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.