Friday, August 19, 2011

Braving it.

If you weren't in New York on Sunday, you might not know this,, did it rain. Not pretty, misty rain. Serious, pounding, stay-inside-unless-you-feel-like-getting-soaked rain. It was one of those days that you're pretty sure you'd prefer to spend curled up with a cup of tea and a novel, you know?

But I didn't just curl up with a book - in fact, I had a pretty fantastic afternoon on the town, which started with a lovely brunch at Vandaag. Vandaag, opened its doors about a year ago in the East Village, and is one of my favorite eating spaces in the city. It feels cozy but open - nothing's crowded, but everything is intimate, if that makes any sense.

I've been for dinner, and I've been for cocktails, but this was my first brunch visit. My very favorite thing was the coffee, a pour-over brew of single-origin beans. Delicious - smooth, round and full. The way coffee should always be, but so rarely is.

I ordered the slow-poached eggs, which arrived cooked to oozy-yolk perfection and surrounded by mustard greens, some cherry tomatoes, croutons, a bit of corn, and the best part of all: pickled beets. The beets were sweet and just a bit piquant - and tasted to me as if they'd been tossed with a bit of butter on their way to me. Not a bad idea.

My friend Caroline ordered one of the house specialties: hette bliksem (hot lightning). A cast-iron crock arrived bearing the dish, which was made up of crispy potatoes and bacon tossed with a stroop syrup. (You know the filling in a stroopwafel cookie? That stuff.) Except that this syrup had a spicy kick to it. So it was a big ol' bowl of potatoes and bacon coated with spicy caramel. Crazy delicious and interesting, but perhaps better as a shared side than a main course.

I can't wait to go back and try the pork belly and scrambled eggs, or the other coffees. And since it's a straight shot down the east side, I don't think I'll have to wait too long.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happily ever after.

Ever since last summer's Meatless Week, I've been much more into eggplant. It's finally come into its own this month, and the Greenmarket is stuffed with all kinds - the big, almost-black glossy kind, the white, actually egg-shaped kind, and the tiny, adorable fairy tale kind.

The latter is my favorite, in part because it's small enough to be single serving-friendly, and in part because I find them to be a bit sweeter than their larger counterparts. And while I'd love to tell you about all the myriad ways I've cooked them up, I have to admit that I've been largely addicted to one particular method, a sort of cross between caponata and ratatouille.

It's so easy, you guys, and it's great as a side or a main, or as a pasta sauce. I mainly use it as a bed for cold, sliced pork chop, though sometimes I just eat it straight from the bowl. When I do that, my favorite thing to do is top the whole with a dollop of mascarpone. It makes everything more festive.

Because the eggplants are so small and sweet, you don't need to salt them - they're not watery, and they're not better. And no matter how you eat my eggplant mish-mash, though, one thing is for sure: this recipe could make an eggplant eater out of just about anyone.

Queenie's Summertime Eggplant Saute

1 small or 1/2 large white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Olive oil
5-6 fairy tale eggplants, about one pound, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large red or orange bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2-3 small tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tbs. sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbs. capers, rinsed, drained and dried
1/3 cup mixed chopped herbs (I like basil, parsley and chives)

In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the onions and turn the heat down a bit if they are browning too quickly. Saute for a few minutes until just transluscent, then add the garlic. Saute for a few more minutes until the garlic is tender and fragrant.

Add the eggplant to the pan. Salt and pepper somewhat generously and cook the eggplant, stirring frequently, until it has browned slightly. Add the bell pepper and cook for a few minutes, until the pepper begins to turn tender. Add the tomatoes, sherry vinegar, red pepper flakes, capers and half the fresh herbs and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until the whole thing has broken down a bit and turned into a thick stew.

Taste and adjust for seasoning, then remove the stew from the heat. Stir in the remaining herbs and serve immediately.

This works well when made ahead; just let it come to room temperature, then cover tightly and store in the fridge for up to three days. Re-warm gently on the stove before serving.

Serves four as a side, two as a main.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It runs in the family.

My cousin Jason makes a mean, mean Manhattan, folks. You heard it here first.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Queenie's Treasury

Happy weekend, my doves! Sorry that the Treasury's been absent of late; things on this end have been a bit nutty. No more excuses, though - let's get down to business!

First up, from Design Shimmer, a remarkable vacation home on the coast of Spain. I am in lust with the setting, the way the house is built right into the cliff (and boasts it as a wall in certain spots), and the pool. It's just stunning, and I can't think of a better place to spend the last toasty days of summer.

Next, via Live Creating Yourself, an adorable Brooklyn apartment. The soft gray walls are calming and sophisticated, but I'm especially taken with the worn-in leather settee. Between the mysteriously smoke-darkened painting and the cozy tartan blanket, this looks to me like the absolute best place in the world to curl up with a book.

My eGullet friend Lucy lives a most remarkable life in Lyon. Her most recent blog post, however, is about bringing a bit of the States to the French - in this case, a cucumber-gin cocktail she first sampled here in New York. If that Spanish pool is the best place to be right now, this is the best thing to drink, hands-down. Cucumbers are at their height, and nothing's more refreshing than gin. (No, not even water. Don't be silly.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

You simply must.

If you're not on Pinterest yet, I have two things to say to you about that. First, why the heck not? Second, here's the link.

Seriously. Pinterest is my new favorite thing. It's essentially a communal inspiration board, where people can pin photos from around the web (or snap and upload them from their smartphones) to various pinboards, both personal and shared. The site automatically credits the source you pin from, so it's easy to find the way back to the origin, be it a recipe, magazine shoot or department store website.

As you can see, I've been pinning a wide variety of things lately, all colorful.

I love seeing what my friends share, and while the public feed is more and more a parade of mediocrity, you can find amazing things by following people whose taste you trust. And it's a fabulous tool if you're in the midst of gathering ideas for a home improvement project, or just collecting recipes you want to try out. It's simply marvelous.

So join me, won't you? You can find my pins at this link - hope to see you in the enchanted land of Pinterest tout de suite!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Diving in.

I've always been a bit leery of lentils. My family was not a legume-friendly one; aside from my mother's fantabulous baked beans (the woman was born in Boston, after all), I can't recall seeing beans on the table at all during my childhood. (This excludes string beans and haricots verts, both of which appeared with wonderful and delicious frequency.)

But in the last few years, I've become more bean-friendly. Until the last few months, my forays into beantown have been limited to the restaurant-and-friends'-houses sphere, but I've been branching out. You no doubt recall the chickpea stew I made approximately eight zillion times last winter and spring. My most recent adventure has been lentils.

It all started at Ouest (as many things do), where I had a dish served atop a bed of mustardy lentils. They were marvelous - firm, rich, a bit toothy. Nothing like the mushy mess I have to admit I'd been expecting. And I resolved then and there to eat more of them.

I've been hoarding lentil recipes for ages, but until Fairway opened in the neighborhood a few weeks ago, I had no luck finding the green, French variety everyone in the know had told me to use. Fancy Gallic lentils in hand, I finally got down to business. I set about making a warm lentil salad with bacon, sherry vinegar and leeks. Some of my favorite things.

The whole thing took about 30 minutes start to finish, and was well worth the effort. I worked off of this recipe, adding a bit of the spinach to the cooking vegetables and a bit more vinegar than called for. I was liberal with the salt and pepper (as one must be when dealing with legumes) and pondered - but ultimately rejected - the notion of adding a bit of mustard to the pan. (I think you should totally try it.)

I have deemed lentils a success. Good thing I have the better part of a sack of them in the pantry.

Warm Lentil Salad with Bacon and an Egg
Adapted from Gourmet

1/3 cup French green lentils
3 oz. slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch batons
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped*
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 tbs. sherry vinegar
1 tbs. finely chopped thyme
1 cup baby spinach
Olive oil
2 large eggs
Kosher salt and finely ground black pepper, to taste

Place the lentils in a saucepan and cover with two inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer the lentils, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Drain in a mesh sieve and set aside.

Meanwhile, place a large skillet (I used my 10-incher) over high heat until pretty darn hot. Add the bacon, then reduce heat to medium-high. Cook bacon until most of the fat is rendered and the batons are brown but still a bit meaty. Remove to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but a fine coating of the bacon fat and turn the heat to medium.

Add the leeks, carrots and celery to the pan and salt and pepper them a bit. Cook them until they're tender but not yet brown. Add the vinegar and boil until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the thyme and baby spinach and cook for a minute or two, then stir the bacon back in. Remove from the heat, salt and pepper to taste, and set aside - covered to keep warm - while you prepare the eggs.

In a small skillet, fry the eggs one at a time over gentle heat, until the whites are set but the yolks are still a bit runny. (If salmonella is an issue in your area, use pasteurized eggs or cook until yolks are firm.) Divide the salad between two plates, then top with the eggs. Add another sprinkle of salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Salad, without eggs, keeps nicely in the fridge for a couple of days. Bring to room temperature or warm gently in a skillet before serving.

Serves two.

*To clean the leek, first chop it, then placed the chopped leek into a bowl filled with cold water. Agitate a bit with your hand and let sit for several minutes. The dirt and grit will fall away. Remove the leeks from the bowl with your hand or a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to dry.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Guest Post: Louisa Edwards, author of Too Hot to Touch

Good morning, all! Today we have a very special treat - a guest post from my dear friend Louisa, whose fourth novel was released last week. Louisa writes culinary romances, and her latest trilogy is set against the backdrop of a cooking competition. Enjoy, my doves!


Thank you so much for having me! Queenie Takes Manhattan is my favorite food blog, bar none--and not just because Ms. Queenie herself has helped me develop and test the recipes I put in my contemporary romances, the latest of which is Too Hot to Touch.

Below is a scene from the book (not one of the dirty scenes, sorry!) in which the heroine, Jules, executive chef of Lunden's Tavern comes to the end of a busy Friday dinner service. She's been distracted all night by the recent return of the prodigal son, Max Lunden, who also happens to be her first crush, from when they were kids.

But they're all grown up now, about to enter the biggest culinary competition in the nation - if Jules can keep her cool and manage to work with Max...
Seasoning the roasted sprouts with salt and pepper, Jules savored the nutty, rich scent rising from the pan as they warmed through. While they got hot, she checked her vinaigrette—a little low—and swiftly added a generous glug of balsamic vinegar and a steady stream of olive oil, whisking like crazy.

A sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs from her stash of bowls at the corner of her station, and her stock of vinaigrette was replenished.Scraping the sprouts and crispy pancetta into a bowl, Jules drizzled them with the vinaigrette and shook the bowl to make them jump. Since she’d done new vinaigrette for this order, she grabbed a clean tasting spoon and popped one of the sprouts into her mouth.

The sharp sweetness of the balsamic vinegar burst across her tongue, and as she crunched into the sprout, she took a second to marvel at the way the little vegetable retained its deep caramel flavor and pleasingly burnt edges. A warm sauce would’ve turned them into the limp, soggy sprouts of her youth, uninspired and unappetizing. This bright vinaigrette elevated them to another level.

A quick dash of salt, a few more turns of the pepper grinder, and the sprouts were done.

“Sprouts up,” she called, shoving the bowl onto the rack, where Emilio, one of the runners, was waiting to carry it up to the front of the kitchen.

Jules spun around and checked her rib-eye again, the noise of the kitchen a soothing background music to her thoughts.

The kitchen was a living, breathing organism during the rush of dinner service, especially when it was busy like this. Every chef, runner, and dishwasher was a major, life-sustaining organ, all working together to power the beast through the frenetic couple of hours between 7:30 and 9:30, when everyone in Manhattan seemed to get hungry for steak at exactly the same time.

Jules barely noticed the sweat sticking her shirt to her back and stinging the shallow knife scrape on her knuckles. She was only peripherally aware of Nina bringing tickets up to the pass and handing them to Gus, who called out the orders in the sharp, no-nonsense bark he’d perfected long before Jules ever thought of becoming a chef. She danced with Winslow and Beck as they maneuvered their way around the narrow, heated confines of the kitchen, and she only surfaced long enough to slap Danny a high five when Gus called out, “Last ticket cleared! Danny, they want two crème brûlées, and we’re done.”
The fog of war was slow to clear from Jules's head; she missed it the instant it was gone.

Jules found a lot of comfort in the buzz of adrenaline and strain of muscles it took to get through dinner service. Once it was over, all that was left was her life—and she’d rather think about meat temperatures and oil to vinegar ratios any day of the week...
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt! And if you want to find out what happens next, I'll be giving away a signed copy of Too Hot to Touch to one randomly chosen commenter...and the book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and select indie bookstores.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Freshening up.

Come summertime, I'm always interested in ways to eat well while using the stove and/or oven as little as humanly possible. This, of course, leads to thinking about how best to impart flavor without heat, which leads to thoughts of fish sauce, lime juice and chiles.

The Thai beef salad I made for dinner on Sunday is the perfect example. In exchange for about five minutes in stove time, I feasted on a dish that brought together many of my most favorite things. Riffing on a Patricia Wells recipe, I subbed in rare hangar steak for the roast beef and left out the cilantro. (The devil's herb, people!) The cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion and bird chiles all stayed, though, and the combination made for a delectably refreshing, satisfying meal.

If you don't have some of these ingredients already, it's worth investing. (I say "investing," but fish sauce is about $2 a bottle, max.) Both the soy sauce and fish sauce will come in handy, even when you're not cooking along Asian lines. For example, a tiny bit of fish sauce can really perk up a vinaigrette, and soy sauce adds complexity to marinades and pestos from here to kingdom come.

Thai Beef Salad
Adapted from Patricia Wells

1/2 pound hangar steak
1/4 cup salted peanuts
1 1/2 tbs. fresh lime juice
1 tbs. fish sauce
1 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 kirby cucumber, washed, dried (not peeled), sliced in half lengthwise and then across on the diagonal
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 red bird's eye chile, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced into long, thin strips
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1 cup fresh basil, leaves torn

Prepare the steak:

Heat a skillet over high heat. Meanwhile, lightly salt and pepper the steak on one side. (Cut the steak into two pieces if necessary to fit it into the skillet in one layer.) Once the skillet is very hot (a drop of water should dance across its surface), place the steak in the skillet, seasoned side down.

Lightly season the other side and cook for 1-2 minutes. Turn the steak and cook on the other side for 1-2 minutes, until the steak is nicely browned but still rare most of the way through. Remove to a plate and allow to cool to room temperature.

Prepare the peanuts:

In a small skillet set over medium heat, gently toast the peanuts until they are fragrant. Remove from the heat and chop roughly.

Prepare the salad:

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Taste for seasoning.

Thinly slice the steak crosswise, then lay the pieces flat on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Pour half the dressing over, cover the plate with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for two hours, occasionally turning the pieces of steak.

Once the steak is ready, toss it with the cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion and chili. Add the remaining dressing and toss gently. Arrange the salad on a plate and top with the herbs and peanuts.

Serves two.
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