Tag Archives: comfort food

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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Greenmarket Cook Off, Every Day: Braised Brussels Sprouts & Brined and Roasted Chicken & Pickled Winter Veg

24 Jan

The Greenmarket Cassoulet Cook Off

Cook offs, once the sad and grubby purview of repressed Republican housewives in the Midwest, are now the urbane, retro-chic terroir for the hipster, post-ironic set.

This weekend, Stephen and I attended the Third Annual Greenmarket Cassoulet Cook-Off at Jimmy’s in the East Village. Our friend Lisa entered, with a fierce, traditional, uber-artisanal dish featuring homemade sausage with duck confit, duck liver, pork shoulder, magical white beans, a spirited persillade and bread crumbs toasted in duck fat. (All sourced from heritage animals and local, organic farms, natch).

Lisa's busy, stop bothering her

I helped her cart about 20 pounds of the unctuous, lush stuff over to the back room of Jimmy’s, where we set up a makeshift warming stand and sat down to eat and chat with a few hundred fellow food nerds. A baker’s dozen worth of competitors entered the cook off, and each one was more quirkily outfitted, sweetly countenanced and offered a more aggressively artisanal and offbeat menu of fare than the last.

There’s something magical, corny, lovely and life affirming about a cook off. Much like homemade Twinkies, Jello molds and marshmallow fluff,  the cook off seems to belong to a twee-er era of American History, one in which Leave It to Beaver sounded less like a bad porn, and more like a veritable window into American suburban life.

Pre-DDT drama, pre-Silent Spring; post-Depression; post-post Industrial Revolution; a brief blink of God’s eye when the country held its breath, smiled and waited to see what would happen next.

And, yes, even a time when people gathered their food — not just in giant plastic and metal boxes where they’d buy a variety of smaller plastic and metal boxes to put in their plastic and metal driving boxes so they could rush home to unpack their small plastic and metal boxes and put the contents of those small boxes in their cold plastic and metal storage box that sits in a larger plastic and metal kitchen box in their plastic and metal housing box — but in actual, you know. … Markets.

Outside. Where it’s green and other green things grow and die, and one is reminded of the circle of life and dust to dust and that from which we come … yada, yada, Michael Pollan, yada.

At the Greenmarket Cook Off, there was no room, no time, for off-season from across the planet flown asparagus, there was only the here, the now, the warm,the homey, the rich food; the fizzy, the cold, the hoppy beer; the near, the dear, the cozily dressed good friends and fellow travelers.

After many well-spent hours, Stephen and I bid adieu to our Brooklyn-bound friends, waddled home to White Plains, full of rich meat, beans, small-batch beers, hot air.

I woke up the next day, feeling re-invigorated and newly inspired to cook and eat seasonally, take a few extra minutes in the kitchen to make each meal special, and to remember to celebrate each meal, whenever possible, with friends. Oh, and monter au buerre, darling.

This week, I made Braised Brussels Sprouts (with extra canneloni beans and an added dash of fat at the end to make it a mini meal in and of itself), Roasted and Brined Chicken (sick of the interminably rubbery and flab-ladden results I get from traditionally sauteed and roasted chickens, I decided to try brining on for size) and Pickled Winter Veg (to enliven salads, sandwiches and meats in the dull, cold nights when I can’t muster the zest for life to cook a proper meal). Click on for recipes and pictures.

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Comfort for the Cold: Potato Pierogies & Sausage, Parmesan Rind and Lentil Soup & Fried Mashed Potato Balls

17 Jan

The circumstances under which I have met most of my best friends are generally wildly inauspicious. There’s something about banding together with another being during a particularly grim moment in one’s life that bonds you — the common enemy, the shared campaign of grumpy and repressed hostility, the rugged ordeal overcome, etc., etc.

I first encountered the uniquely marvelous Lisa on a sagging, smelly couch in the stockroom of a catering company in Manhattan. We were both interviewing for a gig we weren’t particularly interested in, but we desperately needed.

It was a few years ago, squat in the middle of the economic downturn; I was fresh out of culinary school, mid-career change, my  husband was in law school, rent was high, we had a mutt to feed, times were tougher than a snaggle-toothed transvestite hooker at 2:00 am on a Wednesday morn’ after a pint of tawny; Lisa was just back from a two-year teaching stint at a highly regarded cooking school in England, she had bills up the whazoo, a zany roommate’s pug to feed and an addiction to homemade duck confit to fund.

We were there to make some fast, dirty money. The only legal way to accomplish that with a culinary degree, of course, is to become a kitchen assistant at a high-volume catering company.

We were both hired to work their hectic parties and couldn’t wait to get started (read: get paid).

Within a few months, we found ourselves regularly strapping convection ovens to our backs and waddling up five flights of stairs to a makeshift kitchen on the top floor of a Times Square nightclub to crank out bad hors d’oeuvres (think endive spears stuffed with soft cheeses, garnished with chopped chives) in a badly lit, spottily heated, shack-style wooden crate of a room. We would spend our time running about, chopping chives, rolling our eyes and getting yelled at by frazzled event planners who weren’t quite sure what the client, or their boss, or they wanted us to do at any given moment, but were quite sure they wanted it done five minutes ago.

We laughed, we cried. We sang songs of innocence; we learned songs of experience.

We bonded over our love of all things James Beard and our disdain for chives as garnish; riotous outings at downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn watering holes and grazing joints ensued. While our tenure at the company was not destined to stretch far into the horizon, our friendship has.

From the beginning, Lisa and I have operated our ambling, obsessive, ribald and exuberant circus of culinary and cultural curatorship  under a few stringent rules: the pursuit of life, liberty, happiness and nectarous bites cannot, will not, be curtailed by tiresome people, places or events.

This weekend — not for the first time — we ran into a significant obstacle, one that a few dashes of caustic wit couldn’t begin to dissolve. We met in the East Village on the corner of 12th street and 2nd avenue; our plan was simple: grab a decent beer at a warm dive bar and then find a tasty bite to eat. Before long, we were chilled to the bone marrow and, quite frankly, angry. I’m not sure why this fact is so difficult for us to accept, but it is: the search for genuine, cheap indie bars in the East Village has become as rife with drama and difficulties as the search for a genuine job that pays our intellectual and spiritual bills, as well as the paper stuff.

Life is hard!

We found plenty of bars with amazingly tasty $12 beers on tap and plenty of bars with amazingly crappy $4 beers on tap, and nothing in between. (Restaurants were a different story; ultimately, we ate several small plates at Bar Carrera, one of the bars that kicked off the current tapas craze. The food is simple, impeccably sourced, beautifully presented, intrinsically clean, deceptively complicated, lush. If you go, make sure you get the Jamon wrapped dates and the pork belly bocadillo.) Luckily, our cranky search could end when we remembered Jimmy’s No. 43. We’ve been to Jimmy’s dozens of times, but somehow our quest for an old-school dive threw us off the well-worn Jimmy trail.

Jimmy’s is like really good comfort food in the middle of a hurricane; it isn’t always the cheapest, or the fastest, or the neatest. But if you have a little time, a few extra dollars, you must go. The owner — Jimmy — is almost always there, milling around, hugging and high-fiving people, making sure everyone’s happy, buying someone (usually 10 people) a beer or two. His staff of adorable, sprightly faeries hop around with a healthy splash of punk rock attitude; the food flowing out of the kitchen is classic gastropub/green market/farm to table fare with a bacon-y, aromatic, Italian high kick; the beer selection is quirky, seasonal and gorgeous (the usual suspects like Goose Island and Left Hand share the stage with lesser known gems like Stillwater); the space is haute Bavarian rec room meets shabby chic on acid; the experience is primal, proto-dive bar, post-green eating revolution, divine.

Go there, and be inspired, as I was, to reach deep inside and ask myself: what do you really want today? I woke up with the answer — food that would nourish me through the seemingly endless winter snow blight; meals that would warm Stephen and me up while we sat under blankets on the couch with Penny watching the latest disaster-cast on Tunisia; snacks I could pop one-handed in my mouth while texting Lisa with my latest litany of complaints and laughs about life.

This is comforing, this is food. Fried mashed potatoes. Lovely on a cold Sunday.

Food synonymous with comfort. The answer? Potato Pierogies; Sausage, Parmesan and Lentil Soup; Fried Mashed Potato Balls. Life is delicious. Click on for recipes and a few more pictures.

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