Easy Apple Cake

I know its fall when I start craving apple cake, and a Friday delivery of Pennsyltucky homegrown apples sealed the deal: it was time to make one. I'm not the world's greatest baker (I like to play with ingredient amounts and usually mess up the chemistry of things in the process), but this is just about the easiest cake recipe I've ever seen. I discovered the basic recipe in one of my hometown's Bicentennial cookbooks (hooray for Farm Women Group #8, Halifax, PA), but of course I zazzed up the spices...

I made a cake this weekend, but as the leftovers were in Beacon, I made another last night. Other than forgetting to pick up nuts and the excitement of a little worm jumping out of one of the apples, it was quick, easy, and painless.

Easy Apple Cake

• 3 medium tart apples, diced
• 1 cup flour
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/4 cup butter, softened
• 1 egg
• a dash of salt
• 1 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl--the moisture from the apples will help produce a thick batter. Spread into a 9x7–inch baking pan. Bake for 40 minutes.


Garden: Winding Down

We went to harvest more peppers at Stony Kill this weekend, and it's amazing how things are really winding down. Where did the summer go? Oh, right...we didn't have one. Successful gardening was quite the fight this year, and many of the plots are completely overgrown and seemingly abandoned. But I'm glad we fought the fight. We continue to harvest what managed to survive, as do some of our other compatriots. One more month...

Some of our beautiful salad and pesto gatherings. The nasturtiums really loved the weather this year--we've never had such a wonderful harvest of vivid, flowery, peppery goodness!

The last of our maxixe, which we sautéed with garlic and popped into the freezer in anticipation of winter soups and stews. Oh, maxixe, you were good to us this year. Who knew two plants could feed a village?

The final mystery of the plot is the tomatillo. We have tons of fruit on the vine--and even more flowers--but nothing seems to be maturing. So, right now we have a boatload of very pretty...empty...paper pods. I guess we'll see what Mother Nature has in store!

Jelly's Up

Just returned from a busy weekend in Nancy's kitchen, where our main task was to crack out the cauldron and make our first giant batch of pepper jelly.

With all of our garden troubles this summer--wet, cold, blight, deer, etc.--we weren't sure how our crop of chili hots would turn out. There wasn't much sun and absolutely no hot weather...would they be hot? We were nervous...

Happily, somehow, we have hot peppers, so the jelly turned out better than last year. And we have a bounty of green ajis and colorful cayenne to boot, so we've decided we're definitely going to experiment with hot sauces this year. Might as well branch out!

We've also decided to launch a hot pepper blog, hotpeppah.blogspot.com, where we'll post fan recipes, ideas, and stories. If you have any favorites, send them our way!


Another Easy Fig Compote

I've been trying to catch up with the produce taking up vast amounts of space in my fridge. Last night's loss of most of a once-beautiful bunch of kale lit a fire under my butt, so bit by bit, I've been working to extend the life of everything in my fridge.

Tonight's challenge was the pint of figs that's been staring at me from the top shelf of the fridge since Thursday. I decided to return to my easy, versatile solution: compote. Here's my latest take on the multi-faceted accompaniment, and I think this might be my favorite so far.

Fig-Ginger-Red Wine Compote

• 1 pint figs (these were assorted, but any kind will do)
• 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
• 1/4 cup red wine

Trim and quarter the figs. Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer on fairly low heat, stirring regularly, until the figs break down a bit, about 10 minutes. Refrigerate.

Use as an accompaniment to cheese, pork, ice cream, etc.

Garden 34th Street: I Was Wrong!

Remember how I thought those first Brazilian peppers flowering in my window were going to be aji? I was wrong! This sure looks like a malagueta to me, which makes me very happy! The preserved ones Tony's brought back from Brazil have been the favorite of the varieties I've tasted (flavorful and really, really spicy), so I'm looking forward to checking out a fresh one.

Ripen, little buddy!


Christopher Walken Cooks a Chicken

I'm especially intrigued by what he does with the pears...may have to try them.

via Jezebel


Bacon Is Not For Drinking

At least not in the form I tasted yesterday...

A Friday night discussion about bacon beer at the Brooklyn Brewery revealed there were bacon martinis to be had back in good ol' Manahatta. I obsessed and instigated Sunday afternoon adventure to the East Village's Double Down Saloon, the outpost of the Las Vegas club I'd seen on a travel show...serving bacon martinis.

It turns out Double Down's martinis are actually bacon-infused vodka. There were two bottles of vodka with bacon strips sitting on the bar (which immediately reminded me of my friend Ken's dead snake liquor from Southeast Asia...). The bartender didn't know what kind of bacon was in the bottle, only that it was a high-quality variety that offered a better infusion. Although I was weary, I persevered and placed my order.

First sip: Interesting, but not at all what I expected (though I didn't really know what I expected). Smoky. Porky. A little maple? Lots of vodka. Weird. Bizarre. Like nothing I'd ever had. Kind of interesting, but...

I took another sip. Then another. And then I realized I'd never be able to finish it. As much as I love bacon, this was not drinkable, at least to me (the bartender said people either love it or hate it). So, at Tommy's suggestion, I turned the 'tini into a Bloody Mary. Much better. But the damage had been done...I think I still taste it more than 24 hours later.

Post-drink discussion brought up an alternate pork beverage idea: Vodka martini with a skewer of lardons. Might work?

Double Down Saloon is at 14 Avenue A, north of Houston. The Bloody Marys are fabulous.


Brewing Adventures

I hadn't been to Brooklyn Brewery's Friday Happy Hour in a few years, so when Adam gathered some troops for a night out, I happily hopped the L train to Williamsburg. I've been a fan of BB's concoctions for years, and I discovered a few years back how much better the beer is when served freshly at its point of origin.

Invited to share one of the room's elusive tables by some new Aussie friends, our group set to work tasting the offerings on tap. I didn't manage all 8, but got through a few: I began the evening with the Octoberfest ('tis the season!), which was good, but paled in comparison to the Brown, which is one of my go-to favorites. I had a sip of the Weisse, which was the evening's only letdown. I'm usually a fan--and have liked Brooklyn's version in the past--but it tasted truly bizarre (and actually kind of bad) next to the other selections. I moved on to the Blast, which was the revelation of the evening: fresh, colorful, and nicely orangey. For dessert I had the Pumpkin Ale, which was like liquid pumpkin pie, wonderfully rich and spicy.

What a great way to kick off autumn.

Every Friday the Brooklyn Brewery (1 Brewers Row, Williamsburg) makes room for Happy Hour, which begins at 6. It also offers tours Saturdays and Sundays.


Garden 34th Street: The Brazilian Peppers Are Popping!

Now that it's mid-September (and the days are getting shorter), some of the Brazilian hot pepper plants I kept in my window have decided to finally flower. I think the one above may be aji (like the ones in the garden upstate), but I'm not sure what the others are...next summer I WILL keep better track of things... Hopefully my little buzzing bee paintbrush has done its pollination job, and in a few days I'll have a bit of the tropics growing in my window.

I'm also hoping that I'll be able to keep all of the peppers going well into the fall (the chili hots are still producing both flowers and fruit), as I get more direct sunlight the lower the sun gets in the sky. Keep your fingers crossed!


Pickling Maxixe, Take 1

With mounds of maxixe still to be used in my fridge (yikes!), I've decided to try the centuries-old (at least I'd assume it's centuries old...) way of preserving things: pickling. Maxixe are kind of like Kirby cucumbers, so I scoured the web for ideas/suggestions. I found some Kosher dill pickle recipes that call for room temperature brining/fermentation (like the pickle barrel shops on the Lower East Side) and decided to experiment a bit. Hopefully I won't poison myself, but at the moment, it smells absolutely wonderful.

I wouldn't actually try this until I report back, but in the meantime, here's what I've done so far:

I thoroughly washed 6 maxixe, then cut them in quarters (like wedges). In the meantime I brought 1 1/2 tablespoons of sea salt to a boil in 1 quart of water (I shouldn't have listened to the website that said I could use it...I think it's why my brine is cloudy). Into a small sterilized jar I put about 1 teaspoon of herbes de Provence, 1 sprig of green peppercorns (from a Thai grocery--probably about a tablespoon of loose), and 1 smashed clove of garlic. I tightly packed the maxixe in the jar, then covered everything with the hot brine. According to the research I'd done, you need to make sure the vegetables stay completely submerged, so I popped a little shallow bowl on top, which seemed to do the trick.

You're supposed to leave them in a cool, dark place for 3 to 6 days, checking them each day to skim off whatever scum may appear at the top and add more brine if need be. So far, so good--I think I'll try a piece tomorrow (day 3) to see how they taste, then cover and put in the fridge.

They smell absolutely fabulous today, so at least, if nothing else, I'll have a pleasant aroma in my kitchen for the next 24 hours.

I'll be back with more...unless I die from food poisoning.

Chard Season

I spent a bit of time yesterday pondering what I should do with the absolutely gorgeous--and enormous--bunch of rainbow chard I purchased from one of the farmers at the New Amsterdam Market. The plant's color seems to bleed when you cook it, and I wanted to preserve and enjoy its beauty somehow...so I decided I'd experiment with half of it by making a raw salad. It was a success: another dark green, vitamin-rich, flavorful side option with that unmistakable Swiss chard taste.

Rainbow Chard Salad

• 1 small bunch (or 1/2 large bunch) of rainbow chard (it's probably best if you get some that's been freshly harvested)
• 1 large green onion
• juice of 1/2 lime
• 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
• salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
• 1 medium vine-ripened tomato

Wash and dry the chard, roll the leaves into a cigar shape, then cut into 1/4-inch slices (you'll end up with long strips when everything unrolls). Chop the stems into slightly smaller pieces, and thinly slice the entire green onion. Place the chard and onion in a large bowl with the lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toss with your hands, squeezing everything together to coat. Roughly dice the tomato and toss into the mix. Pop the salad into the refrigerator and allow everything to marinate for at least 30 minutes (if you have time, allow the flavors to mingle for 2 hours or more). Serve.

The New Amsterdam Market

Mandy and I braved the Sunday morning South Street Seaport crowd to check out the New Amsterdam Market. It was definitely worth it, and as far as NYC goes, it was the best market I've been to. There were (according to the materials) over 80 producers, and many offered tastes of superb products. While we agree it was lacking in the charcuterie and fish departments (especially as it was on old Fulton Fish Market land), there were some stellar stands.

A few of my faves included the two cheeses by The Pampered Cow, the Concord grape sorbet from The Bent Spoon, the prizewinning fresh ricotta from the Narrangansett Creamery, the blood orange olive oil from Provisions, and the crunchy chocolates from Taza. The Queens County Farm Museum also had a stall, and we decided we need to take a field trip to NYC's only historic, still operating farm. I bought a chocolate habañero from them...perhaps I'll dry some of the seeds and plant them next year. I picked up presents for Nancy from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, but resisted a sandwich from Porchetta (a decision I later regretted). Mandy scored a baguette from Wave Hill Farm, which, she said as we walked, smelled like France. She reported back this morning, and indeed, it was spectacular.

The next New Amsterdam Market is Sunday, October 25, 2009. The stalls are open from 11am to 4pm at the South Street Seaport, underneath the FDR between Beekman Street and Peck Slip.


I Didn't Eat The Eyeball This Time

I ended up at Tony's last night for an impromptu fish fry, and he made the tastiest Porgy I've ever had. He marinated the whole fish (there were 4 of them) in lemon juice and kosher salt for at least an hour, then lightly coated each with a flour/cayenne/lemon pepper mixture (with a little salt). He popped them in hot oil, and voilà: a perfect little edible fish sculpture.

I made tamarind gin cocktails (half tamarind juice, half gin, lots of ice), and Tony served the fish with green papaya salad, sautéed escarole, and polenta with feta and pesto. Brilliant.


Fabulous Idea

From a Japanese bakery: shortbread cookies with black sesame. Why didn't I think of that?!


Cookbook Fun

I have a bit of a vintage cookbook collection, and the Metropolitan Cook Book (published by the life insurance company of the same name) is the one that started it all. Published over a number of years (my copy is from 1964), it's chock-full of wonderfully cheerful food drawings (alas, I can't find the illustrator's name). This extra...er...special one is my favorite...

Garden: Ma-Sheesh!

I finally made it back to Beacon this weekend (it had been a month--where did the summer go?!). What did I find upon returning to the garden? Maxixe! Loads and loads of maxixe!

We think we harvested a bushel from the big plant, which we also weeded at the same time. Turns out that may have been a mistake... When we returned two days later, the poor thing was pretty much toast, as it was very brown and very sad. Oh well. Note for next year: don't weed maxixe, as it seems to like the shady damp, and the weeds don't seem to bother it.

More from the garden:

The peppers are also zooming along. If we get some more sunny days we should end up with a boatload of chili hots. Hooray!

It looks like these are the only Brazilian hot peppers to survive in the garden. I believe they're aji, but I can't find the seed packet to be sure. Regardless, they're flavorful and hot.

And apparently we're growing tomatillos! Didn't realize I planted them, but the bees are loving the flowers, so as long as we get some good weather this month, I see much wonderful salsa in our future.


Cocktail Time: Aperol & Soda

To kick off the Labor Day weekend, I'm finally posting my official drink of the summer (better late than never?): Aperol & Soda. And yes, it's as easy as it sounds.

This winter I discovered Aperol, a bittersweet Italian aperitif similar to Picon (the stuff I wished I'd brought back from France. Who knew they'd just stopped importing it?!). A few months later, Jimmy and I stopped for after-dinner drinks at Nizza, where an indecisive me ended up with an Aperol & Soda. Absolutely perfect.

Aperol & Soda
Fill a Collins glass with ice. Add a jigger of Aperol, then top with soda water/seltzer.



I've finally spent a little time in the recently revamped Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown (on Hester at Elizabeth, in the former Dynasty Supermarket space). I need to explore it a bit more, but I can already tell it's much cleaner and better organized than Dynasty, and it seems to have a slightly different kind of stock than the other large Chinatown markets (oh, and it's slightly cheaper, too).

But, there's also an evil side... You're lured into the store by the smell of cream filled cakes baking in a little stand by the entrance. And if the aroma wasn't enticing enough, once you see the wonderful little machine that makes them...you're hooked. If you decide to buy some (8 for $2), eat them while they're still warm, when they're surprisingly wonderful. But once they've cooled they're kind of fakey tasting, which is no surprise, but a letdown nonetheless...


Yesterday In Pizza

In today's episode of Yesterday In Pizza, I ask this question: Why did we end up with this giant bubble-o-'za? Granted, it was part of the experimental appetizer round we made with leftover dough, but still... Only three minutes in the oven, and suddenly we'd given birth to something truly perplexing.

Alas, I have no answer. We couldn't figure it out. Any thoughts?


Is That Potato In Your Stir Fry?

Sunday night was another play night. Mandy needed to eat vegetables, Sté was hungry, and we were all oozing inspiration. So, while Sté used his creative mind to act like he was asleep on the couch (the loud snoring was incredibly convincing), Mandy and I set to work with beef, potatoes, asparagus, Cremini mushrooms, zucchini, and maxixe. What to do? Stir fry.

But stir fry with potatoes, you wonder? Well, it's nothing new. I've had stir-fried potatoes at Grand Sichuan (deliciously crunchy cooked with some peppers in oil and vinegar), so Mandy set to work shredding the potato with my Mouli Julienne while I chopped the veggies.

Rather than offering a traditional recipe, I offer our play-by-play:

Into my pot (yes, I need a giant wok...but where would I put it?!) went some Sichuan Pepper Pickle (a heaping tablespoon?), a little oil, and about 1/2 lb of sliced beef. We sautéed it until it was almost done, then threw in the a bunch of asparagus (chopped), followed by 1 lb. of mushrooms, which I'd cut in half (or vice versa? It really doesn't matter). And then I remembered the maxixe, which I sliced into wedges and popped into the pot. When the veggies were almost done, we added the julienned potato (one Idaho), a little more Sichuan Pepper Pickle, some soy sauce, and a little Sichuan Peppercorn Oil to give the dish a colorful zip. We turned off the heat, then stirred in about 1 cup of julienned zucchini and a chopped Holland red bell pepper.

How did the potato work? It was perfect. It added just the right amount of starch to thicken the sauce, and we didn't have to bother with rice or noodles, so it made our lives incredibly simple: One-dish stir fry.

Up to the roof we went, where we served our creation with a little chili garlic sauce (a must-have addition). Sté picked up the fixings for a pear spritzer, and Mother Nature provided us with a spectacular Krakatoa-like sunset. We ate and were happy...a beautiful wrap to the weekend.