Garden 34th Street: They're Aliiiiive!

It looks like the peppers weren't mortally wounded by my destructive, anti-aphid measures after all! Most of the plants sprouted new leaves over the last few days, so I'm hoping we're out of the woods.

Now, I just have to get rid of those annoying little aphids that managed to survive...


The Supreme Spaghetti Squash

I'm an admitted noodle addict (my half-Sicilian blood has installed a few permanent cravings: pasta, sausage, citrus), but after this weekend's kitchen playtime, I officially think spaghetti squash is better than spaghetti. The crunch. The flavor. The flexibility. It's pretty awesome.

Spaghetti squash was a favorite when I was a kid. I don't remember having it all that much, but when we did, I was happy to scoop up whatever came out of this giant, mysterious vegetable. I was always amazed at the way it turned into a pile of spaghetti after roasting--it was the coolest squash ever!

I've only cooked two of them this season: One with Mandy, to which we added the spectacular combo of butter, sage, and salt. I roasted another on Saturday, and it ended up as a number of meals, my favorite of which was a sauté of homemade sausage (pork with herbes de Provence, Dijon mustard, and shallots), spaghetti squash, and a little butter. It was a fantabulous comfort meal that wasn't really all that unhealthy.

I need to play with one or two more before the winter's over. Perhaps one with tomato and garlic? Another with chorizo? So many possibilities!


Dimsum, Parades, & Tong Sing

We're halfway through the 2010 Lunar New Year celebrations, and yesterday was a day filled with friends, tummy-filling dimsum happiness, a joyful parade, and almanac enlightenment.

I kicked off my Chinatown adventure walking down the pre-parade Mott Street on my way to meet dimsum buddies at Golden Unicorn (18 East Broadway @ Catherine). It's not my usual go-to place, but I trust the leaders of yesterday's group (Ken Smith and Joanna Lee), and while they don't have the world's biggest selection, it is fairly high-quality and consistent.

As they had already scored a table, dishes were waiting for me, so I shed my coat and dug in. I'd say the stand-out selections were the pork buns, the various steamed seafood dumplings, and what I call the "pork football," a fried rice ball stuffed with pork, peanuts, and a few veggies. Yum.

After dimsum, we made our way to the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) to hear Ken and Joanna's talk about their recently-published Pocket Chinese Almanac. Check out the Ask Tong Sing blog to learn more about this culturally fascinating tradition.

Along the way, we meandered through the streets, enjoying the crush of the vibrant, festive parade. Just a few highlights...


On Forgetting About The Existence Of Frozen Vegetables

Earlier this week, I was desperate for some vegetables. An erratic schedule had prevented me from getting to the market, and my crisper drawer was practically empty, save for some shallots, herbs...and some mystery objects in bags that really need to go... My local produce purveyor was already closed, so I decided to hit my local super bodega (Sugar Deli on 36th and 9th...and it is a super bodega: not quite a full-fledged market, more than a bodega). They have a little refrigerated case that usually has a few overpriced veggies – which I tend to avoid – but I was desperate. The bag of spinach I chose wasn't really thrilling me...and then, as I walked towards the register, the cases of frozen food caught my eye. Of course! I could use frozen veggies! Duh!

I decided on a package of cut green beans, figuring I'd throw them in a stir fry with a chicken breast that had been hanging out in my freezer for a while (and Lord knows I have enough jars of Asian curries and spices in my fridge...). I must say, the dish turned out pretty damn well! I let the beans defrost on their own (there was still a little ice on them when I added them to the pan), and they ended up being hot, juicy, bright green, perfectly wonderful. And as leftovers, they were great!

From now on, I won't feel so desperate when I can't make it to my produce place...

Frozen Green Bean Stir Fry
• 1 box frozen cut green beans, mostly defrosted
• 1/2 pound chicken breast, cut into pieces
• 2 servings of the noodles of your choice
• 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
• 1 tablespoon Thai chili basil sauce
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce

For the noodles: Prepare according to package directions, aiming for them to be done just after you add the green beans to the chicken.

In a sauté pan or wok, heat the oil, then cook the chicken in the chili basil sauce until it's done. Add the beans, sauté for about a minute, then add the noodles and soy sauce. Sauté until the beans are bright green and done, which won't be long...maybe another minute.



Garden 34th Street: I May Have Killed My Peppers...

I used to say I had the "Thumb of Doom." I couldn't grow much of anything, and didn't really care. But then I discovered I could grow food in my window (and help grow food in the garden upstate), and things changed. I shed that black thumb and had some successes...and some failures.

I think I've had another serious FAIL. I think I've killed my peppers.

I've been having some MAJOR aphid issues over the last few weeks. I've had these little buggers on my plants on and off for a while (which is so super-weird, since I live in Midtown Manhattan), and nothing I did ever really got rid of them. Finally, one day last week, I looked up and there had been some kind of hatching. There were aphids EVERYWHERE. Crawling up the windows. Hanging out on the leaves and windowsills. Black ones. White ones. Purple ones. (OK, no purple ones, but I wouldn't have been surprised if there had been.)

Turning to the Interweb again, I decided to try a combination of approaches. I put the plants in the shower to wash away the aphids, and then I sprayed them with a dilution of organic soap, alcohol, and water suggested on some random website.

Oh Interweb...why do I trust you?

Two or three days later, I opened my curtains, and noticed all of the pepper plants had started to shed their leaves! And they haven't been getting any better.

So, this may be the end of the great pepper experiment. They don't look quite dead yet (there are some baby leaves, but I can't tell if they predate my stupidity), but they're kind of almost there. I'll keep you posted...

Today in Chinatown

Apparently, this is what a "pork picnic" looks like. Not quite what I'd imagined...

Dear Kam Man's window: What's the difference between "normal" and "nicety"?!


Year of the Tiger

Happy Lunar New Year! May it be joyful and prosperous for everyone!

(Now, get out there take advantage of the two-week celebration to sample some of the traditional festive fare!)


Red Navel Oranges...Gimme Blood

I'm a blood orange freak. When they're in season (right now!), I can think of nothing else fruit-wise. Blood oranges are intense and rich, like a fabulous punch of wonderfulness (perhaps everything the Hawaiian Punch ad men tried to tell us it was, when the guy came crashing through walls? I digress...).

So, when I picked up some red naval oranges out of curiosity last week, I was completely disappointed. They would have been fine in any non-blood orange season, but in comparison to my ruby-colored lovelies, they were just sweet.

What to do with the comparatively lame oranges? Easy peasy cocktail: I juiced the orange, added a shot of vodka and a little ice, and voilà!


Dem Bones

While I was tempted to go adventuring/photo taking in the West Village snow last night (it's always so pretty just after a storm!), the slushy, windy scene out my window helped me decide to stay in and make some soup. I'd stopped at Esposito's during my morning errands and decided to pick up a marrow bone, something I'd never used before. Seemed like a good day to play.

I used my fun new 6-quart Creuset stock pot (a Christmas prezzy--huzzah!) to boil the bones for a few hours (1 1/2 pounds of them, cut into 4 pieces) with garlic and herbes de Provence. I have no idea if I was doing what I was "supposed" to do, but eventually I ended up with about 2/3 of a pot of stock, glistening with beautiful blobs of floating marrow. It was a bit fatty (I'm assuming from the marrow), but what the heck... I set to work the soup, which I kept kind of simple so I could experience the marrow and celeriac flavors.

Snow Day Marrow/Potato/Celeriac/Celery Soup
• marrow stock (see above)
• 2 medium onions, chopped
• 4 stalks celery (w/ leaves), chopped
• 1 large bulb celeriac, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
• 3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
• 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
• salt to taste

Add the onions and celery to the hot stock, and cook until tender. Add celeriac, potatoes, and herbes, then simmer until the root vegetables are tender and flavorful, about 15-20 minutes. Purée with an immersion blender (or regular blender and return to the pot). Add salt to taste, then slowly simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow flavors to meld. Serve.


Fast Food

Just thought I'd post a reminder: stir fry is fast and easy. After battling some winter aphids on my pepper plants (and alas, I have yet to win), I was too tired to make the soup I'd planned. Then I remembered the bok choy in the crisper, and 10 minutes later I was eating dinner...

Last Night's Stir Fry

• 1 slice leftover pork roast, cut into pieces
• 1/2 cup roughly-chopped leek greens
• 5 baby bok choy, leaves washed and separated
• 1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper oil (if you have it)

In a skillet or wok, heat the roast pork. Add the leek greens and chili-garlic sauce and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add the bok choy, soy sauce, and oil, then toss, cover, and steam for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the bok choy is bright green and just tender. Toss again and serve.


4.75 Pounds Of Cheese

I took a field trip to the absolutely freezing cold state of Vermont this weekend (how can people live there this time of year? NYC can be rough in the wind, but this was nuts!). Returned last night carrying this large pile of cheese in my backpack, along with a giant-yet-beautiful loaf of bread, a 1969 creole cookbook, and a few other sundry items.

We set out to see my friend Nancy Johnston and her cohort Carl Danielsen in Vermont Stage Company's fabulous production of Souvenir, and while we were there I managed to partake in a few of the state's famous offerings... A salad with local goat cheese at Leunig's Bistro in Burlington, maple syrup, and some sharp Cabot cheddar (which made kicking back after Saturday night's show all the more enjoyable).

The pile of dairy pictured above is from Vermont Cheese Traders, which is a great little store in Burlington sporting some cheeeeeap cheese, among a lot of other things. Obviously, what I picked up is not all of Vermont origin (and I'm not going to eat all 4.75 pounds), but I couldn't pass up the inexpensive Pecorino Romano, Argentine Parmesan and Fromager d'Affinois. Vermont-wise, they sold loose bits of Cabot cheese for insanely low prices, so I picked up almost a pound each of Extra Sharp, Horseradish, and Chipotle.

Let's just say, the Horseradish makes for good grilled cheese, and I will be eating many of those sandwiches for the next couple of weeks. And then I will turn into a giant wheel of cheese, just in time for spring...


A Bowl Of Braised Fennel

I'm not the world's biggest fennel fan. Its raw taste and smell lies in the land of anise, which is one of the very few things that I absolutely cannot stomach (no black licorice, ouzo, or Absinthe for me!). But I'll usually pick up one bulb a season to make a blood orange and fennel salad, which I enjoy in small doses.

I made this year's salad, and have had the remainder of a bulb hanging out in the fridge for a while, just waiting for me to break down and do something with it. I finally decided to cook it, which seems to remove that bit of anise that potently (for me) resides in the raw version. I experimented and ended up braising it, and the resulting dish was pretty darn tasty.

Braised Fennel
• 3/4 bulb fennel (use more, but that's all I had)
• 1 teaspoon butter
• 1/3 cup stock
• sea salt to taste

Slice the fennel into long, 1/4-inch strips. Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the fennel and a little salt, and cook until it begins to brown. Add the stock, cover, and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes (checking and stirring occasionally), until it's tender and most of the liquid is gone.


Crepopo 2: It's About The French Salty Butter

After cooking for La Chandeleur (crepes for 7 = a lot of crepes!), I've realized crepopo is not only about the importance of figuring out the right batter concoction...it's also about the salty butter. The right salty butter. French salty butter.

Really, truly, the butter makes the difference. American "salted" butter is completely different then the French variety, so I highly recommend tracking some down (the packages I seem to find here are all "demi-sel"). Crepes cooked with it--especially savory ones--taste more authentic...and border on heaven...

I made buckwheat crepes for our main course, and the "regular" sweet variety for dessert. I cooked both batches in salty butter (with Jimmy's help), wrapped each stack in aluminum foil, and kept them warm in the oven.

My little International Grocery was out of buckwheat flour, so I picked up a bag of Bob's Red Mill, which is whole grain and darker than what I've used before. I made the batter the night before (250 g buckwheat flour, 250 ml water, 250 ml milk, 2 eggs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 40 grams melted butter), but when I opened it the following morning to make a test drive, it was waaaaay thick. So, I added a little more water (100 ml), and hoped things would work.

Oddly, when it came time to cook, the batter slid around the pan, which was of course problematic. I finally got a handle on things (don't grease the pan with butter first), and I ended up with a pile of workable crepes, which we later filled with a selection of bacon, goat cheese, mushrooms, melty leeks, eggs, and caramelized onions.

Dessert was happiness (I stuck to the same sweet crepe recipe as last week), and pretty much everyone took their turn constructing a crepe. Sté went first, and used his Parisian upbringing to make a perfectly-folded apricot/Nutella beauty.

Others experimented with the Brazilian fruit jams Tony contributed, salty butter, and straight-up Nutella. My personal favorite was another traditional French offering: butter, lemon, and sugar. Perfection.


The Lower East Side's Sweet Tooth

While, Dylan's Candy Bar is enormous and fancy (it is behind Bloomingdale's, after all), and the candy section of FAO Schwartz is famous, Economy Candy (Rivington between Ludlow and Essex) is wonderfully old-school, cramped, and fun. Since 1937--when they opened as one of the era's typical corner candy stores--they've been selling inexpensive candy, nuts, and dried fruit from all over the world.

I love checking out the candies from my childhood: Mary Janes, candy buttons (which I didn't really like, but was generally allowed to have for whatever reason), Atomic Fireballs, Red Hots, Dubble Bubble, wax bottles and lips, and--thankfully--candy cigarettes. I linger over the reasonably-priced imported British candy bars (I loved buying Cadbury bars from the machines in the London tube back in my college days), and usually pick up some Leone Polar Strong mints (a.k.a. to my friends as my "rabbit turd" mints), to which I'm totally addicted.

It's worth popping in if you're on the Lower East Side. Like many of the area's other holdouts (Katz's Delicatessen, Yonah Schimmel's Knishery, Russ & Daughters), it's an important window to our past, and I hope they stick around to sell sweets for another 70+ years.

Economy Candy, 108 Rivington Street between Ludlow and Essex.



I think I need to revisit the 1985 Japanese film Tampopo sometime soon, because I'm having a similar journey with crepes (without the opening the shop part...but you never know...life is funny sometimes).

I'm having a little get-together for La Chandeleur tomorrow night, so I spent half the weekend on French recipe sites and YouTube reading and watching and thinking and reading and watching... It's amazing how many variations there are for Breton-style buckwheat crepes (galettes de sarazin, galettes de blé noir). Do I use only buckwheat, or do I throw in a little wheat flour? Do I use milk? Beer? One egg or two? Melted butter?


So here I am, on a search for the perfect buckwheat crepe recipe. I made some batter this weekend--it was good, but not transcendent--that ended up being a mix of buckwheat and wheat flours, just because I ran out of buckwheat flour. Here's the recipe, just to keep track. (And I apologize to my readers without kitchen scales--I'm trying to be as close as possible to the recipes I'm studying on the web, and as the French weigh ingredients, well...)

Buckwheat Crepe Batter #2
• 180 grams buckwheat flour
• 70 grams all-purpose flour
• 250 ml / 1 cup milk
• 250 ml / 1 cup water
• 2 eggs
• 40 g (about 2 tablespoons) butter, melted
• 1/4 teaspoon salt

I quickly whizzed everything in my blender (there's a certain order of things when doing by hand, which I learned this weekend...but more on that later), decanted, then allowed it to rest in the fridge overnight.