Garden 34th Street: I Gave Up.

I euthanized my hot peppers last week. I just couldn't take it anymore. While they were fighting to survive--baby leaves were struggling to get through--the stupid aphids just wouldn't go away. There were a few days in which I thought I'd won, but alas, on closer inspection (see above), I hadn't.

So, they went down the garbage chute.

Yes, I'm sad. But they weren't as happy as they had been, and at least it's spring...I can start over.

I'll miss you, my little peppers. Here's to fighting the good fight...

My peppers last year, when they were still happy.


Save Stony Kill!

New York State is threatening to close the Stony Kill Environmental Center. It's not only the place we grow our peppers, but it's an important historic farm and educational center. It's the only place like this they're threatening to close, and it's absolutely ridiculous that they're threatening it's closure. Read the Poughkeepsie Journal article here.

A friend writes:

If you are interested in helping to save Stony Kill, here are a few addresses and/or phone numbers that you can write or call. Please take a few minutes to call or write. Who knows? It could help:

The following three names comprise the budget committee:

Governor David Patterson 518-474-8390

Senator Malcolm Smith 518-455-2701

Speaker Sheldon Silver 518-455-3791

The Department of Environmental Conservation: 518-402-8043

Assemblyman Joel Miller - 845-463-1635

Senator Steve Saland's number is 845-463-0840.

Senator Saland's assistant Susan suggested that letters sent to Comm. Gruskin might be helpful. Here is his address:

Commissioner Stuart F. Gruskin

Dept. of Environmental Conservation

625 Broadway

Albany, NY 12207

If you don't live in Stony Kill's voting districts but you have visited and enjoyed Stony Kill, please call and write your state representatives and the New York State DEC. If you haven't visited Stony Kill, visit soon and call and write your state reps and the DEC. It is a place that is so worth saving.

The KKNY Retro Recipe Project: Chicken Salad Sandwiches

As I searched my various cookbooks for something to make for Mandy's birthday brunch, I finally landed upon the perfect idea: tea sandwiches (easy to transport, very little to clean up). The books offered up so many ideas, from things with cheese and bacon to numerous varieties of egg salad, by I eventually went with a chicken salad recipe from the cookbook that started it all: the Metropolitan Cook Book. I have editions from 1959 and 1964, and I swear I've seen copies of this one dating back to the 40s. And there are different versions dating back to at least the teens, so who knows how far back this recipe goes?

The "Chicken Filling" recipe wasn't so scary, so I was actually able to stick to it (a miracle). But I must admit that I was lazy and made it in my food processor, so it ended up being more of a spread rather than a chunky chicken salad. Regardless, it seemed to go over well at the brunch, so I suppose it was actually a good idea! It was fairly tasty--the olives added just enough salt and a little zing, and I'm not sure what the walnuts did, but whatever... Of course, I'd tweak it somehow if I made it again (more olives? A little chili?), but overall, a success.


Axe Cookies?

Totally forgot to post these photos... I was intrigued by these boxes of retro-looking cookie cutters I say at Dean & Deluca a while back. But then I looked at the box a little closer. Is that an axe? Why would you make axe cookies? Is there a logging holiday I don't know about? Should I be making cookies for prison-bound axe murderers? As they're "for all party occasions," are we supposed to be hacking things in celebration of something? I'm mystified. Help!

Sign O' The Day

There are soooo many signs at Gray's Papaya, and I never noticed this one (at the 37th and 8th location). Don't they mean "revitalizer"?? Or is this an old Kellogg word (they also quote him on a sign or two...


Mixing The Minimalist

Everyone knows I'm a fan of Mark Bittman's New York Times Minimalist columns, and since reading his recipe for fried chickpeas with chorizo and spinach a few weeks ago, I've been obsessing about another one of his fabulous ideas. The only problem was the potential guilt I'd feel after making such a rich dish for myself...

So, when I was pondering making some sort of something that would make leftovers I could eat hot or cold, I remembered another Minimalist recipe, the risotto-style pasta (which I played with a while back).

I decided to combine the ideas.

I only had a small package of chorizo, so there wasn't really enough fat to fry the chickpeas like in his recipe. I also cheated a bit and used canned chickpeas, since I had them in the cabinet and this was a last-minute idea.

Chorizo Chickpea Green Bean Pasta
• 1/4 pound Spanish-style chorizo, cut into slices or chunks
• 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
• 3 cloves of garlic, minced
• 2 cups dry pasta (like fusili)
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 4 cups stock (you may not use all of it)
• 1/2 pound fresh or frozen green beans
• freshly-ground black pepper

In a medium-sized pot, heat the chorizo over medium-low heat until the fat begins to render. Make sure the chickpeas are fairly dry, then add them to the chorizo. Cook until the chickpeas begin to brown, about 5+ minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Return the pan to the fire, and add garlic, pasta, oregano, and 1 cup of the stock. Stir as if you're making risotto, adding more liquid as necessary, until the pasta's tender.

Add the green beans to the pasta and sauté until the green beans are tender (add a little more liquid if pasta begins to stick to the pan). Stir in the chorizo/chickpea mixture. Serve with the freshly-ground black pepper.


Truly Cheap Eats: Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle Inc.

Finding a place to eat in Chinatown after 9:30pm can be a little bit of a challenge. Many of the restaurants close up shop early, and the ones still open are either jam-packed or empty (no customers=what's up with the kitchen?). So, as Lara and I wandered around the semi-darkened streets searching for a good noodle option after a Friday night magic show, a place I've walked by a million times--but never noticed--stood out: Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle Inc., just off the Bowery on Doyers Street.

Move over Sheng Wang: this place takes Fujianiese-style noodles up a notch!

The place seems cleaner than Sheng Wang (it's newer, at least, and the kitchen's nice and shiny). When you sit down they give you a cup of nice jasmine tea to get you started, and they actually serve your food in real dishes, which is much nicer (and way more environmentally-friendly) than Sheng Wang.

Lara was in the mood for pan-fried noodles, and I suggested she try the peel noodles, so she chose the duck option ($6.25). When it came out it was gorgeous. The stir fry was basic--kind of in the Lo Mein/Yakisoba style--but fresh and yummy. And although the duck was bony, Lara thought it was tasty.

I couldn't decide what I wanted, so the server suggested I try the dumpling soup ($5), which I ordered with peel noodles. When it arrived, it was beautiful: there were more veggies than at Sheng Wang (Tasty adds a nice handful of fresh spinach), and there was the traditional plop of some pickled veggies in the middle. The broth was full of flavor, and the pork and bok choy dumplings were fresh and out-of-this-world (the server says they usually make them every other day, and they sell out quickly).

There are also a few things hanging out on the table to spice things up a bit: A dish of chopped cilantro, which added a wonderful freshness to the soup, and a new kind of chili oil I've never seen before--the chilis were finely ground, and there were a few sesame seeds floating around in the mix (it packed a nice punch, too). And just in case you needed a little more, there was dumpling sauce and sriacha, too.

I'm still down with Sheng Wang, but I think Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle Inc. has moved into first place on my list of noodle soup joints.

Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle Inc., 1 Doyers Street, just off the Bowery. Open 'till 10:30pm.


The KKNY Retro Recipe Project: 1942 Banana Oatmeal Cookies

1942's Bananas...how to serve them doesn't only offer up scary savory banana ideas (though, as I said, the banana meat loaf has potential), it also covers loads and loads of sweets (of course!). I'm a huge fan of oatmeal cookies, so when I spied a banana oatmeal cookie recipe, I decided that was the project for me.

With the aid of some wonderfully helpful friends, a group effort commenced. Using the Foster's supremely awesome 1940s(!) "Dormey" electric mixer, we put together the fairly easy recipe, and ended up with a pretty stellar batch. As in the meat loaf, I used less salt than the recipe called for (what's up with the salt lovers of 1942?), but otherwise, I think this might just be the latest entry in my repertoire!


The Hudson Valley's Crumbling History

I just returned from a long weekend in Beacon, and my trip back on the train yesterday evening was the first time I'd been on the Hudson side--in the daylight--in a few months. As I settled in for the ride with my book and iPod, I took a moment to enjoy the river and take in one of my favorite views: Bannerman's Castle, on an island just below Beacon. It's absolutely beautiful, and the island's been an important part of the Hudson Valley since the Revolutionary War (check out it's history).

I was completely shocked...so much of the beautiful structure had collapsed! I immediately called one of my friends to ask what happened (I didn't believe what I'd just seen), and sure enough, much of the ruined castle had started to crumble in December (see the Times article here). Since then, much more has come down.

For the 11 years I've been regularly traveling to Beacon, I've wanted to photograph the place (thank you Metro North, for the dirty windows that have prevented any decent photos so far) and take a tour. If they're still offering tours this summer, I'm going! Apparently, it's just a matter of time until this beautiful structure is no more... Sad.


The KKNY Retro Recipe Project: 1942 Banana Meat Loaf

When I mentioned the prospect of making banana meatloaf for the Retro Recipe Project, the response was generally "eeeeeew" or "huh?" But apparently the folks at the Home Economics Department of the Fruit Dispatch Company (Distributors of United Fruit Company Bananas) thought it was a great idea back in 1942. As I flipped through the savory ideas in Bananas...how to serve them looking for something to make, this actually seemed like the best idea. Compared to Tomatoes Tropical (bananas, tomatoes, grated cheese, and paprika) and Ham Banana Rolls, this seemed reasonable, and when I thought about all of the savory Latin American dishes with sweet plantains, I decided this was the one to try.

In Beacon for the weekend, I sold Nancy on the idea with the plantain argument (Jess didn't have a choice), and I dove into the super simple recipe. I cheated a little, substituting wet for dry mustard, and only adding two generous pinches of Maldon salt rather than the seemingly insane 1 tablespoon of regular (yikes!). We were without a loaf pan, so I made a sort of meat log and threw it in the oven for an hour.

Out of the oven, the poor thing completely fell apart when we cut into it (the cold leftovers sliced pretty well, though). I tasted with trepidation, and it wasn't bad! And with the addition of some hot sauce on the side, it was actually pretty good...and even better the next day. As we ate and pondered, we decided this recipe could be the base for some serious playing. With more onions, hot peppers, olives, and the like, this could turn into a really interesting dish. Who knew?


Bánh Mi Inspiration

I began exploring the wonderfulness of Vietnatmese-style sandwiches a few years ago, but ever since discovering the deliciousness of Bánh Mi Saigon Bakery, I'm completely obsessed. If I could eat one every day, life would be a beautiful thing. So, when I had a final bit of a baguette (from Balthazar--huzzah!) that needed to be used...I went down the Vietnamese sandwich road searching for lunchtime ideas.

I remembered there were a few slices of garlic-infused pork loin in the freezer, so I dug them out and reheated them in a skillet. After refreshing the baguette in the oven, I added the pork slices and a good slathering of chili garlic sauce. Alas, my crisper was free of suitable vegetable additions (some sort of crunchy lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, or the like would have added soooo much), but regardless, I had a very happy lunch. Easy peasy spicy goodness!


Mixing Meat With Imagination

I've been admiring Dickson's Farmstand Meats' beautiful products since I spied one of their stands at the New Amsterdam Market last summer. Since opening the Chelsea Market store a few months ago, I've stopped in and stared at their artisanal offerings just about every visit, overwhelmed by the creativity of some of their cured, potted, and ground meats.

Last month, Tony and I tried one of their patés (I believe it was tongue, and it was fabulous!). I've also drooled over the creative selection of sausages, which changes regularly, and finally, yesterday, I could resist no longer. After spying beef and lamb with sichuan peppercorn, I was hooked...and remembering I had some bok choy in the fridge...I was reeled in.

I sautéed the bok choy with a little garlic and soy sauce, then topped it with the cooked sausage, which was unlike anything I'd ever had. It was kind of like eating spicy meat infused with rainbows...kind of glorious and satisfying. The only unfortunate bit was afterward, when I realized how salty it had been... Thinking about it is kind of a turn-off this morning, but hopefully they'll dial back the salt content as they continue to experiment.

Can't wait to try some of their straight up cuts of meat, which are some of the most beautiful looking things I've seen in a while.


The KKNY Retro Recipe Project: 1954 Nut Bread

I was so excited for the KKNY Retro Recipe Project kick-off dinner on Friday that I decided we needed a little bit of dessert to celebrate. I started searching for something I could make from what I already had in the cabinet, scoured my various books, and found an easy recipe for nut bread in Mary Blake Favorite Recipes, a pamphlet published in 1954 by the Carnation Company that also advertises the Burns and Allen show (on CBS-TV at the time), and ABC's When A Girl Marries radio drama.

I can't really figure out who Mary Blake was, other than that she seems to have penned numerous cookbooks published by Carnation (there's an ad on the back for another, in which they say to "Send 35 cents in coin." The post office must've loved that!) Perhaps she was a company chef? Did she have a show?

I'd actually used this cookbook years ago when I threw a Martinis with Mancini party in my giant 7-room sublet on the Upper West Side (ahhh, those were the days...). I'd dared to make the Frozen Lemon Crunch, which was such a hit, Jimmy recently remembered it and mentioned that we needed to make it again. And so we will...

Anyway, after a little bump in the road (the can of evaporated milk I had in the cupboard smelled like cheese, and as I didn't want to poison my pregnant dinner guest, I had to go out and get another), I baked quite the loaf of bread. I have to say, it wasn't bad! It had a nice crunch on the outside, a good nutty, cakey heft on the inside, and it wasn't too sweet.

If there's anything these old books will offer, it'll be excellent baking recipes. This could be bad...


The KKNY Retro Recipe Project: 1949 Chow Mein

As Mandy volunteered to come help with the first installment of the KKNY Retro Recipe project, I decided to go with a recipe from a book she gave me: Richard Wong's Enjoy Chinese Cooking at Home (Copyright 1949, 14th and Improved Edition published by Mon Fong Wo Co., 36 Pell St., New York 13, N.Y.). Richard Wong was the "founder" of Dragon Inn, a popular restaurant that was located at 140 West 4th Street, which, at the time of printing, had been around for more than twenty years. (Interestingly, a quick Google search of the address shows that the location is currently home to another Asian restaurant, Red Bamboo. I'll have to go check it out.)

The book's introduction, written by Lewis E. Christian, Minister of the Washington Square Methodist Church (where Mr. Wong was a member), notes that through his work, Wong wanted to "acquaint the American public with the fine art of Chinese cooking." A book tour was planned, and it was reviewed in The New York Times and The New York Herald Tribune, so Mr. Wong must have had some sort of decent-enough reputation in the restaurant world.

Though I was tempted to choose "Moo Goo Guy Pan," "Beef Cake," "Woh Mein," or some version of the old Chinese-American favorite, Chop Suey, I decided to go with Chow Mein, another old-school favorite.

While the chow mein itself didn't seem all that exciting, I was intrigued by the fried noodle recipe at the top of the left page. In Chinatown, I'm always envious of the tables enjoying the dishes of stir fry served on beautiful fried noodle cakes. I've only ever managed to order something like them once, so when I saw this recipe, I was psyched.

I also decided to pick up the ingredients for number 52 (Chinese Roast Pork Chow Mein), figuring if I was going to stick to Mr. Wong's recipe, the plain chicken option would be really, really boring.

The other ingredient I had to get was something with a fairly bad rap: MSG. While I understand that some people have a bad reaction to it, it's not the scary chemical most detractors would have you believe. Discovered in Japan, it was originally a seaweed product, but is now produced by fermenting some sort of starch or sugar. Connected in many minds to Chinese food, it's used to enhance many processed foods, and was, I've discovered looking through many of my old cookbooks, suggested for use in homes throughout the mid twentieth century. (Check out this New York Times story from 2007, which takes a closer look at MSG and debunks its bad reputation.)

Beautifully, Mr. Wong calls it "gourmet powder," and the bag of Aji no moto ("essence of taste") I found at Hong Kong supermarket referred to it as "Umami seasoning." I'm actually excited to have it among my seasonings now--it'll be interesting to figure out how to use it.

Back to the recipe itself... After group vegetable chopping (Sté is a cabbage-chopping master), Mandy attacked the noodles and produced beautiful single-serving cakes that will now be standard fare in my kitchen. They were crunchy on the outside, still chewy on the inside, and added a wonderful texture to the finished dish.

Cooking the chow mein was a little problematic. I think the addition of two cups of stock created way too much liquid, and for whatever reason the sauce didn't thicken. So...we ended up with a sort of soup. But we ultimately agreed the final product was pretty yummy. The roast pork was definitely a great idea, and Mandy thinks the MSG helped spread its flavor throughout the dish. It totally brought me back to the dishes we'd get from place we'd frequent when I was a kid, the leftovers totally look like something you'd get from a typical takeout joint, and my apartment still smells like a cheap Chinese restaurant.

I'd call it a success!


The KKNY Retro Recipe Project

I've been collecting vintage cookbooks and pamphlets since I was in college (inspired by an image in my first purchase, The Metropolitan Cookbook). These little books run the gamut from serious cuisine to marketing tools, and so far dates from the 1920s to the 1970s. From Good Housekeeping manuals to party guides, crazy banana concoctions to canned meat ideas, the ideas are a window to what was supposed to go on in many American kitchens throughout the mid-twentieth century.

They also take up a sizable chunk of bookshelf real estate, and as I live in a tiny mid-Manhattan apartment, I've decided they need to earn their keep...

So, this is the beginning of the KKNY Retro Recipe Project. Once a week I (along with some lucky partners in crime) will make something from one of these cookbooks. Some of the recipes are frightening, some are inspiring, some are...well...mysterious. Regardless, I will sacrifice my sanity and stomach to explore the world of retro American cuisine and entertaining.

And to boot, this project isn't only a fun look back, it's also a "Can KKNY actually stick to the recipe?" challenge. This is a nearly impossible task, which will undoubtedly cause reality show-type chef hysteria. Wish me luck!


Today in Chinatown: Feet!

Lizard feet stew anyone?

For the real men out there.

Wonder what makes this so necessary?

Stock up on your World Cup jellies!

Great Deals: A Quick Trip To The Island

I recently had the excuse to go back to one of my favorite burger joints: Island Burgers & Shakes. A long-time Hell's Kitchen favorite, their extensive, colorful list of burger creations makes decision-making nearly impossible. The burgers are some of the best in the city: juicy, perfectly cooked, and tasty. And for you non-red meat people, they have churascos (grilled chicken sandwiches), and there are a couple of options for vegetarians, but not many.

I decided to venture outside of my typical burger box this time and ordered a Marco, which is a patty topped with pesto, ranch, bacon, and Parmesan, served on ciabatta. The pesto was rich with garlic and full of flavor, and the burger was perfectly juicy and pink--just how I like 'em.

The liquor license is a fairly recent addition, I think, and they have a nice selection of creative crap and high-end beers. I couldn't resist going for a Schlitz, which really, truly, tasted like the 70s. Amazing. (I even noticed a cheap Schlitz & a burger special on the board after I ordered...)

If your a fry-lover, just be aware Island Burgers doesn't have them: the kitchen's so tiny, there's no room for a fryer. But if you absolutely need fried potato with your burgers, they have excellent chips, so don't let the "no fries" thing deter you. Frankly, though, the burgers are so satisfying and complex, you honestly don't need them.

Island Burgers & Shakes, 766 Ninth Avenue between 51st and 52nd.


I Love NYC, But Could Use A Trip To Tuscany Right About Now

Hearing a friend is on his way to Florence (albeit for 2 days of meetings), I decided that I want to be there. Now. Why hasn't anybody perfected that Star Trek transport technology yet? Isn't it about time?

I was inspired to scan a few of my pix (I was there just before digital cameras became affordable), and came across a few shots I thought I'd share.

Passed this market on a side street in Florence. Yes, we have a few produce places in NYC that attempt to do something like this, but this is gorgeous! Every piece of fruit/veg was absolutely perfect, and the way the color popped in the middle of the city... *sigh*

Loved this cheesy tourist shop hawking wine and wild boar products in San Gimignano. (This medieval walled town, near Siena, is famous for its towers and local wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano.)

A baby fig in my friends' backyard.

And finally...these David aprons were EVERYWHERE when I was there. But this vendor in Pisa wins the contest for best marketing ploy. If I had a giant kitchen, I'd totally have a human-sized, David apron–wearing Pinocchio in the corner.


Edible Art

I've been lucky enough over the last few weeks to get a first-hand look at the creation of artist Gayil Nalls' newest piece, inkblot_2. The second in her new series of sculptures exploring smell and experience, inkblot_2 is a completely natural aromatic edible that uses pure essential oils to trigger memory and study human perception. (Her process is complex, so visit the olfactory inkblot website for an in-depth explanation.)

If you're in Washington, DC, check out inkblot_2's debut in Take One and Take Part, part of the group exhibition Scents & Medical Sensibilities at the Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts Gallery (1632 U Street, NW). The show runs from March 3–May 1, 2010.

Otherwise, you can buy inkblot_2 at the olfactory inkblot website (and be sure to take the survey once you've eaten one!)

Finally, check out the video I put together for her, which shows highlights from inkblot_2's creation at NYC's papabubble.

Winter Begone Soup

I'm sick of winter. Mother Nature's latest snow dump really sealed the deal: I'm done. I want warm. I want sunshine. I want color.

Saturday night, after a day of tromping through the slush (I was determined to spend time outside wandering), I decided I wanted to concoct something cheerful and bright. I had some stock and bok choy in the fridge that I absolutely had to use, so I thought I'd try making a soup with bright, crunchy vegetables, rather than the often cooked-to-death vegetable soups that are generally the hallmark of winter.

I took the Asian route and used the remainder of some Panang curry base I found in the freezer (who knows how old it was, but whatever). Into 3 quarts of stock I popped about 2 tablespoons of the curry paste, 1/2 cup shredded chicken, 4 cloves of chopped garlic, a tablespoon of chili garlic sauce, and a few dashes of Maggi seasoning. After bringing the stock to a simmer and allowing the garlic to mellow (about 10 minutes), I added two bundles of bean thread noodles, 1 cup of leek greens and a bunch of asparagus, which I'd cut into 1-inch pieces. I let that cook for about 2 minutes, added about 3 cups of baby bok choy and a roughly-chopped red bell pepper, then turned off the heat and covered the pot until the greens wilted, about another minute or two.
Everything stayed beautifully crunchy and bright green, and was probably the most cheerful-looking soup I ever made. Served with a dollop of mystery roasted chili paste from Chinatown, it seemed like a wonderfully healthy, fresh soup. Unfortunately, even though the leftovers were still bright green when I put them in the fridge, they were on their way to brown the next day (though still totally crunchy). So, I'd say this is a "serve immediately" kind of dish if you want to dazzle your guests with bright, fresh happiness.