Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Variations on a theme.

Here in the States, we typically think of gazpacho as a cold, tomato-based soup, usually a bit zingy thanks to the addition of garlic, onion and vinegar. Sometimes it's chunky, sometimes it's smooth, but it's pretty much always tomato-y.

In fact, traditional Spanish gazpacho is a creamy, lush soup made with soaked, stale bread, copious amounts of olive oil (hence the creamy lushness) and flavored with vegetables. Which isn't to say that our interpretation of the soup is wrong or bad; it's just that: an interpretation.

In his Simple to Spectacular cookbook, Jean-Georges Vongerichten spends several pages showing us how varied the interpretations of gazpacho have become. Tomato-melon gazpacho (a twist on the traditional inclusion of cucumber, which is, after all, a member of the melon family), a simple tomato-cucumber-red pepper incarnation, and the most unusual of the bunch: cucumber-coconut gazpacho.

Given my love of cucumbers, I supposed I shouldn't have been shocked by how delicious this soup was, but I admit it took me by surprise. I'd forgotten how rich and complex cooked cucumbers can be, and how delicious they are with fresh herbs, especially mint. And now that they're in glorious season, I'll be making this all the time. I might swap the mint out for some basil next time, and see how I go. Yum.

Cucumber and Coconut Gazpacho
Adapted from Simple to Spectacular by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman

1 sweet or mild white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large cucumbers (or four Kirbies), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
3/4 cup mint leaves, whole
Tabasco, to taste
1 tbs. fish sauce
2 tbs. lime juice
Chopped mint (or cilantro, if you prefer) for garnishing the soup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large, straight-sided skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is slightly softened and the garlic is fragrant. Add the cucumber and sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of salt and a bit of black pepper.

Saute the vegetables for five minutes, then add the stock and cook for five minutes more, until the cucumber starts to turn tender. Add the coconut milk and cook for three more minutes, then add the mint, Tabasco, limes juice and fish sauce.

Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is very smooth. (Alternately, you can transfer the soup to a blender to puree it; do this in batches, if need be.)

Chill the soup. (If you want to serve it shortly after making it, place the pureed soup in a medium bowl and nestle it in an ice bath - spike the water with a general handful of kosher salt to speed up the process. Stir the soup frequently to aid in cooling it.) Serve garnished with mint or cilantro.

Serves four to six, depending on how hungry you all are.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Marketing, Ohio-style.

Sandusky, Ohio doesn't have a plethora of amazing restaurants (though there are some notable spots, no doubt) or a hopping nightlife, but you know what it does have? Seriously good produce. Louisa and I visited a number of different markets over the course of the week I spent there, and all yielded some good goodies.

At Louisa's perennial favorite, Kramer's Farm Market in Norwalk, we found delicious asparagus, which we promptly seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper and grilled for dinner.

At the Sandusky farmers' market, held downtown on Fridays and Saturdays, we found sweet cherries, snappy green beans and gorgeous beefsteak tomatoes. We used the latter two in our salade Niçoise.

Last, but not least, the North Union Farmers' Market in Crocker Park. We arrived a little late (prime time seems to be between nine and ten in the morning), but still managed to find some plum, juicy sugar snaps, along with some green onions for grilling.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; the Midwest is, after all, the bread basket of the States. The irony is, of course, that so much of what's produced there is consequently shipped off to the rest of us, or used in processed foods. These three markets, though, are doing their part to share the local bounty with, well, the locals - and that's a damn good thing.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Queenie's Treasury

Good morning, all! It's on its way to being another steamy day here in New York. I made my weekly pilgrimage to the Greenmarket this morning (Snap peas and cucumbers and beets - oh, my!), and am meeting up with my brother and our friend Ken for a lobster roll run this afternoon. In the meantime, though, it's time for some Treasury action!

First up this week, a quick trip to Paris for some serious cookware shopping. David Lebovitz, ex-pat and pastry cookbook author extraordinaire, posted a guide to shopping for supplies in that most culinarily obsessed of cities. He mentions, of course, the legendary E. Dehillerin, as well as the marches aux puces and some intriguing cookbook shops. Sigh. Yet another reason to get myself back to France sooner rather than later.

Next, a ridiculously delicious-looking brunch at Portland, Oregon's Simpatica. My friend Lorna posted this on her Cookbook Chronicles blog just yesterday, and it looks so. Freaking. Delicious. Smoked steak, grilled shrimp, fried eggs, potatoes and broccoli? Um, wow. Never mind the chicken and waffles. Or chicken fried bison. Drool.
Finally, a fabulous piece of art from Jane Mount, who documents people's ideal bookshelves as a form of portraiture. As a lifelong bookworm, I thoroughly approve. And, in fact, I bought a print of this piece, Ideal Bookshelf 6, GW, just yesterday. It's a portrait of George Weld, chef and owner of Egg, a restaurant in Brooklyn. And I can't wait for it to arrive so I can hang it on my ready and eager wall. Yay!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Julia knows best.

It was pretty darn warm - dare I say, hot - while I was in Ohio last week. The last thing we wanted to do was turn on the oven or use the stove too frequently. The solution, of course, was a composed salad. But not just any composed salad - oh, no. We decided to make an old favorite: Julia Child's salade Niçoise from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Chances are that at one point or another you've all had a version of the Niçoise salad, most likely at a restaurant, and possibly updated with, say, seared tuna. Chances also are that the version you had wasn't half as good as Julia's classic recipe. It's just a salad, sure, but she knows exactly how to make the very best of each and every ingredient.

Green beans are blanched to bring out their sweetness while retaining their snap; farm-fresh eggs are hard-boiled, showing off their impossibly golden yolks; potatoes are boiled and soaked in wine, chicken stock, and vinaigrette while still warm; perfectly ripe tomatoes and simply sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper. The whole kit and kaboodle is topped with an impossibly generous shower of chopped herbs. (We used a combination of chives, parsley, mint, tarragon and basil.)

The result is a meal for four that surpasses all of your typical salad expectations. It's a meal worthy of summer in the south of France, one that should absolutely be accompanied by a crisp rose (Give De Loach's superlative 2007 O.F.S. a go, why don't you?) and followed by a dessert of strawberries, eaten whole, warm from the sun.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Puppy love.

My friends Louisa and Nick have two of the cutest dogs on the planet. Oscar and Hunter have vastly different personalities (Oscar is a manipulative little cuddle-stealer, while Hunter is a quiet, loyal charmer), but they are equally cute. Each in his own way, of course.
I invite you to share the cuteness with me!

First up, the will-do-anything-to-have-his-own-way rascal, Oscar!

And this is Hunter, who is sweet, smart and an all-around good guy. He also has seriously impressive eyebrows.

So freakin' cute, right?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Minimal cooking required.

It's pretty freaking hot out today, no? Seems like the perfect day for a composed salad. All you need:

- Chopped romaine lettuce
- Chopped Kirby cucumber
- Corn (either cut off of a raw cob, or defrosted from the freezer)
- Cold chicken
- A potato or two, boiled and sliced
- A radish or two, thinly sliced
- Snap peas

Arrange it all artfully atop a bed of the lettuce, top with some vinaigrette, and there you have it: the perfect warm weather meal. Expands or contracts to serve one or many.

Go ahead; give in to the laziness. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Good morning, all! It's a bit early for me to be posting, I know. I'm writing this from the American Airlines terminal at LaGuardia, where I'm waiting to board the teeny regional jet that will whisk me away on my annual pilgrimage to Sandusky, Ohio!

No, I'm not going to pay homage to the roller coasters at Cedar Point; I'm going to visit my friends Louisa and Nick! Many of you are already familiar with our culinary pursuits, be they the pork belly-off, homemade banh mi, or dinner at Per Se (just to name a few). This week promises more of the same, though we are aiming to be healthier than is normal for us during these visits.

Don't worry; I'll see if I can't get them to sneak in a cocktail or two. After all, I'm on vacation!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Queenie's Treasury

Happy weekend, everyone! I'll be spending my weekend dog-sitting for my friends' dog, Dexter, out in the wilds of Brooklyn. Before I head off into the outer boroughs, though, it's time for a little Treasury action.

First up this week, a seriously awesome series of photos from photographer Bryan Solarski. Little World is composed of iconic scenes from around the world, all captured by the magical, miniaturizing effect of tilt shift photography. The unreality of the images makes you stop and reconsider the familiar. I especially love the ones involving water, including Venice's Grand Canal, Coney Island, and the Amalfi coast. Wouldn't mind being any of those places right now, come to think of it.

Next up, another set of photos, this time courtesy of the blogger Frau Haselmeyer. She recently took a trip to Switzerland and became enchanted with the country's gorgeous consumer packaging. As someone long enamored of Europe's superior design sense (at least when it comes to the little things), I heartily encourage her obsession.

Last but not least, a seriously beautiful, sumptuous wedding at the Parker Palm Springs, via Martha Stewart. I cannot get enough of the invitations, the bride's ruffly dress, or the table settings. Oh, the table settings. Are those not insanely beautiful? Makes me want to recreate them for a dinner party sometime soon.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cocktails, ahoy!

On Saturday night, Cristin and I picked Ellie up from the library and headed down to the water for a cocktail. We ended up at Belle Haven, the yacht club Ellie's parents belong to. It's not the most exciting destination for an evening out, but we were after the breeze and the view, not the raucous partying.

And what a view! Greenwich is right on Long Island Sound, and that faint stripe of green you see in the distance is Long Island itself. On a clear day, it's a crisp view, and you can even see - just barely - the Manhattan skyline.

And what's that on the cocktail napkin? That's right: the club's coordinates. How very nautical, no?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Memory lane, it beckons.

Last weekend, I went out to Connecticut to keep my friend Ellie company. She was home alone at her parents' house, studying for her medical boards. We grew up in the same town, but my mother moved away when I was a senior in college, which makes homecomings (despite their requiring little more than a fifty-minute train ride from Grand Central) hard to come by.

My friend Cristin came out on Saturday afternoon, but before she arrived, I dropped Ellie off at the library and headed down to the water and to my old stomping grounds. I grew up near the beach; only a block from the water, as a matter of fact. My friend Caroline and I used to ride our bikes all over the place, sneaking onto secret little beaches and into tiny little coves. So, I parked the car and took a little walk.

And promptly discovered that trespassing, while cute in the 1980s and at 8 years old, is just plain creepy at 30 in 2010. Yeah. I only made it to two or three little spots before deciding it was time to admit that I am now too old to sneak onto people's property and stopping the madness in exchange for an iced coffee.

Of course, I had to make one last stop, at our home itself, a beautiful old (built in 1898) shingle-style house. A good number of the houses in the neighborhood were built in the late 19th century as summer homes for New Yorkers, our house among them. It was a decidedly summery place, even in the coldest, snowiest of winters.

Sigh. I do miss it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How do I look?

Hello, kids! It's that time: time for a little facelift here at Queenie. My incredibly talented friend Miya has created a fabulous new header for me, based on the bistro menus of Paris. Those menus change pretty frequently, and are usually written on chalkboards or in white marker on glass partitions. Our menu is pretty simple, and won't be changing any time soon: Let's eat, let's travel, let's party!

Off - or, rather, on - the wall.

On my last day in San Francisco, Faith and I took a drive out to Flora Grubb Gardens, a florist-cum-design shop deep in the Mission District. Loyal New York Times Weddings & Celebrations readers might recognize the name; Flora hosted her brother's wedding reception at the store, and the union was featured in the Vows column.

It's a pretty nifty place; Faith termed it the Anthropologie of flowers, and that's about right. The store sells plants, pots, stationery, cut flowers, garden furniture, Ritual coffee, brownies and assorted decorative objects.

Among its coolest items, though, are the walls of tightly-packed succulents. You can buy a small version, as small as 11 inches by 14 inches, but why would you do that when you could cover a whole wall of your apartment in such an amazing, gravity-defying mix of texture and color? It's living art, and I love it.

Flora Grubb
1634 Jerrold Avenue
San Francisco, California

Monday, June 7, 2010

On the (road)side.

When we were in Napa a few weeks ago, my mother and I - of course - made a pilgrimage to Taylor's (now re-christened Gott's - read about that particular saga over here) in St. Helena. No trip to Napa would be complete without one of their superlative burgers.

This time, instead of fries, we decided to split an order of onion rings. Now, I don't eat onion rings very often, mostly because I find them to be nearly universally disappointing. They're feckless little things. They feign competence, arriving all hot and golden and crispy, but they shed their delicious batter on any kind of contact with my mouth, leaving me with pointless, flavorless batter and limp, sad onion. There's nothing fun about that.

But Gott's onion rings aren't like that. These have a delicious beer batter that - get this - actually sticks to the onion! No matter how many bites you take, the two remain one! And what a delicious one they are. Well-seasoned with salt, perfectly cooked and crispy. These are onion rings as God and Mother Nature intended, my friends.

Oh, and - the burger is, of course, still stellar.

Gott's Roadside
933 Main Street
St. Helena, California

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Queenie's Treasury

Happy weekend, my doves! I'm spending this weekend out in the country - well, OK, the 'burbs. My friend Ellie invited me out to spend the weekend at her parents' house in our Connecticut hometown, and I'm enjoying the excellent company, gorgeous greenery and...pool! But before I put my sunhat on and run back to the lounger, it's time for this week's Treasury!

First up, a look at Jim Datz's amazing, destined-for-iconic-status Brooklyn and Manhattan posters. Inspired by vintage signage from the 1940s and '50s, Datz has created two posters showing the (approximate) arrangement of neighborhoods in my two favorite boroughs. My friend Miya has already purchased the Brooklyn poster to hang in her new Prospect Heights digs; I think I just might need one of each.

I may have already found my dream kitchen, but that doesn't mean I can't still admire the others from afar. I'm a little bit obsessed with this kitchen's combination of green paint, wood and white subway tile. And the cookware collection ain't bad, either. One last note: is that a papier-mache donkey's head on the island? As in, Bottom's costume? Because, if so? Props. (Via the always-excellent The Goodie Life.)

Last but not least, a very dangerous destination for all things paper-related. Prints, stationery - you name it, Felt & Wire sells the best of it. This silkscreen Mokka print would look great in that green kitchen, no? Synchronicity, folks. Synchronicity.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Going free-form.

When I was little, strawberries were one of my favorite foods. And, frankly, they still are. I greet the arrival of strawberries to the market with something akin to glee; something, admittedly, rather childish. I get giggly and squirmy and, let's face it, a bit competitive. I want those berries, and have them I will, Greenmarket crowds be damned.

This weekend's berry haul was particularly tasty - tart and sweet in that way that only berries really are, and absolutely beautiful to boot. I ate a full pint dipped in crème fraiche and topped with dark brown sugar one night, cooked another quart into a batch of strawberry-rhubarb compote, and decided to make some crostatas with what was left.

Crostatas are free-form cousins to pies and tarts, and they're ridiculously easy to make. Hate transferring your rolled-out pie crust to your pie plate or tart pan? Don't have a pie plate or tart pan? Crostatas are for you, my friend. A little food processor action, a bit of rolling, a spot of folding, and you have a finished dessert. The best part? They're beautiful and show off the jewel-like fruit in a way normally reserved for lattice-top pies, and they impress people in a rustic, Tuscan sort of way.

Go ahead. Show off.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crostata

For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup polenta
2 tsp. turbinado sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick butter, very cold or frozen, cut into 1/2-inch bits
3 tbs. ice water

For the filling:
5 stalks rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pint (1/2 quart) ripe strawberries, hulled and cut in half lengthwise
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbs. butter, cut into small bits
1 egg, beaten
Softly whipped cream or crème fraiche, for serving

Place the flour, polenta, sugar salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse together until the mixture is mealy and most of the butter is about the size of small peas. With the processor running, stream the water in one teaspoon at a time until the mixture begins to come together in one or two big clumps. You may not need all the water, depending on the humidity in your ingredients and the air. (Alternately, you can make the pastry in a medium bowl, using a pastry blender. A food processor is super-fast, but a pastry blender works well, too. Make sure to chill the bowl ahead of time.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and mold into a large disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Let the dough rest for at least an hour; it can sit in the fridge for up to 36 hours before you use it.

When you're ready to make the filling and bake the crostata, take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit; this will help take the chill off a bit. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, vanilla and salt in a medium bowl. Stir to coat the fruit in the sugar, and continue to stir until it begins to dissolve. Set aside while you roll out the pastry.

You can use the pastry to make one large tart or several (three or four) little ones. No matter what size you're after, the method is the same. Lightly flour a piece of parchment paper and place the dough in its center. Flour your pin and use it to whack the disk of pastry once or twice, then start rolling it out from the middle outward, spinning it if you need to, until you have a roughly circular shape about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the crust (on the parchment paper) to a cookie sheet.

Spoon the filling into the middle of the tart, leaving about two inches of crust as a border. Starting anywhere you'd like, fold the pastry up over the filling. Continue to fold in triangles as you go around the tart (Refer to the photo above; it's easy to do once you take a look at a finished version, I think.) until all the edges are folded over the filling, leaving a nice circle of pretty fruit exposed. Using a pastry brush, paint the crust with the beaten egg; this will give it a nice sheen. Dot the exposed filling with the butter.

Place the tart in the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes, depending on your oven, rotating the tart halfway through baking. Bake until golden-brown and bubbly; the crust may leak some juices, but should hold up pretty well in any case, despite the liquid. Once the tart is done, remove it from the oven and transfer it, on its parchment paper, to a cooling rack. Cool at least slightly before slicing. Serve topped with crème fraiche or whipped cream.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Where cereal adds the crunch.

No visit to Momofuku Ssäm Bar would be complete without a dessert pit stop at the adjoining Momofuku Milk Bar. Milk Bar's staff, headed by pastry chef Christina Tosi, is famous for combining the salty and sweet into unique and often nostalgic desserts.

Cereal milk is bottled for drinking and made into soft-serve ice cream; cinnamon buns become pies; cakes are ringed in confetti. It's not hard to understand why the place is a massive hit, especially with 20- and 30-somethings raised on the giddiness-inducing sugary cereals of the 70s and 80s.

After our latest bo ssäm adventure, we decided to head over to Milk Bar for a sweets fix. I went for ice cream, choosing the cinnamon soft serve with cornflake crunch topping. It was delicious, and the texture was wonderful - silky smooth and creamy. That said, I thought the ice cream was a bit too salty (and I'm someone who likes salt with her sweets). If salt has become the dominant flavor, it's no longer doing its job as an enhancer, and that was the case here. That said, Miriam's cereal milk soft serve with the same topping? Awesomeness.

I've still found nothing to beat the cornflake-chocolate chip cookie or the cinnamon bun pie, though. YUM. (Also, out-of-towners take note: some Momofuku Milk Bar goodies are available for shipment!)

Momofuku Milk Bar
207 2nd Avenue (Corner of 13th Street)
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