30 April 2009

Harbinger of spring to come

Spring has finally arrived in the Northeast. YES. Even though the temperature is only in the 50s today, it's been raining on and off, spring is here to stay. See, I had intended to pop in and out of the Farmer's Market today, only for some mushrooms. I did a few other errands first, including picking up some buttons (which, by the way, are completely gorgeous--who knew buttons could be so lovely?). By the time I emerged from the subway, it had started to rain. But then, right across from the exit was a stand full of asparagus. Asparagus! From New York! So far, the only asparagus I've seen has been from California or Mexico, so the sight of the reaching, beseeching, lovely stems was a welcome sight. Who cares about rain when there is fresh lovely bright asparagus to be had?

Looking around, it was also clear that the spring harvest had begun, in earnest. Cucumbers as long as my arm, fresh herbs, salad greens, fresh spinach, even. After weeks of hoping and dragging my bags down to Union Square and seeing only sad, repeated offerings of potatoes, onions, carrots and wintered-over apples, green produce is a welcome sight, indeed.

As for the asparagus? What's not to like? It's such a versatile vegetable, and everything is possible: roasted, soups, braises... you name it. But I like to showcase it in risotto, something I discovered last spring. Peel some, chop it up, and stir it into some lovely, creamy risotto in the making, add a splash of lemon juice or zest if you have one lying around, and it's the perfect harbinger of spring to come. It's also the perfect dish when you're thinking about how great it would be not to go to the store because you are too busy enjoying the sun. At least, that's my opinion.

Asparagus and Pea Risotto

1/2 pound asparagus, woody stem removed, and peeled and cut into 1/2 to 1-inch pieces
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced fine
1 1/2 cup arborio rice (or whatever you use for risotto)
4-5 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
1/2 cup white wine or light beer
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Do your best not to let them brown. Add the rice, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Meanwhile bring stock to a boil and then turn off heat; let sit. Also, blanch your peas in a small pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Pour in wine or beer to rice, stirring often, until it is all absorbed. Add 1 cup of the warm broth and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring occasionally. When the rice starts to get thick, pour in another 1/2 cup of the broth and add some salt (how much depends on the saltiness of the stock; if you don't know how salty your stock is, add just a little and add more later on). Keep adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, every time the rice thickens. Do not let the rice dry out.

3. After about 12 minutes, stir in the asparagus. Cook for 10 more minutes, and add peas. Cook until the rice is tender but still has a firm core, about 20-30 minutes in all. When the rice is just about done, add the last tablespoon butter, and shower the rice with cheese. Stir vigorously to release the starch in the rice. Taste for salt, adding more as needed. Turn of the heat and let sit 2 minutes before serving.

24 April 2009

Yes, please

Originally uploaded by meizilla
So project Lose Five Pounds has not made a lot of progress. (See previous post.) It also hasn't helped that I actually worked a full week (heavens!) and the kids totally wore me out. So I get home, and really, all I want is a nap. And a snack. Luckily, we've discovered tasty hummus and pita. It is seriously tasty. I don't even like hummus, and I think this is good. So there's been that.

Back to business: get home, snack. Then I have to let myself digest. By the time I've digested, it's time to make dinner. And we've been trying to be so good: no dessert, no ice cream, no cookies. (Confession: we have nice bars of chocolate from Easter that are screaming to be eaten. So sometimes I have a square or two after dinner. But only one! Or two! I promise.) This has been going on for a week.

Let me tell you something. My sweet tooth is sobbing as we speak. Sobbing! All I want is a chocolate chip cookie. Just one! But see, this is the big problem: you can't just make one cookie. But just one of these beautiful cookies...I think eating one would be lovely. Yes. Yes I do. Jeff, don't you think so, too? Let's make cookies?? Please???

23 April 2009

Not normal days

Is it crazy to seriously consider mail ordering $60 worth of cheese? I would normally say YES, but these are not normal days. In fact, I am in a serious state of denial. Instead of going on a run, I am sitting inside snuggling in my sleeping bag and reading magazines and eating Red Hawk cheese, which might be one of the most intense, pleasurable cheeses I have ever had. I feel like I'm hiding out, being sneaky. Except for the fact that I'm in my late 20s (when did that happen??) and can do pretty much whatever and no one cares. Except for the exercise enjoyer in me. Sorry, exercise enjoyer.

(This is not my photo. Thanks, internet!)

It's a kind of triple crème, nice and smooth and rich, but at the same time it's full and musty and just absolutely beautiful, with a washed rind. I LOVE LOVE LOVE it.

While we're talking about THINGS I LIKE, can I also say how much I love this book:

It is completely engaging and charming and lovely. The introduction roughly explains that there has been a growing "unification" of regional cultures into one mass American culture (via the Internet, TV, large chain stores, etc.), but at the same time, when people meet each other, they often ask, "Where are you from?", and that states have strong identities of their own. It's been sitting on my night stand for two months--I finally broke down and bought myself a copy. I figured that after having renewed the book twice from the library and with no forseeeable end in sight, it would be better to not have to worry about it.

18 April 2009

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Jeff

Do you know what? My feet are tired. Sore and tired, and three of my toes aren't functioning quite as they should. I blame it on the heels.

Aren't they gorgeous, though? Mom gave them to me last last Christmas, the year we moved to New York. I wore them out for the first time last night, when Jeff and I went out to celebrate our improbable consistency of FIVE WHOLE YEARS. For us, at least, five years seems like a lot of time. Other things that we have done for that amount of time include studying French (me) and playing baseball (Jeff). So we went to this lovely, delicious restaurant called Cookshop, where the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, and where everyone is really, really nice, even if the server tells you that you can snag the last order of scallops of the night and then comes back forty minutes later telling you that she was wrong and you have to choose something else, which causes much stress in the middle of an otherwise lovely meal.

And this morning, well, this morning. Doughnut muffins, courtesy of Orangette, because yesterday they looked fantastic and I just couldn't resist. I love nutmeg. And muffins. And doughnuts. And anything that has a combination of those? Well...

Like I said, I couldn't resist.

You shouldn't either.

Orangette's Nutmeg Doughnut Muffins

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
6 1/2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon buttermilk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
7 tablespoons sugar
1 egg

2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degress F.
1. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.
2. Combine the milks in a small bowl, and set aside.
3. Cream the butter until it looks light and fluffy. Add the sugar, until the consistancy is nice and ribbony, and looks a little like frosting. Add the egg until just combined.
4. With a wooden spoon, add one fourth of the dry mixture into the the butter mixture. Add 1/3 of the milk mixture until combined. Repeat, ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until dough is smooth and combined, but do not overmix.
5. Line six muffin tins with liners, and fill them. Bake for 25-30 minutes, being sure to check at 25 minutes. The minute that a toothpick comes out clean, they are done. Let cool on a rack.
6. When the muffins are cool enough to handle, melt the butter in a small pan or the microwave, and brush over the tops of the muffins. Roll in powdered sugar. Serve to your honey with a strong cup of coffee.

Makes enough for a 6-tin muffin tin.

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16 April 2009

The problem with vacation

Do you know what the problem with vacation is? I'll tell you what the problem with vacation is. The problem with vacation is the fact that your brain turns to mush and you find yourself sleeping to, oh, let's say about 10:00 every day and then you're not very hungry but it would be such a shame to let all those fantastic eat-at-home opportunities go to waste, so you do your best to clean out the fridge by eating the fantastic leftovers that your family didn't finish the weekend they were here.

Another problem with vacation is that since your afternoons are quiet and light-filled, and that your apartment is very lovely to read in during said afternoons, that you have taken to reading about cowgirl romance and then your afternoons are gone and you're not very sure what the heck happened to them. This can be especially frustrating when you realize that you turned on NPR, so that at least you have some idea of what's going on in the world that is not on vacation, but don't actually hear anything due to the absorbing nature of your reading material, because, really--let's be honest here--NPR can't beat out romance. Sorry, NPR.

But getting back to the food. The biggest problem with vacation, really, is that since you are finally relaxed enough to not think about work and not think about the horrible economy every. single. waking. moment., you don't really think about anything at all, except how nice it is not to do anything. Along with sleeping in, going out to lunch with your boyfriend suddenly becomes high on the list. This is problematic because you often realize that you also wish that you were going to order takeout from your favorite Thai place, too, but you can't because you already ate out once today. It's really quite unfortunate.

The good thing, though, is that since you're spending so much time at home reading internet love sagas, you have a lot of down time for foods that need to sit, like this lovely yogurt that Harold McGee wrote about in yesterday's Times. (See? I do have some sense of routine.) I was even motivated enough to head to Zabar's and pick up a large glass jar, only to realize when I got home that it's too big. Unfortunately for me, though, my yogurt turned into slightly yogurty milk? Where did I go wrong? Thoughts? Thoughts??

Plain Yogurt, deciphered from a very loose recipe in the New York Times

1 quart whole milk
2 tablespoons yogurt, preferably plain

you will need a thermometer for liquids

1. Heat your milk in a large pot until it reaches about 175 degrees F (or a little warmer--just so that your milk is steamy and is bubbling a little bit).
2. Let your milk cool to about 115 degrees F, and stir in yogurt.
3. Pour into a large-ish container (probably a little bit bigger than a quart would be ideal), and let sit about 4 hours, or until set.
4. Once your yogurt sets, refrigerate it to firm its structure and slow the continuing acid production.

If you want to make your yogurt thicker, spoon it into a fine-mesh strainer or into a colander lined with cheesecloth, and let the whey and its lactic acid drain into a bowl for several hours.

13 April 2009


Strawberry Mascarpone Tart, adapted from Gourmet

for tart shell
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
rounded ¼ teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons cold water

for filling
1 ½ pound strawberries, trimmed and sliced lengthwise
1 pound mascarpone (about 2 cups)
¼ cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. make the tart shell: Blend together flour, sugar, salt, and butter in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor), just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-sized butter lumps. Beat together yolk, vanilla, lemon juice, and water with a fork, then drizzle over flour mixture and stir with fork (or pulse) until mixture comes together.
2. Gently knead with floured hands on a lightly floured surface until a dough forms, then gently knead 4 or 5 times. Press into a 5-inch disk. Place in center of tart pan and cover with plastic wrap. Using your fingers and bottom of a flat-bottomed measuring cup, spread and push dough to evenly cover bottom and side of pan. Prick bottom of pan all over with a fork and freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line the tart shell with aluminum foil and add pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes, remove foil and weights, and bake 10-15 minutes more, until the crust starts to brown at the edges. Remove from oven and let cool.
4. Meanwhile, combine mascarpone, sugar, lemon juice, zest and vanilla with a whisk or large wooden spoon, until well-combined and creamy.
5. When the crust is cool, pour mascarpone mixture into the crust and spread it out so it is lovely and even. Artfully arrange strawberries on top. Serve to your favorite people, especially if they've managed to gather at your house for a weekend and you can't remember time better spent.

07 April 2009

Omnivore's 100

I came across this while looking up random recipes, and I thought I'd give it a try. Anyone else, feel free to follow...

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. (**I have to put a big fat X, since I don't have a cross-out button**)
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

03 April 2009

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper

When is the last time you read something that made you really, really hungry? I mean, I love my cooking magazines, food memoirs, and cookbooks, and I usually have a few open at any given moment, but nothing has ever made me this ravenous.

Fuchsia Dunlop recounts her years living in China, starting out in the city of Chengdu, where time is slow and the food is laced with Sichuan pepper. (By the way, I love Sichuan pepper, since it makes your mouth all tingly and a little numb and has a good heat, to boot.) Her descriptions of food and the people that she meets are beautiful and evocative. Also, there is a recipe for Dan Dan Noodles that is so mouth-watering that I am willing to bring the fringes of Chinatown to find ingredients. Now, about brushing up on my Chinese...