Archive | March, 2011

Festival Umami: Marco Canora’s Lasagna Verde & Sausage and White Bean “Salad”

28 Mar

Everyone fails to do something that may at first glance seem minor, but in practice, proves to handicap them in a rather alarming manner. Casual observers can’t help but notice the dazzling spectacle of omission. The vibrating white space, the shimmering hole in their life.

My wash n’ wear bush of befrizzed, ragged red hair is the most visible mascot of my strict stance of non-embellishment and unfussy-ness, but quieter signs are everywhere. (Hello, half-tucked shirts, unshined shoes, mascara-less eyelashes, handbag that’s needed a replacement for 3.5 years!)

Most of the time, I get away with my carefully cultivated carelessness. But every area of my life occasionally feels the sting of my slap and dash modus operandi. Without a scrupulously annotated calendar, birthdays can be overlooked, appointments occasionally neglected and deadlines elided.

And mis en place? Too often, I fuhgedaboudet, only to find myself diving for the spice cabinet for a dash of nutmeg, while hysterically screeching and demanding that Stephen drop everything to rummage through my disorganized kitchen tool drawer for a whisk, like, pronto.

Aside from the obvious, ubiquitous fallout the Faustian Bargain I struck with Father Time has wrought, I find that sometimes my need for speed even impedes even the simplest recipe — if I only took that extra step, or spent those extra 20 minutes carefully, meticulously, anal-y fussing, my food would taste pretty darn good, instead of just pretty good.

So, I have decided to attempt to embrace my (very) inner accountant, and take all of the time I need to really cook a dish beautifully. To maintain my sanity, I am simultaneously embracing my (much less inner) carni — because cooking should be raucous and fun and if I have to stand over pots and pans with measuring spoons and an egg timer, I may as well also have some taste bud trickery up my sleeve to entertain myself with too.

The trickery, in a word: umami.

Umami was “discovered” in the mid-1800’s, separately by Kikunae Ikeda and Karl Ritthausenm, who identified glutamic acid, the amino acid responsible for the savory, multi-dimensional, mouth-watering sensation and “fifth taste” all the foodie hipsters and indie chefs have been touting with such uncharacteristically unironic, veritably histrionic levels of enthusiasm of late. 

David Chang, everyone’s favorite Harvard-lecturer/crazy NYC chef employs umami the way Lady Gaga employs crystal-studded platform pumps — without ’em, their products would still be good, they just wouldn’t assault you with the ol’ razzle dazzle, the ol’ flim flam flummox, you wouldn’t stagger away with sequins in your eyes, sated by their sorcery.

Chang’s go-to umami receptacle is dried shiitake mushrooms, a magical, cheftastic ingredient that automatically imbues everything it is scattered upon with an upgrade of deliciousness. It will never avert catastrophe, and I wouldn’t just throw it in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but a deft touch here and there — with some added fussing — has helped me karate kick my cooking up a notch.

Below, check out umami-infused recipes for Marco Canora’s Lasagna Verde and Sausage and White Bean “Salad”, with pictures.

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This Spud’s For You: Irish & American Chips, Good Gravy, Bangers for Blokes and Chicks, Cheddar Pretzel Bites

21 Mar

St. Patrick’s day fills me with conflicting emotions: pride in my Irish heritage, a burning desire to paint the town green and the sinking sensation that slaps me in the face — every year — as soon as I land in Manhattan and find hordes of drunken fools chugging green Bud Light at 8:00 am with green shamrocks painted on their faces.

Is this really how we, as Americans of Irish descent, want to represent ourselves? Instead of using St. Patrick’s day as an excuse to indulge in the unique joys of projectile vomiting a green substance, perhaps we should consider calmly paging through copies of the Book of Kells, as we discuss the country’s great vernacular tradition, knit wool sweaters and trot off to Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce readings, all while sagely debating The Troubles.

Crazy talk? Perhaps. But I had to boycott St. Patrick’s Day this year, out of respect for whatever dignity is still stubbornly clinging to my hearty Irish roots.

This time last year, Stephen and I were on a cross-Ireland road trip with my parents, a fearsome and potentially relationship-nuking activity that, in the end, proved to be one of the best trips I have ever taken and an experience that deepened and simultaneously lightened all of our bonds. Driving through a blizzard, getting snowed in to our hotel in Derry, days of lashing rain everywhere else, a failure to rent a car with GPS, the polite fights that occasionally crackled like dry twigs in a campfire as we drove through slippery mountain passes sans street lights, staged hideous faux photo shoots at bars with pints of Guinness held aloft (if slightly askew) and what could generously be described as “wacky” or “enthusiastic” expressions on all of our faces, and suffered through the acute humiliation of listening to my father sing “Danny Boy” in an off-key, dramatic warble whenever a silence descended on our group for more than two minutes. It all merely served to weld us together, whether from fear of blackmail or genuine affection is unclear.

One of the happiest surprises on the trip was the state of Irish cuisine.  The entire country’s new-found embrace of classic Irish cooking, prepared with traditional French techniques surprised us all, and could be found everywhere, from village pubs to haute city destinations.

Gone was the greasy, under-seasoned, flash-frozen mystery sausage and half-burnt, hollowed out, undersalted chips of yesteryear. Instead, unctuous, quirky bangers, straight-forward gravies and perfectly tender and rich potatoes, in every shape and form, appeared at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Though the Irish repertoire of dishes is somewhat limited (due, at least in part, to the agricultural challenges of the region and chefs’ almost universal commitment to serving local, organic fare), their creative manipulation of the items they do have, is almost infinite.

This year on St. Patrick’s day, I attended Good Meat with Lisa. The always delicious Edible Magazine was hosting the event and Jimmy’s No. 43, Fatty ‘Cue, Fleisher’s, Print, Cookshop & 100 Acres, Cleaver Co. & The Green Table and Northern Spy Food Co. were on hand to distribute small plates of choice cuts and Bedell Cellars Winery, Kelso of Brooklyn and Tuthilltown Spirits were there to provide us with some much-needed quaffs with which to wash all of the beautifully fatty lamb ribs, the pork rillettes, golden beet pickles and the bacon chocolate chip cookies.

Lisa and I scampered about, gorging on the gorgeous offerings (Cookshop & 100 Acres saw me rather sheepishly scuttle through their buffet a record four times) and thanking our lucky stars that we were safely ensconced in a bacon-studded, whiskey-flavored bubble from the vomitorium outside. After we had our fill, I dashed back into the city-wide den of iniquity.

On my train back to White Plains, I thought about our time in Ireland, the plates I’d tried that night and the grand, elevated, simple, humble beauty of plain proteins and starches, adornedwith deft touches of fat and spice, eaten with cherished friends and family, with (just a pint or three) of rich and frothy Guinness.

Below, check out my favorite traditional Irish and family potato, gravy and bangers recipes — tweaked just a wee bit.

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Dance With the One Who Brung You: Two-Thirds-Assed Paella & Pistachio Biscotti

14 Mar

Hi. I'm Two-Thirds-Assed Paella

Do you ever show up at the grocery store with a super-detailed list of items that you simply must have to make the recipe you’ve been anticipating making (and eating!) all week long?

Do show up at the grocery first thing on the morning you’re cooking it, ready to spend the next 45 minutes or so running up and down the aisles, scouring the produce section for the perfect leeks, talking sustainable cockles with the fish mongers, debating the pros and cons of picante vs. dulce chorizo with the sausage dudes, delighting over the pupu platter of culinary choices?

Only to find that your favorite grocery store — the only one guaranteed to have all of the organic, sustainable yummies you need within reasonable spitting distance of your abode — is missing half of the items on your list?

If you’re anything like me, you become filled with livid, quaking rage, that no quantity of perky and viable substitutes will qualm. Your sputtering disdain for the capriciousness of the grocery store gods will cloud your brain in an impenetrable fog of IQ-plummeting vexation, causing you to forget even more items than you normally forget on the shelves.

When you arrive at home, with your grocery bag most definitely half-empty, you unpack and discover — d’oh! — you’re missing at least two-thirds of the items nominally required to make the perfect recipe.

The key word here, ladies and gentleman: nominally.

Because no number — no matter how daunting — of missing / essential ingredients, tools and skills with which I should be armed tackle a dish with anything approaching proficiency, I choose to take no prisoners and flail about the kitchen like some sort of dementia-addled, smack-addicted geriatric former linebacker having a panic attack. The alternative course, of sensibly making something else, is never even considered.

My mom calls it “Dance With the One Who Brung You” mode — an Emily Willcox-approved method of stoicism that has stiffened my spine and pasted a polite smile on my face through countless grueling teas, strained meetings and grim get togethers over the years.

A failed grocery store trip is how I ended up making my very first batch of Two-Thirds Assed Paella, a recipe that Stephen and I have come to love, it’s original, gaping holes still intact when we make it today. (Which is actually quite apt; there are as many ways to make “classic” Spanish paella as there are to make our national dishes, like Apple Pie and … Chili.) Below, check out recipe for Two-Thirds-Assed Paella, oh and a recipe for Pistachio Biscotti, just because it’s awesome.

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Bag It: Mascarpone Polenta with Olive Oil Fried Eggs, Parmesan Tuiles & Soba Tofu Salad

7 Mar

How long has it been since you ran down the hall, fist pumping in the air, hollering and yodeling, hopping from one foot to the other, in a veritable quivering ecstasy of anticipation for what you’d find in your crinkled brown paper lunch bag?

My mother has always been a big believer in seeking out joy in the prosaic ho-hum tasks of every day life, often making Mary Poppins seem like a depressive slouch by comparison. While I’ve never been one to whistle while I work, or rise at the butt-crack of dawn with a maniacal grin on my face, as her daughter, I’ve enjoyed the windfall of her (sometimes annoyingly) rah rah sis boom bah ‘tude.

She took packing lunches for me as a child very seriously. Having a balanced lunch — a veg, a fruit, a hearty protein-based main dish, a delicious-but-not-wildly-sugary treat — was naturally de rigueur, as essential to life as breathing. She liked to mix it up; peanut butter sandwiches were my go-to fave, but she tried to expand my culinary horizons just a smidge. I never knew what else I’d find nestled up with the peanut butter — whipped butter, caramel chips, bacon, cream cheese, chocolate shavings, carrot rounds. Cholesterol, happily, clearly wasn’t a concern. But in addition to being delish it also had to be fun — a concept that not all of the other mothers (judging from my peers’ sad brown bags) seemed to totally grasp.

From weird notes tucked in the bag, slapstick jokes written on my napkin, teeny little stuffed animals on special occasions, Cracker Jack treats, or random items that made her giggle (a wadded up ball of foil was one of her trademark oddball additions, a pair of dice once), or something useful but cool, like a few hot pink  paper clips, she always found a way to make lunch an event.

It’s been a long time since I shrieked with joy over the contents I find in my brown paper lunch bag — and since my husband isn’t the type to goose my meals with glow-in-the-dark sparkle bouncy balls, I had to spice up the food. Below, check out my latest favorite lunch-y go-tos: Mascarpone Polenta with Olive Oil Fried Eggs and Parmesan Tuiles (I eat the fried eggs the first time I make it and then bring the leftovers for lunch, sans eggs) & Soba Tofu Salad with a karate kick of spice. Click below for more pictures and recipes!

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