Chili Figgyness

I had a few figs to use, so I grabbed the cast iron skillet, some chili powder that was a gift from Santa Fe, and some creativity to come up with one of my favorite new concoctions.

Take a handful of sliced beef and toss it in the skillet, along with about 1/3 tsp. of some sweet/hot chili powder (I think a good hot paprika would work). Sauté the beef over medium-low heat until just about done, then add 4 or 5 figs (cut them in half lengthwise, brush some olive oil on the flesh, and put them in the pan cut-side down). Cook the figs until they just start to get juicy and brown, then flip. Sprinkle in some salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Allow to cook for another minute, then carefully remove and plate the figs. Stir the beef to coat with any of the remaining fig juice or flesh, and then scatter over the figs.

Salty, sweet, and hot!


Happiness Is...

So, I finally tried the Sichuan Pepper Pickles that we picked up in Flushing a few weeks ago. What took me so long?!?! I plopped a little over a tablespoon into my skillet and sautéed a few slices of beef in it (about a handful--enough for 1 person...I know...way to measure). When the beef was just about cooked, which didn't take very long, I added some two small cucumbers (cut into chunky strips) and stir fried everything together. I added a few leaves of Thai basil from my window garden just before serving.


From what I can tell, it has hot chilis, ground sichuan peppercorns, some sort of sliced green beans, salted soy beans, peanuts, and a few other things. Amazing stuff--I didn't need to add anything else, and this was one heck of a happy-making meal.


Young Garlic?

Yesterday was the Mermaid Parade, and attending was a must, just in case the developers have their way and ruin the sketchiness that is Coney Island. Having finally recovered from some sort of stomach illness (hence my recent blog-free existence) I broke down and had my first Nathan's hot dog--at the original location, of course--and it wasn't that bad. Bloomberg's new calorie posting law, though, put a little wrinkle in that pleasure...ech...

After checking out some of the costumes, hitting the freak show, and taking a ride on the Wonder Wheel (which ROCKS...literally...), I met up with a crew of friends walking down the boardwalk to the Russian mecca, Brighton Beach. While I need to go back and hit the big market that I've heard so much about, we did pop in to a nice little produce place where I scored the things that are in these photos: some kind of young garlic.

Tony had purchased a few of these at the Union Square Greenmarket a few weeks ago, and was told that you can use everything--green stalks and all. I did some searching on the internet, didn't come up with much, so I sliced and diced, and will inevitably use this stuff in a variety of ways.

So far, I used a handful of greens when making some sautéed potatoes, which added a wonderful mild flavor. I also added two of the large slices of the young bulbs to a tofu/olive dip, which gave it quite the garlicky punch.

I think these things have potential!!


Fruity Goodness

Blogging's been slow with the early onset of summer (NYC's too hot for June!), so salads and eating out have dominated the culinary experiences of the last few days. But at least the warm weather's bringing fruit! Along with another batch of rhubarb compote (this time with mystery oranges and ginger beer), I've scored some local strawberries at the farmer's market. Get out and get some this year--I think the proper spring we've had until now in the northeast has produced large, tasty beauties! Sad to see my box dwindle...but hopefully I'll be hitting the Beacon Sloop Club's Strawberry Festival when I'm up there this weekend, so I'll go get some nice berries and hear some Pete Seeger!


Salt, Beautiful Salt

I found this gorgeous flake in my box of Maldon Sea Salt yesterday. Absolutely beautiful, and about an inch wide. It'll be difficult when the time comes to crush it and add it to my dinner. It'll have to be a very special dish...


Vendredi Slowly

It's been a short, fast week. I haven't cooked much at home, but we made three kinds of dumplings last night at Tony's (pork and leek, pork and ginger, and beef and garlic), and I just ate another salad with greens from my window garden (hurrah!). I'm off to the Jersey Shore for the weekend, where I will hopefully be experimenting with some in-season Jersey seafood (do I really want to do that?). In the meantime, I leave you with my blood orange and fennel salad recipe. Though it's more of a winter dish (when blood oranges are in season), we found the fixings this past weekend and whipped it up for a Memorial Day picnic.

Blood Orange & Fennel Salad

4 blood oranges, peeled and sliced into chunks
1 bulb of fresh fennel
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup black olives
1 to 2 tbsp. olive oil
salt to taste
dried chili flakes, to taste

Slice the bulb of the fennel in half lengthwise, remove the solid center portion (towards the root end of the plant), and slice thinly crosswise (you'll end up with julienne-like slices). Add the orange pieces, onion, and olives, then toss with the olive oil, salt, and chili.


Dumpling Day

I'm not sure what inspired me (perhaps insanity?), but a few months ago I started making my own dumplings. I love dumplings of all kinds, so one day I bought some wrappers and dove in. So far I've come up with two recipes (one for pork, one for beef), and they've been fairly successful. I've been using wonton wrappers, as they're bigger and seem to allow for mistakes, and boiling them (though you have to be careful not to overcook them, or they'll fall apart...). I serve them with soy sauce–based dipping sauces, and people have been happy...

Two pounds of meat generally fills 1 pack of wrappers, so I usually make two kinds at once to keep things interesting. It also makes lots and lots of dumplings, so I generally end up freezing most of them. To make sure they don't stick together, place dumplings on a cookie sheet and powder each with a little flour. Store them in flat containers, don't squish them together, and separate layers with waxed paper. After removing them from the freezer, allow them to at least defrost enough so they release from each other, otherwise you'll end up with torn dumplings or, worst case scenario, a giant boiled mass of pork and wrappers. [VENDREDI UPDATE: We made dumplings at Tony's last night, and he shared his freezing technique, which sounds more like it... Place the dumplings neatly on a plate (not touching each other), and partially freeze. You can then place them in plastic bags and store in the freezer without them sticking together.]

So, if you have a few hours to kill (and, even better, someone to help!), make some dumplings!


1 lb. lean ground pork
1 tbsp. finely chopped kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp. grated or finely chopped galanga
3 scallions, chopped
1 tbsp. light soy sauce
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil

Combine everything in a bowl with your hands. Put about 1 tbsp. of the mixture on the center of a wonton wrapper, wet the edges of the wrapper, fold over to make a triangle, and seal by pressing the edges together. Boil (for about 5 minutes, until they float) and serve with dipping sauce.


1 lb. lean ground beef
3 cloves finely chopped fresh garlic
1 tbsp. grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
3 scallions, chopped
1 tbsp. light soy sauce
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil

Combine everything in a bowl with your hands. Put about 1 tbsp. of the mixture on the center of a wonton wrapper, wet the edges of the wrapper, fold over to make a triangle, and seal by pressing the edges together. Boil (for about 5 minutes, until they float) and serve with dipping sauce

1/4 cup light soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
about 2 tbsp. freshly chopped cilantro
pinch of crushed red pepper

1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 tsp. Vietnamese chili garlic sauce


Rhubarb, Blood Orange, & Cherry Compote

I'm in Beacon this weekend, cooking with Nancy, and we've just concocted a compote from the rhubarb growing in her yard. The plant had grown so much that one of its giant leaves was completely covering another plant, so we figured it was time to harvest!

1 lb. rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (not the leaves--they're poisonous!)
zest and meat of 2 blood oranges
1/4 cup pitted cherries
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
4 tbsp. turbinado sugar
2 tbsp. really hot pepper jelly, or a few dashes of hot sauce
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Cook on medium/low heat in a pot until rhubarb falls apart, about 20 minutes.

UPDATE: We grilled a local Hudson Valley steak that night for dinner and served the compote on the side. Yummy!


First Harvest

I say many things that receive the "whaaa???" response from my friends. The latest bit of news to receive the strange look of wonder is, "I've decided to try to grow lettuce in my window." I love homegrown lettuce (it actually tastes like something) and my window faces south, so why the heck not try? So, about a month ago I planted some seeds, and today I had my first harvest! The leaves were delicate, tender, and slightly spicy. Yummmm! Midtown lettuce--who knew?

We'll see if they survive to feed my summertime lettuce-eating needs!

Potential find o' the day

Mandy and I hopped the 7 train to Flushing, Queens, yesterday, and vowed to make it a regular adventure. Why has it been so long since I've been there? And why, after reading about Spicy & Tasty a few years ago, did I not get my arse in gear for some Sichuan flavorfulness? We wandered, finding some sites (Flushing Town Hall, the old theatre, the Friends Meeting House), a 99-cent store filled with great bargains (I scored some obscure middle-eastern soaps and a crazy light-up ball), 4 steamed pork buns for $1.25 (served by a woman who delivered the goods by flopping the bag over the windowsill), and many large grocery store options. We finally ended up at Spicy & Tasty, where we tried the dan dan noodles (very unlike others I'd had before), seaweed sautéed in garlic, and "Enhanced Pork," which was similar to double sautéed pork, but less spicy and more flavorful. While what we ate was yummy, the other tables had ordered some dishes we'd never seen before, so we decided that we need to go back some day soon with a large group of friends for some more culinary exploration!

The potential find of the day, to be reviewed at a later date, are the "Sichuan Pepper Pickles." Mandy and I each picked up a jar, so we'll let you know.


Ode to the Whoopie Pie

Mandy and I have been discussing some of the homespun foods of our respective childhood regions--hers in Rochester, NY and mine in Halifax, PA--and our desire to revisit some of these particular delicacies. One of my most-loved is my favorite Pennsyltucky baked good: The Whoopie Pie. These killer desserts (two chocolate cake cookies sandwiched together with a fluffy icing/filling) are originally a Pennsylvania Dutch phenomenon, and are now sold throughout many of the Mid-Atlantic and New England states. But for me, these treats from my childhood are soooo Pennsyltucky--I remember that whenever we went to the Friday auction in Gratz, PA (it's still there), I'd beg my parents to buy a Whoopie Pie from one of the Amish stands selling Shoo-fly Pie and the like (my mom is super health-conscious, so it was a rare treat when she agreed). They were also a regular fixture at church pot-lucks, where my dessert plate runneth over with Rice Krispy Treats, homemade ice cream, sugar cookies with sprinkles,...and of course a big, beautiful Whoopie Pie. (I'll post some other time about Pennsyltucky pot-luck main courses and creamed greens...).

I always pick up some whoopie pies when I return home for a visit, but the craving has, on occasion, been too much.... So, I've made them myself, using the Bicentennial Cookbook by the Farm Women Group #8 of Halifax, Pennsylvania (published in 1976):

Whoopie Pie Cookies
by Virginia Campbell

4 c. flour
2 c. sugar
3/4 c. Crisco
2 eggs
2 tbsp. vanilla
10 tbsp. cocoa
2 & 1/2 tsp. soda
2 c. milk
1/4 tsp. salt

Sift dry ingredients together and add liquid and beat well. Drop on cookie sheet. Bake 375 degrees -- 10 min.

2 c. Crisco
2 c. confectioners sugar
1 & 1/2 pint marshmallow creme
2 tbsp. vanilla

Beat all ingredients together and spread between baked cookies.

Porkalicious Preview

Just a quick preview of Tony's pork confit, which browned beautifully in his oven after our visit to the 9th Avenue International Food Festival (some photos of which are below). Tony will post his photos of the process soon (I hope!), but in the meantime, we must wait two weeks while the jars of puréed pork mature in his fridge...*sigh*...


Ramping Up

Tony & I went to the Union Square farmer's market on Wednesday, and we each bought a bunch of ramps, or "wild leeks." I've been hearing about them for a few seasons now--in that kind of hipster annoying way--but I thought I'd give them a try anyway... As I walked home, their smell reminded me of the little garlicky plants kids would bring to school when we were little (I'm really not sure why, but they'd chew them, stink up the room, and eventually get in trouble). With that memory, I decided ramps were OK by me.

I did a little research and decided to attempt a version of Tony's potato pancakes that he's been dishing up lately. I grabbed my cast iron skillet and warmed up some olive oil. I tossed in the thinly sliced bulbs and red stalks of six ramps and sautéed them for about 30 seconds. I added two julienned Idaho potatoes and the sliced ramp greens, some salt, and freshly ground black pepper. I tossed everything together, formed a giant potato pancake, and then cooked until one side began to brown. Alas...my pancake flip to side two didn't work...so I ended up with chunks of nicely browned potatoes...oops!

The result was tasty nonetheless--flavorful with a hint of garlicky aroma (but without the bite). Ramps have now received the official VendrediFriday seal of approval.

Protein Recharge

So, I've been extremely delinquent in posting to VendrediFriday, and as spring has really, truly spring, I'm determined to make this a regular habit again. I eat every day, so...

I jump in again with a random, quick, non-recipe post listing my 3 favorite meats. I tried to be a vegetarian for a little while in college, but since that was really the result of me not liking the taste of American meat upon my return from some time living in the UK (yay Mad Cow!), it wasn't true vegetarianism... After moving to NYC relaunched my love of flesh, there's been no stopping me.

The other night, I was talking with some friends about their top choices, and here are mine:

3. Lamb. So wonderfully tasty--especially RARE (to the horror of some of my burned-meat friends, but to the joy of most of the meat-eating planet). I love beef, but lamb is generally better, more flavorful, and happy-making.

2. Duck. Because it's fatty. Need I say more?

1. Pig. Pork. Oinker fleish. Pig is perfect. It's so incredibly flexible. You can use it simply like "the other white meat" ads suggest, but you can make it intense (like a pork molé), cook it forever so it's like butter, have it in a homespun fashion (pulled pork), or so much more. Then there are the fatty bits...bacon, lardons, and their friends. And it's so beautiful on a spit.

Sadly, I'm eating chicken tonight.

Oh well!