Friday, January 30, 2009

A Traditional Type Of Girl

I feel a tad pathetic loving a china pattern.  I mean, it is 2009 after all.  I don't really know anyone who has china (other than my parents of course, who have over the years inherited some beautiful sets from various family members).  But that said, I keep coming across this very attractive design:

And I am totally fascinated by it.  I think I first came across it at Barney's, then perhaps at The Conran Shop, and then finally at Tivoli, where I asked the proprietor what the story was.  He told me this was Royal Copenhagen china, but updated.  He told me that "some young person" had taken the original classic blue fluted pattern and enlarged it, putting a different aspect of the pattern on each dish.  Thus the blue fluted mega pattern was born.

So naturally this begged the question, what does the original pattern look like?  Gorgeous, that's what:

I have a weird fixation with sugar bowls lately.  I'm pretty tired of digging sugar out of the Domino box for my morning tea, and feel somehow like my days would start off better if I could choose a beautiful lump of La Peruche sugar out of a sugar bowl like this:

But then I suppose my day would be not so great when I, in a somnabulent state, dropped the lid of the $200 sugar bowl on the floor, shattering it in a thousand pieces.

I do not love this one quite so much:

But herbal tea out of this in the evening would be so civilized and luxurious:

Does the fact that I like the old person's pattern (I prefer to think of it as classic) mean that I'm old and boring at heart?  I'll just pretend that it has to do with my tastes being more highly evolved than the rest of my generation.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dinner From Your Kitchen Cabinet

As I was pawing through my kitchen cabinets on Sunday in an effort to refill my spice containers, I realized that I have quite a stash of virtually nonperishable foodstuffs.  Otherwise known as canned food.  I'm not a huge fan of canned food generally so I'm not really sure why I bought all of this stuff, but apparently I thought at one point that it was a good idea.

Anyway, given that we are living in frugal times, I figured that I should use up these provisions, emptying out my cabinets before embarking on any other major food shopping expeditions (or expenditures).  So the other night I set out to craft a meal based only on what I had moldering away in my kitchen.

In order to avoid feeling too white trash about the whole thing I opted to use up the last of the tuna packed in oil that I had picked up on a trip to southern spain.  Sophisticated, right?  It being european and all?

I am very careful to keep a bag a penne in my kitchen at all times, so pasta and tuna seemed to be a natural choice.  I had a vague recollection of a Jamie Oliver recipe that involved tomatoes, tuna, cinnamon and penne that I used to make occasionally, so set out to replicate it as best as I could given what I had available.  Which, once I took inventory, turned out to be a partially drunk bottle of slightly past it white wine, a small red onion, canned tomatoes, some very past it fresh (and I use that term loosely) thyme and a bunch of pathetically limp parsley.

Despite this somewhat dubious list of ingredients, my final dish was quite delicious if I do say.  Warm, filling, fairly nutritious even (assuming of course that the tuna you use isn't too mercury-laced).

Now if only I could figure out how to make that can of Libby's corned beef taste decent...

Aromatic Tuna With Penne
Inspired by Jamie Oliver Recipe From A Book, The Title Of Which Escapes Me

Serves 2

6 ounces penne
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
1/4 cup dry white wine
16 ounces (2 cups) canned tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves,
250 g can of tuna, preferably packed in oil (although in the spirit of this recipe, if what you have is packed in water, that is perfectly fine)
2 pinches allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
kosher salt
1/4 cup of chopped parsley

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.  In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add red onion and cook until translucent.  Pour white wine into saucepan and let cook until wine is nearly gone.  Drain tuna and add to pan.  Stir and cook for a minute or two.  Add tomatoes, thyme, allspice, cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt.  Add penne to boiling water.

Cook sauce, stirring occasionally until tomatoes have broken down (approximately 7-10 minutes).  Taste and add more salt if necessary.  Add parsley and stir.  At this point your pasta should be done.  Reserving a bit of pasta water, drain pasta, add to sauce and toss together.  If you find the sauce to be too stiff, add a bit of the pasta water to loosen it.

Now I know that it is considered sacrilege by some to put parmesan cheese on seafood, but I think it's good on this dish.  I mean canned tuna is quite a far cry from fresh sea scallops, so I wouldn't feel too bad about it.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nature Knows Best

I am a huge fan of oil when it comes to skincare. I use it as a facial cleanser, as a facial moisturizer, and as a body moisturizer. Despite the fact that I have always had pretty oily skin, I've found that oil-based products work best for me. Maybe my sebaceous glands see that they have met their match when I load the oil on, and let up on their own production a little. OPEC in reverse I guess.

So I perked up when I came across a New York Times Style Magazine article last year about the hot new fat/oil. First omega-3s and olive oil...and now argan oil.

Argan oil is, perhaps not surprisingly, made from the argan nut, which grows on trees like this:

The trees are apparently very important in preventing desertification. And the nuts are apparently quite tasty, or at least the goat seems to think so:

The oil is extracted by hand by women (and only women) in the argan oil collectives in Essaouira.

The Morroccan government has started to fund the women's operations, and outside groups are even starting to invest in their ventures, due to increasing popularity of the product abroad. And to make you feel even better about the whole thing UNESCO has designated the argan growing region as a biosphere reserve.

In addition to all of this women empowerment and responsible environmental practices stuff, I found argan oil to be especially interesting because to get the benefits all you have to do is rub it onto yourself. I'm not such a fan of the whole omega-3 craze since to get those benefits I need to either eat mackerel (which I have tried to like but simply can't get there...and yes, I'm aware that salmon has massive amounts of the fatty acid, but I feel like it is getting hard to find any decent salmon these days, even if you're willing to pay for it) or take suspicious looking capsules (does anyone believe that the weird gelatin outter layer is not on some level terrible for you?) . So everytime I read about the wonders of the fatty acid I just feel guilty about my lack of intake.

Anyway I tucked the argan oil knowledge in the back of my brain and forgot about it.

But then I saw it popping up in various cosmetics, in magazines and in skincare products. And I started thinking about it again. And then I began running low on my normal face oil and my skin began to freak out with the cold, dry weather (despite my trusty humidifier), so I decided to take the plunge.

I took a trip to my favorite East Village store, SOS Chefs, to see if Atef could hook me up. And of course she could. She sold me a bottle of argan oil that was probably four times the size of my face oil bottle and, at $25, only cost twice as much.

When bedtime rolled around I washed my face and broke into the bottle. It smelled like the most incredible, nutty nut you could ever imagine. So of course I tasted it rather than slathered it on my face. Delicious. Decadent, rich, complex. And sort of...peppery? Just trust me, it is like nothing you have ever experienced before. And the color...well let's just say that I can understand why they call it liquid gold.

Eventually I got around to putting some of the oil on my poor face. I wasn't expecting any miracles, but I'll tell you, I got one. Actually a few. I woke up the next morning with no redness, no tenderness, no flaking, and a seriously diminished zit. Lesson of the day? The Moroccans know skincare. Second lesson of the day? Do not let cosmetics companies interfere with the wonder that is nature. Go for the real stuff.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A World of Vegetables

I own an embarrassingly large number of cookbooks, but like many things, I have a few favorites that I find myself reaching for time after desert island cookbooks if you will. This is a series of posts that will describe these books that make up my core collection. I hope that you find them and the recipes they contain as enjoyable and useful as I do.

Now I am certainly no vegetarian. I'm not a fanatic carnivore, but I do have a deep appreciation for a beautiful cut of meat. And insipid cuts of meat just make me angry (such a waste of the animal's life, don't you think?).

So that said, Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison may seem like a bit of an odd choice for one of my frequent flyer cookbooks.

But the fact of the matter is that I have never made anything from this book that has not been perfectly delicious. And not delicious in a "oh it's a good vegetable side dish" way. No, it is just delicious. Period. You don't even miss the meat.

I find that Deborah Madison excels particularly with baked goods...cakes, breads, souffles, pastries, tarts, pies, gratins...pretty much anything that goes in the oven, come to think of it. Her strictly vegetable dishes are of course great as well (would you expect anything less from the one-time owner of the legendary vegetarian restaurant Greens?) but I find the baked stuff to be the most transcendent.

The best recipes in Vegetarian Cooking have a certain elegance. They're familiar and yet all have a novel twist. You have to think a bit while you're wonder what makes something so...normal, I suppose, so good. No disrespect to the gentleman, but as soon as you taste one of her dishes you just know that a woman is behind it. They're not flashy or aggressive in any way, just graceful and uncomplicated.

Yeasted Sugar Cake
From Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison

Serves 10-12

The Cake

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour, plus extra for the counter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm milk
2 eggs, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

The Topping

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup light brown sugar or white sugar

Stir the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar into 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Combine the flour, remaining sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the yeast, milk and eggs and beat until smooth. Add the butter and beat vigorously until the batter is silky. Scrape down the sides, then cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Lightly butter a 9-inch tart pan or cake pan. Stir down the down, turn it onto a lightly floured counter, and gently shape it into a disk. Set it in the pan and flatten it with your hands. Rub the softened butter all over the top, then cover with the sugar, using all of it. Let rise for 30 minutes. During the last 15 minutes, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bake the cake in the center of the oven until well-risen and the sugar has begun to melt and brown, about 25 minutes. The surface should be covered with cracks. When done, let it cool briefly, then unmold and serve, still a little warm, with fruit and softly whipped cream.

Variations: Add 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest to the batter along with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon crushed anise seeds. A half cup of finely ground almonds and a drop of almond extract are also good additions.

Spinach Souffle
From Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison

Serves 4

Unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, for the dish
1 large bunch of spinach, washed very well
1 1/4 cups milk or cream
Aromatics: 1 bay leaf, several thyme springs, 2 thin onion slices
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 diced shallot
3 tablespoons flour
salt and freshly milled pepper
Pinch cayenne
4 egg yolks
1 cup grated strong flavored cheese (I use Gruyere, but goat cheese or Fontina would also work well here)
6 egg whites
Several plump thyme springs, leaves only.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 6-cup souffle dish or an 8-cup gratin dish and coat it with Parmesan. Heat the milk with the aromatics until it boils. Set it aside to steep for 15 minutes, then strain.

Cook the spinach leaves with the water clinging to them until tender, then finely chop and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. When foamy, add the shallot and saute gently for a few minutes, until translucent. Stir in the flour and cook over low heat for several minutes. Whisk in the milk all at once and stir vigorously for a minute or so as it thickens, then add 1/4 teaspoon salt, a few twists of pepper, and the cayenne. Remove from heat. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until well blended, then stir in the cheese. Don't worry about getting it smooth.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form firm peaks, the stir a quarter of them into the base to lighten the mixture. Fold in the rest, transfer to the prepared dish, then put in the center of the oven and lower the heat to 375 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and just a bit wobbly in the center. Remove, scatter the thyme over the top, and serve immediately.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Another Martha Moment

I'm fairly organized when it comes to my life in general. I'm usually on time for things, I pay bills promptly and I can locate things when I need them. But I don't think I'm one of those people that others look at and think "wow, she's the most organized person on the planet". My apartment is tidy enough, but not obsessively clean, and there's a charming (I hope) aura of slight chaos about it.

But that said, I do have tiny oases of high level organization. My freezer is an example that comes to mind immediately, but as I was refilling my spice containers this weekend, I realized that my spice organization system is also quite anal. I share it here with you because I think it works extremely well for those who, like me, lack a giant kitchen with spice-specific storage options.

It all started with the watchmaker's cases from Lee Valley Tools:

I read about them five or so years ago in Real Simple magazine, and it occurred to me that they would be a great aid in organizing my burgeoning collection of spices. When I bought them they came in cardboard boxes. For a time, storing them in this way worked, but eventually the boxes began to disintegrate. So when I moved back to New York after grad school and was on an organization kick, and was going to the Container Store several times per week, I figured it was time to find a more permanent solution.

Luckily, because The Container Store is the greatest place on the planet, they had a most excellent solution to my problem:

A tiny chest of drawers that accommodated my spice containers perfectly (which sadly, they do not seem to have on their website)! Using my dry erase markers that were so successful in the freezer, I labeled those containers that I hadn't already adorned with sticky tags (prior to the discovery of the great dry erase markers' many applications in the kitchen), alphabetized the spices, and labeled the drawers accordingly. Anal, I realize...but I did warn you.

I keep a giant tupperware container full of the overflow spices, full of the bags from SOS Chefs and from the San Francisco Herb Company (my mom buys from them in bulk, and when she can't figure out what to do with 3 pounds of cumin, she sends some my way). Once a month or so, I pull everything out and spread it on the living room floor and refill what needs refilling, and make a list of what needs to be replenished.

I once saw a kitchen renovation show that showcased a series of drawers that were divided into individual wooden boxes with covers that were meant to store spices. That is pretty much my ideal. But unless the real estate market in New York completely collapses (not a totally impossiblity) it is a reality that is quite a few years off for me. So in the meantime, this is a solution that I've found to be quite a decent stand-in.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Just One More Soup Post

It's a little warmer today, but not much.  And tomorrow the temperatures are dipping back below 20 degrees.  So I feel that, despite my recent string of soup posts, I am at least somewhat justified in doing just one more.  But this time, it being the weekend and all, I've got a place for you to go and enjoy the fruits of someone else's hard work in the kitchen, rather than encouraging you to sweat it out in your own.

A ramen noodle soup craze has swept New York over the past couple of years, and at this cold and dark time of year I give thanks for that.  It all started with David Chang and his tiny ramen bar, Momofuku, which, when it opened, was a bit of a revelation.  Lovely Niman Ranch pork with rich broth and noodles that were a million times better than the 79 cent version I used to eat on those poor days in college.  But when the special ramen got up to $20, I had to move on.

First I tried Ippudo, which was delicious, but I think an hour wait for a bowl of ramen is a bit much.  When I complained to Gerald, the maven of the east village restaurant scene, he pointed me in the direction of Rai Rai Ken on 10th between 1st and 2nd Avenues.

So on a lazy (and, unsurprisingly, cold) Sunday afternoon, Laia and I headed over there for lunch.  We were greeted by a cozy, narrow space that was divided in half by a bar.  One side was the kitchen, the other side was the seating area for customers (from what I read, fourteen seats to be exact).

We took our seats (no wait!) and ordered our ramen (Laia had miso ramen, I had the shio ramen), which were both less than $8 (not $20!).  The charming proprietor behind the counter handed us our ramen after a few minutes, and we dug in.  Nothing to say but yum.  Delicious slices of pork, flavorful, complex broth, and oh those noodles.  Nothing picks up the spirits better than long strands of carbs in a hot broth.

And when we looked over the bar into the kitchen, it became clear why everything was so good.  There were massive vats of homemade stock simmering away on the burners, with bits of meat scraps and vegetables poking out the top.  Whenever an order came in, the cooks scooped out a bit of fresh stock to use in the ramen bowls.  As the supply got low, water was added to replenish and create new beautiful stock.  

So there you have it.  Delicious, comforting food that you can watch being prepared, served by friendly people who charge you a fair price.  See?  Miracles do occur occasionally.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Neighbor's Soup

I still can't seem to kick this yen I have for soup.  What with the cold weather, and I do mean COLD, all I seem to want is a steaming bowl of something.

Often, when I'm in such a mood, I turn to the excellent lentil lemon soup at Bread & Olive, a small middle eastern takeout place across the street from my apartment.  The soup is very simple with respect to the flavors.  It tastes of lemon and lentils, just like the name would suggest.  Like all of their food, it just feels extremely healthy and clean which I love. 

But, to my occasional dismay, Bread & Olive closes at 9:00 in the evening, which means that if I've had a late night at work, or have gone somewhere in the evening, I am out of luck when it comes to this wonderful meal.

But I had hopes that I might be able to replicate the soup to a decent degree myself.  The last time I was at the shop the owner had just finished up a batch of a lentil dish, and he gave me a bit to taste (because not only can the man cook, but he is quite a generous person).  It was absolutely delicious, so I asked what was in it.  The reply?  Lentils, onions, a bit of salt.  That was it.  Like I said, the food is simple, which made me think the soup couldn't be too complicated.

I did a little bit of online research and discovered that this lentil and lemon combination is a common Lebanese dish called Adas bil-Hamod, and that it often contains swiss chard.  Joy!  Swiss chard is one of my all time favorite vegetables so I was thrilled to have an excuse to cook with it.

And of course, lentils are one of the great legumes out there.  Nutritious, delicious, hard to ask for anything more.
Now I can't pretend that the version of the Adas bil-Hamod that I came up with is as good as the stuff that Bread & Olive makes, but it's pretty close.  And for those cold, late nights, it does a valiant job as a stand in.

Lentil Lemon Soup
Inspired by Bread & Olive's Lentil Lemon Soup

Serves 6

1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 quarts of chicken stock (you can also use water, which is the more traditional option)
1 large bunch of swiss chard, red or green
1 cup of lentils (I used brown, but use whatever you prefer)
10 garlic cloves, peeled
juice of 2 lemons
salt to taste

Put lentils in a strainer and rinse with cold water.  Pick out any bad lentils or bits of grit.  Set aside.  Heat olive oil over medium heat.  When warmed, add the onion and saute gently, until translucent.  Then add lentils, and cook briefly, stirring until lentils are coated in oil.  Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Turn heat down such that the soup is at a moderate simmer.  Cook until lentils are nearly done, about twenty minutes.  (This time can vary widely depending on the lentils you are using.  Mine were quite old so it took more like 45 minutes).  In the meantime, wash swiss chard and cut into ribbons (no need to separate the leaves from the stems).  When lentils are nearly done, add swiss chard to pot and continue to simmer.

In a mortar, mash the garlic cloves with two big pinches of salt (I used Maldon salt, which is somewhat more mild than iodized salt, so you may want to go easy if you use table salt).  Once garlic has been mashed to a paste, add the juice of the two lemons and incorporate.  Now in all honesty, this mashing is probably not totally necessary.  But it is apparently the traditional way to do it, and I need no encouragement to use my mortar and pestle.

Drizzle lemon and garlic mixture into the soup.  Continue to cook at a simmer for ten minutes.  If, after ten minutes, you find the garlic flavor too strong, continue to simmer until the taste agrees with you.  Add salt to taste, and serve.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Old Money In The East Village

I have a soft spot for the New York Post. I know that it is not exactly the paper of record, but the headlines make me laugh (my favorite cover was during Heather Mills and Paul McCartney's divorce, with a picture of Heather Mills scowling accompanied by the headline "Hopping Mad"), and I can always get through the Sunday paper (not necessarily true of the New York Times).

And in this blissfully digestible sunday paper is a feature that I look forward to every week: "My New York". This is a chance for major and minor celebs alike to give the readers of the Post their ten or so favorite spots in the City. Now some of them are sort of like Gwyneth Paltrow's restaurant recommendations: good but completely obvious. I mean Central Park is great, but as the largest continuous swath of land in Manhattan, it is not exactly a hidden secret.

But occasionally you get some gems, like Helena Christiansen's "My New York". Now I already have a minor Helena obsession going. I ran into her coming out of the door of C.O. Bigelow a couple of years ago and was blown away not only by her beauty but by her innate coolness. Then I checked out her store Butik , which was full of fabulously unique clothing and effortlessly hip knickknacks, and fell a little more in love. Plus I covet her bangs.

So when she recommended John Derian as a must see shop, I made a mental note to check it out when I was in the East Village next.

This past weekend I found myself mere blocks from the shop, so I ducked out of the dark, snowy afternoon into the soft, vintagey light of John Derian's world (a world I would very much like to live in by the way).

I was met with tables and tables of decoupage plates and platters. The images were fantastic. Botancial illustrations, giant bugs, bats, but my favorite was an excerpt from a letter on a blank background: "I must insist that you return my trinkets. This is your last chance." I think that would be perfect as a mail tray, and had to seriously restrain myself from buying it on the spot.

And as I poked farther back into the store I found lamps to fall in love with (my favorite was unfortunately $695), dishes,

flatware, objets,

hanging lights, moroccan poufs, the best smelling candles in the world (I believe they were made by Astier de Villate), and a phenomenal collection of brushes...for cleaning, I guess.

Everything in the store was ostensibly classic, but at second glance had some sort of edgy twist to it. You had the feeling that one of those slightly faded but pleasingly eccentric old money families would have a big old heap of a house filled with everything in the shop. And as I have a secret wish to be a rich eccentric I also have a not-so-secret wish to own everything that John Derian sells. As will you, I daresay.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Italy By Way Of London

I own an embarrassingly large number of cookbooks, but like many things, I have a few favorites that I find myself reaching for time after desert island cookbooks if you will. This is a series of posts that will describe these books that make up my core collection. I hope that you find them and the recipes they contain as enjoyable and useful as I do.

The River Cafe was opened in London in 1987, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.

These two women had both spent considerable time living (and presumably cooking) in Tuscany, so the restaurant was centered around their interpretation of Italian farmhouse cooking. Sort of a precursor to Mario Batali I suppose.

They were one of the earlier adopters of the seasonal, top-quality ingredient philosophy, and given the continued prominence of the restaurant, not only in London but in America as well, it is perhaps unsurprising that many of today's successful chefs, including Jamie Oliver and April Bloomfield, got their start in the kitchen of the River Cafe. And it certainly does not hurt the success of the restaurant that the very great architect Richard Rogers (husband of Ruth) oversaw the construction/renovation of the restaurant (the building was previously an oil storage facility).

The dining room:

The kitchen (and very impressive oven):

Eventually, these two ladies wrote several cookbooks, my favorite of which is The River Cafe Cookbook.

First of all, they have edited this book extremely well. I cannot find one recipe in here that I either haven't already cooked and enjoyed, or that I don't want to try at some point. Second of all, every recipe is simple...deliciously so. You'd be hard pressed to find a recipe with more than ten ingredients, and I am always shocked and overjoyed by how fabulously good such simple food can be.

I've included a couple of recipes from the cookbook (quite honestly I was having an extraordinarily hard time whittling the choices down) to whet your appetites:

Penne with a Quick Sausage Sauce
The River Cafe Cookbook, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small red onions, peeled and chopped
5 Italian spiced, fresh pork sausages, meat removed from skins and crumbled
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 small dried chiles, crumbled
800 g can peeled plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
250 g (9 oz) penne
150 ml (5 oz) heavy cream
120 g (4 1/2 oz) Parmesan, freshly grated

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onion until light brown. Add the crumbled sausage, the rosemary, bay leaves and chili. Fry together over a high heat, stirring to mash the sausages. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, and continue to cook for 20 minutes. The sausagemeat should become brown and disintegrate. Add the tomatoes, stir and return to a boil. Remove from the stove.

Cook the penne in a generous amount of boiling salted water, then drain thoroughly.

Stir the cream into the sauce along with the drained penne and half the Parmesan. Serve with the remaining Parmesan.

Note: In the book there is also a version of this recipe called Penne With A Slow-Cooked Sausage Sauce that is similar, but takes about five times as long. It also is delicious (much richer tasting than the recipe above due to the longer cooking time) and cooking it is a great way to spend a cold winter afternoon.

This next recipe is phenomenal. The perfect example of minimal but great ingredients manipulated to make something inordinately wonderful.

Pork Braised With Vinegar
The River Cafe Cookbook, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

4-5 pound boned loin of young organic pork, rind and most of the fat removed
sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
150 ml (5 fl oz) red wine vinegar
150 ml (5 fl oz) Chianti Classico
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
12 fresh bay leaves

Generously season the pork with salt.

In a heavy saucepan with a lid, heat the olive oil and brown the meat on all sides. Remove the meat and put to one side. Lower the heat and pour the vinegar into the pan. Bring to a boil, and reduce the liquid by half. Add the wine, 100 ml (4 fl oz) water, the peppercorns and bay leaves and lower the heat to a simmer.

Return the pork to the pan and turn to coat it in the juices. Put the lid on but slightly askew. Simmer very gently for an hour, turning the meat two or three times during cooking. If the juices seem to be drying up, add a little more wine or water.

When the meat is cooked (still soft when prodded), turn off the heat, add extra salt to the juices, and let the pork relax for 5 minutes. Slice and serve with the juices and the bay leaves.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Field Trip to DUMBO

This past Saturday, Marissa and I braved the frigid temperatures to check out the Brooklyn Flea Winter Antiques Market in DUMBO.  I was excited, with visions of old copper pots, 30s era furniture and first edition books dancing in my head.  

The facility was great...not the drafty warehouse I was imagining, but instead a fairly posh space at the corner of Front and Washington.  Perhaps a vacant retail space?  Who knows, but regardless it was warm and spacious.  

Unfortunately, the mix of merchandise was a little disappointing.  It is entirely possible that if we had gotten there an hour or two earlier, closer to the 11:00 opening, the options would have been better, but it was a lot of clothes (despite my love of thrift shops in high school, now I'm not so into used/vintage clothing) and a ton of costume jewelry.  Some of it was actually quite cool, but I found the prices a little...optimistic, shall we say?  Marissa was vaguely interested in a golden Givenchy necklace but the vendor was inflexible on his $125 price.  Sir, Givenchy was quite chic back in the Audrey Hepburn days, and is having a bit of a renaissance now with the shoes that were featured in the Sex and the City movie, but your 80s trinket is certainly not "a very fine piece".

But all was not lost.  We spent so little time in the market that we had quite a bit of time to explore DUMBO, which is not something I've done too much of in the past.  First stop was Powerhouse Books.  It's certainly not your typical arty bookstore.  Lots of New-York-In-The-80s photo books, skater/surfer culture photos, and quite a random collection of food books.  I felt cooler for having been in's perfect for browsing (although not the type of place you go to find a specific title).

Second stop was the Tivoli Home Shop at 111 Front Street.  Tiny, and in the back of what looked to be a lovely restaurant, it was packed with items that I wanted to spirit back to my apartment.  I particularly loved the pillows, and virtually all of the tableware.  And, as they carry my new obsession, Royal Copenhagen china, I got some very enjoyable ogling time in.

But the find of the trip was really Loopy Mango, a quirky little women's clothing store.  I recognized many of the brands carried in this lovely little shop, but I have to admit I didn't recognize any of the pieces, which to me indicates that there is an independent spirit alive and well at this establishment, which is always heartening to see.

I was most taken with all of the day dresses that they carried.  I'm always lusting after those tailored, vaguely french looking day dresses that the women in Bill Cunningham photos seem to own so many of so was thrilled to see the likes of this Yoana dress adorning the racks:     

In the same family (but a coat) by Tony Cohen:

And as I'm currently on the hunt for a new everyday black bag, this Malene Birger bag intrigued me:

So most certainly worth the trip.  And given the compact nature of DUMBO, it's a perfect outing on a cold day, when you don't want to spend too much of your time wandering down the street against bitter winds.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mes Moules Mouclade

I know that it's not exactly cool to say that you like Les Halles. It's one of those restaurants that a fair number of people who do not live in or around New York have heard of, due largely to the success of Anthony Bourdain's various ventures, which automatically means that actual New Yorkers consider it lame.

But it's one of the few pretty good restaurants near my apartment so I go there quite a bit. Not enough to be a regular, but enough to feel some sort of ownership of the place, and enough to have two favorite dishes: merguez and moules mouclade. The merguez I like for the gradual, warm spiciness (and for the fries), and the mussels I like for the creamy, curry spiked sauce (and for the fries).

But occasionally I get a very serious hankering for the moules mouclade when Paul's not around. I'm not opposed to eating by myself in restaurants, but Les Halles is not really the right kind of place to do it in. It's too big, too just feels a little wrong to be there without a companion.

So the first time the need for moules hit and I was sans Paul I just ordered the dish to go. But it was pretty unsatisfying. My fries became slightly less crisp than optimal during the transportation time, and eating mussels out of a giant plastic container is much less fun than eating them out of a cool looking metal vessel. It wasn't a great solution. But on the other hand it wasn't so bad that I didn't avail myself of it occasionally.

But the last time I craved the moules and tried to order them, I was told it was impossible! It is apparently a health code violation to make mussels to go. I'm not sure why this was suddenly such a major concern, but it brought the whole issue to a head. I had to take matters into my own hands. I am a capable, independent woman after all. I simply had to figure out how to make this dish for myself.

So I checked all of the usual sources. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, At Home in was as if the dish did not exist! No one even mentioned it! So then I moved on to the internet. And everything I found was in french (with the exception of one dairy free version which was in english, and which I rejected on ideological grounds). As I tried to figure out the foreign recipes I realized exactly how pathetic my french is. But I persevered, and eventually gathered that the general list of ingredients included mussels, white wine, creme fraiche, shallots, butter, parseley, saffron, flour, an egg yolk and curry powder. I had no idea of the translation for the amounts, so I set to work experimenting.

After I picked up my mussels and baguette (baguette is very very necessary for sauce absorption) at Citarella and my wine at, I came home and immediately soaked my debearded, scrubbed mussels (Citarella is fancy so they had cleaned everything for me already) in cold, salted water so they would disgorge any particulate matter that they might have been harboring.

As I waited the requisite hour, I cracked open the dry Muscadet that had been recommended by the wine god at Winesby. Lovely.

After the mussels had soaked, I began melting, sauteeing, stirring (sans saffron unfortunately, as I had used the last of mine up in the rutabega disaster of '09). I threw the mussels in, they opened up, I took them out again, threw in the yolk and creme fraiche to add some richness to the sauce,

decided that I needed a little more silk, a little more unctuousness, so I threw in some heavy cream. Yum. Topped off with parsley and some pepper, mussels back in to warm, pour everything into a big bowl, butter some baguette, and I was utterly and completely happy.

Now I'll be honest. It didn't taste quite like the mouclade that Les Halles makes. But, if I do say so myself, I kind of like my version better. I think that Les Halles must use cream instead of creme fraiche, because their broth is much, much richer and there is virtually no piquant aspect to it. And maybe they add the flour to thicken the sauce, which I don't find to be necessary. Regardless, I think I have happened upon an acceptable solution to my moules dilemma. Happy days.

Moules Mouclade
Serves 1

1 1/2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 tablespoons shallots, chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon curry powder (I use madras)
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon of heavy cream
1 tablespoon parsley
pinch of salt (this may not be necessary, depending on how salty your mussels are)
pepper to taste

Sort through mussels and discard any that are open. Soak in cold, salted water for one hour.

After mussels have soaked, melt butter over medium heat in medium sized pot with cover. Add shallots, and cook until translucent. Add white wine and mussels. Cover and turn heat up to medium high. Cook until all mussels have opened, approximately seven minutes. Occasionally shake the pot with the lid on during cooking to redistribute the mussels in order to cook them evenly. While the mussels are cooking, whisk together the egg yolk and the creme fraiche.

Once mussels are open use a chinese strainer, or equivalent implement, to fish them out of the pot, while leaving the liquid behind. Add the curry powder, the creme fraiche and egg yolk to the liquid and stir thoroughly. Then let simmer for two minutes. Add heavy cream and taste. If you prefer a more decadent sauce, go ahead and add more cream. Then add salt if necessary, pepper to taste, and the parsley. Add the mussels back to the liquid, let cook for a minute, or until warmed through and coated in curry sauce.

Turn out into a large bowl, grab a baguette and go to town.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brightness In A Sea Of Darkness

I live and work in Lower Manhattan.  I have a true affection for the the same way that a lot of people who grew up in less than picturesque places love their hometown.  It's not the prettiest place, it's not the coolest, but I've had good times here and I kind of like that everyone else thinks of it as the Siberia of Manhattan.

But I will admit that at times, I find the landscape, particularly when it comes to food and drink, a little bleak.  I have my favorites, like Bread & Olive, Zaitzeff, Financier, and occasionally I crave the moules mouclade from Les Halles (and the very excellent fries), but the limited options sometimes do make me feel like the neighborhood is the towheaded stepchild of the island.

Perhaps this is why I was so overjoyed when I saw that Zibetto Espresso Bar had opened on Fulton Street.  

Zibetto, although it is owned by a Greek, is quite the quintessential Italian espresso bar.  Just like in Italy, there are no chairs.  Just a long, narrow, marble bar that you can stand against whilst sipping your coffee of choice out of real cups.  Real, substantial, ceramic cups.  None of this paper stuff (unless of course you feel the need to ask for it).

The coffee is phenomenal, the baristas make beautiful milk foam designs in your cappucino...the whole experience is just so...civilized.

And, if you're craving a little something to go along with your cookie, they have many, many tiny little one or two bite sweets...a checkerboard cookie or a biscotti, along with a cappucino, is the perfect 3:00 pick me up.  And if you need something a bit more substantial than tiny cookies, Zibetto also has a beautiful selection of panini.

Hopefully this is a harbinger of good things to come for my poor little (beloved) neighborhood.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Viva La Terra

When Paul moved from London to New York seven years ago, he never got around to selling his London apartment.  He loves it, the location is amazing, real estate values can only go up, ah the memories, and who wants to pay all those capital gains taxes?  So, after renting through a letting agency and ending up with the tenant from hell for a year, he decided to rent it to one of his best friends and his wife.

The whole arrangement has been great.  His friend is pretty handy so Paul's gotten some minor renovations done for free, they keep an eye on the place, and when they're out of town the apartment serves as a very spacious hotel for us.

So the first chance we got, we used it as such.  I have three major memories of the experience.  First, I found it odd that there was a washer but no dryer, and that all laundry was hung across the radiator to dry (this struck me as an inefficient proposal given what a damp country England is).  Second, it took me a while to realize that you have to "turn on" the hot water a half hour before you want to use it in order to have a steamy shower.  I mean really, is this 1890?  And lastly, I have a very clear memory of loving the bath mat.

What was so special about this mat, you may ask?  Well, it was made of the most beautiful wood.  It was perfectly smooth on my feet and made me feel very fancy because I was elevated off of the floor.  I can only assume it was the female resident who was responsible...she is an utterly chic Japanese woman and he is British-fied Jersey boy...can you blame me for making the assumption?

Anyway, the minute I got home I went on an obsessive wooden bath mat search.  I not only found one, which was made of a naturally antibacterial and humidity resistant wood called hinoki,  

but I also discovered the wonderful, stylish, environmentally sensitive purveyor Viva Terra, which sells the little pedestal.  I ultimately decided that my New York bathroom was too small for my coveted bath mat, but I continue to love Viva Terra.  I mean how cute are these trash cans, made of reclaimed tin cans?

My mom is in love with her river stone mat, she claims it provides a fabulous mini foot massage.

I love the 70s vibe going on with these stools/end tables.  And each one is carved from one sustainable piece of monkey pod wood.  If nothing else, aren't you curious what monkey pod wood is like?

And lastly, who doesn't love a Lucky Garden Pig?

Nothing that Viva Terra sells is fantastically expensive (although not too much of it is truly cheap), but you get the feeling that everything is of high quality and that as such, the prices are fair.  That, on top of the whole social/ecological responsibility aspect just makes me happy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Air Head

I never used a hair dryer growing up. The mild weather of the Bay Area and a succession of low maintenance hair styles made such a gadget unnecessary. But once I moved to the east coast, frigid temperatures (and an increasing awareness of general grooming needs) forced me to join the hair dryer-wielding masses.

So for years I used whatever $29.99 Conair-type model the local drugstore offered up, and they always seemed to work perfectly fine. They'd break after a year or two, and my hair was never as smooth and shiny as the hair stylist would make it, but nothing lasts forever and hair stylists make hair smooth and shiny for a living, which I do not so I figured this was just the natural order of things.

After I moved to New York, I was lucky enough to meet Nikki, the most wonderful hair stylist/colorist that has ever lived. Since moving here from England several years ago, she has always worked at salons that are far, far out of my price range, but because she is a friend of a friend of a friend, she keeps me as a private client. Now this may sound very glamorous, but in reality it just means that either she comes to my apartment or I go to hers and I pay her far, far less than her salon would charge. In exchange for the discount I have to wash my hair in the kitchen sink and sweep up my own hair. But no matter, we have a good time and I am loving my hair once she's done.

Anyway, one night she came over to cut and color my lovely locks and forgot her hair dryer, which meant that she had to use my pathetic excuse for one. And lo and behold, once dry, my hair looked as if it had been blown out by me, not by the talented professional that Nikki is. So all this time it was my hair dryer, not me?!!

I felt tremendously vindicated, and immediately went online to do some professional hair dryer research. After a bit of searching, I settled on the Super Solano 232.

I think I paid about $60 for it at the time (the lowest price I can find now is $71.99 here) and I swear it is the best $60 I've ever spent. Four years later, the power of this thing is undiminished, and if I take the twenty minutes or so that it takes to do a good blowout, I am always rewarded with smooth, phenomenally shiny hair. And you know how people rave about blowouts that last for three days? Well, with the Super Solano in my arsenal, that's mine.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ye Olde Butcher

Following the holidays, my usually well-stocked freezer was looking a bit depleted, so this past weekend I vowed to embark on a mission of mass stock production. If all went according to plan, chicken stock and veal stock would soon fill the shelves, resting in deep freeze until their tasty services were required.

Now stock is one of the easiest things in the world to make...outranked only, I think, by toast. I mean, really, it's basically meat tea. The only vaguely difficult aspect is collecting the necessary meat scraps, which can be a little challenging if you don't have a good butcher. Thankfully, I do.

I have been a serious devotee of Florence Meat Market since my early days in New York. Although I wish I could call it my neighborhood butcher (partially because I would love to be able to pop in anytime, partially because I would love to live in the West Village), I do have to travel a couple of subway stops in order to get there. But I am never disappointed that I have made the trip.

I can't say for sure that it is a family-owned establishment (given the plethora of family snapshots and communion photos on the walls I assume it was at one point), but regardless, it has a distinctly familial feeling about it. I always see the same people in there, performing the same functions (Maria answers the phone and works at the counter, her merry band of butchers prepare various cuts behind her), and everyone, customers included, always seem to know each other.

The quality is unfailingly high (do not miss their fantastic homemade sausages), the butchering is nearly perfect (it seems to be done with an almost surgical precision) and I cannot recall ever asking for something that they did not have or could not get for me in fairly short order (with the exception of chicken feet, which I occasionally like to throw in my chicken stock, but they are an addition that I can certainly live without).

I would recommend calling ahead to place your order, even if it is something you plan to pick up the same day. Occasionally, they run out of certain items towards the end of the day, so it's not a bad idea to put a claim on your cut of choice, and because they custom cut everything, you may have to wait for a bit for them to prepare your order if you are just walking in. But waiting is not the worst thing in the world. There is quite an entertaining cat to play with (just to give you fair warning, the cat is a bit will love some pets until it decides that it hates them and then turns around and bites you) and the crowd is always convivial.

Well, all did go according to my plan, and I now have ten quarts of stock in the freezer.

My chicken stock, in the early stages:

My veal stock, about halfway through cooking:

By the way, why is it that everyone (I guess by everyone I am referring to certain Food Network personalities) always makes such a fuss about how hard beef and veal stock is to make? Aside from roasting the bones, it is exactly the same process as making chicken stock!

If homemade stock is of interest to you, my recipes, if they could even be called that, follow:

Chicken Stock

4 lbs chicken parts (backs, necks, wing tips, feet)
2 carrots (I peel them, but I doubt it is necessary)
1 onion (red or white, halved, I peel them but again, probably not necessary)
3-4 celery ribs
2 leeks (wash them very well, but only use them if you have some knocking around, the stock is fine without)
few sprigs of parsley
1 bay leaf (fresh if possible)
few sprigs of thyme
2 garlic cloves (once again, I peel them, but do as you please)
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns (do not crack them, it will make the stock too spicy)

If you have a pot for cooking pasta (one with a strainer insert, like this), fill the strainer (while in the larger pot) with all of the ingredients. Otherwise, use a large pot, and put all ingredients in the pot. Then fill with cold water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off the foam at this point (unless you have particularly scummy bones, I find it much easier and less wasteful to skim all at once rather than bit by bit along the way), and turn the heat down to low and let the stock simmer for 2 hours, skimming occasionally if necessary.

Remove from heat, either lift strainer out of pot or pour stock through colander, catching liquid in a large vessel, depending on what kind of gear you are using. Then decant into storage containers. If you will be using the stock within three days, you may refrigerate it, otherwise, freeze it. However, prior to freezing, let stock chill in refrigerator until fat on top has turned solid. Skim fat off, then freeze for up to six months.

I do not salt the stock at this point. I find it easier just to salt whatever dishes I use the stock in when I am cooking them.

Veal Stock

3 pounds veal soup bones (ask your butcher to crack them)
excluding chicken bones, same ingredients as above

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roast veal bones for 45 minutes. When finished roasting, pour a bit of water into the roasting pan to loosen any bits that have dripped down. Place roasted bones and water from roasting pan (along with any bits you've been able to loosen) in large pot (again, preferably one with a built-in colander). Add rest of ingredients, cover with water, bring to a boil over high heat. Skim, then turn heat down and simmer stock for two hours.

Remove from heat, strain stock, and follow storage instructions for chicken stock.
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