Roasted Zucchini Potato Soup

What is it about this time of year that makes me want to roast everything? I’ve been pondering trying to make a roasted vegetable soup, so I set to work with some of the things hanging out in my vegetable drawer. I totally improvised and ended up with something really weird at first, but after tossing in a little bit of this and that, I eventually ended up with a very happy-making, comfortable soup. Here’s the recipe as of last night, though I think I’ll definitely play with flavors the next time around.

Roasted Zucchini Potato Soup
• 1 large zucchini, cut into big chunks
• 2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 1 large onion, cut into large wedges
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• salt
• 4 cups stock
• 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
• freshly-ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
• 1 porcini bullion cube
• sour cream (optional)

Toss the vegetables in the olive oil and spread everything on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle a little salt on everything, then put it in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes (stirring and scraping from time to time and setting aside anything that might burn), until the potatoes and onion are nicely browned.

Put the vegetables into a soup pot. Deglaze the cookie sheet with about ½ cup of the stock, then add that liquid to the veggies, along with the rest of the stock. Add garlic and pepper, then simmer everything for about 20 minutes. Purée until smooth, and add a little water if it’s too thick. Add the bullion cube, herbs, cayenne, and a little salt to taste.

It’s wonderful on it’s own, but I swirled in a little dollop of sour cream, which added a nice little zing.


Garden 34th Street: Just in Time for Halloween... Frankenpepper?

I don't know for sure...but I think I may have cross-pollinated my hot pepper plants? Every day I play paintbrush bumble bee, zipping from flower to flower pollinating my chilis. I never really thought about what I might be doing...messing with nature and all...

Then the other day, I noticed that some of the young peppers on one of the chili hot plants were shaped like biquinhos. So, I guess we'll just have to wait a few weeks to discover the spicy monster I've created...


Irony Fish?

An impromptu and generous invite from the Smith family led me to dinner at Ed's Chowder House, the recently-opened restaurant in the Empire Hotel. I wasn't planning on blogging about it, but upon receipt of my entrée (the Chatham Cod with potato chip crust, spinach, and mustard sauce) I decided I had to do the annoying thing and pull out my camera...

When the dish arrived, it wasn't at all what I expected (I thought the chips would be crushed and the fish would be completely coated). Instead, it kind of perplexed me and made me laugh: it was a sort of ironic, almost hipster take on a sort of old-school idea. I wanted to like it, but alas, the mustard sauce was too fennel-y for my taste, so the dish was merely OK.

But the restaurant has some great offerings, and is definitely worth checking out. I had a nice jalapeño-infused margarita, the lobster rolls were delish, there' an amazing creamed corn with jalapeño and cheese, and the chocolate doughnuts with vanilla cream, hazelnut chocolate sauce, etc. were a nice end to the meal (though Jimmy thought they tasted like chive dumplings...I wonder if the kitchen made the mistake of frying them in the oil used for savory things? They need to fix that...).

Ed's Chowder House is at 44 West 63rd Street, between Broadway and Columbus.


Sunday in NY, Part 2: Wandering...

Yesterday was a beautiful day in NYC...one of the particularly spectacular ones that only occur in the fall. I went a-wandering after hitting the New Amsterdam Market and ended up zig-zagging my way from the Seaport, through Tribeca, up The High Line, then home. Niiiiice...

As I walked up the hill from the East River, I noticed a new building with a wave-like silver façade that looks like it might actually end up being a nice addition to the city. I'm kind of digging some of these retro-deco designs that have been popping up around town recently.

This discarded refrigerator on Greenwich was unusually immaculate. For whatever reason, it fascinated me...like it was just ready to be filled with happy, fresh groceries...

I don't wander around Tribeca enough... I discovered Staple Street--a fairly interesting-looking alley in the midst of it all. Kind of cool.

And then...Autumn on The High Line. Wonderfully different from the summer, and they've done a nice job with the seasonal wildflowers. I love that the park has been dramatically different every time I visit.

If only the entire city hadn't decided to visit yesterday, too...

Sunday in NY, Part 1: The New Amsterdam Market Redux

After September's colorful edition of the New Amsterdam Market, I decided a visit to its October event was in order. Using my search for one of the garlic vendors from last time as an excuse (alas, he wasn't there), I happily explored... There was definitely more meat this time (but still very little in the cured department), way more wine, less chocolate (what?!), and many, many people.

The stand-out vendors were two offering some fine swine... (Me? Pork? Really?):

The super-nice duo from Ithaca's The Piggery were selling some spectacular pork products (a couple of patés, prosciutto-like ham, cooking lard, and much more). I was drawn in by their pork confit (first thing listed on the sign!), and when I mentioned having taken a stab at making it myself, Heather gave me a card and offered to help with any future pig meat forays. So nice! Two thumbs up.

For lunch, I partook of what might be the best sandwich ever, filled with the spectacular porky goodness from Porchetta. I heard about this East Village heaven about a year ago, but--perhaps as some sort of self-preservation--I hadn't actually gone for a meal. But I caved yesterday when the beautiful Roman style herb-infused flesh with gleaming skin called to me through its little glass display. Wow. I couldn't put my finger on it yesterday, but looking at the ingredients on Porchetta's website this morning, I think fennel was the key ingredient. Crazy. I need to go have a plate sometime. Totally worth the trek.

All-in-all, it was a great start to a beautiful day's wanderings.


Culinary Playtime: Squash Stew

Yesterday evening, it was time to take the A train to check out Mandy and Sté's new kitchen, which is absolutely spectacular! (We finally have the space for a cooking show!) They have a HUGE counter, awesome faucet (with a touch sprayer function!), stove with a super-charged burner, lots of storage, and a fridge with a space-age water dispenser. Niiiiice...

When it was time to cook, KKNY's vegetarian voice--a.k.a. Mandy--had picked up the fixin's for a sort of North African vegetarian stew. We were playing, so didn't really pay attention to amounts, etc., but here's the basic improvisation:

We sautéed three minced cloves of garlic and one small onion in some olive oil, then added two large carrots, which Mandy had cut into large chunks. After a bit, we added smoked paprika, sweet paprika, coriander powder, a little cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, two strands of saffron, and a little water, then covered and cooked on low heat. After about 5 minutes, we added butternut squash (peeled and cut into large cubes), a can of tomatoes, and a little more water. When the squash was cooked, we added a diced apple, which we cooked for a few more minutes, then stirred in half a bunch of chopped fresh cilantro.

We served it with quinoa (sautéed in olive oil and salt before it was steamed) and garnished it with chopped mint and pomegranate--which actually made the dish. Next time we'll add some almond to the quinoa, but otherwise, we were pleased with the results of our culinary playtime!


Today's Dining Section: Matchbooks

Funny...this weekend I was pondering the fate of restaurant/bar matchbooks, and lo-and-behold, today's Times dining section answers my question! I've never been a smoker, but always grab matchboxes/books when leaving restaurants, and am amassing quite the collection (I recently discovered that I have a couple of boxes from The Greatest Bar on Earth, which was at the top of the World Trade Center).

I'm glad to see that this tradition seems to be continuing. If nonsmokers like me are suckers for this propaganda, it looks like it's a marketing tool that's here to stay.


Today @ Hong Kong Supermarket: "New Expression of the Daintiness"

Today's afternoon of errands included a stop at the Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown (Hester and Elizabeth). I took my time exploring the newly-renovated space, and had to share a few of my finds.

Towards the front of the store was a display of tins filled with assorted biscuits. Each seemed to serve some sort of purpose, and as I couldn't decide if I wanted a Happy Day, Memories, or Lucky Love, I decided to move on. But I wonder, are these cookies specifically engineered to produce the advertised results?

I like the honest, in-your-face way they've designed this packaging. But I couldn't decide if PLAIN was appealing...or sad...

We should really use more "bumper crop" marketing in the States. Such a good term, especially if combined with carnival ride imagery.

I think the grape crackers are the find of the day, especially with the tag line "New expression of the daintiness / Choiceness raw material." I came really close to picking them up--even put them in my basket--but I remembered...the last time I bought weird Chinese experimental crackers with a European sensibility, I had serious regrets.

Garden 34th Street: Red Birds

More on the autumnal pepper ripening: Over the chilly, gray NYC weekend, my little biquinho ("little beak") peppers went from yellow to red! I think I'll leave them on the plant for a few more days, then play...


Garden: Mysteries & Soup

We zipped out to the garden on Saturday to do a little end-of-season harvest and see what kind of damage the cold weather had done. Our little area looked emptier than ever, especially compared with the crazy overgrown plots next to us. The formerly-robust chili-hot plants are pretty much gone (did they just vanish into thin air with the frost? Amazing!), but the ajis, cayenne, and tomatillos are fighting to hang on. And the collards are fine, of course.

We have two fun mysteries to solve...

Mystery #1 and "whaaaa?!" moment of the day: The temperature drops, and this little Brazilian pepper decides to ripen? What's going on here? Do aji's love cold weather? Is this the little pepper that could?

Mystery #2: Why did some of the tomatillos fill out properly, while others were big husks housing tiny fruit?

Luckily, they all tasted as they should, so we used them to whip up a soup from our harvest and some leftovers in the fridge: Into stock from the previous night's chicken carcass went chopped tomatillos, lots of garlic, a minced onion, two green ajis (which we'd puréed with some of the tomatillos and stock), spices (thyme, cumin, salt, pepper, Pickapeppa Sauce, and some other things--we were improvising, and my memory fails me), lime juice, shredded chicken, sliced smoked sausage, and chick peas.

We were very, very happy with the result.

Over on the HPJ Blog...

A super-simple magic trick with HPJ...


Garden 34th Street: It May Be Cold...

It's cloudy, rainy, and 40-something degrees outside, but somehow...the biquinho are beginning to ripen! I think I'll be able to play with these tasty yellow treats next week...


Peary Good

I've been playing with my easy apple cake recipe over the last couple of weeks. When Mandy and I decided to throw some diced pears into the mix, I thought, why not make an all-pear version?

And so I did.

While the apple cake is a sort of comfort food, the pear version is kind of transcendent. It's almost like something you'd get at a fancy-schmancy restaurant, especially if you served it with a little boozy whipped cream on the side...

Pear Almond Cake

• 4 fleshy pears, peeled, cored, and diced
• 1 cup flour
• 1 cup sugar (a little less if the pears are really ripe)
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 tablespoon freshly ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 cup butter, softened
• 1 egg
• a dash of salt
• 1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl (the moisture from the pears will help produce the batter). Spread into a 9x7–inch baking pan. Bake for 30–40 minutes.


Garden 34th Street: I Was Wrong...Again...

So the peppers I thought were malagueta...aren't malagueta. They just keep getting bigger and bigger, so now I think they're dedo de moça, or "young lady's fingers" (eew). I was bummed at first--I was so looking forward to malaguetas--but these look like they'll be fabulous cooking peppers. Now if they'd only turn red...

And it looks like these little peppers on the neighboring plants are biquinho, or "little beak." They're super-cute, and Tony says they're kind of sweet and wonderful when fresh. Can't wait 'till these babies ripen! (By the way, I'm completely appreciating the poetic Brazilian pepper names. We English speakers need to work on some better names for things.)

The chili hots continue to chug along, which is great news for our jelly!


I Went to New York International Pickle Day and Bought Chocolate-Covered Bacon...

I hit the Lower East Side Sunday afternoon to check out New York International Pickle Day. I expected a small little gathering with a few stands, but wow! The lines were long so I didn't taste all that much, but the few things I did get to were stellar, especially the pickle truffles from Roni-Sue (which is where I picked up the chocolate-covered bacon. Yum. Only I go to a pickle festival and leave with bacon...).

A history of pickles. I figured people have been pickling things for ages--what better way to preserve things--but this cosmic display put things in perspective...

Fabulous turnips pickled with beet juice from one of the Middle Eastern places on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

Some Klezmer-jazz fusion.

Yup--kimchi is a pickle! This stuff was particularly yummy.

After the festival I payed homage to Guss' Pickles on Orchard Street...which is sadly moving to Brooklyn. Alas, another long-time traditional vendor is forced out due to rising rents.


Thematically Drinking...

I can't stop thinking about Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking, which I caught last night at Studio 54. I've always been a fan: The kid in me will always aspire to be her iconic Star Wars character (good thing the childhood Halloween photos of me as an Empire Strikes Back Leia seem to be missing). My older self appreciates her brilliance, writing, and ability to laugh at the challenges life's thrown her way.

I suppose the most striking thing about the show is her remarkable ability to relate to everyone in the audience. She's a star born to other stars...but really, it was a random act of fate that plopped her into the Hollywood melee. It could have been any of us. And by reminding us that we're all mentally ill in some way, shape, or form (yes, we are!), the best way to handle life's crap is by owning it. All you need is a little distance and the ability to laugh.

It's wonderful to see how she's turned her tumultuous existence so far into an entertaining lesson in life. It's helpful rather than exploitative, which is a refreshing antidote to the trashy memoirs and reality TV usually foisted upon us.

(The only bad thing about seeing a show like this is that Carrie's life makes mine seem mundane. Not that I'm interested in being an addict, "invited" to a mental hospital, married to a gay man, etc., but it makes me want to work on zipping things up a bit. As Auntie Mame said, "Live! Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!")

If you've ever been a fan of Carrie, one-woman shows, Hollywood, addicts, crazy people, and/or good writing, snag a ticket.

Wishful Drinking opens Sunday and runs through January 3, 2010.

What's Up With The Bacon Vodka Theme?!

I'm not really sure what's going on... First, I learn bacon is not for drinking after trying the bacon-infused vodka at Double Down Saloon. A few days later, Joe sends me an email about Bakon Vodka. Then yesterday, I find out my friend Mary Bliss (in the purple--go MB!) is in a commercial for said vodka.

Bakon Vodka: Magician from Shawn Telford on Vimeo.

Am I sensing a theme? Should I be frightened? I love bacon, but this bacon vodka thing is starting to get weird...


Truly Cheap Eats: Cuisine of Pakistan

Why, oh why, did I wait so long?

For years I've walked by Cuisine of Pakistan (Ninth Avenue between 36th & 37th), admiring the "Nice & Spicey" [sic] neon sign in the window. I always noted the many cabs parked out front, which meant the food was probably pretty good.

Finally a couple of weeks ago, I was starving and there was nothing in the fridge (full but nothing to eat--how does that happen?!). I was insanely late for the matinee of The Royal Family, so I decided to pick up one of Cuisine of Pakistan's Chicken Kebab Rolls for a whopping $3.50. Served on warm fluffy naan with lettuce, tomato, onion, and a little yogurt sauce, it was a revelation. Like the sign said, it was nice and spicy--it needed no additional hot sauce (a rarity for me)--and the many other flavors balanced out the tube of ground chicken beautifully.

I went back yesterday to double-check, and yeah, it's pretty darn awesome. It was the height of the lunch hour and the place smelled fantastic. I'll have to go back for the platter, which is also quite the deal: $7 for two vegetarian options, $8 for two meat dishes (both come with rice, naan, and sides).

Cuisine of Pakistan is at 478 Ninth Avenue.