Monday, September 29, 2008

Working lunch.

I worked from home on Friday, waiting patiently for the exterminator, who, of course, never showed. It's all very Beckettian, but I digress. The important part: I worked from home, which normally means ordering lunch in to save time and avoid being away from the laptop for too long. However, given the financial situation these days, I've been shamed into being a bit more frugal. So, ordering in is out, cooking in is, well, in.

I decided to roast a chicken leg alongside the season's first batch of brussels sprouts (Yay!). Given this was a celebratory occasion - brussels sprouts being quite possibly my favorite winter vegetable - bacon seemed in order, too. And, since it would be about five minutes' prep work, it fit into my agenda - being continuously available when not in the office so as not to look like a slacker.

Cleaning and trimming the sprouts is pretty quick work. My method is to trim the root off the bottom, which brings most of the outer leaves with it, leaving very little for you to actually peel back. The fresh sprouts smell a bit like raw broccoli - crisply peppery and generally green. I would be lying if I said I don't occasionally nibble on the root trimmings, which squeak and snap between your teeth.

Once roasted or sauteed, though, the sprouts are tender and nutty, and slightly stinky - just like broccoli. (And, just like broccoli, they're terrible when overcooked or boiled beyond recognition - please don't commit this crime against food-manity.) If you like your sprouts well-done, the charred bits are nice and chewy. They go well with anything, in my opinion, but shine brightest when paired with a bit of animal fat, either bacon or schmaltz, and dressed with some balsamic vinegar and a bit of parmesan cheese.

I nestled the chicken leg in the pile of prepped sprouts, sprinkled the lot with olive oil, salt and pepper, and tucked the pan into the oven to roast for about half an hour while I went back to being a responsible employee. My reward: the best lunch I'd had all week, consumed in my pajamas.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar and Bacon

1 1/2 tbs. olive oil, divided
2 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch lardons
1/2 pound brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
1 tbs. good balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium skillet, heat 1/2 tbs. of the olive oil over high heat until hot. Reduce heat to medium and add the bacon to the skillet. Saute until the fat rendered and the bacon is slightly crisped. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Pour all but 1 tsp. of the bacon fat from the pan.

Add the sprouts to the pan and toss in the remaining bacon fat and the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and place the skillet in the oven. Roast sprouts to desired level of done-ness, about 25 to 30 minutes for me. Remove skillet from the oven and toss the sprouts with the reserved bacon and the balsamic vinegar. Adjust seasonings and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Serves 2.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

From the people who brought you the $37.00 salad...

I am big - BIG - on sustainability when it comes to, well, all things. But, particularly, when it comes to food. I shop local whenever humanly possible, and I also make every effort to buy from small producers whose ethics and methods I trust.

Therefore, you'd think I'd be a great audience for what Eli Zabar claims is an effort to start a "dialogue" about "the infrastructure that powers a supermarket[...]the perishability, yada yada yada." How is he beginning said dialogue, you ask? By adding a 1.8% fuel surcharge to all purchases at Eli's, his store on Third Avenue.

However, given that the prices at this place are already laughably astronomical ($7.00/pound for heirloom tomatoes that can be had at the Greenmarket for $4 or $5/pound, for example), I'm not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt here.

This, combined with the experience I had at E.A.T. (his Madison Avenue deli) on Labor Day, seals the deal. I will no longer be patronizing any of Eli Zabar's establishments. In the name of true sustainability (they don't use air conditioning OR heat), I'll stick with the Greenmarket.

Ciao, Eli.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The perfect shuck.

Ever since Michael Pollan scared the crap out of me with The Omnivore's Dilemma, I've been a bit corn-shy. Corn, Pollan revealed, is the backbone of our industrial food complex, and is the primary ingredient in many, many more foods than you had ever imagined. It represents the most evil elements of our mechanization of the food chain, and it's just bad, bad, bad.

Of course, Pollan does not think we should stop eating corn in its purer forms - right off the cob, for instance. He's far more reasonable than that. But for months after I read the book, I was terrified of buying and eating corn, panicking that I was feeding into a system I had no interest in supporting. Then I realized that I still eat Cheetos (king of hyper-processed corn and erstaz cheese) when I'm hungover, and decided it was time to buy and eat some sweet corn, particularly since it happens to be in season.

When I approached the Migliorelli stand at the Union Square Greenmarket, I noticed they'd posted a sign: "No husking." Really? I was always taught to husk an ear of corn, just barely, to double-check that the cob was, in fact, intact and free of blemishes. First, you check that it's heavy for its size (indicating juiciness), then you pull back the husk just a tad. Rule-follower though I typically I am, I rebelled and husked my ears, rejecting only one out of six (it had no kernels on the top inch of the cob - not a good sign).

I brought the corn home and, once all the groceries were put away, the time came to cook it. One problem: I had never shucked corn inside. Ever. Growing up in Connecticut, land of patios and porches, corn shucking was an outdoor ritual. It seems wrong to shuck corn anywhere but the the back steps, holding the cob over a paper grocery bag big enough to catch all the silk. I stood at my tiny counter for a minute, seriously contemplated climbing out onto the fire escape, and then decided to just give indoor shucking a shot. Let's just say there was a fair bit of clean up involved, despite my best efforts to aim for the bag.

Next, I brought a pot of (unsalted - salt makes the corn tough) water to boil and added the freshly shucked cobs to it, removing them a few moments later when they had begun to smell of - you guessed it - corn. Unscientific, I know, but it works. I cooked five ears - clearly too many to eat in one sitting. I set four ears aside to cool and use later in the week.

The fifth I rubbed with butter, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and ate, standing up, in my kitchen. The butter ran down my chin, the corn got stuck in my teeth (This, I remembered, was why my grandfather always cut his off the cob.), and I generally made a mess of myself.

It was lovely.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The $37.00 salad.

No, really. That salad - a little grilled chicken, a pile of mixed greens, and an admittedly tasty vinaigrette. OK, ok, there were also a Diet Coke ($4.00) and a cup of coffee ($3.50). Total bill, including an ill-deserved tip (I'm terrified of ending up in bad-tippers' hell.): thirty-seven buckaroos.

The place: E.A.T., Eli Zabar's delicatessen at 80th and Madison. The time: 2:30 PM. The date: Labor Day, 2008. The victim: my credit card. I suppose I should have known better, having been subject to Eli's penchant for overpricing everything he sells at his eponymous Eli's Manhattan. But I didn't realize just how bad it could get.

I suppose this is how he pays for the Madison Avenue storefront. I'm not one for penny-pinching, but given how much I paid for the damn salad, the way they whisked my coffee away before I was done with it was a bit unwise. Never take away a poor woman's caffeine.
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