Saturday, December 29, 2007

Merry Christmas!

It started with champagne, of course. Because Christmas Eve is always celebratory: the flocking of family members from around the country to one modest New Jersey dining room, the excitement of it being the night before Christmas, the happiness that comes from delicious eating foods you consume only once a year. Reasons enough to break open the bubbly!

This year, 23 of us sat down to three tables Aunt Mimi had lined up, stretching from the dining room bay window through the hall and well into the living room (God forbid we split up and eat in small groups). And we ate. Six fishes, with a bowl of Goldfish crackers on the table as our seventh. It sure was grand. The approximate order of events follows:

1. Antipasto: roasted red peppers, Italian tuna in olive oil, olives, marinated eggplant and artichoke hearts, Provolone.
2. Fresh mozzarella with tomatoes.
3. Fried calamari.
4. Pop's smelts, with vinegar and mint.
5. Baked stuffed clams in the beautiful clam shells.
6. Fork announces the scratch-off Lotto ticket my aunt left on his plate is a winner; once he has everyone's attention he admits he didn't win the lottery, but that he hit the jackpot: Spoon and Fork are getting married!
7. More champagne, kisses, hugs, tears.
8. Pasta with clam sauce.
9. Shrimp francese, affectionately referred to as "The Shrimbola," accompanied by Pop's retelling of Uncle Louie Barese's mispronunciation of the word "shrimp."
10. Mom's stuffed escarole, this year featuring Gaeta olives (instead of pimento-stuffed), capers (as usual), golden raisins, pignoli nuts, less breadcrumbs and no Parmesan cheese. A new classic.
11. More champagne. Pop tells jokes we've heard a thousand times, we all die laughing, for the thousandth time.
12. Family assembles around the piano for the worst-ever (musically speaking) but perhaps funniest-ever (performance-wise) rendition of A Partridge in a Pear Tree. Spoon can barely keep up with the mayhem, but the glittering diamond on her finger inspires her to keep playing because it sparkles nicely as she plays. Merry Christmas!--S

Saturday, December 22, 2007


At a party once when I was a kid, my grandparents got up and lip-synched to a 1950s Rosemary Clooney song called Botch-a-Mi, a cute little Italian ditty about a kiss making "everything go crazy." Ba-ba-baciami piccina! I still remember it, Pop looking every bit the classy Neopolitan, Mina grinning and blowing kisses out to us.

I thought of that today as I made Chocolate Kisses (Baci di Cioccolato), from Dolce Italiano, which has muscled its way onto my "frequent use" cookbook shelf. This stellar recipe was one of the first ones Gina de Palma created for Babbo, so they carry fond memories for her. Baci means "kisses" in Italian, and here two chocolate cookies are sandwiched with a kiss of chocolate ganache. They're pretty superb. The cookies have chopped almonds and amaretto (my addition, in lieu of dark rum). I made a batch for Fork's family, and after tasting one, I knew I had to make more. The second batch are cooling now. Pucker up!--S

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

For Good Crack, You Must Have Patience

So about that brittle. It didn't work out so well. I let it sit for a half hour, but it wasn't quite hard... so I let it sit another half hour. And then an hour. And another hour. And the brittle remained, well, not brittle at all. I slid a small metal spatula underneath the nuts and sugar, and was able to flick up bits of it, bits that were quite tasty--after all, what's not to like about nuts, sugar and butter? But it was kind of soft, and a far cry from that break-your-teeth confection known as nut brittle.

I gave it a second go last night, and am happy to report: success! It was a mere case of impatience that kept me from cracking the brittle. When you're making nut brittle, you need to heat the caramel (made of sugar, corn syrup and butter) to 300 degrees. On my first go-round, the temperature hovered around 230 degrees (according to my thermometer, the correct temp for a "soft ball"), and after 10 or so minutes, I figured my thermometer was broken and mixed in the nuts. Soft ball is what I wound up with. So last night, I took the advice of The Wednesday Chef and resigned myself to sit tight, and what do you know? The thermometer hovered at 230 for awhile, but then it began inching up, and up, and up--until it reached 300 ("hard crack," says my thermometer).

Fork stepped in to help, and we quickly mixed in baking soda and nuts, and then poured it onto a baking sheet. They should call this stage of caramel "fast hard crack," because within 30 seconds the stuff was solid. I snapped a wooden spoon in half trying to spread it around the baking sheet. But no matter, we spread it enough--and, ta da! Real, snappy brittle! Give me patience, indeed.--S

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Best Biscotti

Christmas cookies of the cookie-cutter variety are cute and all, but to me, the best sweet bites of the season are biscotti. I grew up eating my family's version, which have walnuts, anise seed, anisette or sambucco, and a hint of almond extract. They're a little soft and crumbly, not too sweet and shaped a bit like rounded rectangles. A far cry from the long, skinny and rock hard versions they serve at Starbucks. I once gave some to my building's doorman and he told me they were "Delicious! They taste like something imported!"

While the family's biscotti are still my favorite, I have branched out to try many other varieties over the years, with varying degrees of success. This year I went to one of my new favorite cookbooks, Dolce Italiano, by Gina De Palma, and tested out the Mosaic Biscotti, and the Polenta and Sesame Biscotti. I'm pleased with both, though I'm partial to the polenta/sesame ones. The Mosaic Biscotti are a riot of nuts and chocolate, containing semisweet chocolate bits, and chopped hazelnuts and pistachios. They're a substantial cookie. Next time, I'd chop the chocolate into smaller pieces; the chunks I used melted into blobs that lend more of a homemade than dainty look to the biscotti. But they do taste pretty yummy. The Polenta and Sesame Biscotti, on the other hand, are, to me, the perfect biscotti. As De Palma says, sesame seeds and cornmeal are a fantastic combination. The cookies are light and lovely, with a tender-crisp texture and bright interior. A definite keeper.

I also made a batch of nut brittle to give my grandparents--they love this stuff. It's Best-Ever Nut Brittle from December's Food & Wine, and it looks pretty sweet.--S

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hold the Special Toppings, Please

Totonno's, we're through. Two months ago, we had the traumatic experience of digging in to our Totonno's house salad and finding a fully intact rubber glove balled up like a piece of lettuce. Gag reflex, anyone? Horrified, we called the restaurant, who sent a delivery boy over to retrieve the evidence.

After a period of culinary therapy, we decided to give our favorite pizza another shot this week. The manager got on the phone and sounded curt and annoyed but agreed we were owed salad. Which, this time, was free of detritus. Halfway into fork's first slice of pizza, however, a bite yielded a loud snap, and out with small piece of tooth, came a hard piece of plastic. We're not sure what it is, but it isn't food. And one thing for sure, Totonno's on Second Avenue in Manhattan has problems in the kitchen. Too bad, too. We loved the place and ordered regularly. But we're in the market for a new pizza. Totonno's it was grand, but you suck.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Only 13 More Baking Days

While other girls were roaming the streets of Soho Friday evening looking for perfect gifts for friends and family, my friend Kate and I had a much better plan. Holed up in my apartment with a bottle of wine and Vietnamese takeout, we churned out some 20 dozen cookies. We soldiered on long after the last downtown boutique had closed, 'till the last cookie was cooled and nestled amid parchment paper in a freezer-safe tupperware box. Kate hopped into a cab around 1AM, laden with two big bags of homemade goodies that will go to some very lucky gift recipients.

I'm going to take the liberty of rating the contenders:

1. Trios
Thumbprint cookies times three: you form each cookie into a tiny threesome that showcases three different jams: raspberry, apricot and strawberry. These babies were work, but they were worth it; our faves for looks alone (never mind that Fork thinks they look like zygotes).

2. Monster Cookies
Leave it to Paula Deen: this recipe involved a half-dozen eggs, 2 cups of sugar, a pound and a half of peanut butter, 2 sticks of butter, 9 cups of oatmeal, and vast quantities of mini M&M's, chocolate chips and raisins. No flour (they ARE low-carb, after all). Kate made the dough in an 8-quart pasta pot since I didn't have a bowl big enough, and got quite a workout stirring it. The result: totally over-the-top and delicious.

3. Peppermint Patties
A cookie, not a candy, essentially a homemade version of the classic foil-wrapped York Peppermint Patty. These were labor-intensive and not entirely worth it, though they taste pretty good.

4. Gingerbread People
The jury's still out, since this dough is still in my freezer awaiting its formation into gingerbread moms, dads and kids. But our use of blackstrap molasses resulted in some very dark cookie dough that may or may not be reminsicent of something you don't want to eat. More to come on that.--S

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Care for Some Meat with Your Potatoes?

After spending Thanksgiving in China, I returned to New York with a suitcase full of tea and cashmere scarves, while Fork returned from a visit to his family lugging winter vegetables and meats courtesy of the wilds of upstate New York. Stocked with cashmere, chrysanthemum tea, butternut squash, potatoes and venison, my apartment is ready to battle winter.

About the vegetables. I have a feeling Fork's mom may have genetically engingeered these things. The butternut squash probably weigh a hefty four pounds each. Suffering from jet lag one morning, I chopped one up and roasted half of it for Roasted Butternut Squash Muffins. The recipe was labor-intensive, although at 3:30 AM, I was in no rush. Steps included roasting the squash, making applesauce, simmering apple cider down from two cups to a quarter-cup, and whipping the egg whites separately from the yolks. But the muffins were delicious: they had a nice crusty top and weren't overly sweet. They were even a little healthy, thanks to the sprouted flour I used. The rest of the squash found its way into Butternut Squash Soup, which we enjoyed with a dollop of sour cream and spicy toasted pumpkin seeds.

If the squash are on the big side, the potatoes are positively freakish. One is about as big as the butternut squash. Fork took on the mammoth task of twice-baking one of them, and the result was enough to serve six. And since we needed just a little meat with our potatoes, jerk-seasoned venison stood in as a commendable side. Fork will expound on his experiences with the potatoes and venison momentarily.

Fortified and ready for winter!--S

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Spoon Goes to China

The fortune cookie that accompanied my meal on the flight read "It could be better, but it's good enough." It was certainly an optimistic view of the awful food they served as we soared over half the world en route from Newark to Beijing. I worried: will I have to adapt this motto as I eat my way around China for the next 10 days? Seven days in, I'm happy to report: bu!

Despite a few missteps, the food I've had in China so far has largely been excellent. Every meal features at least three vegetables, one of which is often baby bok choi. There are flashes of familiarity--something approximating kung pow chicken, the occasional steamed dumpling--but other apparent staples here are completely new to me, like spicy green beans, which have appeared at our tables numerous times, each time better than the last.

Those green beans were a part of a mult-course feast at the beautiful South Beauty in Shanghai, where we noshed on lotus root stuffed with sticky rice, spicy chicken stuffed inside baby pumpkins, shark fin soup, and even a Chinese take on foie gras. We ate with a group of Chinese people I was introduced to through a friend, and laughed our way through the cultural differences between China and the West. Who knew they eat their rice after the meal?

The green beans also showed up yesterday, when we asked our driver to take us to a good local restaurant after trekking up and down the Great Wall at Mutianyu. It was a roadside cafe of sorts, and my friends and I were the only Westerners there. The food was delicious: crispy fried fish, a revelatory eggplant in a tangy brown sauce, spicy chicken with peanuts and of course those green beans. And the meal was punctuated with fireworks! No matter that it was the middle afternoon, and not a holiday. How festive!

Speaking of, it's already Thanksgiving here--and we're getting ready to stage a full-blown American feast over here in Beijing. Should be interesting!--S

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tortellini Soup

Still working out the last remains of soreness in my quads and trying to prevent a scratchy throat from becoming a full-blown cold before my big trip on Thursday, I wanted a simple dinner tonight. Italian White Bean, Pancetta, and Tortellini Soup was calling my name.

It's a recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis's Everyday Pasta. Very simple, very tasty. My yoga class ended at 7:45 PM, by 8 I was at the supermarket buying escarole, cannellini beans, chicken broth and pancetta, and at 8:40 Fork and I were slurping down some very delicious soup. It's filling but not heavy, with leaves of wilted escarole (which I used instead of Swiss chard) swirled throughout. We sprinkled it with grated Parmesan, more for effect than out of necessity, since the pancetta and little hats of cheese-stuffed pasta added just the right amount of flavor.--S

Italian White Bean, Pancetta, and Tortellini Soup

4 to 6 servings

3 T olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, chopped
3 large shallots, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (15-oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 c chopped Swiss chard or escarole (1 bunch)
6 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 (9-oz) package cheese tortellini, fresh or frozen
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large, heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, shallots, carrot, and garlic and cook until the pancetta is crisp, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans, Swiss chard (or escarole), and broth.
2. Bring the soup to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the tortellini and cook 5 minutes for fresh, 8 minutes for frozen, or until just tender. Season with pepper and serve.

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Pasta

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Let the Carbo-Loading Begin!

I've always poo-pooed the marathon eve group pasta dinner, snobbily casting it off as something for out-of-towners and people who eat jarred sauce. I imagined an unappetizing buffet of lukewarm, gummy, not-ribbed ziti, thin sauce pooled around it. I mean, how can they possibly make pasta for 39,000 people taste good?

In the words of my dear Aunt Mimi, I don't know how they make it, but they make it. Because tonight, on the eve of my fourth marathon, I decided to join the masses at the Barilla Marathon Eve Dinner at Tavern on the Green. And guess what? It was actually pretty good.

Some parts of the meal were stronger than others: the salad was overdressed and soggy, and the bowties in the cold pasta salad were too al dente. But the main pastas--gemelli in marinara sauce with mushrooms, and cellentani (corkscrew-shaped pasta) with peas and little bits of sausage--were very tasty. The pasta was hot and the pans were replenished frequently. Lest we forget who was paying for dinner, the tables were decorated with boxes of Barilla pasta, as well as lots of large bottles of Poland Spring.

And for dessert, one of my all-time favorites from the grocery store cookie aisle: Stella D'Oro Breakfast Treats. Not too sweet and just the thing to keep the carbo-loading going. Here's to a great run tomorrow.--S

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Great White Bean

One of my favorite soups to make is so not fancy. But it's so tasty. It's a kind of spin on escarole and bean soup (or "schcadole" and bean soup, if you're around my family), beefed up with sausage and finished with a drizzle of red wine vinegar. This last touch might suggest fanciness, but I don't buy it.

The recipe is for White Bean Soup with Sausage and Collards, but I substitute chopped spinach for the collards. Escarole would work, too. Best eaten with some crusty bread, the soup is easy to make and freezes well. And you can keep almost all the ingredients in your freezer, making this dish a primo candidate for bad weather when you don't feel like going to the store. Fork and I like it very much and eat it about once a month in the fall and winter. Make some today and save your fancy food for another night.--S

White Bean Soup with Sausage and Collards

serves 4

1 package (12 oz) frozen bulk sausage, thawed and crumbled
1 medium onion, chopped
2 packages (10 oz each) frozen chopped collard greens, unthawed
2 cans (15.5 oz each) cannellini beans, drained, rinsed, and slightly mashed
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 T red-wine vinegar (optional)
Slices of toasted French bread (optional)

1. Cook sausage and onion in a large saucepan over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until fat renders, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until browned, 5 to 7 minutes more. (If bottom of pan starts to burn in spots, sprinkle with water and scrape up blackened bits.)
2. Add greens, beans, and 4 cups water; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until soup is slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Adjust consistency of soup with water, if necessary. Stir in red-wine vinegar, and serve with toasted bread slices, if desired.

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Food

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Super Power

Go ahead and roll your eyes: I made my own granola bars. Do-It-Yourself Power Bars, actually. I need to find something to do with my time now that I'm in the dreaded taper period of marathon training. And while I'll gladly tear into a PowerBar after an 18-mile run, the fact remains: they taste like crap.

Not so for these delicious homemade treats. The recipe is from Heidi Swanson's beautiful Super Natural Cooking, and calls for tasty ingredients like dried cranberries, toasted walnuts and candied ginger. The method is easy and similar to making granola. You stir together all the dry ingredients, simmer the liquid ones, and then mix the two.

I will not be making my own Gatorade or knitting my own running socks anytime soon, but could somebody hand me one of these DIY Power Bars somewhere along 1st Avenue?--S

Do-It-Yourself Power Bars

1 T coconut oil (I used grapeseed oil; it's just to grease the pan)
1 1/4 c rolled oats
1 1/4 c walnuts (toasted and chopped)
1/2 c oat bran
1 1/2 c crisped brown rice cereal
1 c dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
3 T finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 c brown rice syrup
1/4 c unrefined cane sugar
1 t pure vanilla extract
1/2 t fine grain sea salt

1. Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan with the oil (I used an 8" x 8" pan so I'd have thicker bars).
2. In a bowl gather the next seven dry ingredients.
3. In a small saucepan stir together the remaining ingredients over a medium heat until they start to bubble and boil and thicken slightly (about 4 min.).
4. Pour the hot liquid in with the dry ingredients and mix until they are fully coated in the syrup.
5. Press down the mixture in the baking pan and leave to cool. (I coated a spatula with nonstick spray to pat down the mixture because it's very sticky.)
6. Cut into bars before serving

Recipe courtesy of Super Natural Cooking

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

He's Still an Asshole, but...

Gordon Ramsay has been a guilty pleasure of mine ever since my friend (and my drummer's best friend) Jess Cabo, a superstar in her own right, made it deep into the first season of Hell's Kitchen. Ramsay has made a living out of being an asshole...and I dig it! I especially love Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America, where I saw Ramsay make this simple Broccoli Soup using just broccoli, water and a bit of salt. Being a man of odd tastes (broccoli, Gordon Ramsay, need I say more?) I mentioned it to Spoon, who whipped it up tonight, dressing it, at Ramsay's suggestion, with a dollop of goat cheese.--F

I was a little skeptical--I like broccoli and am all for healthy soups, but broccoli soup? Cream of Broccoli, ok, but this sounded like a broccoli dish that backfired. But I love Fork a lot so I figured what the heck, worst case scenario we order Chinese and he does the dishes. Well, after making the soup and wiping a big bowl of it clean, we should rename this dish, because the ho-hum moniker really does not do it justice. It had the perfect consistency, and if you follow Ramsay's instructions--salt the water, salt the broccoli once it's in the water, and check for possible resalting once it's blended, the result is nicely seasoned and flavorful. And it's so simple. Three ingredients at its most basic, and that's including water and salt. With a new name, this soup might just make take off into more people's regular rotation.

Fork suggested we name it in honor of Ramsay himself: Asshole Soup. I think not.--S

Broccoli Soup

2 heads of very fresh broccoli
Kosher salt to taste
Olive oil, for garnish (optional)
Goat cheese, for garnish (optional)

1. Cut the florets off the heads of broccoli. Cut the stems into similarly sized pieces. Add all of the broccoli--florets and stems--into a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water (2 tablespoons salt in 5 quarts of water). Cover and cook 3 1/2 to 4 minutes.
2. Using a slotted spoon, put the cooked broccoli pieces into a blender. Fill blender about halfway with cooking liquid. Blend carefully since it's hot. Add more cooking liquid as necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Check seasonings.
3. If desired, add cheese (goat cheese or cheddar cheese) to the bottom of the bowl before pouring the soup in. Serve, drizzled with olive oil if you would like.

Recipe courtesy of Gordon Ramsay

Sunday, October 14, 2007

What Workers Want

Yesterday's 20-mile run signaled the beginning of the end of my marathon training, and I've decided to spend much of the next three low(er)-mileage weeks baking goodies for the generous people I work with who've made donations on my behalf to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. People don't necessarily like parting with their hard-earned cash, but give them a worthy cause and the promise of homemade cookies, and watch how quickly they whip out their checkbooks.

Today I made three different cookies to stash in my freezer until I bring them to work the day after the marathon: Lenox Almond Biscotti from Dorie Greenspan's Baking, Flourless Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies from The Bon Appetit Cookbook, and Chocolate Toffee Butter Cookies from Cook's Country by way of Aunt Betty.

The biscotti and peanut butter cookies are part of my standard baking repertoire. I call on Greenspan's biscotti recipe when I want a light, crispy biscotti--the addition of cornmeal gives them a fabulous crunch. They're for the dieters in the office, as well as those who aren't big on sweet stuff. The peanut butter cookies are rich and delicious. Enhanced by a glass of milk, they are no-brainers for the traditionalists.

But with their impressive chocolate-nut covering, the Chocolate Toffee Butter Cookies will probably be the crowd pleasers. People love gooey stuff. However, these are no mere gloppy squares. The pecans on top are toasted, to intensify their flavor. The cookie dough is enriched with Heath toffee bits, which add additional crunch and boost the flavor of the dough's brown sugar. And they've got pretty drizzled patterns on top.

My money's on the toffee cookies to be the first to go.--S

Chocolate Toffee Butter Cookies

makes 5 dozen cookies

2 1/3 c all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
16 T (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened by still cool
1 c packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 t vanilla extract
1 c Health Toffee Bits (without chocolate)
1 1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 T vegetable oil
2/3 c pecans, toasted and chopped fine

1. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together. With electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture in two batches, and mix until incorporated. Stir in toffee bits. Divide dough in half and roll each piece into log about 9 in. long and 1 1/2 in. in diameter. Flatten logs until 2 1/2 in. wide. Wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 1/2 hrs.
2. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Using chef's knife, cut dough into 1/2-in. slices; transfer to baking sheets, spacing 1 in. apart. Bake until just browned around edges, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating rack position and direction of baking sheets halfway through baking time. Cool cookies completely on baking sheets. Use remaining dough to make second batch of cookies.
4. Transfer baked cookies to wire rack set in baking sheet. Melt chocolate and mix with oil in bowl until smooth. Dip part of each cookie into melted chocolate or drizzle chocolate over cookies with spoon. Sprinkle pecans over cookies. Don't touch until chocolate sets, about 1 hr.

Recipe courtesy of Cook's Country

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Sum of Its Parts

5 East Broadway
New York, NY 10038
Tel 212.732.0797


Dim Sum Go Go may not have the signature clattering carts or raucous atmosphere of a typical New York dim sum restaurant, but it's no less of an authentic experience. It's Chinatown's first nouvelle dim sum joint, with a hip-minimalist dining room, helpful service, and some amazing dumplings. So that's where we headed when my mom--who can make a marinara sauce in her sleep and assists chefs at cooking classes in her free time--told me she wanted to have dim sum for her birthday.

Our waiter led us through the paper menu, helping me tick off two of these and two of that with a stubby little pencil. Within minutes, Mom, Dad, Aunt Ann, Uncle Roly, Fork and I were enjoying Tsingtao beers and watching the staff carry towers of bamboo steamer baskets filled with delicious dim sum to our table. The pork buns landed first, and we all bit in to our own simultaneously, oohs and aahs erupting: the hot, baked buns filled with roasted pork were "a home run," my dad declared.

Next, fried rolls containing shrimp and mango, light and fresh. And then, the dumplings, beautiful little rounds bursting with flavor. The meat offerings included shredded duck with ginger, pork and shrimp mixed together, shrimp and chive (a crowd favorite), seafood dotted with black sesame seeds, and crabmeat wrapped in green spinach dough. On the vegetarian side there were Jade Dumplings, stuffed with asparagus and ginger; and Abbot's Delight, with shredded carrot, jicama and cabbage. We dipped these delicacies in a variety of tasty sauces: wine vinegar-garlic, chili, and ginger-scallion. By this point, we were in full-on dim sum mode. Forget our initial plan to start with dim sum and move to traditional entrees. More dumplings! We stopped momentarily to contemplate how wonderful and non-greasy everything was, and then consulted with our waiter for round two.

This time we sampled little meatballs and pork wrapped in bean curd. Both were excellent. We also tried the pumpkin cake (our waiter's favorite dish), which added a delightfully sweet note to the savory menu; and the chicken and sticky rice in lotus leaf, which wins the evening's Most Dramatic Presentation award. After unwrapping two layers of leaves, we found a rectangle of very sticky rice. Tucked in the middle of the rice: a bundle of richly-flavored roasted chicken.

The dumplings' paper-thin skins meant you ate more filling than doughy exterior, and the fresh flavors and lack of heavy MSG left us feeling sated but not stuffed. So go, go to Dim Sum Go Go!--S

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Baaaat's a Great Burger

I may have grown up in a food-centric household, but there were some common things we just didn't eat, including meatloaf and lamb. I've since learned to make a mean meatloaf (thanks Mom), and in the past few months, have been perfecting a dish that's fast become part of the regular rotation around here: Lamb Burgers with Feta Sauce and Cucumbers.

Lamb burgers taste lighter, more tender and more flavorful than beef burgers, and flat out tastier than turkey burgers. They're not greasy, since lamb has less marbling than other meats, but still juicy. The recipe I use comes from Everyday Food, and comes together in about 20 minutes. It's a Mediterranean take on the classic burger, with curry and scallions mixed in to the meat. Instead of melting a slice of American cheese or cheddar on top, you spread on a blend of feta, yogurt and more scallions. And standing in for lettuce and tomato: ribbons of cucumber, sliced with a vegetable peeler--groundbreaking!

Every time we eat these burgers, my mind goes to its default question of "how could I make this better?" But with this dish, the answer's always absolutely nothing. This is just a great burger. And I'll leave it at that.--S

Lamb Burgers with Feta Sauce and Cucumbers

serves 4

1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
2 t curry powder
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Coarse salt & ground pepper
1 T olive oil
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
2 T plain yogurt
8 slices country bread or rolls, toasted if you want
1 kirby cucumber, cut lengthwise into ribbons with a vegetable peeler

1. In a medium bowl, combine lamb, curry powder, and 2 sliced scallions; season generously with salt and pepper. Mix gently with a fork (don't overmix); form into 4 oval patties to fit on bread (each 1 inch thick). [As you can see in the photo, my burgers are a bit, um, supersized.]

2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Season patties with salt and pepper. Cook until browned and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes per side (reduce heat if browning too quickly).

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix feta, yogurt, and remaining scallion, mashing cheese gently to combine; season with salt and pepper.

4. Spread 4 slices of bread with feat mixture; top with cucumbers, lamb patties, and remaining bread.

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Food

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter

"We worked long and hard to get this loaf as moist and as lemony as it is."

I'll admit I snickered at the introduction to the recipe for Lemon-Poppy Seed Tea Loaves from Once Upon a Tart. I read it out loud to Fork and he responded, "Oh, baby, talk dirty to me!" But I'm a sucker for the classic lemon-poppy combination (Dorie Greenspan's muffins are fabulous), and I was in the mood to bake something but struck out with attempts to make Pear-Ginger-Raisin Muffins (the pears were very unripe) and Apple-Cranberry Muffins (the crummy supermarket downstairs didn't have any cranberries).

So lemon-poppy it was, and I'm happy to report the authors' long and hard efforts to get these loaves moist paid off. I made the cakes tonight in my mini loaf pans, and they came out wonderfully. Tangy, light and smooth on the inside, golden and a little crusty on the outside (thanks to a 400-degree oven), they're snazzy little pound cakes. And so cute you just want to pinch 'em! --S

Lemon-Poppy Seed Tea Loaves

makes two 5-by-9-inch loaves*

1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened; plus more for smearing in loaf pans
2 c unbleached all-purpose flour; plus more for dusting loaf pans
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 T poppy seeds
1 1/2 c sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 T grated lemon zest
1/4 c freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 c cold milk

1. Position your oven racks so that one is in the center, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Smear two 5-by-9-inch loaf pans with butter, and dust them lightly with flour.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds together in a medium-size bowl.
3. In a separate, big bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, using the whisk attachment of a standing or handheld electric mixer on high speed (or a sturdy wire whisk), until they are fluffy and light lemon-yellow in color. With the mixer speed low, beat in the eggs, continuing with the lemon zest and juice. Don't worry if the batter looks lumpy, like there's cottage cheese in it; the lemon juice causes the batter to "break."
4. Using the paddle attachment of your mixer (or a wooden spoon), stir half the milk into the wet ingredients. Stir in half the flour. Stir in the remaining milk. Add the remaining flour, and stir until no flour is visible.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pans with a rubber spatula. Make sure to divide batter evenly between the two pans, so that they require the same baking time.
6. Place the loaves side by side on the center rack in the oven, and bake them for 55 minutes to 1 hour, or until the tops are a very light golden brown and a toothpick or small knife inserted deep into the center of each loaf comes out clean.
7. Remove the loaves from the oven, and set them on a wire rack for a few minutes, until loaves are cool enough to touch. To remove a loaf from its pan, place the rack over the top of the pan, and quickly flip the pan so the loaf falls out onto the rack. Allow the loaves to cool a bit before slicing. Serve at room temperature.

*I used four mini-loaf pans and one 8-by-5-inch loaf pan. The cooking time for the mini loaves was about 25 minutes; for the large loaf, about 30 minutes. I also lowered the oven to 350 for the last five minutes of the large loaf's baking time, since it was looking a little dark.

Recipe courtesy of Once Upon a Tart

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On the Lemongrass Trail

I first tried Lemongrass Tea in Martinique a few months ago. I ordered it after every meal, and it came in its own little teapot, not really tea per se, but an infusion of lemongrass leaves and boiling water. It didn't need sugar, honey or milk--it was just so delicate and delicious on its own. At one meal, the waitress walked out to the garden next to the patio where we were seated and cut off some leaves from the bushy lemongrass plant growing right near our table. If that's not eating local, I don't know what is.

Back in New York, I sought out lemongrass, but Whole Foods and Garden of Eden only had brownish, wilted stalky things that didn't even smell like lemon. But then Lucy's Greenmarket Report said a farm at the Union Square Greenmarket was carrying lemongrass in huge, bright green bunches.

It's like I'm back in Martinique, minus the tropical breezes and French accents. The soothing tea is marvelous. And the smell--why can't I post some sort of scent clip on this blog? You'll just have to make some yourself.--S

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sweet Tart

Once Upon a Tart: Soups, Salads, Muffins, and More from New York City's Favorite Bakeshop and Cafe, named after the Soho establishment, was published way back in 2003. But it wasn't until last week that I finally got my hands on a copy. I was working on a story that featured a prominent editor who counted editing this book among his accomplishments, and I figured I should take a look.

Tart has already found its way onto the "frequent use" cookbook shelf in my kitchen. It's a restaurant book that I will actually use, unlike some beautiful but impractical tomes. This is because Tart is comprised of recipes for dishes I make very often: soups, sandwiches, salads, quick breads, cookies... and tarts. Never mind that until last week I'd never made a tart in my life. I've lots of experience with quiches, and after my first dip into tartdom (sounds saucy!), I may be convinced to change my savory pie tune.

I made the Provencal Tart with Gruyere and Herbes de Provence, a tasty tart with oozy tomatoes, a little bang from the sharp cheese, and a perfectly crunchy crust. I made numerous amendments to the recipe: cornmeal instead of semolina flour in the crust, sliced tomatoes instead of cored sliced tomatoes, heavy cream instead of light cream, and I skipped one refrigeration step with the dough. It still turned out great. My parents and I enjoyed it with a bibb lettuce salad and some crusty bread from across the street.

What should I make next? Maybe the Sauteed Spinach-and-Mushroom Tart with Ricotta Cheese, with its pretty lattice crust? Or the Caramelized-Leek-and-Celery Tart, which the authors promise melts in your mouth? Or I could go sweet: Jerome's Mother's Famous Apricot Tart looks awfully good, with burnt-at-the-edges apricots atop apple butter. So does the Alsatian Apple Tart, with its perfectly thin slices of apple looking just gorgeous. Guess I know what I'm doing this weekend.--S

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tongue and Chic

60 East 65th St.
NY, NY 10065
Tel 212.288.0033


Thirty-one may not be a landmark birthday for most, but for me, it’s going down as the most special, over-the-top, delicious kickoff to a new year I’ve ever had. Fork took me to the four-star Daniel, which consistently competes with Jean Georges for honors as New York's best restaurant. Over the course of three and a half hours, we were coddled, fed, indulged and served by a legion of French waiters.

We began with a birthday toast in the bar, sipping the restaurant's own Cuvee Daniel. Now, you don't go to a place like Daniel and not go for the full experience. So we opted for the six-course seasonal tasting menu. Since there were two menus we had both, a full 12 courses. “Excellent," the waiter said, taking our order. "So you are in our hands." We opted not to go with wine pairings, instead having the sommelier select for us a delicious, dry, yet full-bodied Mersault, great with fish, and yet hearty enough to "stand up to the meat."

We were seated side-by-side in a banquette in the corner of the room, looking out on the spectacle that is Daniel's main dining room, a palazzo with archways and palms, dramatic curtains and glowing red lampshades on the tables that stretched into the mirrored distance. It was lively, but hushed. "Can you believe this room!" I gushed.

"It's OK, I guess," Fork said.

The first courses arrived in short order: Duck Foie Gras Terrine with Bing Cherries, Fresh Almonds & Celery Heart Salad and a Pate of Quail and Foie Gras “aux Raisins” with Verjus Pickled Basil Seeds, Walnut Pistou & Watercress. Fork said he wanted to send his back. "Tell the kitchen I had liverwurst for lunch," he said. "Very good, sir," said the waiter. "More wine," he chided...

The second course consisted of Maine Peekytoe Crab Salad with Hawaiian Hearts of Palm with Bibb Lettuce & Lemon-Lovage Vinaigrette and “Four Winds” Louisiana Gulf Shrimp with Shaved Crudites, Cocktail Sauce Granite & Basil Oil. It was divine, a perfect combination of textures and flavors. Fork spit his into his napkin. He said there was a hair in it.

The meal really ramped up with the the third course: Sweet Corn Tortellini with Maine Lobster, Piquillo Pepper, Espelette Oil & “Sauce Americaine” and Caramelized Sea Scallops with Summer Truffle, Crispy Potatoes, Satur Farms Beans & Arugula Puree. These dishes really showed off the chefs' chops. The Tortellini were creamy and delicate and the flavor of the fresh local corn was remarkable. The slice of truffle on the scallop was the largest serving of truffle we'd ever been served. Fork was disappointed. "What the hell is American Sauce?"

The fourth course was stunning: Pancetta Wrapped Yellowfin Tuna with Heirloom Tomatoes, Creamy Polenta & Balsamic Bordelaise and Pan Seared Swordfish “en Matelote” with Red Wine Braised Trumpet Royale & Crispy Pork Belly. The combination of the fish and pork flavors were magnificent. The swordfish was the best I've ever had. Fork offered his praise, something about "the power of bacon..."

The fifth course was the meat course: Duo of Dry Aged Beef: Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, Young Carrot Fricasee, Taggiasche Olives, Seared Rib Eye with Allumette Potato and a Trio of Colorado Lamb: Roasted Chop with Garbanzo-Fava Beans Croquettes; Fig Leaf Shoulder Papillotte; Tenderloin with Fennel Confit. The waiter took great care to unwrap the fig-leaf papillote tableside, revealing a little spice-flecked quenelle-like mound of lamb. "They should have wrapped it in a diaper," Fork said, "because it looks like crap."

After nearly three hours, it was time for me to excuse myself. Fork pulled me aside. "It would be funny if you goose-stepped to the bathroom," he whispered. "Yes, I said, that would be funny, but I declined. While I was away, Fork engaged the captain. "Why do you guys like Jerry Lewis so much?" he asked. "He's not funny in America."

At last, dessert: Vanilla Poached Peach with Almond Biscuit, Fresh Peach-Saffron Gelee & Melon Sorbet; Bittersweet Chocolate-Praline Cremeux, Amer Cocoa Biscuit & Dark Chocolate Ice Cream. Decadent. The waitstaff, aware that it was my birthday also brought a bowl of fresh, sugared berries with a strawberry milkshake in a tiny glass and a candle stuck into a gumdrop. “Happy Birthday” was written in chocolate. Fork said it was "a little too Chucky Cheese" for his taste, and was disappointed the waiters didn't sing. He kept trying to call them over but they seemed to avoid eye contact.

As we sat enjoying the room, the buzz from a truly four-star meal and a plate of the most adorable petit-fours, the man himself, Daniel Boulud arrived at our table and personally wished Spoon a happy birthday. It was a lovely gesture. He then sat and signed books for the drunken fools sitting at a table that was housed within a tent to our left.

All night Fork and I had been amused by the tipsy woman who would emerge from the tent and head for the restroom, seemingly after every course. "It's like she's on a fishing trip with her buddies," Fork observed. She was wearing a peasant dress that looked like a sequin-strewn trashbag. As she got more drunk, her high heels forced her to hunch over when she walked, like she was hiking up a hill. "They'll let anybody in here," Fork sniffed.

OK, so maybe we took a few liberties with our review. But what can one say about Daniel that hasn't been said? I think really this says it all: over twelve courses and three-an-a-half hours we ate: beef, lamb, tuna, swordfish, scallop, lobster, crab, shrimp, pancetta, pork belly, duck foie gras, quail pate, truffle and a tortellini.

We left the restaurant well after midnight, and prepared for our seventh course: four days on the beach in Montauk. Details to come.-S&F

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Melted: The Summer '07 Ice Cream Challenge Rundown

This summer I balanced an ambitious ice cream-making project with marathon training. I think I fared alright in both, though I'm kind of off ice cream for awhile, and I've got two purple toenails.

As I tore through dozens of eggs, countless quarts of heavy cream and more cups of sugar than I care to tally, here is what I learned:

1. Experimentation is good, though the results may not be.
2. Plan ahead; ice cream takes time, unless you want to sip it through a straw.
3. You can't really go wrong on a French-style ice cream. Heavy cream + milk + eggs = deliciousness, no matter the flavor.

Now, a look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

Mint Chip. I came out of the gate with an iconic flavor that lived up to its reputation, and then flew past that reputation. Real mint chip ice cream is not green. It looks more like vanilla than anything minty. Cool and crunchy, not overly minty, but surely refreshing.

Sour Cream Ice Cream with Brown Sugar Strawberry Swirl. There's a nice tang from the sour cream, and folding the strawberries in by hand produces a very pretty ice cream, with pink swirls throughout. Book club declared it delicious.

Blackberry Sorbet. Made from greenmarket blackberries, this sorbet had that perfect sweet-tart combination that I love in frozen desserts.

Orange Szechuan Peppercorn Ice Cream. One of the most interesting flavors of the summer, this ice cream was creamy and citrus-y, with just a hint of heat that you feel on the roof of your mouth after you've swallowed the ice cream.

Peach Ice Cream. A yummy swirl of peaches and cream. Mom & I used a cookie scoop to serve the ice cream in tiny pastry cups she found at a gourmet store.

The Freaking Awesome

Butterscotch Pecan. A "home run" French-style ice cream that includes a tablespoon of Dewar's and chopped buttered pecans.

Coconut Cornstarch Ice Cream. Despite the unappetizing name, this ice cream is fabulous. Cornstarch prevents crystal formation--which results in that grainy texture--by soaking up water, so there's less water present to make big crystals. The addition of some toasted coconut at the end of the churning added a pleasant crunch.

Toasted Almond Gelato. My one foray into the world of gelato yielded a rich and delicious ice cream that was so good I made a second batch the next day.

The Bad

Blueberry Ice Cream. I diplomatically wrote, "I give this ice cream points for uniqueness" and commended its Violet Beauregard-esque color. I was being nice. I didn't really care for this weird flavor.

Chocolate Gooseberry Ice Cream. At the end of the summer, one container of ice cream remains in my freezer. It's this one. And I plan on giving it the heave-ho tonight. Something about this flavor combo was just wrong. This is an example of experimentation gone badly; the recipe called for raspberry, but the market was out of them, so I stupidly opted for gooseberry, the "it" fruit of the summer. Mistake.

The "Eh"

Chocolate Espresso Sorbet. The folks at my cocktail party lapped this up, but I prefer my sorbets fruity.

People keep reminding me summer's not officially over until September 23, so in that spirit, I agreed to make a last flavor. The results of the survey in which I asked readers to vote for the flavor are in, and the winner is... Ginger, with 45% of the vote. Mint Chip came in second, with 27%, and I'm sorry to say Turd Berry only garnered one vote (gee, who could it be?).

Thank you to all who participated in the grueling challenge of sampling all these homemade ice creams. With a site like this out there, I know you can go elsewhere for your cravings, but I'm glad you stuck it out with me. Much love!--S

Friday, August 31, 2007

Never Say Die

Swayed by popular demand--largely in the form of protests by Fork and my hungry co-workers--I have decided to extend the Summer '07 Ice Cream Challenge one more week. But this time I'm opening up the flavor choice to you, readers. I have set up an online survey for you to vote for the final flavor of the summer. Let your voice be heard!

Power to the people!-S

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Out with a Bang

It seems like only yesterday that I was plotting my ridiculous project of making a different ice cream flavor every week of the summer. And now--after adhering to the plan through June, July and August--I've nearly reached the end. This week I made my final flavor before Labor Day. And it was really, really good.

I went down a new path, calling on a recipe from a forthcoming book I just received, Dolce Italiano: Desserts From the Babbo Kitchen. I also tried a frozen dessert I'd never attempted before: gelato. Call it beginner's luck, but the Toasted Almond Gelato was a mega-hit. Definitely one of the summer's home runs.

I started by toasting almonds until they were nicely golden brown, since, as the recipe says, the toastier they are, the more intensely flavored your gelato will be. Then I put them in a saucepan with cream, milk, sugar and honey. The recipe calls for fancy millifiori honey, which is made from "a thousand flowers" and has subtle floral notes that are apparently sublime with almond. But I didn't have that kind of honey, nor was it for sale at the greenmarket. So I bought a jar of Berkshire Berries Roof-top Magic Honey. The man selling it said it was very flavorful--and it was made right here in NYC. Next, I let the almonds infuse in the liquid for awhile, until it was room temperature. I strained the almonds out and stirred in salt, Disaronno amaretto and almond extract. I put this in the fridge until chilled, and then churned it in the ice cream maker.

How to describe this gelato? It was so good my coworkers nearly wiped it out this afternoon. I had to snatch the container away from them so I could have a scoop left for Fork and I. We ate it on a chocolate cookie cone--so rich and delicious. It was so good I dripped it on my computer but I didn't care. It was so good that I have another batch on the stove right this very moment.--S

Toasted Almond Gelato

Makes 2 cups

1 c sliced blanched almonds
1 c heavy cream
1 1/2 c whole milk
1/4 c plus 1 T granulated sugar
1 heaping T flavorful honey, such as clover or millifiori
Pinch of kosher salt
2 t amaretto
1/4 t pure almond extract

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a clean baking sheet and toast them for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are golden brown and aromatic (I only toasted them for 8 or 9 minutes and they were nicely brown).

2. Remove the almonds from the oven and place them in a medium saucepan. Add the heavy cream, milk, sugar and honey and place over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

3. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside to infuse the liquid with the flavor of the almonds.

4. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, then strain it through a chinois or fine-meshed sieve and discard the almonds. stir in the salt, amaretto, and almond extract.

5. Chill the gelato thoroughly in a covered container, at least 3 to 4 hours. Freeze it in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Recipe courtesy of Dolce Italiano: Desserts From the Babbo Kitchen

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

August Tomato

Fork's just back from winning a semi-final game with his softball team. The Yankees are about to beat the Red Sox. Ice cream's churning in the kitchen. And the tomatoes are fine. It's a lovely August night if ever there was one.

So those tomatoes: fabulous. I picked some up from the market after work and put together a simple meal for myself. Inspired by "So Many Tomatoes to Stuff in a Week" from last week's New York Times--and still in a Spanish mood--I made Pan Con Tomate. I toasted slices of a baguette (my first purchase at Borough Food & Drink) and smeared them with garlic. A little olive oil and some kosher salt, and then the piece de resistance: squished tomato. Appetizing, right? Actually, yes. You rub a tomato that's been cut in half, cut side down, on the bread, squeezing the insides out as you go. It's so delicious.

The apartment's quiet, and I can hear the hum of traffic outside. I leaf through a magazine, munch on some parmigiano-reggiano and lick my fingers as tomato dribbles down my chin. Not a bad way to wrap up August.--S

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Peachy Keen

The Laura festivities continued into this past weekend, with a cocktail party at Spoon Manor, aka my parents' house, in Franklin Lakes. My mom's ambitious menu included pulled BBQ chicken sandwiches, gazpacho, lime-marinated shrimp kebabs and popovers with onion confit. My contribution? Ice cream, of course.

I decided to go retro and made peach ice cream. It was a simple recipe from Luchetti and did not disappoint. I stewed ripe greenmarket peaches in a pot with a little sugar and lemon juice until they resembled peach jam. Next, I prepared the custard that I've become quite familiar with this summer, as it forms the basis for some of the creamiest ice creams. And finally, I churned it into a delightful, frozen swirl of peaches and cream. We used a cookie scoop to serve the ice cream in tiny pastry cups my mom found at a gourmet store. Considering the mega-dessert display--which included berry shortcake, blueberry pie, coffee cake, marcona almond-dark chocolate-toffee bark, mousse and sweet little sticks of pastry you dipped in a peanut butter-chocolate sauce--the little peach ice cream balls were just perfect. Pictures coming...-S

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Real Deal, Part 2

The Madrileñas whipped up another yummy meal for us Americanos on Monday night, one of Fork's favorites: Spanish omelet, aka tortilla espanola or tortilla de patata. When he and I visited Laura in Madrid a few years ago, we ate tortilla almost once a day. It's on the menu at most tapas restaurants there, and is delicious warm, cold or at room temperature. I tried to make one when we got home, but failed. Too much potato; not enough egg. Fork, naturally, says it was still tasty. But I needed a lesson.

On Tuesday night I learned how it's done. Not for the faint-hearted, tortilla espanola requires lots of oil. Florence Henderson would be proud: Laura and Laura used an entire 24-ounce bottle of Wesson canola oil to make two tortillas (one potato, one onion and potato). First, they cut potatoes into rather small pieces, at varying angles, so no slice was the same shape as another. Next, they fried the potatoes, mashing them slightly with a wooden spoon as they cooked:In a separate bowl, they beat eggs very well, incorporating lots of air. With a slotted spoon, they removed the potatoes from the oil and added them to the eggs, stirring all the while:The eggs began to cook slightly, from the hot potatoes, and then the mixture--which was by then like wet scrambled eggs with potatoes--went into a lightly-oiled frying pan:It cooked on one side, then Spanish Laura expertly flipped it onto a plate and slid it back into the frying pan so the other side could cook:That's really all there is to it.

The tortilla was fluffy, savory and brought us right back to El Mesón de la Tortilla. With a salad on the side, we were muy feliz. --S