May 28, 2009

FRESH: The Movie

Last night I went to an NYC screening of FRESH. Sort of an Omnivore's Dilemma on film, Fresh features interviews with Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, Will Allen, the founder of the farm and non-profit Growing Power, and other farmers and business owners who are helping to remake the American food system. It was nice to see happy chickens, cows, and pigs. And happy farmers. They also interviewed a couple who own a conventional poultry farming operation. They didn't look too happy, and neither did their chickens. Maybe they need to go visit Polyface and check out the Eggmobile. After the screening was a panel with Salatin, Allen, Joan Gussow of Just Food, and Dan Barber of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, to discuss various issues raised by the film. My favorite quote from the panel was from Joel Salatin: "You can't push a string. You have to pull a string." He's great. Check out more info about the film and view the trailer:

May 21, 2009

Coconut Basmati Rice Pudding

Something magical happens when coconut milk and basmati rice get together to simmer for a while.

Throw in a little cinnamon and vanilla, drizzle with maple syrup for subtle sweetness, and top with sweet and chewy dried apricots and crunchy bits of toasted almonds. Voila, a rice pudding fit for any time of day or night.

I packed this up and brought it to work this morning for a breakfast on the go. It was delicious at room temp, totally comforting and satisfying, with a perfect balance of textures: creamy, smooth, chewy, and crunchy. And it staved off the hunger pangs way longer than a bowl of oatmeal would have.

Coconut Basmati Rice Pudding

One 14-ounce can coconut milk (I used an organic brand that does not contain preservatives)
2 cups cooked brown basmati rice
1/8 teasoon sea salt (optional; use if rice was cooked without the addition of salt)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons maple syrup (or any natural sweetener of your choice) (plus additional, if desired, to taste)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

ideas for toppings: chopped dried apricots, figs, or cherries, raisins, chopped toasted almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, etc

  • Combine coconut milk and rice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower heat and add cinnamon, maple syrup, and salt (if using).
  • Simmer uncovered, stirring often, until mixture is nice and thick with a pudding-y consistency.
  • Stir in vanilla extract and add additional sweetener, if desired.
  • Eat hot, cold, or in-between, topped with chewy and crunchy bits of your choice.

The Food of a Younger Land

Also from GOOD magazine - An interview with Mark Kurlansky, author of Salt and Cod, about his new book, The Food of a Younger Land. The book describes the days when American food customs were truly local, seasonal, and based on cultural traditions. http://www.good.is/post/the-food-of-a-younger-land/

May 20, 2009

Other People's Lunches

Other People's Lunches (OPLs) can be scary...here are a few I observed at lunchtime today ...

Chunks of dyed-red mystery meat with electric yellow rice in a take-out container: Where are the vegetables?? And is that dog meat? Horse meat? Who knows? Whatever it is, it was raised in a factory farm up to its knees in you-know-what.

Artificially flavored Quaker instant oatmeal: Ugh, I'd rather gnaw on the cardboard box it came in. Come on, is this really the best you can do? If your lunch can be stored for months in one of your desk drawers -- and the stench of its artificial maple brown sugar flavoring singes your nostrils while it's in the micro -- it's probably not a good idea to eat it.

Microwaveable soup in one of those containers where you pull off the metal lid and put on a vented plastic one and then nuke away. I was overcome by the smell of dog food when the can opened. They should just call it what it is: Thickened Salt Water with Powdered Vegetables, Battery Chicken Byproduct, and MSG.

The people associated with these "lunches" were eyeing my simple meal (curried red lentil soup, braised collards, brown basmati rice, and roasted acorn squash) like it came from outer space.

If I hear "did you make that? It looks so good" one more time...I'm going to corral them all in a conference room and not let them leave till they know how to make themselves a real meal! Which would be a lot of fun, actually. That's all for now.

Mirin-Braised Collard Greens

They say the taste for bitter flavors develops later in life, which explains why many kids don't want to eat certain vegetables, particularly dark, leafy greens.

I must be weird, because I missed that phase; I can't recall a time when i didn't love dark, somewhat bitter greens. Collards, kale, broccoli rabe, chard, escarole, dandelions, beet greens, turnip greens. Maybe it's because my mom is just really good at cooking them; that she always cooked them with generous amounts of olive oil and garlic couldn't have hurt.

Dark leafies are high in vitamin C, manganese, folate, and calcium. They are also excellent sources of vitamins A and K, which are 2 of the 4 fat-soluble vitamins (the others are vitamins D and E). The optimal absorption of these vitamins requires the presence of a fat, so I always prepare them with some type of fat, usually olive oil or butter.

One of my favorite ways to prepare greens - and certainly one of the easiest - is a saute in olive oil to bring out their flavor, followed by a short braise to make them tender and tone down the bitterness.

Adding mirin, Japanese rice wine, mellows out their bitter edge and adds subtle sweetness without being cloying. Look for mirin without added sugar.

Last night's dinner (and today's lunch) featured these collards, roasted acorn squash, and steamed brown basmati rice with a little rice wine vinegar. (And sardines spritzed with lemon juice ... i know, that's just weird.)


Mirin-Braised Collard Greens
  • 1 pound collard greens (or any hearty greens, or a mixture of them) 
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped 
  • 2 to 3 Tablespoons mirin (plus additional to taste) 
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
Wash the greens and remove the tough stems by cutting along either side of the stem. Cut each leaf in half so that you have two long strips, then stack a few half-leaves and roll them the into a long cylinder. Slice the cylinder very thinly (about 1/8-inch slices) to create a chiffonade, and repeat with remaining leaves. Heat oil in a medium size saute pan until it shimmers.

Add collards a handful at a time, stirring, and wait until collards wilt slightly before adding the next handful. Then stir in the garlic and a pinch of sea salt (about 1/4 tsp). When collards are bright green, add mirin, stir, and cover pan. Lower heat and cook for 8-10 minutes, until greens are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Taste; if the greens are still too bitter (some batches are more bitter than others) add another tablespoon of mirin and braise for a few more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

May 14, 2009

Momofuku Ssam Bar...

...is my new favorite restaurant. I finally made it there for dinner, and it was everything I hoped it would be. And more. One of my dining companions (who shall remain nameless) enjoyed the food so much that she repeatedly expressed the desire to get a little naughty with the chef, David Chang. Alas, he didn't seem to be in the kitchen last night. But the crew was doing just fine on their own. Every dish was spot-on. We were all smiles.

 Here's a run-down of we had last night:

Mixed pickle plate: a delicious assortment of mixed pickled veggies, including beets, fennel, cukes, baby turnips, shiitake mushrooms, and the most delectable kim chi I have ever tasted.

The Pork Buns: these are legendary. Moist, spongy (in a very good way) rice bun folded around a thick, tender, and fatty slice of pork, pickle slices, and a little sweet sauce. Perfect in every way, especially with a little squirt of the spicy red sauce they bring to the table. I would've been happy with just these for dinner.

Lamb Tortelloni: tender shreds of braised lamb wrapped in an al dente pasta and bathed in a mild, buttery sauce with bits of chard. Subtle and completely addictive.

Steamed mussels: the most perfectly cooked mussels I've ever tasted, impossibly tender and juicy, subtly perfumed by the nigori (unfiltered sake) they were steamed in. We dueled spoons over every last drop of broth.

Rice cake with Chinese sausage: This was totally different than we pictured it. Little cylinders of dough (seemed to be the same dough as the pork bun) fried or sauteed till just slightly crispy but still pillowy in the middle. Like Asian gnocchi! Tossed with spicy, salty, and umami-licious Chinese sausage and Chinese broccoli. Another totally addictive concoction.

We'd had quite enough, but of course could not resist going next door to the Bakery/Milk Bar for some sweets:

Banana cookie: All the flavor of really good banana bread condensed into a chewy little cookie. I should have bought a couple to have for breakfast this morning, they would be perfect with coffee.

Compost cookie: The name says it all. Nice texture, but I couldn't detect the individual ingredients - all I could taste was butterscotch.

Arnold Palmer Cake: An Alice-in-Wonderland-appropriate behemoth with layers of lemon cake and tea cake, layered with lemon curd, tea gelee, and curious sweet crunchy bits. The lemon cake and curd were my favorite, and I would've been happy with just those components (ok, and some of those crunchy bits).

May 13, 2009

Dag Hammarskjold Plaza Greenmarket

A glimmer of hope in the Vast Culinary Wasteland of midtown east: a greenmarket in Dag Hammarsjold plaza, on East 47th st between 2nd and 1st Ave.

I don't explore this neighborhood much - basically I come here for work and then escape as quickly as possible to other areas of town. So it's not much of a surprise that it's taken me more than a year to discover a farmer's market just 5 blocks away.

The market is on the smallish side - several fruit and veg vendors, baker, seafood guy...maybe as the season progresses more purveyors will be there. It's open year-round, every Wednesday from 8am-6pm.

It was very refreshing to get out ot the office for a few minutes this afternoon to check out the asparagus, spring onions, ramps - and rhubarb! I would've stocked up, but I'm going out to dinner tonight (finally checking out one of the momofukus!) and didn't want to lug around a bag of produce. Next time. I see rhubarb in my future.

May 11, 2009

Gnocchi!





This weekend was my first attempt at making gnocchi. I've had gnocchi on my "to do" list for a while. Being in my mom's kitchen this weekend - with just a little more counter space than my teeny Manhattan apartment's - finally provided the motivation to get going on it.

 As with all things Italian, I looked to the guidance of Lidia Bastianich, in her fabulous cookbook Lidia's Italian Kitchen. Lidia's recipes have never failed me, and this was no different. As with homemade pasta in general, making your own gnocchi is fun, relatively easy, and very satisfying. The potato gnocchi were delicious bathed in a creamy gorgonzola sauce (also courtesy of Lidia's Italian Kitchen).

I froze the extra gnocchi, formed but not cooked, for future use (the near future though - they will probably be gone by the end of the week).

Strawberry Shortcake

Mother's Day can be a not so pleasant restaurant experience (crowds, screaming children, fixed seating times, uninspired pre fixe menus). To avoid all this, I cooked dinner. The menu was quick-braised lamb shoulder chops (to continue the weekend's Lidia Bastianich theme, I followed a recipe from Lidia's Italian Table) with polenta, and strawberry shortcake for dessert.
The shortcake recipe was based on one from the old-school James Beard Cookbook. I added a little more sugar than he called for, which resulted in a sweeter and more cookie-like biscuit. Delicious with lightly sweetened strawberries and vanilla-infused whipped cream.

May 8, 2009

Ginger Tea

When I have a cold or sore throat, I crave ginger. And there is nothing more soothing than a cup of warm ginger tea. Sometimes I grate ginger and squeeze the juice into hot water, which makes for quite a spicy brew. However, longer steeping of the ginger results in a sweeter, more mellow tea, and the ginger peel imparts a nice golden color to the liquid.
This is my favorite way to make ginger tea. I drank it for days last week when I had a cold.
1-inch knob of ginger, peel on, cut into 4 or 5 1/4-inch slices
2 cups of water
Combine the ginger slices and water in a small saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to steep, covered, for 15 minutes. Strain into a mug and drink warm.

May 7, 2009

Sicilian Style Roasted Vegetables with Balsamic Syrup

The hallmarks of Sicilian cooking are its simplicity and cross-cultural elements. Throughout the centuries Sicily has been occupied by a variety of people: first the Greeks, who brought olives and capers; then the Romans, who grew durum wheat - mostly to bring back to Rome - but some wheat stayed in Sicily and was used to make bread. This led to the Sicilian tradition of adding a bread crumb topping to many dishes.

Later the Persians arrived, settling around Palermo, and introduced eggplant, citrus (oranges and lemons), dried fruit, and Eastern spices to Sicily. Subsequent occupation by French royal families brought tomatoes and peppers, which are native to America, back to Sicily and the rest of Europe. This melding of ingredients and cooking styles over time has created a unique Sicilian cuisine.

I created this recipe as an "improv" with some extra green beans and a red bell pepper during our Sicilian cooking class, our final class in the chef's training program at the Natural Gourmet. The orange, lemon, and balsamic vinegar lend a sweet-sour note to the dish. Thanks to Chef Rich LaMarita, who gave us a great lecture on Sicily's food history.

Sicilian Style Roasted Vegetables with Balsamic Syrup

Yield: serves 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients:

1 large red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, thinly sliced into strips

3/4 lb string beans, stem ends removed

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 cup balsamic vinegar

zest of 1 orange (about 1 tablespoon)

¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Toss vegetables in a large bowl with olive oil and pinch of salt and pepper. Transfer to a sheet pan large enough to hold the vegetables in one layer. Roast at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.

While the vegetables are roasting, make the balsamic syrup. Add balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the vinegar reduces to about 1/4 cup and has a syrupy consistency when tested with a spoon. Remove from heat.

When vegetables are tender and lightly browned, remove from oven and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with orange zest, orange juice, and lemon juice, and add salt, if needed, to taste. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with balsamic syrup just before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature.

May 4, 2009

Salt: A World History

When I returned to the office after my extended stay in Berkeley, I discovered that someone left a copy of Mark Kurlansky's book Salt: A World History on my desk. I've wanted to read this book for a while and mentioned this to a few friends - but I still haven't figured out who the mystery gift-giver is. None of the usual suspects have fessed up.
Unsolved mystery aside though - what a terrific book! The history of the world as told through this ubiquitous compound. He also gives ancient recipes that use salt - including a directive on how to make a sauce using fermented (sometimes rotten, it seems) fish. Wouldn't that be fun to try in a little Manhattan apartment....
And the author loves to expound on the roots of words - especially those originating from sal, for salt, as well as how delicacies such as prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese came to be. Required reading for all food and history nerds; and it has my vote for inclusion in high school history curricula as well. A reminder of the pivotal role food - and those who control its origin and distribution - have had in shaping the world as we know it.
Next up: Cod and The Basque History of the World.