Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Rare Bean

So tonight was the big night, the night that I would prepare the mystery vegetable that I have been alluding to all week. So here it is . . .

Hmm. Don't recognize that? How about this . . .

Still nothing? Well, those are garbanzo beans (or chickpeas depending on your preferred nomenclature). I've never actually seen them fresh before and perhaps it has something to do with the fact that each pea is sealed in a little pod and must be removed individually. It was kind of a pain and yielded a very small amount of chickpeas after an a bit of labor this morning before heading off to work. The main question I had was why they were green when any chickpea I've ever encountered is tan or beige in color.

I also made some fresh pasta this morning which I rolled out and cut this evening. I made a quick pasta with fiddlehead ferns, fresh garbanzo beans, bacon, olive oil, and a little butter. It used up the remaining bacon from last night's dinner and made a very tasty pasta. I was leery of using the fiddleheads at first but I was very glad I did in the end. I think I've really come around to fiddleheads in the last year. Previously I thought them to be overrated and bitter. Now I find them to be overrated and less bitter. My hope is that by next year I will find them to be overrated and tasty.

This wine cork took Jen ten minutes and me ten to fifteen minutes of work to remove. After I finally removed it from the bottle I was sweating and breathless. Luckily it was one of those rubber corks which I was able to pry out with my waiter's friend and a pair of pliers though I ended up breaking the pair of pliers.

The wine itself was pretty tasty. However, by my calculations for the amount of effort expended this should have been the best wine I've ever tasted. This was not the case. In the future I may avoid this particular bottle unless they change the packaging so that they replace the label with a $100 dollar bill.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's All Local But The Swine . . . And Maybe The Beef

I must admit that while I like to keep it local I was a little nervous about having these local clams. After all, New York and New Jersey doesn't often get mentioned in the same sentence as the words "fresh", "clean", or "water". However, I decided to put my prejudices aside and give these fresh New Jersey littlenecks a try.

If New Jersey shellfish wasn't enough of a risk I decided to put some bacon on top of them and turn them into clams casino. Pork isn't exactly the American meat of choice this past week but I was willing to take my chances. I know where my meat comes from so I'm not terribly concerned. Jen is often talking about clams casino so I thought she might enjoy this as a first course for tonight's dinner.

For a second course I took some delicious New Jersey asparagus from Cedarville, New Jersey, and steamed it, drizzling a little melted butter, olive oil, salt and pepper over it. Then I poached some of those local eggs from Old Partridge Farm and poached them. I served the asparagus with a little drizzle of fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper, and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

For a main course, quite simply, a delicious porterhouse steak (which I'd acquired at $9.99 a pound) and "grilled" in a pan. I'll call it "New York City Grilled Porterhouse" since the pilot light is, sadly, the closest anything I eat at home will get to an open flame.

To accompany it all we finished the Sauvignon Blanc. Wine pairing experts would tell you that the Sauvignon Blanc was better suited to the first two courses. However, $7.99 a bottle wine experts would tell you that it went fine even with the beef.

Tomorrow, for real this time, I will prepare something with an object of produce that you rarely find fresh. I know the suspense is killing you so I will give you a hint: it has two very different and distinct names.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ramping Up

Normally people are eager for spring to finally arrive so that it can get warmer and they can enjoy the nice weather. Tonight I am eager for spring to arrive so that it will cool down and I can enjoy the weather. As Jen zips across the lousy, crane-ridden lovely, scenic coast of Connecticut on a train, I am here at home, making dinner and watching another night of fantastic playoff hockey, trying to use as little heat as possible to keep the apartment livable.

While our farm share doesn't start back up for another month or so I have been fortunate enough to find a large supply of fantastic local, seasonal produce lately. Our regular farm is in upstate New York but much of the produce I've accumulated for my days off comes from New Jersey farms.

I began my evening with some leftover matzoh crackers and port salut cheese. I decided that I would dress the crackers up much the way you would see in a "serving suggestion" on the side of the box. I didn't really feel like I needed the tomato and green onion but I thought it might kinda be neat to be the first person who ever took their suggestion. End result: not bad.

It's been 90 degrees for the past few days so I figured a light white wine would be nice. I went with Bohemian Highway mainly because of its light crisp taste and it's acidic citrus overtones.

And the $7.99 price tag.

I caramelized some shallots in a pan then added in some delicious air chilled chicken breast which I pan roasted. Right at the very end I tossed in the local New Jersey ramps with a tiny pat of butter and let them wilt for about 45 seconds before turning the pan off.

It's a shame that ramps are only in season for like five days out of the year because they're delicious. You really don't need anything to make them delicious other than a pinch of salt and a little heat. On the downside a pound of ramps cooks down to about one tablespoon so there really isn't a lot of eating on a ramp.

Hopefully Jen is not reading this on the train so she can be surprised with delicious ramps for dinner. However, if she does read it on the train she'll probably be even more excited to come home and have dinner.

But tonight was just the tip of the iceberg! Just wait to see what tomorrow will bring with the local lineup. ** SPOILER ALERT ** It involves a vegetable that you hardly ever see fresh! It's gonna be awesome!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dinner With Carl Sagan

While Jen eats dinner with friends in Boston, I stay home in New York and dine with my good friend, Carl Sagan. Watching the fifth episode of "The Cosmos" goes wonderfully with a wide variety of Pan-Asian cuisine. I also find Carl Sagan's enunciation to be particularly soothing while you dine.

Tonight I started with a salad of greens, wasabi peas, sesame seeds, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and Bragg's amino acids.

Several years ago I went out to dinner with some friends. We were at an Asian restaurant and I ordered the miso soup. The waiter didn't bring me a spoon so when he came back I kindly requested one. He then looked at me and said, "Oh, you're a spoon eater?" He said the words "spoon eater" with the vitriol generally reserved for the words "child molester."

That man was an asshole. An asshole who, thankfully, was not around tonight to see me once again deal with miso soup in such a crazy manner.

I made miso with some more of the soy-ginger marinated chicken, some green chili paste, and spinach over some more cooked noodles. It was delicious and with enough leftover for tomorrow's lunch.

And tomorrow I'm going to drop some local foods on you so hard it's gonna feel like a ton of bricks. Look out!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

From Boring Asia to Boring Britain

With Jen out of town I have set myself to the task of cleaning out all the boring food from the fridge and the freezer so that I may start to build up more bench strength in those areas upon her arrival. This task makes for a somewhat boring series of meals but yet holds my interest enough so that I can accept the challenge with some degree of interest.

In cleaning out the freezer and fridge this means we must once again take a trip to one of my favorite places:

Pan-Asia! Last night I made some steamed edamame with sea salt, a simple and delicious Pan-Asian prelude to any dinner.

I marinated some tofu in a soy-ginger marinade overnight and tossed it with some cooked noodles and freshly sliced green onions.

This afternoon I continued the Pan-Asian festivities using chicken breast I'd marinated overnight and served it over a piece of naan (really stretching the pan-Asian aspect of the meal) with some greens, a little sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and green onions.

For dinner I finished off the baked beans by making some beans on toast. This is a meal that always makes me feel connected to George Harrison. Every time I have beans on toast I think of the beginning of the music video for The Beatles's "Lady Madonna" which features the shy one enjoying a healthy portion of this meal.

I leave you now with this very video. Sit back, relax, and enjoy watching George Harrison eat beans.

I know I will.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I Don't Mean To Bragg, I Don't Mean To Boast . . .

In my ongoing effort to clean out the freezer I was once again confronted with a poor decision I made. The me of the past had foolishly put an entire container of chicken breast into the freezer about a month ago, knowing full well that present me would have a bastard of a time separating out the pieces into usable portions. Tonight I had to deal with this once again, attempting to separate the pieces of chicken which had become fused together in the freezer.

In addition to my frustration this also resulted in a broken knife. Past me is a real dickhead.

I put together a pretty good salad using leftover jicama, almonds, grape tomatoes, sesame seeds, sesame oil, and Bragg liquid amino acids. Because, you know, sometimes you just need a little more isoleucine in your diet.

For the main course I made a coconut miso broth with the chicken breast, some spinach, and sliced green onion that I served over some fresh noodles.

For someone who recently admitted his lack of desire to participate in any pan-Asian cooking I have been throwing together a lot of pseudo-Asian cuisine in the past weeks. I think it just happens to be the thing that lends itself best to cleaning our our fridge and freezer. I promise, I'll be moving on to other things shortly.

Well, maybe. I still have a lot of soy sauce, tofu, and miso to use up. Let's just see how this weekend goes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I am the Egg Man

I sleep-walked my way through most of this week with the odd occasion to throw together a lackluster meal here and there.

On Monday Jen put together what looks like a tasty sort of pasta with butternut squash. While it may not be particularly seasonal, I did purchase the butternut when it was in season. It has been patiently waiting to be used ever since. I give this dish a D- for the fact that I didn't get a chance to have any even though it features my favorite type of squash.

Tuesday , after virtually no sleep, I threw together these mini goat cheese raviolis. I intended to drizzle them with truffle oil but when I looked on the shelf I couldn't find the open bottle that I had. I did, however, find a bottle that expired in December of 2004 but I was not brave enough to use it. Of course, wouldn't you know, I did find the other bottle of truffle oil earlier this afternoon.

That night we finally got our dirty paws on some Easter candy which made a lovely dessert along with leftover strawberry shortcake. Jen was also rumored to have had strawberry shortcake for breakfast the following morning, something I am jealous I did not get a chance to partake in.

This morning I started out with some beautiful eggs that I got from a local egg farm in New Jersey. The farm is called Old Partridge Farm and the gentleman who runs the farm breeds these chickens that lay these beautiful pastel-colored eggs. The claim is that they're the "best eggs in America." I don't think I've had enough American eggs to verify that one way or the other but they certainly were tasty.

I didn't want to do anything to detract too much from the egg so I simply cooked it over easy on an english muffin. It had a nice rich, orange yolk and didn't taste at all like a Jordan almond like the appearance would lead you to believe. The guy who gave me the eggs said they were inside a chicken two days ago. I find that fact to be simultaneously disgusting and exciting.

For lunch I had a very strange combination of items in an effort to clean out the freezer and fridge of things we've had around for a while. If you're an avid reader of this blog you may be able to dissect the dinners that all of these items originally came from. (I wish I could put the Answer Key upside down: Leftover hot dogs with baked beans, Leftover cream cheese and kalamata olive bread, leftover avocado, leftover potato salad from hot dog night).

Tonight I made a pizza with leftover ricotta, asaparagus, grape tomatoes, and pancetta that I had in the freezer. Pizza, like pasta, always seems to do a great job of getting rid of some old stuff that's lying around.

Even the wine was old, a bottle Montepulciano that we opened a few nights ago.

The whole dinner was delicious even though it should have, in all fairness, smelled musty like an old book in the basement. I guess my culinary prowess can turn the most stale Robert Ludlum thriller into a fresh new novel by a hot contemporary novelist like Dean Koontz!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Summeresque Spring Dinner

After a great deal of working overtime for both of us we were able to stay in this evening, make dinner, and watch several hockey games. Granted, we didn't have dinner until 9:00PM but comparatively it was a nice, relaxing evening. There weren't a great deal of other culinary happenings this week.

On Thursday night I was able to use some elderly vegetables along with some remaining flank steak from the freezer to make a super fast stir fry with coconut rice.

Tonight Jen did the cooking. It was a beautiful day and Jen spent much of it doing and admirable job of using up just about everything in the fridge and pantry to make the salad. The salad contained jicama, orange, grapefruit, hearts of palm, tomatoes, spring onions, avocado and possibly a few other items that I am forgetting. There may have also been scraps from the paper shredder and part of an old shoe in the salad.

To accompany the dinner, a new favorite: Long Trail Double Bag Ale. It's delicious and its label features what may be two cows or Siamese twin cows joined at the udder. It's unclear.

We each had two hot dogs but for some reason I ended up eating one of Jen's which is not standard operating procedure. Generally I am not capable of such feats but I was so hungry this evening that I did it with ease. I think I'm probably like one of those little Japanese fellows that can win a hot dog eating contest. As soon as I can figure out a way to eat fifty more hot dogs in one setting I'm going to rule the hot dog eating circuit.

Jen, as part of her continuing failed quest to get a Cadbury egg, found these Orange Creme Eggs at our terrible local grocery store. They were much more similar to the original than I'd thought they'd be. They must have to feed the chocolate bunnies a huge amount of citrus to lay eggs this orangey.

Our real dessert was a strawberry shortcake which cleaned out some of our old dead or dying strawberries along with the best shortcake/biscuit dough Jen has ever made.

Along with this dessert Jen also baked a tremendous number of blueberry muffins in varying sizes. She says that they're mostly for me to take to work and share with people but that sounds lame.

I think when it comes to muffins sharing is vastly overrated.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

They're Like Beans But From The Sea!

I got home from work at 8:20 AM this morning. I slept until 11:05 AM then I had to wake up to move the car so that New York City could not sweep our sweet. I'm on to you, New York City. The past two days in a row I've had to play this ridiculous car game only to hear an eerie silence during the time your noisy street sweepers are supposed to come through and do their thing. At 11:10 AM I returned to bed and slept until 12:45 PM when I had to wake up and move my car.

I was not about to allow any of that to hinder my dinner making tonight. I was home at dinner time, and dinner was going to be made.

There have been sea beans in our fridge for over a week. I've been wanting to make them into a simple salad for a while but I've been continually interrupted by work and other events getting in my way. I had figured they'd be spoiled by now but apparently, since they are naturally brined, they seem to last forever in the fridge. Who knew?

I combined the sea beans with some shredded radicchio, Szechuan pepper, rice vinegar, mirin, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and halved grape tomatoes.

For the main course I made some simple steamed rice and edamame with a small portion of ginger soy marinated salmon. I cheated a little by purchasing the ginger soy salmon already marinated. I did this mostly because it was so cheap and I figured the marinade would work better given that I really didn't have the time (or desire) to marinate anything for too long.

I usually don't cook much pseudo-Asian fare these days. It was extremely trendy in the mid to late 90's when I did the bulk of my restaurant work but I've become extremely bored with this type of cooking at home. There are some restaurants that do an exceptional job of it and I love anything I see made on Iron Chef (the Japanese version, not that travesty they play on the Food Network these days) but overall I've lost my fondness even for Chinese take out.

It's unclear why but New York City has lousy Chinese take out. There are plenty of good places but your run of the mill, lower rung Chinese take out in New York is far inferior to the slightly below average Chinese I could get growing up in Rhode Island. I'm not quite sure why that is.

I guess New York City hasn't quite figured everything out. It's a great place to get sea beans or emu eggs at your local bodega but if you want a crab rangoon you'll have to go out of state to find anything that unusual.

Welcome to New Yawk!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter FUNday!

Today's culinary adventure began with Jen making some hot cross buns. The only yeast she could find was in the bottom of a drawer in the kitchen and may very well have moved into this apartment at the same time we did. Despite the nature of the holiday the dough did not rise.

After a little culinary trickery Jen was able to coax the dough into a delightful version of hot cross buns.

After I escaped the clutches of New Jersey I returned home to get started on Easter dinner. Traditionally my family has had Easter dinner around 1:00 in the afternoon but with work interfering these past few years it has been more regularly enjoyed in the later hours.

My intention was to get started on laundry before dinner but, as per usual, our washing machines were not working. Normally there is not explanation for such outages but today our super adorned them with one of his trademark crudely written notes. Super indeed.

To get started Jen cut up some avocado with some Snøfrisk and some slices of rosemary sourdough bread.

Jen happily got to use her wine decanter which, as most things that make Jen happy, means an extra dish to wash. So that was nice.

For a salad I used some Jerusalem Artichokes and some more tasty grape tomatoes from Connecticut (a state which up until recently I had written off as good for nothing -- now it's good for one thing). Along with some almonds, lemon, and olive oil it made a lovely spring salad that even the taint of Connecticut could not ruin.

For the main course I roasted a small piece of lamb leg with (predictably) rosemary and garlic. I also roasted some spring onions and red potatoes alongside the lamb. I made some nice spring asparagus and fiddlehead ferns. Fiddlehead ferns are something that I feel an obligation to cook since they're only in seasons for a few weeks each year. They're nowhere near as good as everyone makes them out to be but every year I make them because I think I may regret passing up the opportunity at some point in mid October. After I have my last underwhelming mouthful I promptly forget completely about them until the following year.

Today marked a red letter day in Jen's knee recovery in that she was able to sit in her regular spot at the table and achieve a 60 degree knee bend. Unprecedented.

I was half-tempted to get some mint jelly to accompany the lamb even though it's totally cliche and I don't like mint. After a little soul searching (and an inability to find mint jelly at the supermarket) I decided to break into the Quetsches that we got in France.

Jen trekked out earlier in search of Cadbury Eggs. For the first time in both of our lifetimes we had none on Easter Sunday and it seemed sad that we would go through the whole holiday without partaking in the classic Easter confection. I brought home some jelly beans but sadly Jen's trip was not successful and the horrible Rite Aid by us only had Russell Stover Coconut Creme Eggs. The spelling of the word (cream vs. creme) is like a barometer on the quality of candy. The fewer A's in the spelling of the word, the lower quality the candy is going to be.

Russell Stover is synonymous with "quality chocolate." That's why sometimes, at the Ritz-Carlton, when you order white glove service for your tiered dessert presentation they describe it in the menu as: "A fanciful presentation of delightful confections, house made gateaux, and Russell Stovers."

After dessert we settled in with an appropriate viewing of Jesus Christ Superstar. We actually meant to watch this on Passover but we didn't get around to it. I guess it worked out more appropriately that we watched it tonight, even though it's not quite as amusing.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Getting our Seder On

I got home tonight with 45 minutes to do one thing: make a loosely Passover Seder-themed dinner. Luckily I had most of the necessary ingredients on hand. I picked up the remainder on the way home from work and, with a little cheating, managed to throw together a pretty fun Passover dinner while we enjoyed other Jewish traditions such as watching the Islanders/Penguins game on MSG.

I picked up some Manischewitz which is a boon seeing that it was only $4.99 for one of my favorite grape varietals: the concord grape. Not just a little concord grape but a minimum of 51% of concord grape! That is a commitment to quality that most wines are, quite frankly, afraid to make. We "enjoyed" the wine with some matzoh crackers, the first time I've had matzoh that weren't the standard head-sized ones. They were not leavened which symbolizes how I had to rush home from New Jersey and did not have time to let the dough rise.

After that I made a charoset-inspired salad for two reasons: 1) I didn't have the time or all of the ingredients to make charoset and 2) I didn't have a spare pan to make it in either. The salad had horseradish (more Seder-themed than charoset-themed). I was extremely skeptical about this combination but I must say the salad was one of the best I've made in a while. The combination of these ingredients was fantastic. I would say this salad was a mitzvah!

We also had some matzoh ball soup. This I did not make (because I'm a cheater). I bought it already prepared because, again, I only had 45 minutes to get this feast together and still leave time to read from the Haggadah!

I got some already prepared brisket (again, I only had 45 minutes) and I boiled some potatoes and threw together a quick carrot tzimmes (using my Bubbie's recipe, of course) with some baby carrots I had in the crisper.

For dessert we had Poppy Hamantashen from Lilly's (their website is apparently not functional at the time of writing this). Jen was skeptical of these cookies because, for some reason, she doesn't like cookies that look like this. I think maybe she might be clinically insane. Maybe it was the Manischewitz talking but I thought the cookies were delicious! I guess four cups of Manischewitz will do that to you.

Comes to pass that four cups of wine is some sort of Passover tradition! Who knew? I guess that tradition was started because Manischewitz tastes just like delicious, sugary grape juice.

Mazel tav!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Par-padelle For Course

Today I spent a great deal of the day out and about. Well, a greater deal than I'd prefer to have spent. I walked Jen to the doctor which is only seven blocks away. Normally this trip isn't so bad but today's journey was decidedly arduous. On crutches, Jen is not as fast as she once was and when the sky opened up and began pouring down large globs of hard rain onto us this made the trip that much less enjoyable. My idiotic neglect to bring an umbrella made traveling through those seven blocks more like traveling through the seven circles of hell.

After Jen's appointment I got the car, picked her up, and drove her to work, which with traffic took about an hour and a half. An hour and a half in damp clothes is enough to make one a little more than cranky.

After riding my crankiness out through the afternoon I set out to use the remaining pasta dough in the fridge. I wanted to make parpadelle but my pasta maker only had attachments for fettuccine and spaghetti so I opted for fettuccine. When Jen came home she asked why -- if I wanted parpadelle so badly -- I did not simply cut the noodles by hand. 15 years of cheffing and a degree in culinary arts could not produce an answer to that question other than, "Because I'm an idiot."

I made another parrano, muscat grape, and hazelnut salad. This salad is getting a little old, soft of like the hazelnuts which I suspect have arrived at destination rancid town.

Last night I'd made a tomato sauce with some sub par heirloom tomatoes. These heirlooms were not the greatest I've ever seen, but it is April. I'm starting to think that they're growing some ugly looking tomatoes year round now just so they can sell them as heirlooms to dummies throughout the winter. They were okay in flavor and the reason I purchased them is because they were actually cheaper than their vine-ripened brethren.

Today's lousy start had an okay wrap up. Jen got to take her first bath/shower in a month and the new episode of Chuck is on tonight. I predict a much better close today than opening.

Now, if only I could not be such a big, stupid idiot and remember to cut the parpadelle next time!