Archive for September, 2012

Quick pickles

29 September 2012

The bounty of fall, the joy of coming home after a summer away; it’s the time of year when I am overrun by the desire to cook, pickle, and can, buy way too many fruits and vegetables at the market, and usually only barely manage to rescue them, in extremis, days and sometimes weeks later, and turn them into whatever easy preserve I come across that day. Despite my determination, every year, to squirrel away a veritable pantry of homemade goods for the winter, my canning endeavors are completely haphazard. This year for example I made a few versions of this jam every time there were too many excess plums on the brink. I made a quart of tomato sauce with a few extra pounds of overripe tomatoes. I studded a cake with practically fermenting concord grapes.

But one recipe I was determined to make, the instant I saw it, was Kitchen Culinaire’s peach and lavender jam. At one market on Tuesday I found peaches from upstate New York which evolved from rock hard to mealy soft without a whiff of peach in between. On Saturday I went to look for the seller of West Virgina peaches at the Mount Morris Park market that inexplicably and without a word moved blocks away to the corner of Lenox and 122nd. This producer sells hands down the best peaches I’ve ever eaten in New York, and I wish I’d known of the market’s move sooner in the season. This Saturday I went and bought many many many pounds of peaches, heaved them home, and didn’t make any jam. When, after years of peach frustration, one finally finds fruit that is all that a peach used to be, so long ago, the only thing to do is to eat it just so.

For days we ate peaches, with nothing more than a little Greek yogurt and light drizzle of honey. But I was on a mission, I had to make this jam, so I rescued the last three sweet juicy pounds and proceeded to infuse the lavender, cut the fruit, weigh the sugar, and set the jam to simmer. It smelled incredible, so fragrant and delicate, like a summer in Provence. And then I overcooked it. Beginner’s mistake, bad planning, distracted multi-tasker, I had to stop the cooking to pick up Balthasar from school, when I started it again I was giving Louise a bath and suddenly the jam wasn’t golden brown anymore but deep brown with sparkly foam, the scent of lavender entirely replaced by peach caramel…

Today I rushed out to buy peaches and make jam immediately; there were none, the farmer’s market replaced by a small flea. And so, even with the very best intentions, this year I didn’t manage the one jam that I had set out to do. And despite my best intentions, this post will not be about peach lavender jam.

It’s about pickles. It happened by chance. I saw kirby cucumbers at the market, bought some with no plan in mind; days later when it was high time to use them, I went to this great resource for all things in jars, found this recipe, made it. It’s great.

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Slightly adapted from Asian-Inspired Quick Pickles by Food in Jars. One-pint Mason jars are the perfect height for these pickles. Makes 2 one-pint jars.

2 one-pint Mason jars
4 or 5 kirby (small pickling) cucumbers
1 chili pepper
1/2 small red onion or 3-4 scallions
2 garlic cloves
4 small sprigs fresh mint
4 small sprigs fresh coriander
1 cup rice wine vinegar
Juice from 2 limes
2 Tbsps sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

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Cut each cucumber into six spears. Cut the chili pepper in two lengthwise. Thinly slice the onion (or peel the scallions, cut then into kirby-length pieces, and slice them lengthwise) and garlic cloves. Wash the mint and coriander.

Dividing the ingredients equally between the two jars, pack the cucumber spears and slide in the chili pepper, onion (or scallions), garlic, mint and coriander.

In a small bowl, stir together the rice wine vinegar, lime juice, sugar, and salt. Pour the liquid over the cucumbers, close tightly, and carefully invert the jars to combine all the flavors.

Let the pickles sit in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before eating.

Weekend walk | Ambling in Williamsburg on a Sunday afternoon

24 September 2012

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Sunday was beautiful. One of those September days that make you forget the excitement of snow storms and wonderment at each blossoming spring and wish those crisp blue skies would last forever. Tugging between summer and fall; a bit cool in the shade, a little too hot in the sun.

We had dropped off Leo at a birthday party and were unusually left with just two children and a few hours to kill.

We drove to Williamsburg with no clear plan in mind; stopped at La Esquina, though I think our initial thought was Radegast. It was the perfect spot for brunch outside on that particular morning. The carnitas tacos were very good as were the ‘hamburgesa’ with chipotle mayo. Washed down with coffee and guava juice. And freshly pressed watermelon.

We ambled on.

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We walked toward Bedford in search of ice cream and fell upon Whisk, a well curated treasure trove of kitchen wares. I barely had time to grab a long-coveted, medium-sized Lodge pan before the pull of a two-year-old drew us along.

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Farther on Bedford we found the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck. While the pistachio was too faint, too unpistachio-y, subtle was the key of the Earl Grey ice cream, which was quite a revelation in fact. There were no complaints from Balthasar and his classic strawberry/vanilla cup. Louise had to share and wasn’t thrilled about that.

Turning the corner I eyed Northside Bakery with its irresistible subhead — division of Old Polish Foods. In my constant search for stout Eastern European-style bread I felt compelled to go in. Sure enough there were a few pure ryes on offer. I bought one seeded rye and a quarter of  the plain one that, whole, is a very large square. Both were excellent; the plain rye is out of this world, just the right amount of chewy, and wants nothing more than a minute in the toaster and a generous amount of really good butter.

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We might have walked to the waterfront, to the Brooklyn flea, and been tempted by a myriad other delicious foods. We didn’t even stop by Blue Bottle for coffee! Sometimes things are best left unplanned and unintentional. And it was time to pick up Leo.

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A few stops in Williamsburg

La Esquina | 225 Wythe Avenue | Tues-Wed-Thu-Sun 12pm-12am, Fri-Sat 12pm-1am, Mon closed

Whisk | 231 Bedford Avenue | Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 11am-7pm

Van Leeuwen ice cream truck | Bedford @ North 8th Street | Daily from 12pm til late

Northside Bakery, division of Old Poland Foods | 149 North 8th Street

Children’s dinner | The ‘I wish it was cauliflower’ (but it’s not quite the season!) zucchini gratin

20 September 2012

Every morning I make lunch for Leo and Balthasar to take to school. When this began I thought I would use the opportunity to be terribly creative; in fact it has become the least inspired aspect of my cooking life. One day I make sandwiches, one day pasta. I alternate. I know the boys will eat this. The problem with school lunches is that I am not there, at the end of the table, frowning, admonishing, and — yes — forcing them to finish their grilled mackerel and ratatouille.

The children eat many things, and, if I may, I don’t think it’s because ‘we’ve been lucky’ but because I’ve made it an excruciating. daily. struggle. But not at school. At first I was just happy that they finished their meal; now I’ve become stuck in this pasta/sandwich routine. I am mindful of what goes into the lunchbox, of course, my mother‘s ever knowledgeable advice always chiming in my ears. But I leave the really good food, the fun food, and the mealtime fights for the evenings.

It seems to have payed off. Leo and Balthasar can be coaxed into eating practically anything; Louise, who is 2, is still in a tug of war. Some things need a bit more prodding, and, unhelpfully, it happens that onetime hits suddenly misfire. But there is some predictability. Naturally oftentimes I have little more patience than to throw some frozen peas into boiling water, serve that with a sunnyside egg, and call it dinner; but I know that practically anything that is diligently prepared, well seasoned, and cooked to the standards of something I would serve guests will be polished off.

Gratin for example. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever made gratin for guests. But nonetheless, gratin is a great example.

It started out with cauliflower. Winter is not the most propitious season to get children excited about vegetables, and at some point I had to find new ways to prepare cauliflower. I personally like cauliflower best raw, but one day I decided it was time to tackle gratin. I say ‘tackle’ because I was intimidated by béchamel sauce. Many years ago on a skiing holiday I volunteered to make béchamel sauce. It was for lasagna, I think. I knew the basic ingredients and felt confident that, by virtue of being French, I was the person best qualified for the job. All I managed to do was create a giant, ever expanding monster of butter, flour, and milk, which probably wasn’t even any good. As it happened, I had to suffer some lessons in béchamel making from Thomas, who made copious fun of me. This was a very long time ago.

I’ve since gained some confidence in the kitchen, so a while ago I decided to tackle béchamel again to make cauliflower gratin, which, come to think of it, is now probably my favorite way of eating cauliflower.

The punchline, of course, is that children love gratin. They also love anything that’s been simmered or stewed with onions, garlic, herbs, spices. They love ratatouille (they do!), they also love risotto (but weeknight dinners rarely enjoy the leisure of 45 minutes of undivided attention). So when I made this squash and zucchini gratin the other day, despite slight initial dismay that it wasn’t cauliflower, the children ate heartily, and asked for more.

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Gratin is easy to make once the béchamel demon has been tamed. Ideally I’d make simple broiled or pan fried fish with this gratin, since fish and zucchini go so well together. On this particular day I was unprepared and just had some leftover rice, fried to crispiness in olive oil. That was good too.

Quantities are for a 9 x 13 inches (23 x 33 cm) oval dish.

6 medium-sized zucchini and/or yellow squash

Lots of basil leaves

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Good olive oil

About 3 1/2 cups (850 ml) béchamel sauce (this deserves its very own post and will be up soon, but in the meantime look here)

Freshly grated parmesan

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Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)

Wash and thinly slice the zucchini crosswise (into disks) approximately 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick. Wash the basil leaves.

Place the zucchini slices upright in the dish. Intersperse a basil leaf every 4 or 5 slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and pour a very thin drizzle of olive oil over the zucchini.

Pour the béchamel sauce evenly over the zucchini and grate lots of parmesan on top.

Bake the gratin for about 45 minutes, until nicely brown and bubbling. (Placing the rack in the upper half of the oven will help the gratin get a good color.)

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Related posts

Children’s dinner | Cowboy food

Children’s dinner | Fake rabbit in the vegetable garden

Grilled pork chops with fennel, sage, and pimentón

13 September 2012

I have a dilemma, and it involves pork.

As I may have mentioned, a few years ago I discovered Flying Pigs Farm at Union Square market. Before then I never bought pork (ham and bacon excepted), but since I’ve become more than a little fond of the animal, largely encouraged by a pretty remarkable recipe for slow roasted shoulder.

As I may also have mentioned, last November a real local butcher, Harlem Shambles, opened in our neighborhood.

So I have a problem of fealty: where should I buy pork now?

Rather than resolve this question just yet I’ve embraced this sudden begging supply of excellent pork and expanded my pork-cooking horizon further; I’ve been making pork chops. We’ve grilled them and, due to uncooperative weather gods, have seared them in a pan. Both work very well; key are the quality of the pork, and seasoning that respectfully complements the flavor of the meat.

They were amazing, I thought. Whether here or there, another great reason to buy pork.

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Serves 4, one pork chop per person

4 (1 inch-thick) all natural and preferably heritage breed pork chops
1  1/2 tsps fennel seeds
1 tsp coarse sea salt
8 sage leaves
Smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón)

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Take the pork chops out of the refrigerator and prepare the rub at least 45 minutes before cooking.

In a mortar, crush the fennel seeds with the sea salt.

Rub the chops on each side with the spices and add a sage leaf in the middle. Let sit at room temperature. *Meat cooks more evenly if allowed to come to room temperature.*

Just before cooking — on a grill or in a pan faintly coated with olive oil — sprinkle some smoked Spanish paprika on each side of the chops.

Cook the chops over very high heat so they become beautifully brown on the outside without having time to dry up inside. It’s difficult to give an exact cooking time but it should be approximately 4 minutes on one side and 3 to 4 on the other.

As always, let the meat rest in a warmish place 5 to 7 minutes before serving. The chops should be faintly pink inside and very juicy.

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Related posts

Slow-roasted pork shoulder

Pork rillettes

Ratatouille

Watermelon, mint, and feta salad

11 September 2012

When my friend Tamara introduced me to this salad some years ago I was surprised at first, intrigued, and immediately smitten. I’ve made it often since and it usually elicits a similar reaction — surprise at the sight of feta, curious interest in the addition of olive oil, and prompt addiction to each salty sweet cool crunchy bite. It’s as simple as its four ingredients and magically transcends the sum of its parts, as they say.

I see it more often now, but in case you hadn’t yet crossed paths with this awesome combination, you must give it a try. It’s best eaten without utensils, just by picking up each watermelon wedge capped with feta and mint. Beware the juice.

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Chilled watermelon

Good feta

Fresh mint

Best extra virgin olive oil

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Cut the watermelon into approximately 2 inch (5 cm) wedges, and each long wedge into approximately 3/4 inch (1 cm) pieces. Place the watermelon pieces on a plate or shallow dish.

Crumble lots of feta on top of the watermelon.

Wash, pick through, and thinly cut the mint leaves. Sprinkle over the feta.

Finally, drizzle a thin ribbon of olive oil and serve.

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Related posts

Avocado, cherry tomato, cucumber salad with red pepper and parsley


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