Archive | October, 2010

Budget Osso Buco Roast with Pistachio and Golden Raisin Pilaf

25 Oct

Moving two people, a dog and all of our accumulated accoutrements from more than four years of surprisingly acquisitive cohabitation from Brooklyn Heights to White Plains — with just a 16-foot truck, eight willing hands and four willing paws of various sizes and strengths (none of them notably large or powerful) — was a feat that required the skills and know-how of a Tetris champ, in addition to emotional fortitude, patience and good humor.

None of those present was, is, or ever will be, a Tetris champ.

I won’t speak for my husband, father or our friend John, but I will say that I can often be found slumped under the mere weight of my handbag, maniacally tapping my Delman ballet flats and glaring at sweetly smiling shopgirls when asked to wait for more than a beat for my Stumptown latte.

Adding to the usual DIY moving drama was the fact that an apparently unhinged homeless man, who has taken a keen interest in our dog Penny, has started breaking into the warren of alleyways surrounding our old Brooklyn Heights apartment. According to a neighbor who alerted me to the situation, another neighbor from across the street has video footage of the man scaling the brick walls and iron gates between brownstones on our block; he has also been taped breaking padlocks and setting up a lean-to in an alley adjacent to our old apartment.

This development is part of an insidious pattern that Stephen and I have noticed of late: the city wants us out.

Between being hit by a truck and getting mugged in the last six months, finding out that an unbalanced nomad (who by all appearances is a perfectly nice man who just needs his meds [exhibit A: I have often walked past him as he shadow-boxes under a lamplight at dusk; exhibit B: he has many invisible friends and foes with whom he is in constant contact and enjoys cackling maniacally with or accusing of betrayal, loudly and at all hours; exhibit C: his wall-scaling and lock-busting activities]) has set-up camp outside of our little patch of earth, I can’t help but think that this mercurial, grimy, Disney-fied, be-Trumped city wants to spit me out like a pesky loogie.

Mission successful, city! I am running away from both the violence and crazy and the empty, tinny neon glitz of yuppies uber alles.

Let the unpacking begin. Needless to say, I have started with the kitchen first.

And…

To celebrate the fact that we didn’t shatter any of our wedding gifts, our major furniture purchases or the spines that belong to us, my Dad, Penny or our friend John, not to mention commit (or become the victim of) homicide, I decided to make Osso Buco in our brand new, spacious, glorious faux-urban new apartment in exciting downtown White Plains Sunday night.

Then I hit Whole Foods and was bitch-slapped by reality; a dame who enjoys shaking her hoary bazangas at me quite frequently. $15.99 a pound? Um. No. If we were too cheap to shell out for professional movers, I’m certainly not going to cough up that kind of cash for a hunk or two of protein. I don’t care if it comes from a humanely raised calf who wasn’t given hormones while it frolicked on a gorgeous, rolling farm at which butterflies loop lazily through lilac-flecked meadows 117 miles from the store.

Instead, I bought a pound and a half of beef marrow bones ($4.43) and almost two pounds of boneless chuck roast ($8.78) with the possibly delusional notion of replicating the unique richness and tenderness of the osso bucco — at a fraction of the price and with all of the hormone-free, organic, free-range meat hippie cred. It would require a bit more seasoning, finesse and braising, but a lot less cashola.

Sold!

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Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

18 Oct

Cooking the final Sunday meal at our old apartment was bittersweet. As I rooted about for wooden spoons and pastry brushes amongst the moving detritus, teetering stacks of boxes, bulging canvas bags, uprooted dustballs and half-empty cabinets and utensil drawers that comprise our current living space, how could it not be?

We started our marriage almost four years ago in a teeny starter apartment in Brooklyn Heights: a quirky quasi first floor apartment (it’s partially sunken below ground level, given the space a kind of hang-dog, slouchy air) that is part of a well-loved, slightly frayed one-family brownstone owned by and lived in by our landlords and their various grown children and nieces.

Starting our own little tribe in a 19th century ramshackle home on another tribe’s turf was equal parts charming / sweet and maddening / suffocating — I always felt like a guest in our place, too worried about impeding their modus operandi with unwanted noises, cooking smells, rowdy dinner guests or my dog’s zany hijinks to really ever take command of my own M.O.

At the same time, we started our marriage there! Our first apartment — with its little fireplace, its crumbling brick walls, its double oven — harbored our first years together, years that welded us together. I’ve never been closer to another human being in my life; as an only child, I often wondered how much “true” personal intimacy I could stand. Quite a bit, as it turns out.

For our last supper, I failed to consult Stephen on the menu. I’ve decided that, like many of my wonderful clients in the event planning world, he doesn’t always know what he wants until he has it. My assignment is to divine his unvoiced, unacknowledged desires and deliver them to his gullet.

Often, when I go rogue in the kitchen, I have to operate under a cloak of silence and secrecy; to push my agenda, I use time-honored methods of double-speak and insidious deception of the kind that I imagine were quite handy in Soviet-era Russia.

Whenever I prepare items that feature winter squash, beets, zucchini, fennel, jicama, lettuce of any kind, carrots, parsnips, brussel sprouts, garlic, cayenne pepper, black pepper, low-fat dairy of any kind, whole grains of any kind, agave or dried legumes I must pretend that the dish is being made exclusively for my own consumption, until D-Day when I scream “Dinner’s ready!” and hope for the best.

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Raison d’être

13 Oct

Food is almost always a bridge or a barrier; cultural, religious, philosophical, political and ethical ideologies have been instantly brooked or erected with nothing more than a wee wisp of factory farmed bacon.

What we put in our mouths is a daily and blaring public advert for our personal proclivities from which no man can hide. Whether food is simply fuel for our journey, or the destination itself, everyone has their Madeleine(s).

For me, a piece of thin wheat toast slathered with melted, salty butter and blobs of warm, puddling chunky peanut butter will always signify the merriest moments of my wild childhood. The scent of roasted red peppers reminds me of my first date with my husband. Cold baked beans on an unset table are the day my grandmother died.

Everything I eat is important to me. I like to plan out, plot and eagerly await each meal, savor every bite, smack my lips and moan with relish and delight over contrasting textures, flavors, temperatures and colors. I’m ridiculous.

My husband, Stephen, eats what is put in front of him, generally without comment. He’s a strange and mysterious creature.

Not that his relative passivity augurs smooth culinary sailing. I always pester him for feedback and, when pushed, he doesn’t hold his fire. While his untempered tirades occasionally still sting (they used to burn), they’ve all made me a better cook. (Did I really need to hear that my brussel sprouts with lardons tasted like skunked swamp cabbage with pig bits? Actually, I did. Now I make roasted sprouts drizzled with browned butter, generous handfuls of salt and shaved Parmesan. Much better).

When we decided to move out of our tiny, craptastic, ancient one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment to spread out in a large, deluxe, brand new two-bedroom in White Plains, his biggest fear was turning into a lame suburbanite who tailed it out of the big, bad city because he, quite frankly, didn’t have the cajones to hack it there.

Mine was that we wouldn’t be able to find anything yummy to eat.

We are both looking forward to the idea of a slightly more mellow pace, more room for us, our stuff and our dog — and the prospect of having more time together. Stephen spent the last several years in law school and studying for the bar — I rarely saw him.The last few months we have been getting to know each other again. It’s like cheating on each other with each other: the ideal marriage.

One of our new-found rituals is spending the week discussing what giant meal I will cook on Sunday. To qualify, it must be something we will both enjoy (a tough task, considering our palates are polar opposites), something that we can pick at all week without getting bored and something somewhat healthy and definitely affordable (thank you, student loans!). We’re omnivores, but we tend to avoid meat — I’d eat more of it if organic meat were more affordable, but …. it’s not.

This Sunday will be our last in Brooklyn. In the midst of all of the packing chaos, we haven’t had much time to obsess over what I’m going to make. I’m going renegade on this one — we’ll see how that goes! I’ll report the results on Monday with a recipe, cost breakdown, rough nutritional info and general reception.