Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kitchen Lust: FrancisFrancis! Espresso Machine

Like any good New Yorker, I love coffee. Cannot get enough. Would drink it morning, noon and night if I could, and often do, frankly. (Not all the time, though - a girl needs to leave room for her Diet Coke and her booze.)

My coffeemaker of choice is a Bodum Chambord French press - I love it for the counter space it saves and also for the rich, hearty brew it produces. But one thing it doesn't do is make espresso.

To date, I haven't invested in an espresso maker - it seems like an awful lot of money for something that would probably be used two times a week, maximum. Plus, it would take up precious counter space in my tiny kitchen. But, if I could buy any espresso maker on earth, I think it would have to be this powder-blue FrancisFrancis! model. It's gorgeous, it's hard-working, and it's long-lasting. What more could a girl want?

But, alas, at almost $900, it's way out of reach. So I think I might go low-tech and spring for this Bialetti stovetop model. Starting at $20 for a three-cupper, it seems like the way to go. Plus, it's charmingly retro in its own way, dontcha think?I sure do.

I'm in love. (Calm down, it's with a blog.)

Matt Wright is a British expat living in Seattle, where he's created an impressively beautiful blog that's full of recipes and bursts with a palpable fondness for the food he prepares.

Just this week he posted a recipe for braised pork belly, pickled shallots and beans (a play on the classic pork and beans combination), at which point I decided he must be one of my culinary soulmates.

Go check it out here. You won't be sorry, I promise.

Oh, and you can bet on those pickled shallots making an appearance on my table awfully soon.

Photo courtesy of wrightfood.

Share these with your friends.

One of the great pleasures of entertaining overnight visitors, or of being a houseguest, is enjoying breakfast with your friends. Sure, we city-dwellers enjoy our fair portion of shared brunches, and more than our allotment of shared dinners, but we rarely see our friends spreading jam on toast while still wearing their footsie pajamas.

Maybe it's because I live alone, but, to me, eating breakfast with friends is a real treat, a true novelty, and something I really look forward to when traveling. And it doesn't have to be a fancy pancake breakfast, either (though those are fun, too) - sometimes the best breakfast is just coffee and a brioche smeared with butter and jam.

Louisa and I made our first loaves of brioche together last summer, and during my visit this year we decided we couldn't let the opportunity to create a true tradition pass us by. This time, though, we decided to make one full loaf and six small, traditional brioches, the better to snack and breakfast on.

The little guys were just as easy to make as the big one - we followed the same recipe as last time and used half the dough to fill Louisa's silicon brioche pan (with a cookie sheet underneath to lend stability to the flexible material) and half for the loaf. You could also use the more traditional brioche molds - again, just stick them on a cookie sheet to make the whole thing easier. We topped the individual brioches with the same egg wash used on the loaf, and added some muscovado sugar for added crunch (and to make things all pretty-like).

The result? A loaf for French bread and sandwich-making, and six perfect breakfast treats, perfect for enjoying with friends and a big pot of coffee.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How to host a dinner party without turning on the stove. Well, almost.

It's that time of year - the market is full of berries, tomatoes, corn, summer squash, and I'm desperate to cook it all before it goes away. Which of course means that I'm desperate to entertain as many friends as possible, the better to experiment with copious amounts of produce and seafood.

The only problem? It's really freakin' hot out, and that makes having people over a bit more complicated. Sure, I have a great AC stuck through one of my two windows, but it doesn't do a whole lot when the oven and stove are going full blast and there are five extra people in here.

So, what's a girl to do? Moving is not an option, nor is the complete absence of cooking. Not for me, anyway. So I spend my summers searching high and low for meals that can be made in advance, served mostly at room temperature, and showcase all the delicious things in season right now. Because, really, most of this stuff is better left as pristine as possible. I mean, there's nothing better than popping a single, tart blueberry in your mouth, or stealing a ripe, earthy tomato from the bowl and eating it plain.

Two weeks ago, this meant starting with a gorgeous corn soup courtesy of Dorie Greenspan, and following that up with a giant salad niçoise and a buttermilk cake with mascarpone and berries. As far as no-cook meals go, this was on the more-cooking-than-not end of the scale. The soup was made ahead but had to be re-heated, the salad took lots of prep work, even though it was all super-easy, the tuna had to be seared just before eating, and the cake couldn't be assembled ahead of time.

Last night, though, I served what I think might just be the perfect summertime dinner party meal. We started things off with homemade gravlax - which meant, literally, zero cooking. You just cure the raw salmon in a salt/sugar/pepper/dill mixture, then serve it with a coffee and mustard flavored sauce.

Next up, Ina Garten's superlative gazpacho. A lot of chopping, but, again, no cooking. (And, as gazpacho goes, remarkably deep in flavor and perfectly imperfect in texture.) Ina swooped in to my rescue again for the main, which was her "summer garden pasta" - a big bowl of cherry tomatoes marinated for five hours in olive oil, garlic and basil, then tossed with hot capellini and grated parmesan. Yes, you have to cook the pasta, but since it's angel hair, it takes less than five minutes.

To cleanse our palates of all that garlic (12 cloves in all, between the gazpacho and the pasta), we had a small watermelon salad with basil and pickled jalapenos. Sweet, refreshing, but with a slow, savory burn on the tongue from the peppers. Then, finally, the piece de resistance - a ridiculously delicious tart loaded with four pints of blueberries, courtesy of the Gourmet Cookbook.

There's another benefit to this whole made ahead of time thing - you actually get to spend time with your guests. That might even be a bigger plus than not sweating bullets.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sometimes, it just has to be done.

Generally speaking, I'm pretty good at turning down sweets. My cravings tend to run in the salty/greasy direction (bad Chinese, fried chicken, Pirate's Booty), but, every so often, a need for cake worms its way in.

Last Sunday, just such a craving hit me like a sack of bricks, and I decided to assuage said sack with a marble cupcake from Two Little Red Hens. Conveniently located about half a block from my Yorkville apartment, it's an adorable bakery specializing in traditional American treats. They have ridiculously good maple scones, beautiful cakes, and witty frosted cookies (featured on Sunday: hot dogs and watermelon slices). They also make a mean iced coffee.

The marble cupcake was good - especially the cake part, which was white sponge swirled with chocolate. The buttercream was tasty, but a bit too cold from the fridge. It just didn't give enough, and as a result broke off in little pieces. It was a bit like eating (really, really) buttery fudge. That said, it did hit the spot.

So, is it bad that this was my dinner on Sunday night?

The pork-chop-and-a-fruity-sauce obsession continues.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought some gorgeous plums at Agata & Valentina. I sliced and ate two standing at the kitchen counter, and then decided to use the third to make dinner. In support of my current obsession with fruity savory sauces, I decided to saute a pickled ramp or two, jazz things up with a dollop of mustard, some mustard seeds, and a dash of sherry vinegar, then throw a cubed plum into the mix.

Yes, I have a problem. But that doesn't mean it wasn't tasty.

Monday, July 21, 2008

'Tis the season to be jolly...about stone fruits.

Peaches might be my favorite summer fruit. Technically, strawberries belong to springtime, and apples won't be here till September, so I think it's a pretty safe statement. (Unless you wave a pint of plump blueberries in my face, in which case I reserve the right to take this entire post back.)

Peaches are velvety from start to finish - gently fuzzy on the outside, luscious, soft and juicy on the inside. And the way they smell? There's no better perfume in the world. Truly. If they could bottle the true scent of ripe peaches, I'd kiss any man brave enough to wear it.

Peaches can be baked into pies, sliced and served raw with plain yogurt and honey, grilled and topped with maple syrup, made into a relish and served with a pork chop - or you can just bite into one while leaning indecorously over your sink (the better to catch all the inevitable juices running down your chin).

And did I mention they're in season? Greenmarket alert!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé!

Happy Bastille Day!

The quatorze juillet is to France what the Fourth of July is to Americans - a celebration of revolution and the overthrow of a monarchy, complete with parades and fireworks. Sadly, though it would be an excellent excuse to eat crêpes and salade niçoise all day long, the United States does not yet recognize the holiday.

That said, any French restaurant you visit today should be doing something outrageously fun. What better day to munch on some steak tartare or kick the evening off with a kir royale? Or, if you can't make it to La Grenouille tonight, have a look at these France-based bloggers. You'll be singing La Marseillaise in no time.

Petite Anglaise
Lucy's Kitchen Notebook
Ms Glaze's Pommes d'Amour

Allez, allez, vite, vite!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A talent has been unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.

My friend Nick is really into cocktails these days.

Actually, wait - let me give you an idea of what it means when Nick is into something. He doesn't just do a hand-waving, half-assed exploration of a topic. Oh, no. When Nick is into something, he goes whole hog. Like the time he decided to become an expert in Web 2.0 taught himself Ruby on Rails (he's now the online media editor for a newspaper in Ohio), or the time he decided bridge was the world's classic card game and got really, really mad at me when we were partnered up and almost lost because I got silly on Manhattans. (He was making the Manhattans, by the by, and we did win, so I think it's probably time for an apology, actually.)

This tendency to go deep into a subject makes Nick really easy to shop for - he can never have enough books about the thing he's learning about, and since I love to buy books (and since he's a man with very particular tastes, which makes him scary to buy clothes for), we're a gifting match made in heaven. So, of course, this year, I gave Nick two books on cocktails (this one and this one), assuming he would be ready to help me tipple my week of vacation away with Sazeracs and Gin Fizzes.

Little did I know he'd been crafting his own signature cocktail, which he's tentatively named the "Gin"-ger Lemonade. It's ginger syrup (basically simple syrup reduced with slices of fresh ginger), gin, seltzer, lemon juice, and a mint garnish. And, holy man, is it good. (Actually, it's even good without the gin, which is saying something).

Did I mention that when Nick gets into something, he usually becomes really, really good at it?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Like your own personal, private scout.

Ever wondered if what you're looking for is available at the market? Not sure if it's too late for spring onions, or too early for really good tomatoes?

Never fear - Lucy's Greenmarket Report is here!

Lucy lives just two blocks from Union Square (color me green with envy), and scopes out the scene at the market every single morning. If it's a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, she's out there perusing the stands, noting the wares, and heading back home to post them on her blog.

From flowers to herbs to meat to bread, if it's new or notable, Lucy will tell you about it. She's a fantastic resource for us uptowners, particularly when we're planning a dinner party and trying to figure out what we can actually count on finding at the market (rather than just buying what meets our fancy).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The first annual pork belly-off, part four: me!

For my pork belly entry, I wanted to try something truly seasonal. I've been craving watermelon, but it just never seems practical to buy a whole one just for myself, and I try my best not to buy anything that's been chopped or prepped ahead of time, when it can be helped.

So, I made Nick carry one to the car for me at the market, and we were off and running.

A couple of years ago, I went to Degustation (a nifty restaurant in the East Village with only 12 seats) and had a delicious little egg dish topped with pickled jalapeño. Ever since then, I've been looking for the perfect way to showcase the slices of tart, tangy, hot deliciousness in a dish of my own, and pork belly with watermelon salad seemed the perfect candidate.

I rubbed my slice of belly on all sides with salt and pepper and braised it for about an hour in chicken stock. Meanwhile, I mixed up a salad of cubed watermelon, lime juice, and some torn mint and basil. I put that to marinate in the fridge and set to work pickling the jalapeños.

Finally, when everything had swum in its respective juices long enough, I seared the pork belly, topped it with a few slices of pepper, and put it on the plate and surrounded it with some chopped cucumber. I strained the liquid out of the watermelon salad, tossed it with some fresh, finely chopped mint and basil, and piled it onto the belly.

Pickling is pretty basic - you blanch the veggies (a step I actually forgot about last week, which resulted in washed-out peppers) to help keep the color and prep them to absorb the pickling liquid. Then you cook up a quick formula (some combo of water, vinegar, sugar and spices) and poor it over the veggies. Canning is a whole other art; however, even without true canning, these pickles should keep in the fridge for at least a month, if not longer.


Pickled Jalapeños

1/2 to 1 lb. jalapeño peppers
1 c. water
1 c. white vinegar
1 c. sugar
1 tbs. salt
1/4 c. assorted peppercorns (white, black, pink, green - whatever!)
1/8 c. coriander seeds
1 tbs. mustard seeds
1 bay leaf

Set a medium saucepan of water to boil and fill a medium bowl with water and ice. In the meantime, slice the jalapeños cross-wise into 1/8 to 1/4 inch rounds, discarding the stems. Blanch the peppers in the boiling water for about a minute, then, using a slotted spoon, transfer to the ice water to cool. Once cool, use the slotted spoon to transfer them to a clean, 1 liter Mason jar.

Rinse the saucepan (watch out - the steam is full of jalapeño oil and can sting your eyes) and return to the stovetop. Add the water, vinegar, sugar and salt to the pot and bring to a boil, stirring till the sugar is completely dissolved and the liquid is clear.

Add the remaining ingredients to the vinegar mix and stir for about a minute. Turn the heat off and ladle the liquid and spices into the mason jar, covering the jalapeños. Allow to cool on the counter for about an hour before sealing and storing in the fridge.

The jalapenos are great with pork belly and watermelon salad, but also on sandwiches or homemade pizza, in guacamole, or as a tiny, tart, spicy snack!

Cocktails tomorrow, cocktails yesterday - and, yes, damn it, cocktails today!*

Serious Eats just pointed me to a fabulous blog called The Cocktail Chronicles.

It's chock full of history, recipes and general musings about cocktails and the bartending/mixology world. Tons of fun for this beginning, amateur mixologist, and I thought you would all enjoy it, too.

*With apologies to Lewis Carroll and Carol Channing, both.

The first annual pork belly-off, part three: Louisa's book.

So, some very exciting news came out today...my best friend, Louisa, hostess of the pork belly-off and romance novelist extraordinaire, has gotten her first book deal! It's for a series of romance novels set in the New York restaurant scene, and her publisher wants them to have actual recipes in them!

So, of course, we spent a good amount of time this week working on recipes for food and cocktails (more on that later). An autumnal pork belly dish figures into the plot of the first novel, and Louisa thought it would be cool to serve the pork belly with what a pig (in an ideal world) would eat - apples and walnuts.

First, she braised the pork belly in cider (with a little cinnamon and nutmeg added for extra kick), then seared it on all sides. Meanwhile, she improvised a recipe for candied walnuts, using ginger syrup and cayenne, among other delicious things. She spread the walnuts on a parchment-covered cookie sheet and baked them till they were crisp and dark brown.

Finally, she cut a Granny Smith apple into batons, placed the pork belly on top, and spread the walnuts around. The cold apples and hot pork belly were a great combination, but probably not as sophisticated as she's looking for - we talked about making an apple sauce and walnut butter and sprinkling chopped candied walnuts on top - but it's a work in progress, after all.

Either way, I was a happy eater.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The first annual pork belly-off, part two: Louisa.

Louisa's vision for her piece of pork belly (the one that wasn't being made strictly for professional reasons) was a barbecue-esque one. Pork belly glazed with a maple-bourbon sauce, served atop a lemony, minty coleslaw.

She braised the pork belly while her glaze (maple syrup, bourbon, cider vinegar) reduced on the stove. When it was time to sear the belly, she glazed the top with the sauce - which promptly hardened to a soft, toffee-like consistency. Not exactly what she was going for, but man, was it good.

The slaw, crunchy and fresh, cut through the rich, sweet glaze and the meaty pork belly. In future incarnations, Louisa plans to thin out the glaze a bit, maybe with milk or a little butter - any suggestions?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The first annual pork belly-off, part one: Nick.

Three cooks, one afternoon, a half pound of pork belly - what could go possibly be bad about that?

Nothing, as it turns out.

I'm spending the week in Ohio, visiting my friends Nick and Louisa, and just generally enjoying driving in a car that isn't a cab, playing with their (adorable) dog, and sleeping till 8:30 every single morning (late enough to fee luxurious, early enough not to feel lazy). When I got off the plane on Saturday afternoon, they promptly informed me that we would be making at least one stop before heading home - Cleveland's West Side market, where we would be buying provisions for the week.

The West Side market is great - huge, full of good (if not always local or seasonal) produce, and the inside is a sea of butchers, fishmongers, bakeries and prepared foods vendors. You can find whole lambs, whole goats, liver, chicken, Cornish pasties, hummus - you name it.

Louisa mentioned that we should be on the lookout for pork belly, since a recipe for it figures heavily into the novel she's working on right now (She's a romance novelist - cool, right?). When we did find the pork belly, we suddenly thought, hey - why not really go to town? It was decided that each of us would get a portion of pork belly to experiment with, plus an additional piece for Louisa to play with for the book-related dish. We each had totally different takes on the belly, and when we got home, we got down to business.

First up, Nick's version.

When he was growing up in California, Nick's mom would make a breaded pork chop dish that he just loved, loved, loved. Couldn't get enough. And he still loves a breaded chop - wiener schnitzel, veal milanese, you name it. So Nick decided to do a riff on a traditional milanese.

He braised the pork belly in chicken stock for an hour and a half, then seared it on sides. Served alongside was a tomato and arugula Napoleon. He sliced the tomato, sprinkled it with a bit of salt, some sugar, topped each slice with a pat of butter and lightly broiled them. Next, he brushed them with some reduced balsamic and stacked them, alternating tomato slices with leaves of baby arugula. The topmost tomato slice was sprinkled with bread crumbs and broiled once more to make it nice and brown and crispy. (Get it? The bread crumbs replaced the breading typically found on the veal!)

Finally, to incorporate the traditional lemony dressing, he made a lemon compote with some toasted cracked black peppercorns stirred in.

It was a gorgeous dish - beautifully presented, and really very tasty. We decided the bread crumbs could use a bit more binding, and that the lemon compote (which was super-tart and VERY lemony) could be used more sparingly. But, for a first outing, a phenomenal job.

Next up, Louisa's candied, boozy take on pork belly.
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