Sunday, August 24, 2008

In the end, not so pretty, but quite tasty.

The other night, I had a variety of almost-no-longer-viable Greenmarket items in the house - some heirloom tomatoes, a large, ruffly summer squash, and half a white onion. The million-dollar question: how to combine all of these into something I (a) would want to eat and (b) could make quickly? After all, it was 8 PM and I was hungry for dinner.

I settled on a roasted squash and tomato napoleon - I would slice the squash crosswise, to preserve the pretty ruffles, do the same with the tomatoes, whip up a warm onion and garlic dressing, roast the squash with garlic and thyme, and stack it all to make my dinner.

I have to say - the warm, tender squash and the soft, cool tomatoes worked well together, and I ended up cooking the onions and garlic with a bit of honey and mustard, which brought some more sweetness and a bit of tang to the party. However, I thought it would turn out all pretty-like, and I was pretty wrong about that.

That said, who cares if it's pretty, really? I mean, it's just for eating, in the end.

Kitchen Lust: Follow-up.

So, I did it! I bought the Moka Express three-cup espresso maker from Bialetti, and today I had my first two cups of espresso. I am very caffeinated, and my apartment smells positively divine. Three cheers! Three cheers! THREE CHEERS!!!


They turn your pasta pink!

For some reason, I've always thought of beets as a winter vegetable. Maybe it's that they're a root, or maybe it's that they (sometimes) come in that Christmas-y red color (and also in candy cane-esque red and white stripes). Either way, I was pleasantly surprised a couple of years ago when I realized that they are, in fact, part of summer's ridiculous bounty (and are in season all the way through October).

Pleased because they go so well with another of summer's denizens, green beans. For some reason, the sharp, slightly peppery flavor of the beans plays gorgeously against the sweet, earthy beets, resulting in some of the best salads of the season - particularly when you throw some sherry vinegar, greek yogurt and fresh dill into the mix.

Last weekend, looking for a way to use up the second half of the Knoll Crest pasta I bought, I decided to turn one of my favorite summer salads into a pretty summer pasta - egg fettucine with roasted beets, green beans, dill and yogurt.

I started off by roasting the beets, which is a pretty simple task. You wash them, trim the ends off, drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast them in a foil packet for about 45 minutes. Once they're cool, peeling them is a cinch - just start yourself off with a small paring knife, and rub the skins off with your fingers. Yes, you'll get beet juice all over your hands, but, don't worry - it washes off.

You can marinate the beets overnight in a little oil and lemon juice, or you can use them right away. Either way, they're delicious. The beans just need a quick blanching in salted water - this will par-cook them and also make sure they are at their brightest green color.

And, if you're going low-carb these days, just leave the pasta out - this makes an excellent warm salad, too.

Fettucine with Beets and Beans

1/2 lb. assorted fresh beets
1/2 lb. fresh green beans
Olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely minced
1 tbs. sherry vinegar
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/2 lb. fresh fettucine
1/3 cup plain yogurt
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Clean and trim the beets. Spread a piece of foil on a cookie sheet, place beets on the foil, and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Fold the foil to form a packet, and place the packet (on the cookie sheet) in the oven. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the beets are tender when poked with a fork. Remove pack from oven and set aside to cool.

Once beets are cool, peel them and cut into 1-inch cubes. Set aside. Meanwhile, trim the beans and blanch them in a pot of boiling, salted water. Cut each bean in half (on an angle, if you're feeling fancy) and set aside.

Bring the water to boil again (yes, you can use the same water, just add a little extra salt), and cook the pasta while you make the sauce.

Add about 1 tbs. of olive oil to a medium skillet set over medium heat, and cook the onion until fragrant and softened, about two minutes. Add the sherry vinegar and cook down until it has become a bit thick and syrupy. Add the beans and beets to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until warmed through and coated with the vinegar and onion. Add all but a couple pinches of the dill and cook for another minute or so.

Add the cooked pasta to the pan, toss everything together, and transfer to bowls to serve. Top the pasta with the yogurt, dividing between the two bowls. Do the same with remaining dill, adjust seasonings to taste, and dig in!

Serves two.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Saturday luncheon.

One of the cooler things about shopping at the Greenmarket week after week is that you develop relationships with the vendors. A classic example is the group of women who run the Knoll Crest poultry stand, by far the market's most popular destination for eggs and chicken. They know most of their customers by looks, and some by name. They know that I always want a chicken, that 3 pounds is my ideal chicken size, and that I buy a dozen large brown eggs every other week or so.

They also know that, every now and again, I'll give in to temptation and pick up a container of their remarkably fresh egg fettuccine.

I did just that this past Saturday, reasoning that the tomatoes I'd bought a few stands over deserved a gorgeous bed upon which to recline. Or some such thing. Basically, I really wanted pasta with a quick tomato sauce for lunch.

When I got home, I washed my tomatoes, picked some basil from my windowsill plant, and sliced a couple of cloves of garlic. A little olive oil went into the skillet, then the garlic and red pepper flakes, then the tomatoes and basil.

While that cooked for a minute or two (just to warm the tomatoes through and get the basil working), I quickly cooked the pasta in boiling, salted water - since it was fresh, it took about 90 seconds to cook completely through to al dente. I added the fettuccine to the skillet, whooshed everything around for a few minutes, tasted for seasoning (tomatoes like a good amount of salt, in my opinion), and spooned it out.

The pasta was great - toothsome and flavorful, and the sauce was just what I wanted - simple and honest, just tomatoes, basil, garlic, salt, and pepper. My lunches are rarely so satisfying - so, thank you, Knoll Crest Farm, for being so darn friendly, and for making such fricking awesome pasta.

Saturday Lunch Pasta

2 tsps. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced (thinly) crosswise
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
4-5 leaves fresh basil, thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 lb. fresh egg pasta, such as fettuccine or linguine
Salt, to taste

Add the olive oil to a medium skillet set over medium heat, and, once it is warm, add the garlic to the pan. Sauté until fragrant and softened, about one minute, then add the red pepper flakes, tomatoes, and a pinch of salt. Sauté for a minute or two, stirring constantly, then add 2/3 of the sliced basil, stirring to distribute throughout the sauce.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of boiling, salted water until al dente (about 1-2 minutes for fresh pasta). Drain and add the pasta to the skillet, stirring to distribute the sauce evenly throughout the pasta. Allow to cook in the skillet for a minute, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking - this will flavor the pasta more deeply - then transfer to a bowl.

Adjust seasonings, top with remaining basil, and eat!

Serves one; multiplies easily to serve many.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Complete, total and utter shill (with a restaurant recommendation or two thrown in).

It's that time again, folks. Time to listen up about the latest fabulous Babel Theatre Project production - and time to go buy your tickets. I mean it - right now.

Babel's latest is the world-premiere production of Norman Lasca's play A Great Place to be From. The Midwest is struck by a monstrous heat wave - the kind that makes cows keel over and chickens explode - and four people tell the stories of how their lives change forever in ways so absurd, tragic and transporting that they only make sense through a haze of scorching sun bouncing off the asphalt.

You're intrigued, right? And, just think - you can scratch that itch for only $18!

Here are the performance details:

September 4th - 27th
Wednesday - Saturday @ 7:30 PM
and Monday, September 8th @ 7 PM

The Kraine Theatre
85 E. 4th Street (Bowery and 2nd)

Click here for tickets.

But wait - there's more! Babel has picked up stakes and moved downtown to the East Village, which means good restaurants are plentiful, so you can truly make a night of it. Here's where I'd recommend stopping either before or after a performance - not that Norman's play isn't an evening in and of itself!
See you there!


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chicken, plain and simple.

Sometimes the simplest things are the best. This is especially true when it comes to chicken.

Chicken is pretty easy to gussy up - think chicken Kiev, chicken with forty cloves of garlic, coq au vin, and so on. But, in my humble opinion, chicken is never so good as when it is trussed, rubbed all over with some sort of fat (olive oil, butter, and schmaltz are best), showered with salt and pepper, and roasted in a hot, dry oven. I believe this to be, at the risk of hubris, the absolute best way of cooking chicken. Ever.

If you're feeling fancy, you can make a pan sauce out of the drippings. Also good - using some of those drippings in the vinaigrette for the salad or vegetables you serve alongside. And please save the carcass and use it for stock - it will be the best and cheapest stock you've ever made, and it will mean using every last bit of that wonderful chicken that gave its life for your supper. Just sayin'.

Queenie's Classic Roast Chicken

1 chicken (2-4 pounds), with its innards
1 tbsp. olive oil, softened butter, or schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse the chicken inside and out with water, pat dry all over with a paper towel, and stuff with its own organs. Truss the chicken (click here for some good methods) and rub all over with the oil, schmaltz, or butter. Place the chicken in a roasting pan or skillet just large enough to hold it, and shower it with salt and pepper.

Roast the chicken in the oven - about 45 minutes for a two-pound chicken, an hour and fifteen minutes for a four-pound chicken. The skin should be crisp and golden-brown, and the juices should run clear when you poke the thigh meat with a knife.

Let sit for ten minutes, then carve and serve.

Black gold.

I've mentioned it before, but I suppose it bears repeating - I'm much more of a savory girl than a sweet one. This is true both in personality and in my taste in food. My preference for all things savory probably explains my tendency to make it an hour into my weekly Greenmarket excursion before I even think about buying fruit.

There are mounds of peaches, pints of cherries and loads of berries piled up everywhere, but I zoom in on the peppers, tomatoes and corn. Today's visit was no exception, but then I saw the blackberries and remembered how freakin' good blackberries are with hazelnut gelato. And I just happen to have a half-pint of Laboratorio del Gelato hazelnut in the freezer.

(Quick aside - Laboratorio del Gelato is a tiny little gelato shop on Orchard Street. Originally founded as a specialty supplier for high-end restaurants, it's become a New York institution. They now sell half-pints at Dean & Deluca, which means I can pick some up on the way home instead of just grabbing a dish of the stuff when I visit my fabulous (Shameless plug!) hairdresser Holly at Fringe just around the corner.)

The tart, sweet blackberries pop against the faintly nutty, slightly sugary gelato. It just might be the perfect afternoon snack.

At least for today.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Apparently coffee does everything but melt fat.

I knew it, I knew it! Coffee is a miracle drink, and Diet Coke is not far behind. Behold, the powers of caffeine...
  • Drinking caffeinated coffee might decrease your risk for Parkinson's disease
  • Drinking 4 to 6 cups of regular or decaf coffee a day might lower your risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes
  • Caffeine does not make you pee more
  • Caffeine does not increase the risk of heart attack
  • Caffeine does not contribute much to hypertension development
  • Caffeine does not cause pancreatic, kidney, liver, or breast cancer
  • Caffeine does not meaningfully contribute to bone loss
If it weren't storming biblically outside right now, I'd totally be on my way for my second large cup of the day.

Caffeinatedly yours,

Thanks to Serious Eats for the summary of the NewYork Times article.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Gin is sin...and I like it.

I'm not really sure where the vodka craze came from. Some say its roots lie in the deadened taste buds of modern America, some say it's just the result of excellent advertising on the part of TBWA (on behalf of Absolut, of course). According to those theories, Americans are either without taste or just plain malleable.

Either way, I blame the vodka craze for the fact that I didn't even taste gin until my mid-20's. My mother never had it in the house, and I grew up viewing it as the drink of degenerate, 19th century Englishmen and -women.

For shame, truly, because gin is AWESOME. There is no better word to describe the fantastic concoction of alcohol and herbs that is a quality gin. Right now, I'm enjoying a gin martini (which, by definition, requires vermouth, and if you don't think so, you're wrong) - 3 ounces of Plymouth, a tablespoon on Noilly dry, stirred vigorously with ice, and garnished with some lemon zest (I don't really like olives.). And it's fabulous - complex, herby, smooth, delicious.

So please, please - next time you're out, stop yourself from ordering that vodka soda and go for a gin and tonic instead (assuming the place has decent gin - most places at least have Tanqueray, which makes a good G&T). You'll be thanking me.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Getting my hands dirty.

I've never been a prolific gardener. I don't have a black thumb, per se, but I've never really made a point of nurturing and caring for plants. In the last couple of years, though, I've finally realized how nice it is to have fresh herbs around when you need them, and, even more than that, how much life and verve plants bring into a home.

My friend Nick gave me a Meyer lemon tree for Christmas, and my success at keeping it alive for more than six months gave me the confidence to go out and find some more green things for the windowsill. So, yesterday morning, armed with $15 and a dream, I went down to the Union Square Greenmarket and bought two basil plants, a thyme plant, and a little sage bush.

I brought them home (carefully, on the subway) and transplanted them into the Ikea pots I had waiting. The whole process took about 20 minutes (though I did make a bit of a mess), and now I have a gorgeous-smelling assortment of plants. I've already used the thyme - snipped a few twigs to flavor the chicken I roasted tonight for this week's dinners.

I feel quite handy, and can't stop sniffing the air above my little garden.
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