A Little Culture: Chinatown & Ciao Amato

It's been a beautiful weekend in the city, full of sunshine, flowers, friends, food, and entertainment. My list of meals since Thursday night is frightening (let's just say I'll be eating salad all week to make up for it), and I'll write more on last night's pizza making adventure in a later post. But today, especially, was one of those days that really only happens in New York, and makes me respect this amazing city in which I dwell.

The morning began with dim sum at Golden Unicorn, which is back on my list of acceptable places to go. I'd been there a few times years ago, and stopped going because I thought it was completely boring and overrated. But today it redeemed itself, and we truly pigged out. I'd say the highlights were the fluffy baked roast pork buns, the garlicky spare ribs, and the stinky (in a good way) durian pastry. I think I still favor the massive selection and entertaining theatricality of Jing Fong, but if I want easy, quiet dim sum, I'll head back to Golden Unicorn.

I left my dim sum partners (all of whom were heading to the Bang on a Can Marathon) walked north on Mulberry past Columbus Park, and stopped for a minute to listen to some informal Chinese opera. I especially dug the cigarette-smoking zither guy...he, for whatever reason, made the experience so much better.

I continued my trek north to meet nightafternight for the final performance of the Amato Opera. Run by Tony Amato for 61 years, I'd walked by the place a million times, but with my spoiled New York "Yeah...it'll always be there" head, had never managed to go. The tiny opera house is two buildings north of where CBGB used to be (note the black John Varvatos awning), and it's so amazing that these two ends of the musical spectrum existed so close to each other for so long. I'm thankful I got to go--it was a sort of throwback to another era, and the company was obviously a closely-knit family that enjoyed every bit of what they were doing. It wasn't the most highly-polished Figaro, but I think it was the most enjoyable I've ever seen.

Listen to Lara Pellegrinelli's NPR story on the closing of the Amato, and check back for a link to nightafternight's New York Times review. UPDATE: Here's the Times link.


It's Rhubarb Time Again

As I was surveying Nancy & Jess's backyard in Beacon this weekend, I noticed it was harvest time for their beautiful rhubarb. I'd used quite a bit from the plant last year and didn't seem to damage it at all, but I decided to do a little research before yanking some stalks this year. A quick Google search found this video, which explains the proper way to harvest. What a difference! Suddenly...it all made sense...

Growing Fruit & Vegetables: How To Harvest Rhubarb

I harvested four stalks--I didn't want to go too crazy and damage the plant--and decided to make a basic, freezable recipe that ended up going smashingly well with vanilla ice cream.

Rhubarb Cardamom Concoction

•4 long stalks of rhubarb (about 18-inches each)
•1 cup blood orange juice
•1/4 c. sugar
•1 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
•1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
•a pinch of cayenne

Cut the rhubarb stalks into smaller pieces (about 1/2 inch or so). Put in a saucepan, add the rest of the ingredients, and cook on medium heat until the rhubarb falls apart. Taste, and add more spice to balance, if you like.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.


Garden: Memorial Day Weekend Part 2--The Plot

Here 'tis--our plot at Stony Kill. Twenty by forty feet (two 20 x 20 sections) of empty dirt just waiting to be the 2009 home for our garden madness. We arrived at 10:45, and by 12:30 we'd planted 3 squash, 5 zucchini, 9 okra, 11 chili hot peppers, 6 maxixe, 8 jiló, a few nasturtiums and a whole bunch of little tiny Italian lettuces.

We began by mapping where we were going to plant things, then used rakes to break up the soil. Even though this is an organic farm, it's amazing how much garbage we found: plastic pieces of plant tags, discarded plastic pots, a bottle top, half a soda can, and other random bits of cast-off leftovers. We also discovered some mint that will probably cause a few issues. It had already shot runners throughout about a quarter of the plot, and will undoubtedly make return appearances all summer. (I think this also means I dub 2009 the year of the mojito...again...)

And then it was time to plant. As a city person who needs to buy soil at the store, it was so wonderful to play in the Stony Kill dirt. This was real earth, and felt absolutely amazing. Forget gloves and any sort of trying to stay clean--I just plopped down, kneeled in the dirt and played. Beautiful.

Last summer, Jess and Nancy had amazing success planting their zucchini and squash in mounds comprising the existing soil and Moo Dirt. I may have been a bit overzealous, but insisted that we had room for 8 plants (5 zucchini and 3 yellow squash). If they all take and have a highly-productive summer, we're going to have TONS, and I'll be making zucchini bread until next May.

Three maxixe and a grave...I mean, er, the raised bed that'll be the future home of beets, onions, carrots, and radishes. I did a little maxixe research, and as its in the cucumber family, we decided to plant them in mounds as well. I went for two mounds of three plants each--a sort of arbitrary decision, and we'll see how they like it.

We planted a row of jiló--about half of what I'd started from seed. They're still pretty tiny, so we'll see if these little babies like North America!

We basically planted the entire left-quarter of the plot. In the lower 3 rows: The little leggy two-leaf things on the far left are okra, and the rest are the chili hots. Above them is the mound of maxixe, the row of jiló, the other maxixe, and the raised bed.

A closer view of the chili hot peppers. Seeds from last summer's crop, sown in my window on 34th Street, finally planted about 60 miles north of NYC. Do well, little guys!

The plot after a morning of digging and planting. We returned a little later to add four Yellow Boy tomato plants and four red cabbages (yeah...we had to break down and buy a couple of things we just couldn't find in seed form...oh well).

Garden: Memorial Day Weekend Part 1--The Backyard

While many were barbecuing and lazing in the sun during this "first weekend of summer," we were slaving over plantlets. (OK, OK. I know other people were working, too...I'll admit it...and we barbecued as well.)

The box of baby plants safely made the trek upstate (thanks again G & J!), so I spent Saturday afternoon repotting things (mainly the loads and loads of tomatoes) and checking over the crop that's been living on Jess & Nancy's deck. Most of those plants made it, but a few didn't. For whatever reason the onions and chives, some of the beans and flowers, and most of the yellow squash and carrots just never came up. Don't know if the seeds were off, if the weather just wasn't favorable, or if the squirrels were up to their evil ways. Whatever the case, that's nature for you, I guess. But the zucchini was going gangbusters, a few of the container tomatoes had come up, and some of the herbs and flowers were still very small, but happy.

The lettuce/radish plot in the backyard is very happy (though full of maple helicopters! Aaargh!), and we were able to harvest a couple of beautiful salads..

The radishes seem to be doing well, but figuring out how long it is until harvest is a bit of a mystery. Guess I'll have to research.

Two pots of nasturtiums were doing cheerfully well.

Some of the same lettuce I'm growing on 34th Street. It looks so different and happy--the colors are more vibrant--and the flavor is much more robust. I guess growing things in the ground is always better?

The chili hot plants from 34th Street after a brief spring rain--I hope they love being outside!


Dinner for Five

A gathering of friends, an impromptu cooking frenzy. Last night Mandy suggested trying Bittman's Chocolate Tofu Pudding recipe from Wednesday's Times, which came out more like mousse. I may have overblended it, but whatever, it was spicy and yummy. This Minimalist decadence topped off a meal lemon zest and garlic chicken with mango basil (from my window!) salsa, asparagus, potato/portobello pancakes, and leftover Brazilian beef, beans, and rice. Were we ever full...and I think it ended up making people a little crazy. I'll leave it at that.

Lemon Zest & Garlic Chicken with Mango Basil Salsa

for the chicken
•zest of 1 lemon
•2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
•2 tbsp. olive oil
•1/4 tsp. salt
•1 lb chicken breast, thinly sliced

Combine lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, and salt in a bowl. Add chicken, coat well, cover, and marinate for at least two hours. Grill (a cast-iron grill pan works well for this, too).

for the Mango Basil Salsa
•2 mangoes, peeled, pitted, and chopped
•1 cup basil leaves, sliced thinly or minced
•2 scallions, chopped
•juice of 1/2 lemon
•hot pepper or sauce (optional)

Combine everything in a bowl. Serve with the Lemon Zest & Garlic Chicken.

Garden 34th Street: Today, They Head North

Some of my baby plants begin their journey upstate today. I'll miss them terribly, but promise to visit often.

To wish them well, here are some graduation photos: the original crop, all together in my window one last time. (Cue Pomp and Circumstance...)


Garden 34th Street: First Salad

An image of the first salad of the season harvested from my midtown Manhattan windowsill. In spite of the black soot from the Lincoln Tunnel traffic, the leaves are tender and delicate. I dressed it simply: extra virgin olive oil and Maldon sea salt. Beautiful.


Broccoli Rabe Pasta

In need of a quick dish to fortify us before heading off to an event, Jimmy and I whipped up a quick vegetable pasta last night. It turned out to be a very happy meal, and we decided to add this fresh, fairly healthy pasta to our regular recipe rotation.

Broccoli Rabe and Ramp Cappellini

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side

•1/2 lb. broccoli rabe, cut into 2-inch pieces
•1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
•8 ramps, roughly chopped (bulbs, stems, and leaves)
•1 medium hot red pepper
•zest of 1 lemon
•1/2 lb. dry cappellini pasta
•freshly grated Parmesan
•salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, bring some salted water to a boil. Add broccoli rabe and blanch until stalks are tender, about 7 minutes. Drain.

In another large saucepan, bring more salted water to a boil for the pasta.

In a skillet, gently heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the ramps and pepper. Sauté for about 2 minutes.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, add the broccoli rabe and lemon zest to the ramp sauté. Drain the pasta (retain about 1/4 of the water), and add pasta and the retained water to the vegetables. Toss with additional 1 tbsp. olive oil, if desired.

Serve with Parmesan and black pepper.

Note: When it's no longer ramp season, we think we'll try this with finely minced shallots.


Garden 34th Street: Today, Some Sunshine

In spite of the cloudy, cold weather we've had the last couple of days, the garden continues to boom. The sun returned today, and as we're due for a few beautiful days, I'm hoping things will really begin to take off. The basil is just about ready to harvest, I should probably transplant the tomatoes into bigger pots, and the peppers, maxixe, jiló, and okra is definitely going upstate this weekend (whether or not we actually plant it in our plot at Stony Kill is another story).

The emergency yellow squash I planted last week looks happy (the pot I planted upstate apparently didn't germinate...or the psycho squirrels had a snack...).

Yellow squash, cilantro, okra, and lots of peppers.

The heirloom tomatoes.

The maxixe is really happy, and definitely ready for the ground.

Garden 34th Street: First (Real) Harvest


Weeds, Take Two

The leftover dandelions were calling to me from the crisper drawer in the fridge, so I decided to sauté what was left, hoping they'd become a little less bitter. Well, I was wrong...so I added chili, garlic, pasta, and Parmesan to try to balance the flavor. It was still bitter, but scattered throughout pasta, the flavor was definitely manageable and actually kind of interesting. Once again, I think dandelions are probably better as a side dish.

And you know, maybe I take back what I said in my earlier post about eating my weedy lawn if I had one...or are there other edible weeds less bitter than dandelions?

Dandelion Pasta
serves 2 (or 4 as a side)

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 cups roughly chopped dandelion greens
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 servings cappellini pasta
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pan, heat some salted water for the pasta.

Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, gently heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, sauté for about 30 seconds, then add the dandelion greens. Cook, stirring regularly, until the greens are wilted and a dark, vibrant green. Add red pepper flakes and sea salt.

When the water's come to a boil, add cappellini and cook no more than 2 minutes (if using dry pasta, less for fresh). Drain, but reserve 1/4 cup of the water.

Add pasta and the reserved water to the greens and sauté until the water reduces. If you'd like, add an additional 1 tbsp. olive oil and toss.

Serve with the freshly grated Parmesan.

And yes, there's some chicken in the dish I photographed. Last-minute protein addition...


Two Days at the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival

This weekend was chock full o' socializing, much of it during the two days of the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival. This year was apparently empanada year, and we decided that Old San Juan had the best! Here are just a few photos...

Rudy's was prepared for a swine flu outbreak, just in case...

Recession Thai drew quite the line...

More $1 Thai

Fried Oreo's what?

Myrna's Caribbean Cuisine had yummy conch fritters that reminded me of the ones I had when I was a kid visiting family in the Bahamas. They even absorbed the fat in the same way, giving me a greasy lump-in-the-stomach feeling like nothing else ever has. (The stand's homemade hot sauce kicked some major butt, too.)


Weed Salad

Every time I leave the city and stay somewhere with a lawn, the homeowner usually spends some part of every day cursing the dandelions. I've often stood in a yard and gazed at them, wondering why we spoiled Americans choose to ignore something that's edible, plentiful, full of all sorts of good nutrients (apparently, most parts of the plant have a beneficial use), and grows despite our best efforts to kill it. If we thought of dandelions as food, not weeds, wouldn't that be cause for less grumbling?

And why don't I just take it upon myself to harvest the dandelions I spy? Well, generally, when I ask if the lawn's been chemically-treated, it's usually, sadly, yes. If I had a house, I'd go for an all-organic lawn that I could harvest for dinner. Makes sense to me.

So yesterday, at Chelsea Market, when I spied a bunch of dandelion leaves for a low, low price (though it's ridiculous I even paid for them--shouldn't we be paid for using them?), I decided I'd make a purchase. I hadn't had them in years, and since I still had some leftover asparagus/leek/ramp dressing, I thought I'd try a salad experiment.

Unfortunately, these particular dandelions were so potent that, as a dinner salad, it was like a bitter punch in the face. They were large and beautiful, but I think too mature to be eaten raw in large amounts. I think I'll cook the rest of them, and use younger leaves in future salads.

But I think, in general, dandelions could be the heart of a great side salad.

Springtime Dandelion Salad

A large handful of dandelion leaves
2 or 3 stalks of young asparagus
2 or 3 ramps
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. olive oil
hot pepper oil or flakes (to taste)
salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
1/4 cup roughly chopped sautéed mushrooms
1 tbsp. crumbled goat cheese or feta
1/4 cup shredded cooked chicken (optional)

Wash dandelion, discard tough stems, and roughly chop leaves. Cut asparagus stems and ramps (bulbs, stems, and leaves) into thin slices (save asparagus tips. Either sauté quickly and add to salad, or save for another use). In a serving bowl, toss dandelion, asparagus, and ramps with lemon juice, olive oil, hot pepper oil, salt, and pepper. Add mushrooms, cheese, and chicken. Serve.


Garden 34th Street: Quick Photos

My brain's been occupied with another project for the last two days, but the plants in my window don't seem to mind. I took a few afternoon pics so I could post a quick photo update.

I'll post more in-depth report in the next few days. Apparently, most of what I planted in Beacon has sprouted. Hurrah!

A field of lettuce. I really need to thin this out...

The heirloom tomatoes seem to be happy.

The alien pod maxixe. Still a bit frightened of what it will become...

The jiló has been a slow starter, but has taken off in the past day or so.

Bottom to top: okra, chili hot peppers, maxixe, and Genovese basil.


Banana Salad Dressing?

I'm still pondering the banana salad dressing (?!) we had last night at Kum Gang San. It was shocking at first (who expects banana flavor on a salad?), but the taste almost grew on me...kinda sorta... I don't think it merits a repeat performance, but the experience was sure worth it--every time Sté took a bite, he shuddered. Priceless.

I love that the places in Koreatown often experiment with Asian/Western fusion, but many of the ideas are a wonderful mystery to me. Why does Wonjo often serve instant mashed potatoes with the little appetizers? And last night's little free scoop of spinach frozen yogurt with red beans... Really?

At least Koreatown adventures are always exciting. You never know what will end up on the table...or what a lot of it is...