An Enlightening Lunch

One of the things I love most about NYC is that you'll never know how your day will unfold, or who you'll meet. Wednesday morning I received a call from olfactory artist Gayil Nalls (maker of the supremely awesome inkblot_2 edibles, for which I created a short video), inviting me to a lunch with Sister Jenna (pictured here), Sister Gita, and two friends from the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization. Sure!

I knew absolutely nothing about the organization, but took the opportunity to learn about them through good food and conversation. Founded in India, practitioners of Brahma Kumaris believe in the intrinsic goodness within everyone. Foodwise, they are vegetarian, and don't eat onions or garlic because their strong essence blocks the path to a pure state of being (I'm boiling it down, but I think that's the basic idea). They are conscious of their emotions while they cook, too, as they want what you're about to ingest to have positive energy, which feeds the soul as the food nourishes the body. I also asked about chilis--since they pack quite the punch--but they noted that spices, in moderation, are fine.

Sister Gita, who's originally from Jamaica and formerly the co-owner of a popular vegetarian restaurant in Florida (fascinatingly situated next to a Planet Hollywood) prepared an absolutely beautiful meal. Served on a cheerful yellow theme chosen by Sister Jenna, we had frijoles negro (black beans) with celery, carrots, cabbage (which she uses to flavor, instead of onions or garlic), tomato, cumin, cilantro, salt/pepper, and red wine vinegar; baked tofu with thyme, olive oil, a little barbecue sauce, and cherry tomatoes; kale and mushrooms with thyme, dill, and olive oil; and Basmati rice.

Everything was fresh and flavorful, and just one plate was incredibly satisfying (Sister Jenna pointed out that it was due to the nutrient-packed food, and I totally agree).

Dessert was "Rock Cake," which was based on a traditional Indian recipe and used flour from India. I'll have to test the recipe (I'll write it up in a future post), but it was basically flour, baking powder, sugar, canola oil raisins, fruit juice, cinnamon, and allspice. It was super dense, but incredibly aromatic and happy-making. Loved it, and I can't wait to make one!

We enjoyed a wonderful meal together, shared stories, and laughed (frankly, my favorite thing to do while sharing food with others). One of the most interesting things, though, was our discussion about what draws many people to New York. For me, I remembered that I was drawn to this immense city from the first time I visited--when I was 6--because I could see then how NYC is a microcosm of the world. You can meet and interact with people from different cultures from all over the world, become friends, share experiences, and see that we all have a lot in common. While the city isn't perfect, many of us get along well, and most of us are interested in interacting with and learning about each other. It's a fabulous, fabulous thing.

It was an excellent reminder: Food isn't just about eating. It's about sharing culture, love, friendship, and happiness with each other.


The KKNY Retro Recipe Project: 1931 Raisin Bread

Annoyed by the almost-empty bag of raisins that I had to keep digging past in the cabinet, I figured it was time to make another retro recipe! I sifted through the books and found an easy-looking bread in The Calumet Baking Book, published in 1931. It's basically all about why you should use Calumet Baking Powder "The Double Acting Baking Powder, " and helpfully notes that "All baking powders are required by law to be made of pure, wholesome ingredients." Hope the FDA's still on top of that...

I dove in, using butter, the raisins, and the last handful of walnuts in the bottom of a container. The result was a dense loaf similar to Irish soda bread. It's a tad bland, so should definitely be served with a little dollop of butter (any excuse for butter, I say). I think I'll probably make it again, but play with the addition of some spices--at least some cinnamon...


Dim Sum @ Golden Bridge (UPDATE: Closed)

Jimmy and I went on a dim sum adventure Sunday morning, and we decided to try someplace new: Golden Bridge Restaurant. I'd heard people talk about it and was kind of intrigued, so thought it was time to explore more of the city's myriad dim sum options.

I'm glad I didn't read the various web comments before adventuring, because it seems to have a pretty mediocre rating. But actually, we thought it was pretty good! While the décor is a bit run-down (though they DO have a disco ball, which is way awesome), it's not as beat up as many other places I've eaten in Chinatown. And it has a nice view of the Manhattan bridge, which kind of makes up for the plastic tablecloths...

While the steamed dumplings weren't incredibly exciting, there were loads of other dishes that we enjoyed. The selection was formidable, everything seemed fresh, and the carts regularly stopped by (though I must admit, we got there fairly early and secured a primo spot along one of the main aisles).

The highlights were from the steam/fry table: The taro cakes were among the best I've had (lots of pork, and they seemed to be made from freshly-mashed taro), and the sweet orange rice dumpling-like-object with red bean paste was spectacular. We spied a few things I'd like to go back and try, too, many of which featured a heavy-handed use of fresh cilantro.

I'd say this place is definitely worth trying again. UPDATE: Or not--it's closed!!! As of the end of August, the place was shuttered. We'll see what happens!

Golden Bridge Restaurant is at 50 Bowery, just south of Canal.


AAAGGHH!!! Water Giant Bug Essence?!?!?! Why?!

During a post-dim sum exploration of Hong Kong supermarket yesterday, I noticed these disturbing bottles of "Water Giant Bug Essence." Ecccchhhh... WHY?!

I have a serious issue with insects. I'm up for eating most things, but can't stomach the bugs. I couldn't even read the Wikipedia page I found after an Internet search because of the photographs on it. But I did find a couple of more benign pages with a little info--apparently the essence of these bugs is used in certain Thai, Vietnamese, and Laotian dishes. I really, really hope nobody EVER tells me that something I'm eating contains this stuff...I think I'd freak.


Ramp Pa Jun

After reading this recipe for pa jun (savory Korean pancakes) to my mom yesterday, I decided that I needed to make them myself. For whatever reason, these babies are ridiculously expensive in Koreatown (you want me to pay $10+ for flour, egg, water, and kimchi?), and I've been completely convinced that this is one of those things that I'll be able to figure out and put on regular rotation at home. Heck, I've made a more-than-acceptable version of bulgogi (Korean barbecue), so why not pa jun?

I had no kimchi on hand, alas, but did have a fridge bursting with ramps. I was running low on flour, so I only made a half-recipe based on the Times link above, replacing all of the vegetables with 12 roughly-chopped ramps (no shrimp, either).

They turned out all right--if not a little bland--but pairing them with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and lots of chili brought things up to snuff. These pa jun weren't as wonderful as the ones in Koreatown, but frankly, methinks they use lots of oil in the frying pan, so they're essentially deep-fried. Next time I'll up the ante in the batter somehow, which will hopefully make up for me trying to be a little healthy...


More Ramps. Time for Salad.

Picked up another pile o' ramps this morning. Yes, I'm temporarily addicted, but really, the growing season's still early and they're the most interesting green thing at the market (other than the various ridiculously-priced sprouts). I'll use many of them make more of the purée (which seems to freeze well), but to keep a balance between ramp addiction and waistline, I'll be throwing a lot of them into my salads for the next couple of weeks. They add a wonderful oniony freshness that livens everything up and makes a healthy alternative truly satisfying. Yum.

I think it's time to make an early lunch...


Garden 34th Street: Here We Go Again!

After the trauma of having to throw all of my plants away, I've been wary of starting all over again. But last week I bucked up, finally broke out an egg carton, and planted some seeds. I'm still worried about my aphid issue, but figure I need to fight the good fight!

So far nature's on my side, and little sproutlings have started to appear! I've already had to transplant baby maxixe and a few heirloom tomatoes, and some other mystery objects are starting to poke through the soil today. (Of course, I was lazy and didn't really keep track of what I was planting where, so Spring will be full of botanical surprises!)


Ramp Week: Spaghetti Squash with Sausage & Ramps

After my ramp buying spree last Saturday, I spied a spaghetti squash and thought it would be an absolutely perfect pairing. Last night, after picking up some Cumberland sausages from Myers of Keswick (the fabulous British grocery on Hudson between Horatio and Jane), Mandy and I concocted a wonderfully easy one-dish meal that's definitely worth making a regular on the menu rotation.

Spaghetti Squash with Sausage & Ramps

• 1 spaghetti squash
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/2 lb Cumberland sausage (or your favorite herby variety)
• 1/2 bunch ramps (about 12-15)
• grated Parmesan cheese
• salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise, and remove seeds and stringy pulp. Rub flesh with olive oil. Place in a roasting dish skin side down, pour about 1 cup water into the bottom of the dish, and roast until tender, about 30-45 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool a bit, and scrape out the spaghetti-like goodness. Set aside.

Cut raw sausage into chunks and cook in a large skillet until done. Add ramps and sauté for about 1 minute, then add spaghetti squash, toss, and cook for another couple of minutes. Add freshly-ground black pepper and, if necessary, salt. Serve, topped with grated Parmesan.


Ramp Week: Ramp Purée

As ramp week progresses, I think I'm beginning to ooze their garlicky green scent, and I don't apologize to anyone for it! I've also figured out a few things: purées go everywhere, and raw is more intense (which for me=better). So, I decided to sacrifice one bunch of these beautiful babies to a little experiment...a ramp purée to keep on hand in the fridge.

It's basically the easiest thing to do, and exactly what I did for the pizza: I washed, trimmed, and roughly-chopped one bunch of ramps. They went into my food processor, along with 1/4 cup olive oil and a generous pinch of Maldon salt. Whizzz--done! Into a jar...

Digging through the fridge to see what I had on hand that might be a good test for this stuff, I decided to make a simple potato soup from 2 potatoes, 1 onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery, 4 cups of stock, and (after puréeing) 1/4 cup milk and a little salt. I stirred in a generous dollop of my ramp purée, and (who knew?) it worked! Intense rampy goodness. And I suspect when I try it again in the leftovers--this time cold, à la vichyssoise--it'll be even better.


Ramp Week: Ramp Pizza

I was on the phone with Jimmy, and as soon as I said "I have ramps," he said, "We must make ramp pizza immediately! What are you doing tonight?"

So, we made ramp pizza, and it was amazing. And simple.

As I walked uptown carrying my bag o' greens, I pondered the best way to make the rampiest pizza we could. Answer: coat the dough with a purée. So, we threw half a bunch (about 12-15 of them) in a food processor--stems and leaves--about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and a generous pinch of Maldon salt. We spread the result all over the dough, then added a layer of some slightly-aged pecorino and slices of a medium-hot pepper. Into the oven and voilà! One of the best pizza's we've made!


Ramp Week: Simple Pesto

The result of going nuts buying ramps at the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturday? It's ramp week! First up: a basic pesto for pasta. Thanks to the guy in front of me in the ramp line who said he has a chef friend who purées the leaves for risotto, I decided to make a simple risotto-style pasta (à la Bittman, as I've done twice before with mushrooms and chorizo).

I've posted the recipe below, but I went for the super-basic test approach. From the smell--which was absolutely fabulous--I thought it would completely blow me away. But...it was actually milder taste-wise, so I'm thinking next time I'll add a little lemon zest to the purée, which I think will liven it up a bit. It was still excellent (I haven't had the leftovers yet, so who knows!), but this is definitely a keeper, regardless!

Risotto-Style Pasta with Ramp Pesto
• 1/2 bunch ramps (about 15-18 total)
• 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
• 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
• pinch of salt
• 8 ounces pasta (I used fusilli)
• 4 to 6 cups of stock
• 1/2 cup shredded chicken
• 1 cup cremini mushrooms, cleaned and cut into pieces
• freshly-ground black pepper

Wash the ramps. Cut stems off the leaves (the leaves are for the pesto, the stems are for the pasta).

For the pesto:
Purée the ramp leaves, cheese, 1/4 cup olive oil, and pinch of salt in a food processor. Set aside.

For the pasta:
Finely chop the ramp stems. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan, then add pasta and ramps, and stir for about 30 seconds, until pasta glistens. Add 2 cups of the stock, and cook as you would risotto, stirring regularly. When pasta absorbs that liquid, add chicken, mushrooms, and a little more stock. Stir regularly and add stock as necessary, until pasta is done (it should also have a little bit of a creamy sauce). Turn off the heat, and stir in the pesto. Serve with freshly-ground black pepper.

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a starter/primi piatti.


The KKNY Retro Recipe Project: Quaker Muffins (Or...Why I'm Not A Great Baker)

A bit overdue for another Retro Recipe, I dug through the books to find something useful to make from ingredients I already had in my cabinets. I happened to have both corn meal and currants and thought muffins would be a handy and portable breakfast item, so I returned to the 1964 Metropolitan Cook Book (which I'd used for my last retro recipe) for its Quaker Muffins. I'm not usually a corn muffin fan, but heck, the addition of currants intrigued me, so I dove in.

Yet again, though, this project ended up being proof that baking isn't really what I should be doing. Not only do I inevitably play while I cook, but I don't really pay attention when I'm reading recipes either. Throw in a phone conversation in the midst of everything, and...well... As I pondered why they came out so weirdly, I realized I left out one of the major ingredients: milk. Duh! So, while they're totally edible, they're just dense and super sweet. Whoops! Oh well...

On the bright side, the recipe also gave me the chance to finally use one of my grandmother's muffin tins (which I was told were awesome), and also test the silicone muffin pan that was a Christmas gift from the Fosters (thanks again!). Both worked well, from what I can tell!


Logo Mysteries

Why is there a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle on my Italian blood orange?


It's Ramp Season!

For me, these babies are the first taste of spring. I'd heard the first of the crop was in, so I got an early start and managed to beat the crowds to the Union Square Greenmarket. Right now, there are only two vendors selling these happy wild leeks (and the other didn't have many and were charging twice the price!), so I waited in line at Mountain Sweet Berry Farm's stand with other excited folk (exchanging ramp recipes--love it!), zipped home, and tossed a couple in my lunchtime salad. Heaven!



I'm not sure why--perhaps it was the springtime light or the blossoms on the trees--but the old section of the American Museum of Natural History looked very pink yesterday. Cool!


Springtime in Central Park

I cut through Central Park on my way to meet some people, and the beautiful springtime completely distracted me...and led me to twice stray from my path. My first stop was the Shakespeare Garden, which is always pretty, but absolutely gorgeous in springtime. I had to wander...

And then, as I approached the obelisk behind the Met, I wondered...is my favorite tree in bloom? It had been a while since I'd timed it correctly, so wandered to the North side of the Met. This particular tree is planted where the walking path meets the transverse (by the Temple of Dendur), and there's just something about that location I love. Perhaps it's because it's where the brash modern world (vehicles) meets strolling pedestrians meets ancient Egypt?

Huzzah--it was just beginning to bloom!


Egg Salad Conversion

I'm not much of a mayo fan (though I've recently taken to its use in Japanese bar food), so therefore, I've never enjoyed or made the usual tuna/egg/potato/macaroni/etc. salads. But, as I had a few hard-boiled eggs that we'd decorated at Mandy's birthday brunch hanging out in my fridge, I decided I'd try to make some egg salad. Inspired by the chicken salad I made as part of the KKNY Retro Recipe Project (yes, I'm due to make something!), I added my own little twist, and came up with something I actually like! Perhaps I'll reconsider this whole genre of salads now...I think they could actually be interesting.

Egg Salad With A Twist
• 3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and roughly chopped
• 3 tablespoons chopped pitted olives (I used pimento-stuffed Manzanilla)
• 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (or more to taste)
• 1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Combine everything with a fork until the mixture becomes creamy. Serve on bread, with crackers, or on its own.


Field Trip: Seaside Heights, NJ

Spent a few hours on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ, this weekend. I'd been there once before (loooong before MTV brought the Jersey Shore peeps there), and I wanted to go back to take a few pix before someone decides to fix it up.

And, I really wanted to play Skee-Ball!

When we had boardwalk vacations as a kid, I used to play this game a lot, too. Sorta like gambling, but with rubber balls, gravity, and lots of bouncing.

We stopped in Berkeley's Sweet Shop, which dates to the earlier part of the last century. Picked up my Eastertime must-have--chocolate peanut butter eggs--but they were only kind of OK (they need a little salt, in my opinion) BUT, the crazy Easter chocolate was worth the stop:

With this trio of crosses, create your own chocolate Golgotha!

The crazy eyes on just about everything else was...well... Anyone up for a psychotic lost baby chocolate (with a...err...flower on the belly button?)? Or attack kitty?

Hypnotized Easter Bunny heads. I think I'll pick a few up for all of the small children I know.

Stepped into a divey boardwalk bar...

...and saw a biker & a beer.

Wonder if anyone actually wins a "free" ice cream from this crane game...

Street Food: Wafels & Dinges

Finally ran into the much ballyhooed Wafels & Dinges truck parked at Sheridan Square on Friday night, and a combination of no dinner and curiosity led me to the window. I've never been drawn to the whole waffle thing (I guess Eggo kind of killed my perception of waffles when I was a kid), but I'd heard so much about this particular truck, and as Belgian waffles are "the thing," I went for it.

First of all, I wondered "What are dinges?" My imagination landed upon some kind of boat-shaped doughnut-like object that you could fill with whatever... Alas, no. Actually, dinges are the toppings for the waffles. So much for my imagination.

I pondered the list of dinges and decided to try one of the truck's signature combos, a waffle with speculoos and whipped cream (even though the word "speculoos" kind of, well, made me stop for a moment...but it's a spread based on a traditional Belgian spiced cookie). I should've skipped the whipped cream (it was too sweet for me), but the speculoos had a lot of flavor, and the waffle was, well, pretty fantastic. Crispy on the outside, fluffy and chewy on the inside, flavorful, and not overly sweet.

Perhaps the waffle world is worth exploring, especially if one starts in Belgium. I suppose I'll Leggo my nasty Eggo memories and give 'em a chance! (Ow...sorry!)


Bittman Does It Again: Olive Oil Matzo

My response to the invitation to last night's Smith/Blaustein family Seder was: I'll make Bittman's Olive Oil Matzo! The Times had published his article last week, and I thought it looked so easy and delicious, I wanted to try it.

Sure enough, it was super simple. I threw all of the ingredients in my food processor, and--whammo--a few seconds later, a ball of dough! I carried said dough to Jimmy & Dan's (they have a great marble counter that makes rolling things out easy), cut it into 12 pieces, and made little amoeba-shaped matzo. They took longer than the suggested time to bake, but still came out wonderfully.

People seemed to be pleased, so I suppose Bittman's done it again!