The Kitchn: Electric fork

Posted by Anita on 12.24.09 3:54 PM

(c)2009 AEC *All Rights Reserved*Merry Christmas to all! Hope you have a lot of delicious treats in store over the long weekend.

You probably have an electric knife — heck, you might even be hauling it out to carve your Christmas ham or prime rib — but I bet you don’t have an electric fork.

Think you might need one? Check out my guest post today on The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy’s food site, for the story of my family’s silly holiday tradition.

family, levity, other blogs
5 Comments »

 

My edible heritage

Posted by Anita on 11.24.09 9:22 AM

(c)2009 AEC **All Rights Reserved**We’ve always called it “Grandma Anne’s stuffing”, but one year I discovered the recipe for our favorite Thanksgiving side-dish is much older than we knew.

When my grandfather passed away, I inherited his mammoth recipe box. Buried amid a slew of tortured 1970s-era gourmet recipes were a small, weathered stack of old recipe cards, written in a puzzling mixture of English and Italian (sometimes combined in one dazzling portmanteau, like  “saurcraoti”). Most of the recipes were neatly lettered in a spidery convent hand on old ledger cards, but a few were obviously cut from the bottom of longer letters from my great-grandmother, Annunciata, to my grandmother, Anne; the back sides of the recipes offer snippets of a longer, advice-laden conversations at the very beginning of her marriage to my grandfather.

One such card, titled Impieno per Gallina (hen stuffing) is dated “1939 NY”, and bears an incredibly strong resemblance to our family’s traditional Thanksgiving stuffing. The quantities are smaller — even a big chicken wouldn’t need the giant bowl of filling that a turkey requires — but the ingredients are unmistakable: onion, celery, Parmesan, sage, and a pinch of nutmeg.

Now, I realize that it’s impossibly foolish to offer you my family’s stuffing recipe, heirloom or not, because everyone I’ve ever met is fiercely loyal to their own traditional ideas of Thanksgiving fare. And while you may be able to get away with adjustments to the turkey, or to any number of other side dishes, most people would rather fight than switch when it comes to the dressing. But just in case you’re game for starting a new tradition, feel free to borrow ours.

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Great-Grandma Ciata’s Turkey Stuffing
1/4 to 1/2 pound bacon, diced fine
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups finely chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped parsley
bread from 1-1/2 loaves, cubed and dried (4 to 5 quarts)
2 cups chicken stock or turkey broth
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan or other dry cheese
2T fresh sage, minced
dash of nutmeg

In a cold frying pan, place the bacon, onion, garlic, celery, and parsley. Saute over low heat, being careful not to brown. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile in a large bowl, moisten the bread cubes with the stock/broth. Add the cheese, sage, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Combine with the bacon mixture, then bake in the bird, in a foil-covered casserole, or in a slow cooker.

family, holidays & occasions, recipes
13 Comments »

 

A bittersweet loaf

Posted by Anita on 11.02.08 8:48 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**I must be getting old, because I actually just said out loud: “Where has the year gone?” Really, people, can I get an amen here? Doesn’t it seem like 2008 has just screamed on by? (And yet, somehow, Election Day seems like it might never come.) I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but the holidays are really right around the corner, with Halloween just past and everyone’s favorite feast less than a month away. And today’s a holiday, too: Dia de los Muertos.

I feel like I’m repeating myself a little here — we talked about marigolds, sugar skulls, and La Catrina last year. But really, there’s so much more to enjoy, so many more wonderful food traditions that go along with this fiesta. After all, the idea behind the Dia de los Muertos ofrendas — the memorial altars to loved ones — is that the living tempt the spirits of loved ones to pay a visit by putting out their favorite foods, drinks, and other little mementos of the things they loved in life.

Last year, I took a day off from work and brought home a whole table’s worth of treats. This year, the weekend snuck up on me; the best I could manage was relocating a flowering houseplant (not quite marigolds, but hey, at least they’re orange), and adding a few things I know my Dad loved: A jar of home-made tomatillo salsa, a shaker of Tabasco-flavored seasoning salt, and the little greyhound calaca figurine — Dad would never travel anywhere without his dogs.

Almost as much as he loved greyhounds and spicy food, Dad loved sweets. I knew the ofrenda couldn’t do without pan de muertos, the rich, eggy bread made just for the occasion. But I had no time to head to the Mission, and with Eat Local Challenge just wrapping up it didn’t seem right to buy a loaf filled with goodness knows what.
My first attempt at homemade pan de muertos was a qualified success; tasty, but flawed. I can almost hear Dad telling me, as he always did, that I am being too critical of my own efforts: “Neen, it looks great. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” (And he’d be right… it really does look fine, just not like I expected, and definitely not like store-bought.)

The nice thing about pan de muertos — and all of the tempting treats laid out on the ofrendas — is that they’re just as much for the living as for the deceased. Hooray, we get to eat it, too! And even though I know that the holiday is supposed to be filled with happiness and fond memories, this year I’m happy to have a little extra bit of comfort to help me get in the festive mood.

You see, this year we’re also remembering our friend Briana Brownlow in our celebrations. Bri passed away just last week, at the impossibly young age of 31, after a hard-fought battle against cancer. Though we met her in person only once, we knew her well as one of those people who makes everyone’s life online a little brighter. Even in the midst of her cancer’s recurrence, it was a joy to see Bri’s optimism, and her obvious joy as friends offered support through food (and a food-bloggers’ fundraiser).

Tomorrow morning, when I toast up a piece of the leftover pan — looking out at the bright yellow of our lemon tree in the otherwise grey, rainy yard — I’ll smear it with some of the citrus curd I made from our backyard fruit and remember the woman whose strength inspired so many.

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Alas, no recipe today. I’d planned to share my variation on Diana Kennedy’s pan de muertos, but something went awry. Not badly enough to keep us from eating the bread, but odd enough to keep me from unleashing the recipe on you. The “bones” melted into the main body of the bread, and the whole thing came out far too flat and wide; I think I must have miscounted egg yolks or mis-measured butter. It still tastes fabulous, though… it just doesn’t really look the way it ought.

But don’t let that discourage you from giving it a whirl. Although it’s a time-consuming recipe that calls for fussy things like overnight rises in the fridge and multiple buttered sheets of waxed paper, it’s a very forgiving dough that’s a lot of fun to make.

baking, family, holidays & occasions, Mexican, other blogs
1 Comment »

 

Dark Days does leftovers

Posted by Anita on 12.05.07 12:07 PM

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reservedThank goodness, we’re done with turkey. Blissfully, all of the bits and pieces made their way either into our bellies or the stock pot by early last week.

On Sunday night, we were so sick of overstuffed plates that we decided to graze. The platter pictured was our family supper: Fra’Mani salumi, Judy’s country crackers, Alfieri’s salted blanched almonds, and three cheeses: Gravenstein Gold, Matos St. George, and Midnight Moon. Every last bit was local, and all of it was delicious.

(For the play-by-play on turkey sandwiches and last week’s other local meals, check out the Flickr set.)

Of course, there’s no getting through Thanksgiving leftovers in our house without the obligatory platter of Enchiladas Suizas. This tangy south-of-the-border specialty is my favorite way to use up excess poultry, no matter the season. But my attempts to keep the dish 90% local highlighted one of the realities of the Dark Days challenge: It’s getting harder to eat as we like as the year wanes.

Unable to find tomatillos at the Ferry Plaza market, I hit up Rainbow Grocery… but theirs hailed from Mexico. I did turn up a few small specimens at the Berkeley farmers market, but they weren’t exactly plentiful. Next year, I’ll follow the lead of the Monkey Wrangler and put up tomatillos when they’re overflowing the market stalls.

But no matter the shopping conundrum, there are few things that make me happier than sitting with my clan around a table full of gorgeous Mexican comfort food. We rounded out the meal with a pan of sopa seca (Mexican rice) and a pot of heirloom beans. We even managed a small bowl of guacamole courtesy of our friend Tea, who gifted us with a trio of the season’s last avocados on her way out of town.

It’s becoming clear that locavore meals are going to require additional creativity in the coming weeks. (Is it cheating to call dried chiles a spice when you’re using them by the bagful to make enchilada sauce? Hmm…) Thankfully, we’ll be able to get our Lundberg rice and our Rancho Gordo tortillas and beans year-round. In the meantime, Rick Bayless assures us that his recipe’s just as good with canned red tomatoes as it is with fresh tomatillos; it might just be the sort of project worth a dip into our pantry stash.

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Enchiladas Suizas
- adapted from Mexico One Plate at a Time

3 pounds tomatillos, husks removed, washed to remove sticky residue
- or substitute two 28-oz cans whole tomatoes, drained
2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, stemmed
2T pork fat, chicken fat, or oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups chicken or turkey broth
1/2 cup sour cream, thinned with 2T cream or milk
3 cups shredded meat, such as leftover roast chicken or turkey
2/3 cup shredded melting cheese, such as Jack
12 corn tortillas
For garnish: sliced purple onions, cilantro springs, radish slices

Roast the tomatillos and chiles under the broiler until charred and soft on both sides. Transfer to a blender along with the pan juices and puree until no large pieces remain. (If using canned tomatoes, roast the chiles in a skillet, blend them with the drained tomatoes, and proceed.)

Heat the oven to 350°F.

In a Dutch oven, heat the pork fat over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until golden. Raise the heat a notch and add the puree; cook until thickened to the consistency of porridge, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the broth and season to taste with salt. Cover partially and simmer 15 minutes until the sauce is still slightly soupy. Keep warm until ready to use, thinning with more broth or water as needed to keep relatively loose.

Just before using, stir the thinned sour cream into the sauce. In a large bowl, combine the meat with about 1/2 cup of the sauce, or enough to coat it without making too wet. Season to taste.

Lay the tortillas out on two baking sheets, and brush lightly both sides with corn or vegetable oil (or more pork fat). Heat in the oven for about 3 minutes, until tortillas soften enough to roll without breaking. Remove from oven and keep warm, wrapped in a towel.

Spread 1 cup of the sauce on the bottom of a 13 x 9 pan. Roll up a portion of the chicken mixture in each tortilla, then arrange the filled enchiladas in the pan in a single layer. Cover with the remaining sauce, then top with the cheese. Bake until the dish is heated through, about 15 minutes. (Depending on your oven, you may need to cover the top to prevent overbrowning, or turn on the broiler at the end to give the cheese a golden crisp.)

Serve, 2 or 3 to a plate, garnished with onion slices, radishes, and/or cilantro sprigs.

Note: Leftovers are delicious, but because the tortillas lose their shape and consistency, it’s more like a casserole on the second day.

cooking, family, locavore, Mexican, recipes
1 Comment »

 

Mmm, meatloaf

Posted by Anita on 10.16.07 12:02 PM

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reservedYou learn the darndest things when you blog.

Here’s just one example: Until a few days ago, I never knew that one of my all-time favorite foods was so widely appreciated. I mean, I knew meatloaf sandwiches were something other people ate, but I had no idea they loved them as much as I do.

That is, until the day I posted this photo on Flickr and the comments started rolling in:

“One of the best uses of leftovers of all time.”

“Nothing better [than a meatloaf sandwich].”

I’m right there with them. I may love meatloaf sandwiches even more than I like the original meatloaf dinner. Which is impressive, considering my adoration for baked potatoes knows no bounds.

For those of us in the meatloaf-sandwich-lovers clique, there’s no need to wait for a special occasion to celebrate. But in case you’re seeking an excuse, Serious Eats declared this Thursday National Meatloaf Appreciation Day, and we’re all invited to play along.

Don’t tell me that you don’t have a prized family recipe to bring to the party? Oh, you poor thing. Here… pull yourself together. Sit down and let me give you a copy of ours.

But first, a few caveats:

Our family meatloaf is a bit of an anomaly. It doesn’t come topped with pan gravy, or even a tomatoey glaze. (Although Heinz ketchup is a mandatory condiment, as far as I’m concerned, it’s absent from the cooked dish.) This recipe also eschews breadcrumbs as a binder; Quaker Oats serves that purpose. An unorthodox choice, to be sure, but the end result is less bizarre than you might expect.

In place of the usual middle-American seasonings, our meatloaf features some strange-sounding spices. Happily for any purists among us, they fly under the radar, adding their warmth without making anyone think of an oatmeal cookie. Perhaps the biggest heresy of all: This meatloaf isn’t baked, or even shaped, in a loaf pan. Sporting the freeform curves of a football (make that ‘rugby ball’ outside the US), our odd-shaped loaf maximizes the crusty edges our family covets.

And because the resulting slices are just a teeny bit wider than the average piece of bread, the elliptical shape yields some delicious trimmings — perfect nibbles during the next day’s sandwich-making activities. Lucky you.

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Mom’s Meatloaf
1-1/2 pounds ground chuck
1/2 pound pork breakfast sausage
1 onion, grated
1 egg
1 cup uncooked oatmeal (not instant)
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until well mixed. Pat into a football shape and place in a wide baking dish or a small roasting pan. Bake for 75 minutes, or until juices run clear when the center is pierced with a knife.

family, meat, other blogs, recipes
12 Comments »

 

Humility on a plate

Posted by Anita on 10.11.07 5:12 PM

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reservedThe lovely and talented Jennifer of Last Night’s Dinner challenged me to divulge the five foods that I’m ashamed to love. After chewing on this meme for nearly two weeks, I have a confession to make: There aren’t a lot of foods I’m embarrassed about anymore.

Some of my former foibles have fallen by the wayside. After reading up on the delightful ingredients in my once-beloved Fresca — what the hell are ‘brominated vegetable oil’ and ‘ester of wood rosin’ doing in my soda pop? — I’ve managed to get that particular grapefruit-flavored monkey off my back.

There are plenty of foods that I like that other people find amusing. I take a fair bit of good-natured ribbing about the frequency of my macaroni salad consumption, but it’s hardly the stuff of blushes and stammers. Sure, there’s a slight bashfulness about my regular indulgences in cheesy Mexican combo plates …but I eat enough of the real stuff that I can accept my fondness for the less-authentic version as a regional quirk. I’ve made peace with my unholy love of canned corned-beef hash, and even found a few foodie friends who share my tragic attraction to the pink cylinder of doom. But even this, the worst hyper-processed dreck of the lot, I wear as as a badge of my eclectic taste rather than anything I’m actually trying to hide.

But there is one food I’m just a wee bit embarrassed to love: Casseroles.

When we were kids, Mom always managed to make fabulous dinners on a slim budget. Our evening meals were never gourmet (that was Grandpa’s turf), but they always tasted great. Shake-n-Bake chicken with rice, meatloaf and baked potatoes, even the occasional steak on the grill… we must’ve been the only kids on the block who didn’t have to be coaxed to clean our plates. One-dish suppers were the mainstays of our family diet: Mexican lasagna, a pair of tuna casseroles — one with curried rice, another simply called “That Tuna” — and the frankly named Oven Put-Together. But the queen of them all, the one I still crave, was a homely little dish called Creole Rice.

Much like so many of the faux-ethnic dishes of 70s, there’s not much ‘Creole’ about this mélange. (I suppose it’s slightly more authentic than the disgusting-sounding Thai’ Pepper Salad that my friend Michael recently dredged up. Secret ingredients: Bulls-Eye BBQ Sauce and Miracle Whip…). And while we’re being honest, Creole Rice is definitely one dish that won’t win a single beauty contest — it’s about as beige as can be.

But it’s comfort food in the extreme, at least for my family, and Cameron eats it without too much smirking. I jokingly call it Trailer Park Paella (though it’s closer to Redneck Risotto), but that doesn’t stop me from hauling out the old recipe card a few times a year. Still, that red-and-white can of Campbell’s cream of chicken soup lurking in the dark recesses of our pantry was cause for more than a little locavore angst.

Inspired by The Homesick Texan’s recent post about revamping her hometown favorite, King Ranch Chicken, I decided to see if we might be able to remove the store-bought gloop from good ol’ Creole Rice without losing its homespun charm. Given that the soup was really the only scary ingredient, it wasn’t terribly hard; if you use homemade breakfast sausage, you can probably even make it entirely with local ingredients.

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Creole Rice Redux
2T salted butter
2T flour
3 cups chicken stock
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup sour cream
1 pound pork breakfast sausage
8 to 12 oz white mushrooms, sliced
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt the butter over medium heat in the bottom of a large saucepan, then add the flour. Whisk continuously until the flour browns slightly — you’re looking for a blonde roux. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes until it reaches a thin but sauce-like consistency. Add the pepper and taste for seasoning, adding salt and more pepper if needed. Remove from heat and stir occasionally until warm but not hot. When cooled a bit, add the sour cream and stir until well combined.

While the sauce cools, sauté the pork sausage until browned, crumbling into small chunks. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon, and place in the bottom of a large casserole. In the sausage fat (or oil, if you prefer) sauté the mushrooms until cooked but not dry. Add to the casserole on top of the meat, then top with the chicken sauce-sour cream mixture. Layer the remaining ingredients in the casserole in the order listed — do not stir. Push down any rice that rises above the level of the liquid, then cover and place in the oven for 75 minutes.

At the 60 minute mark, remove the casserole lid. The dish will still be fairly soupy at this point; push down any rice that has risen above the liquid, and continue to cook until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid, 15 to 25 minutes more.

Serve hot, with the curtains drawn.

family, other blogs, recipes
11 Comments »

 

Cakemaker?

Posted by Cameron on 04.10.07 4:31 PM

Tom Douglas Rosemary Lemon Polenta Cake (c)2007 AEC **all rights reserved**Last Saturday, we enjoyed a pre-Easter dinner with our friends DPaul and Sean and Anita’s mom, Toni. Anita has already described the first course; my contribution was Cornmeal Rosemary Cake with Lemon Glaze from one of our two Tom Douglas cookbooks, Tom’s Big Dinners.

I’m not sure exactly why I ended up making it, as I’m not much of a baker. Anita is usually the head chef in our kitchen, but she was called away to help with the transportation of Sean and DPaul’s new (and absolutely adorable, but indisposed) family member. We needed to get cracking on dinner, but when Toni–who is an accomplished baker–asked to be put to work, I pointed her at the soup, not the cake. Go figure.

The batter assembly went smoothly. Or at least I thought it did until I realized that I had used rough, coarsely ground cornmeal instead of the medium-grind called for by the recipe. I pinched the bridge of my nose and rehearsed stand-up material to explain the…er…crunchy cake. “So rustic, isn’t it?” I imagined myself saying through my best Joy of Cooking smile. “Here, have another large glass of whiskey to wash that down. It’s a family tradition.”

Then, after fifteen minutes of baking, I noticed that while I had set the oven to 350 degrees, the thermometer inside read 325. Great. I turned up the heat.

The baking time recommended by the recipe came and went and I hovered at the oven window. The top started to brown and the cake tester came out clean, but when the cake was lying unmolded and upside down, it was obviously still mushy in the middle. Rummaging through our generous assortment of nonstick cake pans, I said a silent little prayer of thanks for my lovely, brainy wife and her talent for collecting cookware.

I re-panned the cake and shoveled it back in the oven, setting the timer in five-minute increments and wondering how the hell I would know when the damn thing was done. Out of desperation, I fell back on my grill-fu and started poking the cake with my (scrupulously clean) fingers, comparing the center with the edges, which I figured were sufficiently cooked.

Eureka! The top was much browner than I would have dared let it go otherwise, but eventually the cake stopped feeling like a waterbed. Cooled and unmolded, it actually looked edible–after Anita helped re-assemble the chunks that had stuck to the non-stick pan.

But I had the baker’s ace up my sleeve, the magical stuff that hides an epic poem’s worth of sins. I generously brushed on a Meyer lemon syrup (fruits from our tree!) and then took great comfort in watching my missteps and misgivings disappear beneath a dense white robe of sugary glaze speckled with rosemary leaves and lemon zest.

Didn’t taste bad, either. No whiskey necessary.

baking, cookbooks, dessert, family, holidays & occasions
5 Comments »

 

Bitter apple

Posted by Anita on 03.22.07 12:02 PM

mosaic (c)2007 AECOh, how we longed for this New York City escape! Being in separate cities most of last month, we didn’t manage a proper Valentine’s Day celebration, so we decided to combine a business trip and a family visit with some top-notch dining a month later. Alas, it was not to be. Oh, to be sure, we spent plenty of cash, and ate at places that everyone raves about. But good food? Not so much.

Now, I know better than to make pronouncements about the general state of New York City dining based on a few nights out. But I will say that, by the end of the week, I was downright despondent that we hadn’t had a good meal to show for our efforts (or our substantial credit-card expenditures), and hungry to be back in San Francisco.

Tuesday evening, I landed at JFK, hopped a cab to meet Cameron at his hotel, and unpacked at a leisurely pace. After all, he’d already eaten dinner, and my body told me it was 5pm, not 8. A bit later, we hailed another cab up to The Carlyle Hotel, where I’d dreamed of having a world-class cocktail (and the ground-to-order hamburger promised by the online menu) at Bemelmans Bar while Cam kept me company with a drink of his own.

We were a bit surprised to find the bar overwhelmed by a jazz trio, but not nearly as surprised as we were when a waiter slapped a “$20 per person cover charge after 9:30pm” sign on our table just as our butts hit the banquette. Huh!? Doing a little quick math — $20 per drink, $40 in covers, and another $20 for the burger — I quickly realized this round of drinks would happen some other night, before the cover charge kicked in.

B. Cafe (c)2007 AECBack out on the sidewalk, Cameron remembered that a co-worker had mentioned a “pretty good” bistro on the Upper East Side that had an impressive Belgian beer selection. A quick online search turned up B. Cafe, and a quick stroll led us to their door.

The beer selection was nice, if not as stunning as some sources would lead you to believe — I think my time in Seattle has forever spoiled me into expecting too much when someone says “beer selection is without peer” — and the food was good, in an unambitious sort of way. I got my burger, at least, alongside properly made frites.

Del Posto salumi (c)2007 AECWednesday night, we met Cameron’s sister and bro-in-law for dinner at Del Posto. Arriving a touch after our 9pm reservation time, we were asked to wait in the bar. Where we waited. And waited. And waited. No offer of drinks, no apologies, no checking back to assure us we hadn’t been forgotten.

As 9:45 rolled around, we eventually were escorted to our table. After all this wait, the food — with the exception of a mind-alteringly delicious risotto and a solid salumi platter — turned out to be no better than fair to middlin’. Lowlights include bitter foie gras, lobster spaghetti al dente to the point of some serious crunch, squishy pork, so-so desserts. But the true terror was the service.

Despite having no fewer than four people theoretically serving our table, we were constantly ignored, offered one another’s food, and generally given the bum’s rush. The grand finale? Our waitress announced after our mains that her “partner” (and let’s be real, he’s a busboy) would be taking care of our desserts. Honey, darling — is it our fault that we’re the last ones in the place? (And, while we’re in question mode: Why does it look like a Cheesecake Factory in here?)

cookshop (c)2007 AECWhen all else fails, aim lower. And earlier. We arrived at Cookshop on Thursday night a hair before our 6:30 seating call, and were ushered promptly to our table — where we sat, and sat, and sat for close to 20 minutes without so much as a “can I get you a drink?” Gadzooks.

We finally flagged down a waiter and inquired, diplomatically we hoped, if perhaps we’d been seated without the host letting our server know…? (Waiter stage directions: Mumble, stammer… slink away.) Gosh, would “Oh, sorry! I’d be happy to get you a drink while we sort out who will help you” be too much to ask?

As we scanned the wine list, a strange pattern emerged. Seeing as Cookshop trades heavily on its locavore cred, we were puzzled both by the absence of New York wines — is a single Finger Lakes Riesling all one can expect amid a sea of Italian and French bottles? — and the relative scarcity of American vintages at all.

The food? Again, flawed. The best part of our meal was a plate of fried hominy we ordered to nibble with drinks: Golden-crisp, dusted in salt and tinged with just a hint of lime. Oh my-my-my! Gorgeous pork — a small chop and a big sausage — was burdened by undercooked black beans and an odd, sweet pineapple relish. The saddest part, though, was our inedible finale: a pair of sorbets — banana thyme and ginger pear — that were grainy, gluey, and not the least bit tasty. (And bear in mind, ginger + pear = delicious, in my book.) We took one bite of each, screwed up our faces, and left the rest to melt. When our waiter asked what was wrong, we told him that not only were the textures quite un-sorbet-like and the flavors beyond bizarre, but both scoops had the gummy texture of dessert left too long in the freezer. He told us that simply couldn’t be the case, and brought the check. With the sorbet on it, of course.

Blue Hill NYC (c)2007 AECThe next night, a much-anticipated meal at Blue Hill off Washington Square got off to a surreal start, as our cab drove verrry carefully down Lexington Avenue, almost alone; a freak snowstorm had dropped six inches of snow on the city after a 72-degree high the previous day.

In fairness, I can’t lay all of the blame for our terrible evening at the kitchen’s feet — that honor goes to the pompous gentleman to our right who was enjoying dessert as we came in, and yet persisted in ordering glass after glass, extra course upon extra course, as he lectured at great volume the couple to his other side about French politics, the trouble with today’s parents, the moral imperative of naming one’s children with grace, and a dozen other topics he apparently held quite dear.

Dear lord, his braying was almost enough to distract us from the fact that every last thing we ate was criminally over-salted, from the emerald-green lettuce broth supporting a bevy of Disney-adorable baby mushrooms beneath “this morning’s farm egg”, to the too-enthusiastically brined Berkshire pork loin (which was almost redeemed by angelic creme fraiche spaetzle).

We decided to pass on dessert, in favor of after-dinner drinks when I spied Chartreuse VEP on the menu — I’ve always wanted to try it, but blanched at the $100+ price for a whole bottle. Was I crushed when they didn’t have it? Not so much as I was unsurprised, as this was the third beverage we’d asked for during the course of the meal that they’d “just run out of”. Uh-huh.

Pegu Club bar (c)2007 AECThe bright spot in our week was, undeniably, the cocktails: We passed two happy evenings at Pegu Club, where the lovingly crafted drinks, chipper bartenders (yo, Nate and Alister!), and cozy atmosphere reminded us of our favorite bar.

We also popped into Flatiron Lounge on our way to Del Posto, and had a couple of rounds of vintage-esque libations that were a touch off-balance, but on the whole rather tasty (especially as we were seated at a table, not the bar).

Bemelmans Bar (c)2007 AECAnd we did finally make it back to Bemelmans Bar on Saturday evening. Yes, we still ended up spending the $100 we balked at paying before, but it bought us five drinks, a table for four, and brilliantly attentive service. It was a lovely scene, drinking our spendy cocktails surrounded by Ludwig Bemelmans’ dreamlike murals, served by white-jacketed waiters under a rosy light. It simply oozed five-star, old-school cocktail charm… my only quibble is the nasty fake maraschino cherries in their otherwise stunning Manhattan.

B. Cafe
240 E. 75th Street
New York, NY 10021
212.249.3300

Del Posto
85 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011
212.497.8090

Cookshop
156 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011
212.924.4440

Blue Hill NYC
75 Washington Place
New York, NY 10011
212.539.1776

Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle
35 E. 76th Street
New York, NY 10021
212.744.1600

Flatiron Lounge
37 W. 19th Street
New York, NY 10011
212.727.7741

Pegu Club
77 W. Houston, Second Floor
New York, NY 10012
212.473.7348 (PEGU)

bar culture, drinks, family, NYC, restaurants, travel
12 Comments »

 

Spring is sprung

Posted by Anita on 03.21.07 11:25 AM

carrots (c)2007 AECHappy first day of spring!

This morning, I got a lovely email from a reader with whom I’ve been corresponding about the Black and Tan ice cream post: “I really love your blog,” he said, “I just wish you posted more often!”

And frankly, as I told him, I wish I did, too. I often look down the list of Recent Posts and see that lately there’s often just one entry between last week’s Drink of the Week and the next. Yikes…

I still love the blog — don’t think I’ve lost the urge to blather about food — but I’m sure it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the posts slowed down dramatically when my dad got sick and I spent a lot of time away from San Francisco.

I was genuinely conflicted about taking our first-ever hiatus when Dad died in early February, but I honestly didn’t have the energy for anything at all but spending time with my family. Writing about anything light and entertaining just seemed so very pointless — callous, almost. And I knew, just knew, that everyone who mattered would understand.

It’s gotten better, and it’s getting better still, but this new part of my life called “Dad’s gone” is taking up more energy and time than I thought possible. Prepared as I was, I’m still caught off guard in ways that I never expected.

It’s not just all about grief. In case you’ve missed my constant gloating, we’ve also been remodeling our kitchen since the first of the year. Much as I had hoped otherwise, there’s just a lot less to write about when you’re cooking in a toaster oven. We’ve been eating out with alarming frequency, but we’ve had a solid string of truly disappointing dining-out experiences lately, and working up the energy to write not-positive restaurant posts is just to difficult to do very often, especially if you’re trying hard not to sound like a whiny, picky jerk. (That said, stay tuned for our New York City wrap-up, where I’ll bravely attempt exactly that.)

But, hey, it’s spring again, and I love hearing that at least one reader is anxious to read more. And I am itching to explore all the seasonal produce, tend to our edible garden as it creeps back to life, cook in our amazing new kitchen (any day now!), and begin to find a comfortable niche for my grief — a place that’s out of harm’s way, but still close by.

It may seem trite, but spring feels more than ever like a natural part of the cycle, a tangible — even edible — follow-through on nature’s promise of rebirth and renewal. Looking at it in that light, as daylight hours get longer and the sun brighter, I can’t imagine that I won’t be writing a lot more, and soon. Thanks for sticking with us through the dark days.

family, other stuff
7 Comments »

 

Don’t monkey with it

Posted by Anita on 02.19.07 6:06 PM

banana bread (c)2007 AECEvery cook has those recipes that she considers so perfect that she won’t even entertain the idea of trying another variation. In our house, for example, there is no meatloaf but our meatloaf. I’m so set in my ways that not only will I not try new meatloaf recipes, I rarely even order meatloaf at restaurants.

So when, during a long-overdue freezer cleanout, Mom and I discovered a stash of bananas, and then another stash, we knew it was time for another of those “don’t bother with another recipe” recipes: Banana bread.

Now, with all modesty, I’m not the only one who loves this stuff. It’s a recipe so wonderful that it was printed — albeit with some non-fatal editorial alterations — by Cooking Light many years ago, and apparently remains a reader favorite. (I cringed in anticipation when I clicked on the reader comments link, and was amazed to see that everyone likes this recipe as much as we do. Whew!)

Here’s my introduction from the original issue:

My mom, Toni, has been making this banana bread for what seems like forever. We’re nuts about all kinds of bread, and this is a family favorite — even the dog loves it. While it may seem odd not to add spices, the pure banana flavor is what makes it so delicious.

You can find the tinkered-with version on Cooking Light’s site, but here’s the original, which isn’t really much higher in fat:

Toni’s Banana Bread
1-3/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1-1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 medium super-ripe bananas (about 1 cup)
scant 2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F, and butter an 8×4 loaf pan (or two 7×3 pans for tea-size loaves).
Whisk dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, and set aside.

Put the remaining ingredients (except optional nuts) in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour the banana puree over the dry ingredients, and fold lightly — adding nuts, if using – with a rubber spatula, just until combined; do not overmix.

Pour batter into the buttered loaf pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, but do not overbake. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

baking, family, magazines, recipes
5 Comments »