Grilled Golf Balls

In my childhood home, Brussels sprouts were a regular menu item, and I think I was one of the few children who loved eating them (we called them "golf balls," which was the main reason I enjoyed them so much). So, when Nancy discovered a fantastic roasted Brussels sprouts recipe a few years ago, they re-entered my culinary world in a whole new way. I found some in the fridge this weekend as I was looking for things to throw on the grill, and I came up with an easy-peasy method:

Grill-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1 lb. Brussels sprouts
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
salt & pepper to taste

Make a boat from aluminum foil that will fit on the top rack of your gas grill (or anywhere on a charcoal grill), but big enough to hold the Brussels sprouts in one layer. Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts, then cut a cross about 1/8 inch-deep in the bottom of each one. Place them on the aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and toss to coat. Sprinkle garlic, salt, and pepper over everything. Pop the boat on the grill and close the lid. On the top level of a gas grill over medium heat, cook 20-30 minutes (longer if you want the leaves to get brown and crunchy), or until just tender. On a charcoal grill, check and toss regularly, cook until just tender.

And for the grill-less city dwellers among us, oven roasting works too!


Garden 34th Street: More Seeds, More Seedlings

The KKNY Nursery is going gangbusters, especially after four days of hot sunshine. The lettuce and basil needs to be thinned again, and it's already time to take the first batch of chili hot peppers upstate, I think.

I have a 3-inch tall baby okra that's just a fuzzy stalk with two leaves, baby jiló, some tomatoes, and some new Brazilian peppers that are just coming up.

This morning, I planted even more seeds in Jess's brilliant egg carton terrarium. I'm generally kind of frustrated with many organic food producers overusing plastic in packaging, but the eggs we bought this weekend yielded two 12-space planters, one with a built-in cover. And the best thing is that they fit easily on my windowsill, so I'm one happy camper. I planted one full container (pictured here) with three kinds of tomatoes (Brandywine, Marvel Stripe, and Green Zebra), and the other with some lemon cucumber and more recently-delivered seeds from Brazil (Dedo de Moça and Cumari do Pará peppers, green jiló, and fennel).

I have an egg carton in my fridge, so I'll have to figure out a few more things to plant. Time to go through the pile of seed packets and make some more decisions.


Garden: Seeds, Seeds, and More Seeds

It was garden organization time this weekend. Jess and I sat down with Nancy's giant basket o' seeds, sorted, and made some planting decisions. While I brought a lot of seeds back to the city to sow in my window (my baby plants seem to be doing fairly well, and it seems like I'm having about a 95% success rate so far), we decided to try a bunch on the back deck, even though there's not the best light (a big, scary tree from the neighbor's yard blocks lots of afternoon sun).

...and then there are the evil squirrels...there will undoubtedly be more on the evil squirrels...

I spent Sunday afternoon planting onions, container tomatoes, beets, radishes, carrots, an Italian lettuce mix with radicchio, sugar peas, green beans, zucchini, yellow squash, marigolds, sunflowers, cilantro, chives, German thyme, and lemon, lime, red, and cinnamon basil. I used what we already had on hand for dirt: potting soil and some moo topsoil (soil with composted cow manure). We placed the pots, and Jess covered as many as he could with an anti-squirrel mesh. I have a feeling they'll find a way around it...

I'll be up there again this weekend, so will report on any baby plants next week.


Wingin' It: A New Marinade

This weekend was chock-a-block garden prep (more to come) and grilling. For last night's dinner finale, I improvised a marinade inspired by a Thai cookbook Jess picked up at a used bookstore in Cleveland. We used it on chicken, but agree it would be great on fish (red snapper or the like).

Southeast Asian–Inspired Citrus Marinade

Zest of a large orange
Zest and juice of half a lemon
Juice from half a lime
1/2 tsp. Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce
1 tbsp. light soy sauce (+ a little more to taste)
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Combine all ingredients and taste for balance (add more of whatever you feel it may need)...


Garden 34th Street: Later That Same Day...

It's amazing what a few hours and a sunny day will do. There are now baby tomatoes and okra, and this is the little maxixe plant, which has taken off since this morning (it really is some kind of alien being).

It just reminds me what we miss, living in this big concrete city of ours. Nature is truly amazing.

Garden 34th Street: First Signs of Brazil

This morning, the first of my Brazilian crop began to poke through! Creepily, it's the Maxixe...the plant that produces something that looks like some sort of alien pod. Makes me even more suspicious. I'm going to keep an eye on these little guys.

Yesterday, either my thyme or oregano made its first appearance (apparently I couldn't be bothered to keep track), and the arugula began to grow like gangbusters. The basil's been transplanted and seems to be happy, and in addition to two more chili hot pepper plants, the others have grown about an inch.

I'm hoping this weekend's sunny and unseasonably hot weather will get things really moving along. Hurrah!


Mobile Kitchen: Penne with Asparagus and Basil

A friend just returned home from the hospital, and as a couple of were due for a visit, I offered to cook at her place. Her kitchen's fairly minimal, so I needed to concoct something super simple. Into my bag went box of penne, some of my frozen basil cubes (in a ziploc, of course!), and some fresh garlic. On the way, we picked up a bunch of asparagus from a street vendor.

Penne with Asparagus and Basil

1 box of penne pasta
1 to 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch asparagus, washed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 frozen basil cubes (thawed)
Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Cook penne in boiling salted water. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan or medium-sized pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add the asparagus and cook until it's bright green and just done (I like it when it's still a bit crunchy). Add the basil mixture, then toss in the cooked, drained pasta. Add a little extra olive oil and some salt if you need it.

Serve with freshly ground black pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.


Spicy Tomato Sausage Soup

Last year, I finally admitted that when I made meals with my spicy sausage porcini tomato sauce, I really just wanted the sauce, not the pasta. So, I decided to make the sauce a soup. I've been craving it lately, and as I had some stock (what? me? stock in the fridge?), I finally made a batch. Here's what I threw into the pot last night:

Spicy Tomato Sausage Soup

1 tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 small or 1 large green pepper, chopped
6 links (about 1 pound) Italian-style hot sausage (I get mine from Esposito’s)
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp. dried oregano (+ more to taste)
1 tbsp. dried basil (+ more to taste)
1 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
½ cup dried porcini mushrooms (reconstitute by soaking in warm water) or 2 porcini bullion cubes
¼ cup red wine
4 cups stock (I use chicken)
½ lb. green beans (cut into 1 inch. pieces)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and sauté for a few seconds. Add the onion and green pepper, and cook for a few minutes, until soft. Remove the sausage from its casings and add to the pot (break the sausage into little pieces with a spoon as it cooks). When the sausage is almost done, add the tomatoes, spices, mushrooms (removed from the liquid and roughly chopped) or bullion, red wine, and stock. Cover and simmer for at least 1 hour (more is better), tasting along the way. Adjust seasoning if necessary. (If you've lost a lot of liquid, add a little water.) When you're about ready to serve, add the green beans (or whatever other vegetable you'd like) and cook until they're just done.

Note: I thought I had some dried beans in the cupboard, but I was wrong (I would have added about 1/2 cup to the mix--cooked, of course). I may add some to the leftovers...

And for my vegetarian friends: I think this would work sans sausage: just use beans, more veggies, and extra spices (and maybe a little fennel seed, which is usually present in Italian sausage).


Garden 34th Street: Planting, Planting, Planting

Spring has finally sprung in NYC, and this weekend's sunshine brought the welcome return of green. The warmth encouraged me to get back to work on the garden, and now my window is filled with pots.

First things first, I had to transplant my lettuce lawn (pictured above). As I was planting seeds a couple of weeks ago, the seed packet leaked...and instead of trying to pick them all out of the dirt, I let them go. Yesterday I moved the baby plants to a bigger container (they're still tight, so I'll probably take some of the plants upstate to see what happens). They seem to be perky this morning...I think the operation was a success!

I'm also happy to report the birth of baby hot peppers! I planted some of the seeds from last summer's dried chili hots, and just as I was about to give up, poof! Right now there are eight babies in my window, and I'm a very proud mother.

My apartment's southern exposure is perfect for germinating seeds, so I decided to start some things destined for the upstate organic garden. Yesterday, I planted the seeds Tony's brought from Brazil: 5 kinds of hot peppers, 2 kinds of tomatoes, okra, jiló (a bitter vegetable that's quite delicious), and Maxixe do Norte, which I've never had (and from the seed packet, looks like some form of alien pod).

BTW: I covered the new pots with plastic (bags from my recycle pile) to encourage germination. I'll let you know if it helps, or just kills everything...

For my next trick, I'll transplant my crazy crop of baby basil...before it takes over my entire apartment.


Lotsa Matzoh

I'm back in NYC, just in time to catch the last few days of Passover. Happily yesterday, Mandy IM-ed with a last-minute invitation to Paree/NY-on-Columbus to partake in her first-ever attempt at matzoh ball soup (and a game of Catan). A lot was riding on this culinary adventure (mainly her marriage), and as the soup was excellent and all was peaceful when I headed home, I report a success!

She can correct me if I'm wrong, but for the stock she boiled a whole chicken (cut into large pieces) in water for a few hours, throwing in whatever she had in the fridge (which I think included celery, onion, and lemon?). She removed the chicken, skimmed it, and voilà--bouillon for the soup! (We used some of the chicken meat to top a satisfying salad of carrot, radicchio, red onion, Boston lettuce, and green grapes with Dijon vinaigrette.)

For the matzoh balls, she was advised by numerous Jewish elders to follow the directions on the box of matzoh meal (in her case, Streit's). But instead of oil or margarine, she used a half-part oil and a half-part chicken fat (a.k.a. schmaltz, one of my favorite Yiddish words), which she'd skimmed from the stock. The chicken fat definitely made a wonderful impact, so we agreed that next time, all schmaltz is the way to go!


Holy Cannoli!

My mom's side of the family is of Sicilian descent, so needless to say, food is in our blood (which is actually tomato sauce). My favorite tradition is the cannoli, and I must say that our family's filling is way better than the super-sweet spackle-like substance served in most Italian-American shops. The main difference? We use honey instead of sugar. And we also favor toasted almonds instead of sugary add-ons like chocolate chips.

The filling for this Sunday's Easter batch was spot on, so I thought I'd share:

Emilia D’Amico-LaBella’s Cannoli Filling

2 lbs. ricotta
½ lb. honey (or more to taste)
10 oz. whipping cream
¾ c. toasted sliced almonds

Combine honey and ricotta with two forks (DO NOT use a blender or mixer, and add honey in small portions). Whip cream, and fold it (in dollops) into the ricotta/honey mixture. Fold in toasted almonds.

Making cannoli shells is kind of a pain (you need to fry them around forms), so mom decided to bake cups using phyllo pastry and a muffin tin as a form. It worked well, as they were light, crunchy, and flaky. She also didn't have the traditional candied cherries, so we cheated a bit and added maraschino... I'm personally all about the filling, so it didn't matter!


KKNY On The Road: Broad Street Market, Harrisburg, PA

On Saturday, my big brother and I made a pit stop at Harrisburg's Broad Street Market. I remember it being kind of sad when I was a kid, but happily, there's been a great deal of improvement. As it's in the "city" of Harrisburg, the offerings are much more diverse than the market in Gratz--kind of like Pennsylvania Dutch meets the rest of the world--with vendors hawking traditional items alongside those selling Caribbean, Indian, soul food, and more.

Whoopie pies in their natural habitat, properly wrapped individually in plastic (not environmentally-friendly, I admit, but it makes them better). I'm really not so sure about the chocolate chip version (the thought of it gives me a stomach ache), but I must admit...perhaps it's time to back off my whoopie pie zealotry. One vendor offered a red velvet version, while another offered a selection of bite-sized treats. So, if the Pennsylvania Dutch are experimenting...I can too. Maybe I'll make that Mexican-inspired batch I'd pondered a while back.

An aside: This stand selling the whoopie pies in the photo was a coffee shop run by an Amish family. It was particularly fascinating to see a young Amish boy brewing a cup of espresso...

Perhaps KKNY reader Irma Stoltzfus could enlighten us: What exactly is Lemonade-Coffee?

Traditional mystery meats.

Need I say what I think Hummer's tag line should be?

This place had beautiful southern-style barbecued chicken and ribs...run by an Amish family.


KKNY On The Road: Crossroads Market in Gratz, PA

Fridays are market day in Gratz, an Amish-infused farm town on the edge of Pennsylvania's coal country. I haven't been to the Crossroads Market since the late 1980s/early 90s, so I thought it was about time for a visit. It's such the traditional old-timey market scene, as people shop not only for traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare, but for good ol' local gossip as well.
Easter treats from Squirrel Farm in Millersburg, PA.


Piles of cold cuts...including Central Pennsylvania's famous Lebanon Bologna. I'm not a fan, but was forced to eat lots of it growing up as part of the school lunch program. Those two slices of faux Wonder Bread, Lebanon, and Government Cheese will forever be burned into my memory...

Some of the tongue souse my parents picked up. It was actually quite nice--not as disgusting and strong as I thought it would be.


Garden 34th Street: First Seedlings!

Today is a happy day--my future salad has sprouted! I'm lucky to have direct sunlight most of the day, so last year I managed to grow lettuce, herbs, and tomatoes in my window. This year I'm going to keep the lettuce and herbs, and add hot peppers to the mix. We'll see what happens!

Operation Clean Out The Fridge: Horseradish Leaves, Take 2...Complete Disaster

My second experiment with the boring, sad horseradish leaves is barely worth mentioning...but I feel that I had to post a follow-up to my previous post. I thought I'd make a quick stir-fry last night, so I tossed the remainder of my frozen sliced beef, a teaspoon of leftover Penang curry paste, and the rest of the thawed leaves in a pan.

Sadly, it didn't work. Don't try it. I think horseradish leaves are off my list, and I'll reserve Panang curry for big noodly stir-fries and coconut milk soups and the like.

Oh well...

I'm off to Pennsyltucky for the holiday weekend. I'm hoping to spy whoopie pies in their native habitat, and if I find any, I'll post photos.


Operation Clean Out The Fridge: Horseradish Leaves, Take 1

For this installment of my spring cleaning project, I thought I'd use some of the horseradish greens from the Philippines that have been hanging out in the freezer (a pack I bought with the hot pepper leaves I used last week). I defrosted the horseradish leaves, hoping they'd be super-peppery...but alas, they are just...green. So, I used some of my chicken stock cubes to make a little Asian-inspired noodle soup.

Faux Indonesian Curry Chicken Noodle Soup

6 chicken stock ice cubes (I used cubes from the batch of stock that I hadn't reduced so much, so you could use less if you've made stronger cubes)
1 1/2 c. water
1/4 c. shredded chicken
1 tsp. Bumbu Inti B curry paste (or southeast Asian curry of your choice)
handful dried rice vermicelli
1/4 c. frozen horseradish leaves (thawed), or green of your choice (I'd add a handful or two of bok choy next time around...).

Heat stock cubes and water, and add chicken and curry paste. When it's simmering, throw in the rice vermicelli and cook for a minute or two (or until noodles are done). Add leaves (or if you're adding raw veggies, add them just before the vermicelli is done). Remove from heat and serve.

I still have most of the packet of leaves left, so perhaps I'll do some research and make something more exciting tomorrow.

Operation Clean Out The Fridge: Zombie Chickens

Well, OK, they weren't actually reanimated brain-munching chickens...but I'm giving new life to chicken bones. Perhaps "FrankenChickens" would be a more appropriate term?

I often pick up a rotisserie chicken to use in my salads. After I've removed the meat, I boil the bones and whatever skin is left to make a basic stock. But over the last couple of months, I've been completely lazy and put the bones in the freezer, figuring tomorrow would be a better day to deal with them. Three chickens later, it was time to make:

Frozen Chicken Stock Cubes

I threw two of the carcasses into my large stock pot, and the third (from Citarella...yum...) into a large pan, and filled both with water. I simmered everything for about 3 hours (checking periodically to make sure there was still enough water), removed the bits and bones, and reduced the liquid to 2 cups per chicken (I should have gone down to 1 cup, but my windows had steamed up and my apartment was like a poultry-infused steambath, and I couldn't take it anymore). I poured the remaining liquid into ice cube trays and popped them into the freezer.

Alas, this didn't really solve my space issues, as I now have bags of cubes filling the freezer. But it's worth it, as I love having these little stock cubes at the ready: I'll heat a bunch to make soup, throw one in a stir-fry or pasta concoction, or add them to something that needs a little extra flavor.


Crazy Cookies

Nancy C. and I ventured into Milk & Cookies on Commerce Street for a Saturday afternoon snack. After much pondering, we decided to try the ice cream sandwiches, which I'd read about last summer. They turned out to be a nice treat: the cookies were nicely buttery and not too sweet (hurrah!), as was the ice cream (from il laboratorio del gelato). There were no regrets afterwards, and the resulting sugar high was manageable (not like the nightmare Magnolia Bakery Hangover. Ugh.).

We also tried some of their samples, and I'd like to go back for a chocolate chip cookie sometime (I usually find them boring, but these were remarkably flavorful). I would've tried a whoopie pie, but wasn't in the mood for cream cheese filling. Does anyone in this town make plain-old, straight-up whoopie pies?

Overall, with a decent amount of seating and a pleasant staff, the place had a nice vibe. Good excuse to go check it out again...

Milk & Cookies is at 19 Commerce Street, just west of 6th Avenue.


Operation Clean Out The Fridge: Hot Pepper Leaves

It's spring cleaning time, and it's the fridge's turn for a makeover. Its shelves are packed with jars of curries and sauces I've picked up here and there, and the freezer is chock-full of things I should've probably used ages ago. And considering farmers markets and gardens are gearing up for a bountiful season, I've decided that it's past time to play with the food I already have.

Today's object: the package of frozen hot pepper leaves I picked up in Chinatown a while back (along with some Wasabi greens, which also need to be used). I was hoping they'd have a nice bite, but after defrosting and having a sample taste, I discovered they were more reminiscent of plain old green peppers.

Easiest way to use them? Stir fry. I sautéed some beef (also from the freezer) in my Sichuan Pepper Pickle and a little Sichuan peppercorn oil. I tossed in some rice vermicelli noodles (which I'd quickly boiled in water), the hot pepper leaves, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and a teaspoon of Vietnamese chili garlic sauce.

Interestingly, once the hot pepper leaves were combined with the strong flavors of the Sichuan Pepper Pickle and the beef, they tasted similar to the tea leaves in a Burmese tea leaf salad. Kind of weird, but enjoyable nonetheless. Time to see what the wasabi greens have in store...


Good Deals: Diner Run

Like everyone else on this planet, sometimes I feel too tired to cook. Last night, even though I'd pulled ingredients out of the freezer to start on my upcoming "Cleaning out the Fridge" project, I just couldn't face bellying up to the stove. I was feeling awful and needed comfort food, so I decided it was time to participate in that good ol' NYC tradition: takeout.

Luckily, my local greasy spoon is the Skylight Diner, which happens to be pretty darn good. When I'm craving my (usually monthly) diner run, I go for my favorite thing on the menu: a Patty Melt. Skylight's version is a ground beef patty smothered with sautéed onions and American cheese, all nicely put together grilled cheese style on rye. It's the best I've had in this town so far, and kinda worth the guilt.

But today, I have to walk 5 miles or so to make up for it...

Skylight Diner is at 402 West 34th Street, just west of 9th Avenue.


Garden: First Seeds of Spring -- Preview of Things to Come

Throughout the next few months I'll be documenting my vegetable gardening adventures with friends upstate. They've signed up for a plot at Stony Kill Farm, an organic farm north of Beacon, and I'll be heavily involved this year, from start to finish. Tune in for the hits and misses...even though I grew up in the middle of farm country Pennsyltucky, I don't really know what I'm doing!

Happily, we kicked off the season yesterday, starting the first few seeds on my friends' back deck: hot peppers, bell peppers, Genovese zucchini, and a selection of herbs. We'll be adding lots of tomatoes, more hot peppers, cabbage, and a few other things in the weeks to come!