Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chinese eating extravaganza

Last night, we did something that's been on Peter's New York to-do list ever since we saw this article in the New York Times -- have a Chinese eating extravaganza in in Flushing.  He did research in the afternoon while I went shopping, and met me at the subway armed with a map. Dumplings, seafood, and dessert were covered.

We started with dumplings at a Shanghai style restaurant. We ordered steamed pork and crab dumplings, noodles with scallion sauce, and, upon the suggestion of the wonderful family next to us from Shanghai, dark mushrooms with green bok choy.  Our lovely table mates even taught us the right way to eat those tricky  dumplings!  

You pick one up with the tongs and put it on your spoon.  Then you take a tiny bite off the top of the dumpling, right where the dough has been nipped together.  It's a bit sticky and can cling to your mouth, but be careful not to take too big a bite or you won't be able to experience the wonderful next step.  Pour a spoonful of the vinegar into the opening you just made on the top of the dumpling.  Then put your mouth on top and suck out all the liquid inside.  It's a bit like vegetable broth, but with that acidic taste from the vinegar.  It's wonderful. Once you've gotten all the liquid out, you can bite the dumpling.  Inside, there's a meatball like thing of the crab and pork.  

The noodles were good, but they took up some valuable stomach real estate.  The mushrooms and the bok choy, though.  Oh wow.  The mushrooms were very dark and so earthy -- I have no idea what they did to make them that way, but I'm happy that they did it.  

Next we went to a seafood Hong Kong style restaurant.  (I know this seems very glutenous, but figured if we made it all the way out there, might as well take full advantage.)  The waitress convinced us to get an order of crispy seafood rolls to go along with our Dungeness crab with glutenous rice.  Those crispy seafood rolls were not very good.  Don't let your waitress boss you into ordering them!  They were mayonnaise-y, even though I highly doubt they had any mayo inside.  Which makes we really wonder what that white stuff was.

But the crab!  And the glutenous rice!  Yes, definitely allow yourself to be bullied into that. They crabs have a soft shell that you can break with your fingers, but using the cracker is fun. Inside, there was lots of flaky white crab meat.  The rice is lightly spiced and super sticky.  A delicious combination.  

We had high hopes of venturing into one of the mall food courts for some red bean shaved ice in the name of adventurous eating, but we were just too full. Next time.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How nice it is

When you bring home dinosaur-sized carrots from the farmer's market on Saturday and are trying to come up with quick weeknight dinner on Tuesday, there is really only one good thing to do.

Make curry carrot soup!

It's fast, but it still provides all of those warm and fuzzy cooking feelings that come from peeling, chopping, and stirring. And it makes excellent left-overs. How nice it is to have a bright bowl of orange soup in your Tupperware this time of year.

Curry carrot soup

You will need:

1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Splash of olive oil and small knob of butter
3 giant carrots or 6 regular sized carrots
1 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pour a splash of a olive oil and your butter into a large soup pot. Turn on heat to medium. Add onion and cook for a few minutes before adding garlic. Peel and slice the carrots to about 1/4 inch thick. Add to soup pot and stir to coat in butter and oil. Add your stock and then add enough water to the pot to just cover the carrots. Turn heat up just a titch and allow it to come to a boil, stirring occasionally. When carrots are soft, use an immersion blender to smooth out the big lumps (or transfer in batches to your blender). Stir in curry powder and salt and pepper. Add more curry if it isn't strong enough, but in small amounts. You can always add more, but can't take it out! I find that for me, 2 teaspoons provides just the right amount of warmth.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Farm on Adderley

Saturday night, Peter and I went to The Farm on Adderley for dinner. It's warm and cramped and wonderful inside. Waiting for our table (about 25 minutes at 8:00 PM on a Saturday night -- not bad, right?), Peter said that if he ever made a restaurant, he'd make it just like The Farm. I think at this early stage, he was mostly woo-ed because they were playing all of his favorite songs.

We got a fantastic bottle of rosé, but I can't share the name since the wine menu isn't posted online. It was the only rosé on the menu, though. Rosé can have a negative reputation, at least for me, because of all that terrible pink wine out there. But it can be so wonderful. This bottle was like a very full white wine. It was even, gasp, from Long Island. Crushing two unfair wine stereotypes in a single bottle!

We started with the serrano ham. It was thin, soft cuts of ham with cauliflower, squash, and brussel sprouts. All things I would never put together when left to my own devices, but a fantastic example of a dish that works because when they grow together, they go together.

Peter had striped bass with squash and grits and curry oil, which he loved. And I had a lovely piece of grilled char that was placed on top of roasted beets (my weakness!). On top of the fish was a healthy pile of lentils. I can't remember ever eating lentils outside of a soup, but they were perfect here -- earthy and muted alongside the tangy beets and buttery, salmon-like fish. Such a great mix of textures. They had a special that night with blue and white potatoes topped with creme fraiche and caviar. I was a little leary of the caviar, but it just gave them a nice salty taste.

At the beginning of the meal, we had planned on finishing off with the cheese plate. But, when the time came, we just couldn't do it. We needed something sweet instead. We had gingerbread cake with some kind of ice cream (passion fruit, I think). I usually think that restaurant desserts should be chocolatey, or at the very least, something I'd have a hard time re-creating at home. This didn't fit the bill, but it was perfect for the end of this lovely meal.

Peter even declared The Farm his favorite restaurant in Brooklyn! Well, he actually said it was a tie with Al Di La, but still, incredibly high praise. And this time when he said it, it wasn't just about the music.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Getting along in the kitchen

Peter made an incredible butternut squash risotto on Sunday night, based on this recipe from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. He's made risotto before, but this was really execptional. The creaminess was just perfect, which I think is the hardest part to get right, and his finished product looked a lot like hers. Always a good sign.

This got us chatting about Ina Garten, specifically how much Peter loves her recipes. She's precise, gives very clear, detailed directions that he loves to follow, and, as Peter said, she never skimps on the "good stuff," like good cheese, saffron, or chocolate, just to name a few of their shared favorite ingredients. This approach is totally in sync with Peter's. The two of them get along in the kitchen very well.

But Ina and me -- we aren't so close. For all the reasons that Peter loves her, I find her a bit stiff and stifling. I want a recipe to give me an idea, and then give me permission to shuffle it around to my heart's content. I want to get the most that I can from my ingredients, and this often means using less than a recipe calls for. I want things that are fast, and not too fussy.

Because we have such different styles, I'm constantly grousing at Peter for using too much of an ingredient I wanted to hang onto for a while longer, or for moving along too slow. He takes it all incredibly well, but I know he thinks I should be following the directions more closely for better results.

For now, we decided I might be more of a Rachel Ray, which I think is fair. But I'm sure there are other recipe-writing soul mates that exist out there somewhere, for all of us. How wonderful that we get to keep browsing cookbooks and blogs, hoping to find another match.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The other box for brownies

Last night, mere minutes before Mad Men was beginning, I was frantically searching in the freezer and cabinets for some sort of dessert. The results were not good. There was nothing, except for a small box of crumbly amaretto cookies (perfectly wonderful in certain situations, but this just wasn't one of them). This was a chocolate dessert day.

I did a quick search online for easy chocolate brownies, and let me tell you, the results were not good for this either. They had long lists of ingredients, long baking times, and worst of all when urgently searching for a recipe, included things I didn't have in my baking cabinet.

And then, I remembered something I so rarely turn to -- my recipe box. It was a gift from my Mom when I first moved into my own apartment in college. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my Mom and her recipe box, picking out all the things I wanted us to copy over. One of the wonderful things that made it in was a truly easy recipe for chocolate brownies from my great-grandmother.

It's made with ingredients I always have on hand, I put it together in about 15 minutes, and it came out the oven during a commercial break. It's more delicate and less dense than brownies from a box, and if you ask me, that's just about perfect.

Nana's easy chocolate brownies

You will need:

1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
2 squares Bakers semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup unsifted flour
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup nuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the shortening, butter, and chocolate together in a sauce pan on low heat. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl. Beat eggs with a mixer until light and foamy. Add sugar and beat a little more. Pour chocolate mixture into egg mixture and blend. Stir in flour mixture in two or three batches until incorporated. Stir in vanilla and nuts, if using. Pour into 8x8 baking dish and bake for 25 minutes or until just cooked. Don't overbake! Ere on the side of undercooking for better brownies.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A winning strategy

I, like most sensible people, have never really had a thing for cabbage. It's a bit stinky and bitter. In the big platters my grandmother served at St. Patrick's Day with corned beef, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage, those slippery greenish strings were always getting in the way of the good stuff. Like everything else on the platter.

But something's happened to cabbage, or, more likely, something's happened to me. Because at the farmer's market, it looked good. Inviting, even. All gigantic and leafy and heavy. I made a version of this pork and cabbage dish from Amateur Gourmet, and it was, I don't know. Kind The whole thing smelled like delicious butter when it was cooking, but the greens were bitter and mushy.

Then I found this cabbage casserole on the kitchn (oh, kitchn, you never let me down!). And let me just say, this is plus 25 points for the you-can-add-bacon-and-sour-cream-to-anything-and-it-will-taste-better team. That team is always so annoyingly ahead, aren't they? But they have such a winning strategy.

Cabbage casserole
Adapted from a recipe on the kitchn

You will need:

4 slices of bacon (the fatty kind, if you have it -- I had center cut and it didn't have quite enough fat for cooking the cabbage in)
1 small cabbage or part of a gigantic cabbage, shredded
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup sour cream and 1/4 cup cream cheese, stirred together

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cook four slices of bacon over medium heat, cooking slowly to get as much fat out of the bacon as possible, while leaving the bacon very crispy but not burned. As the bacon cooks, shred your cabbage. Pull the bacon from the pan and cook the cabbage and onion in the fat. Add salt to taste

Cook until the cabbage has started to shrink down and soften, but still has a bit of crunch left. Put the cabbage and onion in a baking dish. Then, top it with the sour cream and cream cheese mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the sour cream begins to brown and lose some of its moisture. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle it on top.

This went beautifully with buttered noodles and sausage for an excellent weeknight meal.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Taking what the garden gives

My mom is incredibly generous with the vegetables her beautiful garden produces. She shares bags full of fresh basil, dozens of tomatoes, and tiny jalepeno peppers with me all summer long. And last weekend, she gave the gift of all gifts: the only eggplant her garden grew.

He was a fine looking specimen, though. Fat and purple and heavy for his size. But there was a certain amount of pressure to do something worthwhile with him. The garden gave us just the one, after all.

I was flipping through the newest Food & Wine searching for some dessert inspiration. I didn't find any, but I did find this. A great way to showcase the lonely eggplant.

Eggplant Parmesan with Bread Crumb Topping
Adapted from Food & Wine

You will need:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus about 2 cups for frying
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1 can of crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1 medium sized eggplant, sliced 1/2 inch thick
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped basil
1 cup Parmisan cheese3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs

In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the can of crushed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is very thick, about 25 minutes. Stir in the fresh basil and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of olive oil. Season the eggplant slices with salt and pepper. Working in several batches, cook the eggplant over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden on both sides, about 8 minutes per batch; add more olive oil to the skillet between batches. Drain the eggplant slices on paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread some tomato sauce in the bottom of a pie plate. Arrange one-third of the fried eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the grated Parmesan cheese*. Repeat this layering twice. Sprinkle the bread crumbs all over the top of the eggplant Parmesan. Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the top of the eggplant Parmesan is golden and the tomato sauce is bubbling. Let stand for a few minutes before serving.

*The original recipe calls for some mozzarella added in between the layers along with the Parmesan cheese, which would have been wonderful, I'm sure, but I didn't have any on hand.
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