Tag Archives: recipes

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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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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Beef Empanadas by Way of China with Korean Black Beans and Coconut Yum Puffs

16 Nov

One of my favorite things about living in White Plains is its totally unintentional, unironic, very pre-mod touchy-feely multi-culti cuteness.

Aggressively indie, DIY, greenmarket-uber-alles Brooklyn it ain’t. Just steps from my apartment, there’s an Uno’s Chicago Grill. And if I want to throw on my hiking boots, I can really hit bastions of culinary experimentation and avant garde cookery, like PF Chang’s, Legal Sea Food and The Cheesecake Factory.

But in addition to the white bread drudgery of the main thoroughfares, White Plains also has 32 separate neighborhoods, many of which are, for better or for worse, distinct ethnic enclaves. Creepy, Orwellian, dystopian, uncomfortable social implications aside, the set-up makes for excellent eats. On my jaunts through the Plains with my dog Penny, we’ve discovered little pockets of Puerto Rico, Peru, Mexico, Italy, China and Japan, with little grocery stores, delis and cafes to match, their larders stocked to the brim with food from their homelands.

Every time I turn a corner in a new neighborhood, I smell tantalizing, funky, homey, spicy foodie smells — and I’m inspired.

Whenever I wonder how one would go about making anything from traditional North African Harira, old-school Scandinavian Gravlax or homemade Thai Fish Sauce, my go-to Bible of world cookery is Mark Bittman’s “The Best Recipes in the World.”

Since moving to White Plains, I’ve found myself reaching for “The Best Recipes” more often than ever. On Sunday, I decided to take that globe-eating spirit of gustatory whimsy sparked on recent neighborhood jaunts and create a buffet of world cuisine to pick from. Our friend Benedick, a rabid Pats fan, was coming over to watch football, and he is one of my favorite fellow serious eaters. I always know who to call if I want someone to sample my Pho, or if I need a buddy who will try sauteed goat eyeballs with me. He’s one of Stephen’s oldest New York friends, and one of our first visitors from the big, bad, city.

I’m including recipes for the most successful dishes below. (Some of my attempts bombed, most notably my frighteningly beige rendition of the usually inimitably spicy, herbaceous, bracingly fresh Pudina Pulao [a.k.a. Indian Mint Rice]).

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Mediterranean Meatballs with Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

9 Nov

Garlic — packed with disease-slaying antioxidants and other magical properties that have been shown to do everything from reduce cancerous cells to help ease headaches to teach Billy how to tie his shoes to make the dullest dish on earth taste like a night in Venice, dancing under a full moon — is by far the most important component in my arsenal of vampire fighting weapons. Battling vampires, as any good Catholic / individual of Eastern European descent / viewer of the WB can tell you, is an essential, if vaguely tiresome, part of the human condition.

My husband and his people, Methodist / of German and Scandinavian descent / viewer of dull educational shows on PBS, have never been exposed to the grim and rugged reality of a full-throttled assault of the blood-sucking midnight howlers.

Stephen and his fair-skinned blond and bonny clan have merrily skipped across centuries, through fang and cape-free prairies dappled by a bright and cheery sun; fairies leaped along with them, flinging sparkling sprinkles of sugar dust in their wake.

He fails to understand, in his vast and wide-eyed innocence, why I, and my people, (who have done battle with the pallid, cackling clan of coffin thumpers since time immemorial) feel the need to load down everything we put in our mouths with mounds of the effulgent stuff: raw, roasted, sauteed, pickled; softneck, rocambole, purple stripe. We love the stink rose in all of its various forms. Stephen just thinks it stinks.

If you told me, 10 years ago, that I would marry the sort of man who didn’t buy garlic in bulk as a matter of course, never mind avoided the stuff, I would have whipped out my crucifix and doused you in a bath of holy water. I would have assumed that only a member of the dark and toothy side would dare to utter such a patently ridiculous, libelous and seditious statement.

But love is blind. In our case, it also suffers from anosmia.

Our opposing world views have led to a few serious clashes in the kitchen. One notable incident involved Stephen wrestling me to the ground in a vain attempt to prevent me from adding a fifth clove of garlic to a giant, bubbling vat of Venison Stew. (The fool! He chucked the head I had wedged protectively between my knees in our overflowing garbage can and removed the offending bag from our kitchen; but while he was gone, I merely located my back-up stash under the kale in the crisper — the last place he’d ever venture — and threw in another three cloves out of pure, unadulterated spite.)

The recipes I cranked out this Sunday were part of my over-arching aim to find common ground on the violent battle ground to which our taste buds have sent us.

Behold, the sweet/savory, herb-packed Mediterranean Meatballs and the Weird Fusion Marinated Portobello Mushrooms That Totally Work. Continue reading