

May I recommend to you this beautiful, enlightening, and provocative book.
And may I recommend that you really chew on it, really let it get inside you (like a good meal).
And then may I recommend that you make a change, some small change or large,
in recognition of the fact that eating can be a political act.

Choose something whole instead of processed.
Read labels.
Eat organic.
Eat local.
Join a CSA.
Eat slowly.

Friday, May 26, 2006

new york is good eatin'

not much home cooking going on these days, but i have had some solidly good meals at some oldies but goodies.

1. hampton chutney. they have opened an outpost on amsterdam and 80th street (?) and it is quieter, and every bit as good as the soho version. man alive it's a lot of food, but that potato masala is so tasty, the dosa so thin and crispy at the edges--you have to tear the edges off by hand and sample before you dig into the whole thing--and the chutneys are excellent, all of them. also good are the cardomom iced coffee, the ginger lemonade, all those specialty beverages....

2. craftbar. c and i have started a nice tradition of girls' night, small plates and lots of wine. ok, this was only the second, but both have been so excellent, socially and gastronomically, that i am making them a tradition from here on out. the waiter at the bar at craftbar was friendly and knowledgeable. i followed c's experienced lead and had risotto balls, sausage stuffed sage leaves (or shaushage shtuffed shage leaves after a little wine), piave (a hard, italian cow's milk cheese), bresaolo, and grilled octopus. did i mention the great conversation? obviously, almost anything could taste good with c around, but i am pretty sure this was an excellent meal.

3. grimaldi's. don't laugh, but i had never been to this dumbo historical landmark. and people may blog about it's downhill trend, and people may balk at the line, but dude, DUDE! the extra mozzarella, extra basil pizza we got was outstanding. not to be beat. the sausage and mushroom was very very good, but the thing i'll remember, and the thing i'll go back for was that mozzarella basil pie. yowza.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

when life gives you lemons

when life gives you lemons, make a really good lemon cake.
(then eat it after a sublime meal, prepared expertly by john, of scallops and braised pork belly)

(from the silver palate cookbook)

2 sticks softened sweet butter
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 tightly packed tbsp lemon zest (a microplane is a savior for this)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (hands'll do ya just fine)
lemon icing
crisco for greasing pan
flour for dusting pan (this one is essential)

preheat oven to 325 degrees
grease and flour a tube or bundt pan
cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. beat in eggs one at a time, blending well after each one
sift together flour, baking soda and salt
stir dry ingredients into egg mixture in batches, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and endign with dry ingredients
add lemon zest and juice
pour batter into pan and cook on the middle rack for 1 hr and 5 minutes, or until top of cake is browned
cool cake in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and ice it with the icing below:

1 lb (i box) confectioners sugar
1 stick softened sweet butter
3 tightly packed tbsp lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

cream sugar and butter thoroughly, then mix in zest and juice, spread on warm cake

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

the best of intentions

I read in the NY Times that it was ramp season. Nearly 32 years old, and unless a chef snuck it onto my plate, I have never eaten a ramp. So, passing near Union Square one weekday in the first week of May, I bought a bunch from a farmer, asking him what I should do with them. "They're good with anything!" he offererd cheerfully but unhelpfully. When in doubt, I thought, saute it with eggs. But I didn't get that far; I'm never home and lately somehow too rushed even to make breakfast. The ramps grew old and soft on my refrigerator shelf, until I threw them away. Ramp season-- a brief window-- now over.

That didn't stop me from buying half a pound of gorgeous fresh rhubarb at Union Square the following week. I imagined the compote I would make, and how good it would taste over plain yogurt. I imagine lots of things, and my imagination is mostly a more perfect place than my reality. This held true for the rhubarb, which I oversweetened and overcooked. I tried to eat it over a bowl of hot oatmeal, and thought to myself as I chewed, "This is one of the worst things I have ever made."

Lately the gap between the world I hope and plan for and the world I've got has been seeming frustratingly large. The ramps are a reminder that my schedule is for shit, and the rhubarb is a reminder that I can fail at things, even when they seem failsafe. Failures in the kitchen are frustrating-- especially when they involve beautiful seasonal ingredients that won't be available again for a while--but I try to see each one as a learning experience. The real challenge is to apply that same kind of thinking to the world outside the kitchen. Failures can be beautiful...? I'm trying it on for size.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

i have to find a man who thinks like this

"Later on, when he saw her consume a side of veal without breaking a single rule of good table manners, he commented seriously that that delicate, fascinating, and insatiable proboscidian was in a certain way the ideal woman..."

-100 Years of Solitude

Thursday, May 04, 2006

mario's my brother

Five or so years ago I was living in a very small apartment, on a very tight budget, with no cable. I received about six stations on my TV, and a result, rarely changed the channel from a fledgling, geeky station called The Food Network. Ah yes, perhaps, you have (now ) heard of them. I developed substantial relationships with Alton Brown, Sara Moulton, and even goofy, inexplicable Rachel Ray. The love of my television life, however, became Mario Batali.

He was knowledgable, like Alton, but not overly technical. He was competent, like Sara, without being anemic. He was personable, like Rachel, without being, well, annoying. He lived and breathed Italian food, enriching his counterside demonstrations with the culinary and cultural history of each dish. Before then, I had never heard of Emilia-Romagna, now, because of him, it haunts my foodie daydreams.

I made pilgrimage to Lupa and Babbo, and was delighted to find he was no joke. These places confirm his simple genius.

For Christmas this past year, I received his latest cookbook as a gift. I cracked the spine this past weekend for the first time, cooking dinner with Laurie and Will. We made 3 dishes, 2 of which I loved, But Laurie says she loved all 3. Amazingly, we had no pasta; we had instead:

cauliflower pancakes
braised red cabbage
olive polenta with shitake mushrooms
and will's awesome turkey burgers

The recipe for the cabbage follows:

Cavola al Aceto
6 servings

1 medium head of red cabbage
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced
2 tbsp caraway seeds
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
salt and fresh ground pepper

Remove the tough outer leaves of the cabbage
Cut into quarters, core, and slice into 1/ inch strips
Heat a large heavy bottomed pot, add olive oil and heat untill smoking
Add onion and caraway seeds and cook until onion is soft
Add cabbage, sugar and vinegar, stir well
Cover pot and cook until cabbage is quite tender, about 20 minutes
Season with salt and pepper

Classic Mario because it is simple, fast, delicious.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

round-up

I haven't done a highlights post in a while. Food has not been getting top priority, I am sad to say. Way too many Clif bars of late.

1. Redbones. In Somerville, Mass. this past weekend, checking out Choopville, I was brought to Redbones, a BBQ haven, by people who knew I can appreciate such a place. I didn't order ribs, so I cannot compare it to LC's, didn't even want to. Instead, we pounded down collard greens, corn bread, mac and cheese, pulled pork, and--god bless them!--corn fritters sitting in a gentle pool of maple syrup. We did what you do when you enter a spot such as this: you nauseate yoruself with gastronomic pleasure, eat til you drop, eat til you have to undo the top button, and groan groan groan all the way home.

2. Sesame Pancake. I took the Fung Wah bus back from Massachusetts, and was deposited, at lunchtime, on Canal and Bowery. Trooped my way over to Dumpling House at Eldridge and Broome, and bought myself a sesame pancake with beef. It's a bahn mi meets a scallion pancake, and one of my favorite things on earth. I decided to avoid a second course of fried-ness by not ordering the divine dumplings, and went for the $1 wonton soup instead. Big mistake, becasue the dumplings are insanely good, and the soup, I found out, is not.

3. El Deportivo (Hell's Kitchen). For 5 months I dated a fella who lived on 49th and 9th. Every time we walked by the dingy yet appealing El Deportivo restaurant, he would say: I love that place. Yet we never ate there. A metaphor? Perhaps. Last Friday night, my dinner date sick at home, I popped into El Deportivo after all this time. I sat at the counter and watched the ladies make cubanos, plate up rice and use big silver tongs to drag meat out of heaters. This place makes all their food at the beginning of the day, keeps it heated, then plates it up when it's ordered. There are daily specials, so it's not a huge menu. Not gourmet, but authentic (and cheap), nonetheless. I had roasted chicken, black beans and rice, with a side of tostones. the chicken and the tostones were awesome. The rice and beans were "eh." I'll definitely go back and finally be brave and try something radical, like mofongo, which caught my eye.

4. Hold the pasta. Two nights ago, home after a long night of tutoring, I looked into my fridge at the bowl of blanched broccoli rabe and the half used jar of decent tomato sauce and wondered what the heck I could eat that wouldn't be too filling (it was 10:45 pm). I made a bowl of broccoli rabe parmesan (pour fresh grated parm on top, heat in microwave) and fell in love. Last night I repeated the affair with the only decent vegetable I could find at Key Food at 10:30 pm--zucchini. I roasted the zucchini with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then doused it in sauce, sprinkled parm...voila! a new favorite is born. It's a tasty pasta dish, hold the pasta.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

blind taste tests

In the early 80's, I participated in the Pepsi Challenge. My palate not being refined as it is today, I "failed" the challenge, thinking that the Coke was Pepsi, or maybe it was that I preferred Coke over Pepsi, something that's not hard to do. Now, with 20 years of caramel colored soda addiction under my belt, I can taste the difference between a diet Coke and a caffeine free Diet Coke; I am THAT GOOD.

In college my Polish theatre professor would have a blind vodka challenge at his end-of-the-year party. Senior year I picked the expensive Polish vodka and was thrilled to have passed that particular test with flying colors; it made me feel sophisticated and knowledgeable. I like the idea of eating while blindfolded. Apparently in some culinary programs, this is how they train you to know and understand spices. Would I know the difference between tarragon and herbes de provence if my eyes were closed? Well, I'd like to, anyway.

I love, also, the idea of eating blindly in a more metaphorical sense. I have heard of small restaurants in the italian countryside where you walk in, sit down, and eat whatever Dona Sophia puts in front of you. What a relief not to have to choose! Oh how I yearn to trust a cook like that. A few weeks ago at Cacio e Pepe in the East village, I couldn't decide between the gnocchi and the fettucine. When I asked the waiter for his advice, he replied simply: I'll suprise you! I was delighted and the gnocchi was excellent.

In theory, a blind date should hold the same appeal. My own ability to choose between the male equivalent of the gnocchi or the male equivalent of the fettucine is questionable at best. The friend (or in my case, usually the friend of the mother) can be the helpful waiter (or Dona Sophia herself), making culinary decisions for me. But my helpful waitstaff keeps sending me dishes I don't like, and I don't think I am even such a picky eater. Some friends of mine might argue that in fact I have a predilection for....say...cappelini in a lemon butter sauce, and that even when I think I am ordering something different, a closer look will reveal cappellini, and butter, and lemon, in some combination or other. Perhaps they are right; but I simply don't like tuna melts. I think they are nasty, and morally wrong and no amount of nose holding or forced swallowing will change my mind. Have I dragged this poor metaphor out long enough? Basta.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

cheese, glorious cheese

In the 80's, on TVs here in NYC, ran a series of commercials paid for by the American Cheese board, to the tune of "Food, glorious food," from the musical "Oliver!" It was the first time I noticed that commercials were allowed to buy a perfectly good song, and then put in their own silly words to help sell a product. Remember Minute Maid's "You are the sunshine of my life" campaign? It was years before I knew that was a terrific song by Stevie Wonder.

The truth is, though, that those cheese board guys are right. Cheese is glorious, especially when you make it into a cake. It's a no-brainer, really: cheese is glorious, cake is glorious, hence cheesecake= double glorious. I love all kinds of cheesecake. There's the NY style straight-up cream cheese cake. There is the Italian-style ricotta cheesecake at Venieros that I love so much. There's the cheesecake at Cafe Lalo on the UWS that Billy and I used to share, latenight. I even like the vegan pumpkin cheesecake at Candle Cafe.

A few nights ago, for my friends, glorious friends, I made a chevre cheesecake, modified from a recipe that Gourmet printed. It is apparently from Mecca, a restaurant in San Francisco. It calls for a separately made shortbread crust which I have omitted. Also, the recipe for the poached pears calls for cardomom pods, which I did not use, and it still tasted great.

For cheesecake:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
8 oz. soft mild goat cheese
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
3 large eggs

For spiced poached pears:
1 cup Ruby Port
1 cup sugar
1/4 cups water
5 strips orange zet
5 strips lemon zest
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cinnamon stik
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp cardamom pods
1 1/2 tsp juniper berries
1/2 vanilla bean
2 firm ripe Anjou pears

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Wrap outside of 9 inch springform pan with a large sheet of heavy duty tin foil to waterproof it.
Butter the pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment, then butter it
Gently dust pan with sugar (oh wow, I forgot this part)
Boil cream with 3/4 cup sugar in a heavy suacepan over a moderately high heat, uncovered.
Stir occassionally until reduced, about 8 minutes.
Transfer cream to a metal bowl and set the bowl in a large bath of ice water, cooling it to room temperature.
Halve vanilla bean lengthewise and scrape seeds into a large bowl.
Add goat cheese, cream cheese, then beat with electric mixer until fluffy, 2 minutes.
Reduce speed to low and add crream in 3 batches, mixing well after each addition.
Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each one.
Pour batter into springform pan, put in a roasting pan, in 1 inch lukewarm water (this is called a "bain marie")
Bake until cake appears set but still trembles slightly at the center when gently shaken, about 1 hour.
Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen it, cool completely in springform.
Chill for 8 hours or as long as you have time for before your guests arrive!

Cut a round of parchment the size of your saucepan, set it aside.
Stir together port, sugar, water, zests, lemon juice, spices and vanilla bean in saucepan and bring to a boil.
Peel and quarter and core pears, then add to port mixture and cover surface directly with the parchment round.
Poach pears at a bare simmer until tender, about 25-30 minutes.
Remove from heat, cool, then chill for 8 hours.
After cooling, take pears out of liquid and pour liquid throuhg a fine sieve, discard solids.
Return liquid to saucepan and boil uncovered over hight heat until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.
Cool. Add pears again.

Serve cake with pears.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

school food

my elementary school food experience was atypical. i remember little of it, but i can say that there was no processed food, and virtually no pre-packaged food. there was an ice cream freezer and a refrigerated case full of dannon yogurt (we collected the cardboard discs you could pop off the top), but these were the only excpetions. for most american students, however, the food is:

rehydrated
processed
irradiated
full of trans fats
grade D
etc.

this past saturday i attended a school food conference hosted by the baum forum at the CUNY graduate center. for 8 hours, experts in the field of nutrition, sustainability and education gathered to talk about the movement to change the way kids think about food and change the way they eat. most kids eat 2 meals a day at school, so it's a logical place to make a difference, and try to halt the obesity epidemic (did you know that unless trends change, 1 out of every 3 kids born in 2000 will be an obese adult?! it shoots up to 1 in 2 when you focus on blacks and latinos).

the programs represented do everything from teaching cooking and nutrition to kids after school, to including gardening into the curriculum, and then using the fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria. alice waters' edible schoolyard in oakland is a paradigm that many people are beginning to emulate. basically: the way things are now is not the way it has to be. we watched a documentary about school children in rome. when the camera focused on a lunch lady grating fresh parmesan on student lunches, i laughed out loud.

if you want to get involved in the school food movement in any way, let me know and i can direct you towards involvement (e.g.: writing letters to lawmakers in an attempt to get vending machines out of schools).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

love shack, baby

two dress down friday'd business guys pull up at the curb next to me and hop out of a cab. one looks at his watch and the other one sprints to the already significant line that has formed outside the shake shack in madison square park. when the second man and i amble up and join the first guy, he points to his watch, nodding and grinning like the cat who caught the canary, "see? 11:30." i'd felt silly arriving for lunch before noon, but no worries, i didn't get my food until 12:22 p.m., a perfectly respectable time to dig in.

" who has time for this?" the man behind me snarked to his girlfriend, both of them on a strict one hour lunch break. and i am wondering the same. who but me, with my underfilled work schedule can wait an hour for her food? and as i am eating, the line is now twice as long as it was. by 1:15 the line is snaking around the curved paths of the park. the people at the back have a two hour wait ahead of them; maybe fridays are slow at their firms?

don't get me wrong, this food is terrific. i got a "shake shack burger" (which was hard for me, since it comes with special sauce and i am a true blue mustard and ketchup on my burger gal), an order of fries, and a black and white milkshake. i ordered nearly perfectly. next time, i'll get a double burger (i could use the protein, yo), share the fries with a friend (note to self: find friend who can go on midday food excursions), and stick with the divine black and white.

i went to the shake shack once before, a year or so ago and got a chocolate peanut butter concrete ( i was a vegetarian, so had to pass on the burgers). at the time i had never heard of a concrete, and was mystified but its solidity and richness. now i have been to the midwest and eaten at a dairy queen and the famous ted drewes in st. louis, so i am like a pro, or whatever. for this reason, i felt comfortable moving on to the traditional shake, and i was not disappointed. it was crazy creamy and rich and the small size was totally reasonable; i didn't feel like barfing at the end.

it was a beautiful day--68 degrees and sunny, and i had nowhere to be. i'd walked over the brooklyn bridge, and stood behind a dog on line. i was reading a good book, and getting in some good nyc eavesdropping, so all was well. but for you regular people, with regular lives, i am not sure a 2 hour wait is reasonable. the burgers are really good, as are the "probably fried in lard" fries, but i am not sure it's worth, say, losing your job over.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

how to be a foodie without being a fatty?

if i make that chevre cheesecake that i tore out the recipe for, it's going to be in my house, and it will need to be eaten. for this reason, i have not yet made it, and consequently, not yet blogged about it. the only thing keeping me from going to the dumpling house on eldridge street three times a week, is my desire to stay thin. for this reason, i have not yet written about their peerless dumplings, and the amazing scallion pancake stuffed with mystery meat.

i eat clif bars and healthy choice ice cream-- both of which i've convinced myself taste great, but in reality cannot compare to a five-star bar and a bowl of ben and jerry's-- to make space for more calorically intensive and more sporadic food forays. if my career is a mess (it is), if my love life's a muddle (i think it might be), at least i'm thin! thank goodness for my rock-hard abs, i think to myself, when times get tough.

inspired by this week's beautiful new yorker piece by calvin trillin, i went out and finally bought myself his "tummy trilogy." trillin, like myself, is a completer. "the last piece of food i left on my plate," he recalls, " that was in the fall of 1958, as i remember-- had a bug on it." trillin celebrates his own belly and also the corpulence of others. in particular, he talks about his buddy fats goldberg, a formerly fat pizza man who got down to half his size by maintaining an extremely restrictive diet. several times a year, however, he heads to his hometown of kansas city and for a week will let himself go wild. he once gained 17 POUNDS IN A WEEK. this man sort of disgusts me but also he's sort of my hero.

i guess this entry is an apology, to you my loyal small readership, for not eating more, and therefore writing more. if given my druthers, i suspect i would, like a cow who needs to be brought back to the barn, go out to pasture and not know when to stop. i, too, might gain 17 pounds in a week, and so, you see, you have to forgive me. being a foodie without being a fatty is a very difficult thing, and often it entails just saying "no."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

tramps like us

5 days in missouri, oklahoma, texas and kansas; this is what i learned.

1. chicken fried steak is neither chicken nor steak. talk amongst yourselves.

2. i have always thought i didn't like beer. i had my first taste at a teenage house party in milton keynes, england. it was from a one liter screwtop plastic bottle, and was sipped tentatively out of a porcelain teacup. it was flat and acrid; i was 14 and it was a bad beginning for me and beer. i spent the next 16 years or so avoiding it altogether, making rare exceptions for a stella artois on a hot summer night. st. louis' microbrew, schlafly, tasted surprisingly good to me. it turns out i like hefeweisen (and also their pale ale).

3. this does not sound like a recipe for success: take some meat, dry it out until it looks like a piece of leather. cure it in 3 kinds of sugar and a pint of jim beam. and yet! driving through oklahoma, a piece of jerky is just the thing to keep your mouth company as you gaze at the farmland.

4. the back of a pick-up truck is a great place to eat lunch. better if the car is not moving.

5. when southerners get their panties in a twist about barbecue, it is hard for a northern girl to relate. i'll wax rhapsodic about pizza or bagels but i've never had barbecue that helped me understand what all the fuss is about. in kansas city-- on what i imagine was the "wrong side of the tracks" in kansas city, at LC's, i was shown the light.

the smoker doors were black and greasy and every time they were opened a giant waft of smoke and bbq flavor engulfed the place. j and i giggled with anticipation at the sight of the giant hunks of meat smoking away on the stacked racks. when j picked up his "mixed plate" and my "short end," piled high on slices of wonder bread, a jolly woman beside us laughed and said "my boy is the same way: skinny as a rail but he sure can pack it away."

to the background sounds of "wheel of fortune" we slobbered and smacked and groaned and moaned. i swear i have never tasted baked beans before that night, (they may have been called "baked beans," but they were a sham) and i was grateful for a travel mate who understood the need for a journey to find a dinner like that. NOW i have had bbq, and i'll happily reciprocate if any of those kansans want to come to town and have, say, an H and H bagel.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

say cheese

an unseasonably warm day, a long walk across the gowanus, from park slope to carroll gardens. a chance to check out caputo's on court street and 3rd place. inside i find one of the remaining italian food purveyors that still line court street as you head down from atlantic on court. pastry shops, green grocers, pizzerias, and butchers. caputo's reminds me of the places i frequented in downtown manhattan with my mother when i was a child (russo's, raffetto's). they have freezers full of ravioli, gnocchi, and tortelloni. shelves of capers, and tapenades. refrigerated display cases full of cheeses and salamis. and on an open table, along with the olives, bowls full of fresh mozzarella, sitting in vats of water.

i bought a small ball of cheese. "salty?" the guy asks. when i nod yes, he picks up the cheese with silver tongs and swirls it in a vat of cloudy salt water. i ogle everything, but try to keep in mind that i am leaving in a few days for a trip. i restrain myself by buying only a bag of pumpkin tortelloni, a bag of pumpkin gnocchi, the cheese, and a fine looking crusty italian bread.

the pumpkin gnocchi i ate tonight as i watched "sopranos." as i emptied them into the boiling water, i read the list of ingredients and was confused to see "amaretto cookies" listed as part of the filling. sure enough they were almost cloyingly sweet--potato pockets filled with cheese and...cookies? but cut with the acidic tomato sauce and topped with peas and pine nuts, they were pretty tasty.

best of all, though, was the sandwich i made upon my return from caputo's yesterday:

1 hunk of crusty italian bread
1/2 ripe avocado
2 thick slices of creamy fresh caputo's mozzarella

break bread open, split into 2 halves
spoon soft avocado onto each piece and mash into the bread
top with a slice of cheese

savor. devour.
if necessary, repeat.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

despana

my most recent trip to spain, about two years ago, was primarily a gastronomic tour. if forced to get more specific, it was primarily "un viaje de jamon" which for you non spanish speakers translates roughly as "vacation of ham." i had chorizo, serrano, butifarra, etc.

when i arrived there, i was a struggling vegetarian, but after worshipping at the tapas altar (a pilgrim on a journey seeking taste), i left as a meat sinner, a fallen vegetarian, having taken a bite not of an apple, but of the pig, roasting slowly, with an apple in its mouth. for me, spain is synonymous with sausage, and god bless.

this past weekend i popped into despana, a small gourmet spanish food shop, newly opened at broome between lafayette and centre street. the first thing to mention is the abundance of samples. small spanish clay dishes proffer sausage bites, olives, tapenades, excellent cheeses, sauteed marcona almonds (flat and soft), and various olive oils. a girl could fill up on these alone and there seems to be no taboo against rolling up sleeves and digging in.

if you still have room after all that madness, order a bocadillo at the back counter. for $8, four of us shared a chorizo, manchego, and honey sandwich, while standing at the marble slabbed free-standing counter. the guy even cut it into quarters for us, and it was excellent.

unexpectedly, the highlight for me was a fried morsel of morcilla. it was a dark, rich purple which i suspected signalled "blood sausage." blood sausage is made by boiling blood until it gelatinizes, then mixing it with ground pork parts, cereal of some kind, and spices. i knew i would not try it if i was certain of its identity, so i popped it blindly in my mouth and was pleased by its mellow, deep richness. "is that blood sausage?" i asked tentatively, as i licked my lips. the counter guy smiled slyly and nodded, pleased with making yet another new convert.

Friday, March 03, 2006

rise

cooking is for sloppy improvisors; baking is for precise chemists; bread making is for patient, precise nurturers. i am not particularly patient. i am not at all precise, and i not really a nurturer, though it is a quality i really do admire. encouraging a yeast-based product to rise is a gentle, intuitive process that i have never mastered. i baked challah a few times, and although it was delicious in its own way, it never really rose properly, and was oddly flat and dense. i inherited from katie, who got it from emily's mom, a fantastic cinnamon raisin swirl bread recipe that is oddly foolproof. and there end my forays into baking.

mostly i suffer from a failure to rise (i am only 5 foot 2. sometimes i wonder if my mother looks at me, and thinks: i am no baker. my daughter has had a failure to rise. they said she would double in size, but...). recipes say that the dough will double in size and mine barely change at all. until i take that bread baking course in france that i have been eyeing, i won't know what exactly i am doing wrong, but i wonder if it is about how i am storing my little yeats packets.

this morning i made a focaccia, because the instructions on my baking cookbook (how to bake, by nick malgieri) called it "easy." even if you are half-distracted by an overly-affectionate cat, and email and a ringing phone? apparently, yes! i did almost nothing right: it calls for water of a certain temperature, and i did not use a thermometer. it calls for 2 tsp of salt in the dough and i absentmindedly only put in one, realizing only when it was too late.

i topped it with a few food gifts i had lying around.

1. sel gris. a holiday gift from my friend, it is from a compnay called le tresor, and it is "hand raked from the celtic sea in france." if that is actually true, then i marvel at the strangeness of it being here, in my apartment in brooklyn, being used to top an italian bread.

2. white truffle oil. there has been much talk lately of this stuff being ridiculous and fake, using artificial truffle flavoring instead of the essence of real truffles. this much is true--it said so on the label. but it has that familiar smoky earthiness and a family i work for gave it to me one night as we talked about food over their kitchen table.

i just ate a piece, fresh out of the oven, and it is excellent. fortunately quite unlike the extremely thick, doughy stuff that has come to be thought of as focaccia in the states, of late. it is fairly thin (what with my rising problems and all), crunchy on the outside, but soft right in the center, and excellently flavored by the french sea salt, fresh rosemary sprigs and drizzle of white truffle oil.

easy italian focaccia

1 1/3 cups warm tap water (about 110 degrees)
2 1/2 tsp (1 envelope) dry active yeast
6 tbsp oilve oil
3 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
my toppings:
2 tsp sel gris
2 tsp white truffle oil
1 branch of fresh rosemary

measure water into a bowl and whisk in yeast and 3 tbsp of olive oil
combine flour and salt in a separate bowl
with a rubber spatula, combine the yeast mixture with the flour mixture, until all flour is evenly moistened
it then says to "beat it vigorously" but i have no idea what this means.
i just kept turning it over with the spatula until it looked like dough

cover bowl with plastic wrap and let if rise for 1 hour, until it "doubles in size."

spread 1 1/2 tbsp of remaining olive oil onto a jelly roll pan
dump dough onto it and press it out , trying to get it to reach the corners of the pan. mine didn't.
cover with oiled saran wrap pieces (i sprayed mine with pam)
let rise for another hour

preheat oven to 450 degrees and set your rack to the bottom third of the oven

when focaccia is done rising, use finger to make dimples every two inches
pur a drop of truffle oil into each dimple
sprinkle entire bread with sel gris (or whatever kind of sea salt you have)
stick a rosemary sprig into every dimple

bake for 25 minutes until golden brown on top

Thursday, March 02, 2006

i saw the baby jesus

by way of an update:

first instincts are to be respected. this is a lesson i must learn again and again. the other week, i grabbed first the peanut five star bar, and after switching for a second choice (fruit and nut), i suffered the consequences. i was, you may recall, uninspired.

the peanut version is remarkable, transcendant, divine. inspired. it has a texture i have never encountered before--smooth, with flecks of crispness. creamy, god, i couldn't eat it all at once, and there is almost nothing i do not eat all at once (i am a completer). i knew that if i ate it all at once, that would mean there was none for later, nothing to look forward to. there are people, apparently, who save food all the time; i am not one of them.

as i tutored an 8th grader the other night, the conversation turned to candy. do you like peanut butter? i asked. her face lit up, as it never does when we talk about convection and conduction. i told her about the five star peanut bar and she told me about her obsession: a peanut butter chocolate confection she and her mom had spotted on the food network's "food finds." they were out of their number 1 favorite, "colt's bolts," but my 8th grader's mom (skinny as a rail--she has a chocolate addiction that rivals mine? impossible) shared with me a "truffle baby," made by this same company colts chocolates in nashville.

it was good. quite good, with a whole almond buried in the center. but it was no five star bar. i give it 3 out of 5, but that's it.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

dive

my new friend and i managed to spend several hours of friday early evening pretending that we were in some other city, and some other time. this is why nyc is the king of cities, because it is itself and several other places in the world, all rolled into one. as we bravely dove into a rather unusual second meeting, we celebrated with visits to 2 dives.

first stop: the burger joint, tucked away in the lobby of the swish parker meridien hotel. enter the hotel at 118 west 57th street. between the two front desks, find the brown floor to ceiling curtain with a small neon hamburger sign over it. part the curtains and you are suddenly inside a shitty, ceiling-tiled, nappy-smelling greasy spoon. there are burgers and fries. and beer. and soda. and milkshakes, or so it said on the hand-written sign. the burgers are perfectly sized and well-dressed, wrapped in white butcher paper, and oozing juices. the fries are shoestring, mcdonalds style, staining their paper bag with their golden grease. i half expected to see sawdust on the floor. as it says oh-so-modestly on the parker meridien website: "no complication, no confusion, just great burgers and fries."

the second stop was the subway inn, on 60th and lex. having discovered it the night before, by bringing myself back i instantly became a regular. awkwardly squashed between modern storefronts and the 59th street subway station, it is the most unlikely place you would ever expect to find on the (sorta) upper east side. i have walked by it for years, and suspected it held untold treasures inside. it does: red vinyl booths, a dusky light, and dirt cheap top-shelf liquor. the crowd, just as at the burger joint, is diverse and unchartable. who are these people, i wondered? where do they come from, and where do they go?

i don't know why a dive is called a dive. what are the characteristics? is it grime on the walls, or affordable booze? a gruffness on the part of the waitstaff, or a complete lack of pretension? as a verb, the word has a head-first connotation; for that reason, i do know why diving into things is scary. and also necessary. i never do it in a swimming pool, but i try to do it on dry land. my new friend and i, we dove, and for the first time there was a synchronicity for me between "dive" the location, and "dive" the verb.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

here comes the bride

people always talk about "the year all my friends got married;" this is mine. between may and october of this year, i will attend 7 weddings (that i know of so far). once upon a time, when a girl got married, it meant the beginning of her life as a personal chef. young women needed to learn quickly how to make a roast, whip mashed potatoes and bake a layer cake. because if you weren't any good in the sack at first, hey! maybe you could make up for it with a perfectly roast chicken. and perhaps, vice versa.

for my friends, mostly getting married at 30 or so, they are already cooks or not, and marriage certainly isn't going to change them. their fellas have already, um, tasted their roast chickens, and agreed to marry them, regardless. some of these fellas cook wayyyyyy better than my girlfriends. some of these couples live exclusively on takeout.

despite all this, bridal showers still occasionally include the old fashioned recipe exchange. just yesterday my friend who cooks nothing more complicated than a microwave dinner, emailed me frantically looking for a vegetarian recipe for a bridal shower she is going to. i whipped out an old classic, the miso onion recipe i stole from laurie a million moons ago.

it goes like this:

BAKED MISO ONIONS

4 cups quartered sweet spanish onions (3 medium onions)
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp barley miso or red miso
3 tbsp water ( i usually use closer to 4)
1 tsp dried thyme

preheat oven to 425 degrees
place onions in a baking pan
in a bowl stir togeher oil, miso, water and thyme and spoon/pour over onions
if this seems like not enough sauce (the more the better), make another half batch of sauce and pour it over also
cover and bake for 35 minutes or until onions are soft

these are pretty good right away but are significantly better after sitting in a tupperware overnight in the fridge, steeping in their own delicious miso juice. and i am pretty sure that one taste of these and your brand new husband will be very happy with the choice he made.

Friday, February 17, 2006

"hors d'oeuvres"

i put the title in quotes because the hors d'oeuvres i made today were props for a movie. i was instructed that they needn't taste any good (phew!), just look good enough to eat. this presented a particular challenge to me, who is bad with creative details, and whose food usually tastes pretty good but doesn't always look that pretty.

it was a blast. i composed platters with an eye towards color, and hopefully the extras playing party guests actually didn't mind the taste either. the menu was as follows:

1. shrimp cocktail, presented on a bed of wasabi peas.
2. mini potato pancakes with sour cream dollops and dill sprigs
3. spinach and cheese phyllo triangles on a platter with a dish of pomegranate seeds, for color
4. pumpernickel toasts with cucumber rounds, a piece of smoked salmon, a dollop of sour cream and a dill sprig
5. petit toasts with spread with herbed goat cheese and garnished with three capers
6. blanched asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto strips

and damn if they didn't look beautiful! and damn if you can't make mini potato pancakes BAKED instead of FRIED!
and i am still high on the fumes of creativity and success.

five stars

i am a chocolate ho; i'll eat almost any kind, no matter how debased. m and m's make me as happy as a hand-dipped jacques torres bonbon. mind you, this does not apply to cakes or cookies. i will gnaw my knuckles rather than eat a duncan hines cake, and lick the sidewalk rather than eat a chips ahoy. but when it comes to candy, it's all the same to me.

my friend laurie has been showering me with books of food writing, of late. the latest addition to my collection is "best of food writing, 2004," and i have been devouring it like it was a bag of good chocolate. the articles are excellent, and cover a wide swath of content and style. one piece, however, has walked away with my heart. a man named steve almond, a candyfreak, wrote a piece about the five star gourmet chocolate bars made by a company called lake champlain chocolates. before now, i didn't think food writing could make me laugh out loud. he writes as i wish i could write, tastes as i wish i could taste. in short, i am planning on writing him a letter and asking him to mentor me, i dunno, marry me, fuse his brain with mine, what have you.

a highlight: steve, completely obsessing over this new chocolate bar, goes to the factory to meet their "chocolate engineer."

"i suppose i was aware, in an abstract way," he writes, "that there were men and women upon this earth who served in this capacity, as chocolate engineers. in the same way that i was aware that there are job titles out there such as bacon taster and sex surrogate, which is to say, job titles that made me want to weep over my own appointed lot in life."

steve almond's writing was so winsome, that i became mildly obsessed with the five star bar, and wondered when i might come upon one. yesterday, in garden of eden (the store, not the biblical location), as i approached my cashier, i glanced down briefly at the sucker shelves. the sucker shelves are the shelves at the front stocked with all manner of overpriced chocolates and mints and gum, and from which i have never bought a thing in my whole life. there, right in front of me were some five star bars, looking nothing like what i had expected. small, like fancy chunky bars, they were thick and compact. i grabbed a peanut one, then remembered that the chocolate engineer himself loves the fruit and nut, and so made a quick swap.

i eat many of my meals on the run, which is no way to enjoy something. i really tried to hold onto the bar and save it for when i was still, maybe even seated, but i am an impatient girl, especially in regards to food. i pulled it out as i exited the astor place station, unwrapped it on the stairwell, and sunk my teeth in.

it's really good. steve almond is right, i suppose, but i didn't see the baby jesus, or cry with joy or anything. maybe i should have had the peanut instead? in moments like this i am reminded what makes greatness, and it's obsession. last weekend in baltimore i saw a 6 foot long model of the lusitania made out of matchsticks ("2 1/2 years of work," read the museum label), and had the same thought. steve almond is a great food writer because this bar made his head explode, and sent him on a journey to figure out how and why and where it was made. and he studied these bars as though it were rocket science, and wrote a beautiful piece about them, as though it were moby freakin' dick. 5 stars to you, steve almond, my food-obsessed new friend.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

island living

4 women, one small island, and a freezer full of meat. like the colorful cartoon geckos we stayed up trying to make into a sensical whole, the refrigerator, too, was a puzzle. egg, cheese, bacon, potatoes, brussel sprouts, apples, peanut butter and three loaves of wheat bread.

what drink can you make with rum, cold coffee, sugar, milk and cinnamon? what lunch can you make with what you've got on hand? how can you satisfy a late-night sweet craving when there is no grocer on the corner selling 6 kinds of frozen yogurt?
the answers: a connie surprise, a turkey/cheddar/apple sandwich, and a homemade apple crisp.

and how do you make three travelers feel welcome and loved? you stew them a pot of short ribs on the stove all day, for them to tackle after a day at the white sandy beach.

this morning, back on my usual island, i am snowed in. looking at my own fridge, i came up with the following breakfast. and it was very, very good.

scrambled eggs with leeks

1/2 leek, white part only, thinly sliced in half moons
knob butter
1 egg, and 1 egg white
sharp white cheddar, shredded on the microplane
salt and pepper

melt butter in a small saute pan. toss in the sweetly smelling leeks, and saute slowly over a medium to low heat, sprinkling them with salt and pepper somewhere in that process. lower the heat. meanwhile scramble your egg and egg white, and when the leeks are nice and soft, and maybe a little bit browned, pour in the egg mizture, and use your heat-resistant spatula to stir the egg mixture slowly. when the eggs are almost ready, toss in the finely grated cheese. toss onto your plate, and devour.
* a note about eggs: they are best when scrambled slowly over a very low heat. when i waited tables at bette's diner in berkeley, i learned from the masters. "we serve our eggs french style," we were trained to say, "they are cooked slowly over a low heat and are therefore quite soft, though not undercooked."

Monday, January 23, 2006

lamb

my birthday gift to laurie was really a birthday gift to myself. i can't remember the last time i made anything more complicated than a pot of soup. it's been weeks, and i miss cooking. the birthday dinner was my opportunity to get in front of the stove again and to have friends over and entertain.

"food and wine" magazine has been arriving at my house and i figured the only thing separating the magazine from being a coaster, was using some of the recipes. i chose braised lamb shanks with cilantro pesto. braising is a slow-cooking technique that basically involves searing the meat, and then letting it cook in liquid at a low temperature for a long time. when you eat meat that falls off the bone, it has likely been braised.

having come to my culinary pubescence during my vegetarian years, i don't have that much experience cooking meat. i was suprised to find that i did not enjoy handling the bloody, raw stuff. the outcome was good, but in truth, i do not think i will be cooking giant hunks of lamb for quite some time.

the recipe is for six shanks but i made only four, while changing none of the other proportions. also, we drank it with scotch on the rocks: good stuff my buddy chris bought for me for my birthday in edinburgh last summer.

braised lamb shanks with roasted broccoli and squash

1/4 plus 3 tbsp e.v.o.o.
6 med. lamb shanks, about 6 pounds
salt and fresh pepper
2 cups dry white wine
4 cups chicken stock or low sodium broth
2 med onions, coarsely chopped
1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, thinly sliced into moons
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, thinkly sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4 large canned italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
3 pounds small delicata squash (i used dumpling squash i think)--scrubbed, halved, seeded and cut into slices
1 2 lb head of broccoli cut into florets
1 15 oz. can of chickpeas, drained
couscous

preheat oven to 325 degrees
heat tbsp olive oil in skillet. season lamb shanks with salt and pepper all over.
add three of shanks and cook over moderately high heat until browned all over, 10 minutes.
transfer to a large roasting pan or stew pot.
repeat with another tbsp olive oil and remaining shanks.
pour off skillet oil
add wine and boil for 1 minute, scraping up browned bits
pour wine into roasting pan with lamb shanks
add stock/celery/carrot/thyme/coarsely chopped onions/bay leaves
bring to boil over high heat
cover with foil and place in oven.
braise for 2.5 hours, until meat is very tender
remove foil, let cool slightly

make sofrito:
in medium skillet heat 2 tbsp olive oil
add garlic, finely chopped oinion, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds and cook over moderate heat until reduce to 2/3 cup
season with salt and pepper

increase oven temp to 400 degrees
on each of two rimmed baking sheets toss squash with olive oil, salt and pepper, and do same thing with broccoli
roast squash for 45 minutes, broccoli for 25 minutes
meanwhile tranfer lamb shanks to a work surface, strain braising liquid and skim off fat
add chickpeas/tomato sofrito/lamb shanks to braising liquid, cover and simmer for 8 minutes over low heat

cook couscous according to package (i made it with the large israeli couscous which is less absorbent and maybe therefore, not as good). add butter and salt (i used olive oil for my lactose intolerant laurie)

put couscous/lamb/roasted veggies in a bowl and drizzle cilantro pesto over the top (see below)

cilantro pesto
1 cup cilantro leaves, cleaned
1 cup flat leaf parsley, cleaned
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 knob ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup vegetable oil
salt

place all ingredients in blender

Friday, January 06, 2006

wien

for my 10th birthday, which i spent at my great aunt's house in suburban london, i was served a homemade sachertorte with candles in it. it was so unlike the creamy, fluffy birthday cakes i had at home, i was mesmerized. hidden between these dense chocolate layers was the faintest hint of raspberry jam. the chocolate frosting was not the thick buttery american kind; it was thin and shiny and delicate.

my great aunt annie was an austrian jew who, like her brother (my grandfather) fled vienna when the nazis came to town. the food i enjoyed that entire week in her home was thick and rich: goulash and spaetzle, and my beloved sachertorte. i have held a place in my heart for this food ever since. i went to prague and vienna as a 20 year old and gorged myself on wiener schnitzel and bread dumplings and goulash. this was my ancestral homeland, and this food my ancestral food.

yesterday my mom and i went to the neue gallery to take in some egon schiele, but stopped in at cafe sabarsky before we looked at the art. cafe sabarsky is charmingly old world, and completely austrian in feel, much in the same way as thomas beisl is, across from BAM. in an effort to stay close to my roots, we ordered a "sausage salad" and smoked trout crepes. i also had a terrific cafe latte. the sausage salad was terrifying to look at. it appeared to be long flat strips of spam, tossed with cheese, greens, sliced radishes, slivered red bell peppers and vinaigrette. it was actually delicious, and not even that heavy. mom was not a fan of her trout crepes. they were delicate and crunchy, more like egg rolls than the soft french-like crepes i pictured.

the desserts were behind us, laid out on a marble shelf, and looking preposterously good. next time, i will definitely partake of sachertorte and viennese hot chocolate, and bring myself back in time to aunt annie's house .

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

easy as pie, but it's a cookie

per cjr's request, a new recipe.

with the holidays comes a desire to produce mass amounts of sugary buttery crap and eat most of it myself, but give some of it away. if only i had 76 grandchildren, there would be enough mouths to finish all that i crave to make. i showed some restraint, i did, and made only a few things, including a batch of almond biscotti, all of which i gave away as gifts. ok, i ate one piece, but just to make sure it wasn't poisoned (it wasn't).

biscotti are terrifically easy to make. and many versions do not even contain any butter or oil. in fact, i recall watching
"the view" once (kudos to you if you cannot say that phrase), and the ladies saying that a person could lose 900 pounds if she switched her daily snack from a venti caramel macchiato and a scone to a frappucino and a biscotti. it's, apparently, practically like eating a carrot.

biscotti de prato

("classical italian dunking cookie")

3/4 cups whole almonds
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 cups flour
7/8 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
dash of salt

heat oven to 350
place nuts in a shallow baking dish and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes
in a small bowl beat eggs, vanilla and almond extract with a wire whisk.
in a mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.
add egg mixture until blended, about 1 minute.
cut nuts into halves and mix in.
divide dough in half.
on greased and floured baking sheet, pat dough into 2 logs 1.5 inches wide and 12 inches long.
space them at least 2 inches apart.
lower oven to 300 degrees and bake logs of dough for 50 minutes until golden brown.
transfer from baking sheet to rack, cool 5 minutes.
on a cutting board, cut with a serrated knife on a diagonal, about 1/2 inch thick.
lower oven to 275 degrees and lay slices flat on baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes,
turning over once to dry the other side.
store in a tightly covered container.
taste one to make sure it isn't poisoned.

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