Saturday, April 28, 2007

Squishy no more.

Leftover pasta, in my experience, is always something of an issue. It turns either stiff or soggy in the fridge, and it's not easy to warm up, particularly if you're microwave-less, like I am. So what to do if you accidentally cook too much spaghetti or penne on a given night? Toss it? Well, that seems wasteful. Eat the extra? Eh, not so good for the waistline.

How about this: save it, and make a frittata later in the week. No, really! Frittatas (a Spanish dish of baked eggs) make great, fast meals, and are a fabulous alternative to their French cousins, omelets. They take very little skill, and even less time.

Here's how: when you do make too much pasta (or when you decide to make extra and save it), just let it cool a bit and then put it in a Ziploc with a little bit of the pasta cooking water to help keep things moist. It should keep for a few days without getting too mushy.

Then, make this! The recipe doubles and triples quite easily; this version serves one generously, two with a big salad on the side.

Fritatta Margherita

3 large eggs
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 white onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
2 small plum tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup leftover cooked pasta, cold
1/4 cup basil, cut into thin strips
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and sour cream. Set aside.

In a six-inch, oven-proof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute briefly, until just translucent. Add the garlic and saute a few moments longer, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and continue to saute until the skins begin to pull away from the flesh of the tomatoes.

Add the pasta, distributing it evenly on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle the basil evenly on top of the pasta. Reduce the heat to low, then pour the egg mixture over the contents of the skillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Allow the egg to cook until just set on the bottom, about two minutes. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top of the egg, and put the skillet in the oven. Bake until the top of the frittata just begins to turn golden brown.

Using a silicon spatula, coax the frittata gently from the skillet and onto a plate. If serving more than one, slice like a pie. Serve immediately.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Spring has sprung; let's put veggies on our hot dogs!

If you've lived in New York for any reasonable amount of time, there's little to no chance that you've not heard of Shake Shack, Danny Meyer's Madison Square Park outpost. The Shack started as a summertime hot dog cart serving the area's office workers (myself included - I worked at Eleven Madison Avenue from 2002-2004) with ingredients prepped in the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park and Tabla, just across the Avenue.

Since 2004, the Shake Shack's home has been a permanent hut in the southeastern corner of the park, surrounded by gravel/dirt and innumerable little green tables and chairs. The bare bones accomodations and exposure to, alternately, rain, wind or blinding, burning sun do nothing to keep the crowds away. On a 45-degree day in March, the line for Saturday lunch stretched for an hour.

Today (75 degrees and sunny) I was lucky enough to arrive early, and only waited about 25 minutes before placing my order at the window - a Chicago dog (organic hot dog with cucumber, pickles, onions, lettuce, tomato and hot pepper), fries, and a Concrete Jungle (frozen custard with bananas, peanut butter and hot fudge mixed in). By the time I got a table and sat down to wait for my food, the line stretched to the west side of the park - a good hour and a half.

You used to have to lurk by the window waiting for the Shack's staff to call your name, and then fight your way through the aggressive types blocking the counter to claim your burger. (The counter-blockers are the same people who stand RIGHT NEXT TO the luggage carousel in the airport, effectively preventing anyone else from getting their own bags off the thing.) No longer. Now, like Chili's and T.G.I. Friday's before them, the Shake Shack has implemented a buzzer system, so it's easy to grab a table and enjoy the sunshine in peace.

Five minutes later, my buzzer did indeed light up and shake, cueing me to fetch my food from the nice people in the Shack. I grabbed some napkins and some mayo for my fries, and then tried to figure out how to eat my Chicago dog with one hand while talking to my mother on the phone. Turns out, not so easy, since the dog is piled high with fresh and pickled veggies. The cucumber adds a nice note of freshness to balance out the hot, pickled pepper. Celery salt takes the whole thing to a new level of savory goodness - really, it's much more than you typically expect in a hot dog. Reminds me of my friend Kirsten, who used to make this shockingly tasty meal out of the tasteless veggie burgers in our kitchen cafeteria. They had a slice of tomato, some mustard and mayo, some salsa, and a couple of other things. Sometimes throwing the kitchen sink at something actually works.

Shake Shack makes excellent fries - crisp but meaty, and tasting distinctly of potato rather than oil. Not much else to say here other than have them.

The concrete was disasppointing...I suppose it's possible that the extremely melty consisteny was my own fault, since I only tackled it upon finishing my hot dog and fries. But I don't think so. I only spent about 10 minutes on those, and there's no excuse for something this huge and expensive ($6.25 and about 10 oz.) melting that quickly, since it would have taken me more than ten minutes to eat it, had I been able to. As it was, I pretty much fished out the banana hunks and tossed the rest. I'll give it another go later this summer, but I'm not sold.

Monday, April 16, 2007

St. John is my new second home.

After tea at The Dorchester, I was dying for a nap, and I had a sneaking suspicion that my rather prim trousers and pearls would not be quite right for dinner at Fergus Henderson's now-legendary St. John Restaurant. So I trooped back to the hotel, laid down for a bit, and got myself all dressed for dinner (jeans, flats and blazer, for those who care).

I headed up to the Tube, emerging from the Farringdon stop a bit later. (I do love the London Underground, despite its inordinate (£2) price tag - it's clean and efficient, and they've got these fabulous signs that tell you when the next train is coming. Not uncommon in Europe, I know, but it's something that we've been testing here on the L train that MTA just can't seem to get working. But I digress.) I will be brutally honest - I got awfully lost on my way to the restaurant, partly due to a poorly-marked map, but mainly because it was dark and I couldn't see any familiar landmarks, so I couldn't orient myself. I felt better when someone stopped me on the street and asked where the nearest supermarket was - clearly, I was not the only one having issues.

I arrived at the restaurant (only five minutes late), a starkly-designed, stripped down space right near the Smithfield meat market. The space wasn't sleek so much as it was plain - white, scrubbed, with bits of steel and wood here and there. The bar was raucous and smoky (it was 9:00 on a Friday night, after all), something I thought boded well.

I had called earlier in the day to change my reservation from three people to one, and the hostess escorted me to a table close to the pass-through, set for one. I thought that was a nice, hospitable touch - none of that clearing away of other silver or glassware to remind me that I was on my own. Typically I'd find the pass-through distracting, but being alone, I was thrilled to be so close to the action. The table to my right (the tables are arranged in rows, and you're quite close to your neighbors) was engaged in a heated debate in what I think was Dutch, so they were pretty much out for eavesdropping possibilities.

The hostess brought over the hot-off-the-presses edition of the Green Guide to London, and I settled in for an evening of good food and drink. My waitress was lovely, offering me sparkling water by the glass and taking my order with good cheer. Sadly, my first choice main course (the lamb chop with aioli) was sold out. I decided to start with the classic choice - the bone marrow and parsley salad - and have the pot roast, which was quite a bit like corned beef. I also ordered veggies - half potatoes, half cabbage - and sat back to enjoy my glass of red.

The bone marrow salad was, as expected, quite tasty. Served with the best implement I've met so far, a lobster fork, for digging the marrow out of the piping hot bones. On the side, freshly toasted sourdough and a parsley, caper and shallot salad. I could have done with a bit more salad, to be honest - as I always can when bone marrow is concerned. This accompaniment was the best I've found in my relatively limited bone marrow eating career, second only to the compote served at Landmarc here in Manhattan.

My main was tasty and hearty, but, to tell the truth, nothing special. The potatoes and cabbage were excellent, but the beef was rather dull. I am still kicking myself for ordering it, frankly. Especially when the loud dude to my right got his lamb with aioli. It smelled excellent. So sad...sigh.

That said, the overall experience at St. John was excellent - a wonderful balance of casual hospitality and fine-dining quality service. I felt welcome, as if I was in someone's living room, but I also felt well-served. Dinner came to £42 with tip - a bit pricey, frankly, though it would have been well worth it had I ordered a bit better.

Thoroughly stuffed from a day of food, I passed on dessert (the apple tart ordered next to me looked unreal, though). I did grab an after-dinner drink at the bar, though - as fun as it sounded from the dining room. Something about bars closing at 10 PM just makes everyone so ready to party.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Photos, photos everywhere...and not a word to read.

If you're interested in the zillions of photos I took in London, feel free to click here and check 'em out. A few more for your viewing pleasure...

London in the sunshine - really!

So, India was a fascinating place, and I promise to post more about it shortly. But first I thought I'd write a bit about the time I spent in London, crammed full as it was of food and drink.

We landed late on Thursday, after a seven-hour flight from Mumbai. (Did you know that they spray the cabin with anti-mosquito stuff when you take off from India? Serious stuff. Really brought the reason for the malaria pills - and the accompanying freaky dreams - home.)

By the time we navigated the Piccadilly line to the Green Park tube stop and hauled our suitcases out to the hotel, it was too late to get a bite anywhere civilized, so we hit the Burger King in Piccadilly Circus (I had a Whopper), where we dropped about ₤5 each (that's ten buckaroos, folks). And so began the fast and furious depletion of my funds.

The next morning, I rose early and ventured out across Green Park toward Buckingham Palace. I spent the morning walking eastward, ultimately spending an hour and a half on a guided tour of Westminster Abbey (which was wicked cool - I highly recommend it - you get to see things you can't see on your own). I then walked on to St. Paul's and across the Millennium bridge, ending at the Tate Modern, where I promptly queued up to slide down this:

After a stroll through the Tate (and a visit to its fabulous gift shop), I made my way toward Borough Market, stopping for a sandwich and a rest along the way. I grabbed a chicken and bacon sandwich at EAT, which is PrĂȘt-A-Manger taken to a whole new level. Their philosophy is all about good, wholesome, delicious food at affordable prices. I was a bit sad at first that I gave into gnawing hunger before I reached the market, but it was worth it.

Next up, Borough Market. This was my first European outdoor market, and I found it all a bit overwhelming. My hunger sated, I mostly wandered here and there, admiring the displays of game, sweets (Turkish delight, an automatic reminder of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe), and produce. The market sprawls under the London Bridge and the train overpasses, meandering through several glass-topped arches and between stone pillars. It bustles, even at 2:00 on a Friday afternoon.

I grabbed a pint of Guinness in a nearby pub, then headed back to the hotel to change for tea at The Dorchester. Upon my arrival in the lobby, I was so distracted by the plush decor that I didn't notice Johnny Depp walking right past me until a rather uncouth American (go us!) said, rather loudly, "Hey, that's Johnny Depp!" Thoroughly prepared, at that point, for a mediocre, celebrity-spot tea, I approached the host stand.

My travel companions had ditched me for tea and dinner, so I explained that I was on my own, and was escorted to a lovely couch about halfway to the back of the restaurant (The Promenade, ahem). Pink champagne in hand, I proceeded to gorge myself on scones with clotted cream and jam, and finger sandwiches, one of them containing the only egg salad I have ever enjoyed. Bravo! The staff were gracious and lovely, and though there were a fair number of obnoxious tourist types about (jeans and trainers in abundance), civility mostly won the day.

I walked back to the hotel full to the brim and wondering how I would ever make it to my 9:00 PM reservation at Fergus Henderson's famed St. John restaurant in Clerkenwell.

Oh, don't worry - I managed.

Stay tuned.

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