Rhubarb: Playing With The Savory

What's one of the best things about visiting Beacon in late spring? I can finally start harvesting the rhubarb in Jess & Nancy's yard! I'd been anticipating some playtime since reading Bittman's crisp recipe a couple of weeks ago, and was then particularly inspired by Ben Kaufmann's savory recipe posted on Bittman's blog.

So, Sunday night I requested grilled pork chops for dinner, looked over Kaufmann's recipe, and headed out to the garden to harvest a few stalks of the pink and green wonderfulness.

Easy Savory Rhubarb Compote

• 1 teaspoon olive oil
• 1 small red onion, chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 3 longish stalks rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 1/2 teaspoon salt (I used a little more, but thought it was a little to salty)
• 1 tablespoon agave nectar
• 1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

Heat the olive oil, then sauté the onion and garlic until it just starts to brown. Add the rhubarb, salt, agave nectar, and chili garlic sauce and simmer until the rhubarb falls apart, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (more agave if it's too puckery, more chili garlic for spice, etc.).

We were all pleased with the result, and now I'm really eager to explore rhubarb's savory side!


This Weekend I Had A Popsicle...With BACON!

'Twas a Beacon weekend for me, and after planting the first load of my window-grown baby plants in our garden, I decided we deserved a treat at Zora Dora's Paleteria. We'd discovered the awesomeness of their micro-batch popsicles last summer, and I'm psyched that summer is once again upon us so we can legitimately go there ALL THE TIME.

I perused the chalkboard of flavors, and while there were a bunch I'd had last year--and loved--I decided I had to get something new. Nancy claimed the super-yummy pineapple, chili, and other stuff I forget flavor, so I asked what the intriguing "Moo & Oink" was. Chocolate + chocolate chunks + chipotle + BACON! I had to have it.

It was pretty fabulous. Kind of like refreshing mole on a stick, but with bacon. Yum.

Zora Dora's Paleteria, 201 Main Street in Beacon, NY.


Leftover Meatloaf Stir Fry

What to do when you're sick of eating leftover meatloaf (or in my case, beef cake), and there's still a hunk of it hanging out in the fridge? Stir fry, baby.

Now, I'm not sure this would work as well with a super-flavorful meatloaf--or if you're not addicted to chilis like I am--but I think it's worth a shot, as long as you use ingredients that will stand up to whatever's already in the meat. And with summer barbecues coming up, I'm sure this would be a fabulous idea for leftover hamburgers from a pre-fireworks cookout extravaganza.

As with any stir fry, you can toss in pretty much anything. In the version above, I sautéed a crumbled slice of leftover beef cake (probably 1/3 to 1/2 cup cooked meat) in some of my mysterious Sichuan Pepper Pickle. After a couple of minutes I added about 2 cups of leek greens, cooked them until just tender, then tossed in a handful of cooked noodles, chili paste, soy sauce, a little Sichuan peppercorn-infused oil, and some chopped green onions. I served it topped with a little chili garlic sauce.

Now that's the way to eat leftovers...


Ramp Meets Crepe

Crepe + ramp purée + Maldon salt = AWESOME.

I don't think I have to say anything else, frankly. Go make one.


The Beef Cake Experiment

A few weeks ago I was chatting with friends about the recipe for "Beefcake" I discovered searching for Retro Recipes in Richard Wong's 1949 cookbook, Enjoy Chinese Cooking at Home. Hilarity ensued, visions of potential outcomes swirled, and I ended up promising to try to make something resembling a--literal--beef cake for one of their birthdays.

I dug through the cabinet and found an old jell-o mold I inherited from an old friend. I decided it would make a great form, thinking I'd end up with a beautiful, Deco-shaped statue of meat.


Construction began the day ahead of dinner, as I figured I'd be unable to unmold a hot beef cake. I combined 1 cup damp bread crumbs, 2 eggs, 3 tablespoons herbes de Provence, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard, 2 onions, and a little salt and black pepper in a food processor. I added the result to 2 pounds of ground beef, then pressed the mixture into the mold, which I'd greased with olive oil. I covered it with aluminum foil, and popped it into a 350-degree oven for about an hour and 15 minutes, until the thermometer read 145. I let it cool, then put it in the fridge.

The next day, I took it out of the fridge...and it wouldn't unmold. The fat had glued the beef cake to the jell-o mold. Undaunted, I warmed it a bit, and it finally popped out--thankfully in one piece. Alas, it didn't look like a beautiful Art Deco sculpture. It looked like a hideous mound of cat food. Yum.

Guests had arrived, so what could I do? I popped it back into a 250 degree oven. Meanwhile, I grabbed some Gruyere and made a (Rebecca de) Mornay sauce. (Start with a roux from 2 tablespoons of butter and flour, cook for two minutes. Slowly stir in 1 cup of milk and heat until it thickens. Stir in the cheese bit by bit, and when it's melted, remove from the heat. Add a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg.)

After about a half an hour, the beef cake was warm (and thankfully beautifully browned). I poured a bit of the Mornay sauce on top, and it actually looked passable, almost like a super-pointy Christmas pudding. Or a volcano experiment.

Though the jokes continued, my guests enjoyed their slices of beef cake, served with more Mornay and a little Dijon. I've been encouraged to continue the search for the perfect beef cake, and sure enough, this was just the beginning...


Another Weekend at the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival

Whether or not you like NYC street fairs, this one--to me--is the season's must-attend. Not only does it showcase businesses and organizations in my neighborhood (amidst the sadly usual corporate sausage-and-peppers and grilled corn stands), but it's also just damn fun. When else can you grab a beer and an empanada, sit in the middle of Ninth Avenue, and watch and meet so many different kinds of people?

This year's prize for the most truly international dishes at the food festival: Kumgangsan's bulgogi tacos and burritos. Though the restaurant's not a Hell's Kitchen place (the closest location is in Koreatown on 32nd Street and boasts a white piano perched on a waterfall), its stand stood out for food preparation demonstration and salesmanship--free samples were encouraged, and they were happy to explain what everything was...even if we couldn't really understand.

I tried a taco. Kimchi + bulgogi (Korean barbecue) + veggies + tortilla + cheese = oddly yummy. While the cheese was a bit weird, it was the tastiest--and probably healthiest--dish I tried at the festival.

A few other highlights:

I had to pick up a Bahamian-style conch fritter from Myrna's Caribbean Cuisine, since they were one of my favorite things to eat on my childhood trips to Nassau. I was happy--it was unusually flavorful and served with a side of nicely-spicy scotch bonnet sauce.

One of the neighborhood's Democratic organizations was serving up ceviche in style.

Makers and model show off one of the festival's popular balloon hat creations (while Mr. Suit tries to comprehend).


Simple Spring Soup

I've been waiting patiently for the season to move along and bring some exciting local veggies, but pickin's are still pretty slim. Regardless, I did end up with more than a bunch of asparagus earlier this week (most of it was from upstate), so I decided to wing a puréed asparagus soup experiment that turned out pretty well.

While I've been tweaking things each time I have a serving, the base recipe was pretty easy: Heat 6 cups of stock. Cook asparagus in the stock for about 7 to 10 minutes. Purée and stir in two heaping tablespoons of ramp purée along with some milk, juice of half a large lemon, salt, and pepper. That "base" definitely needs something else, so at the very least, serve with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese and croutons. I've also thrown in some shredded chicken, some spiced beef, or just a little hot chili oil. Turns out asparagus soup can be extraordinarily flexible!


Let's Have A Chaat

I'm fighting a sore throat today, so on my way home from errands I didn't really want to be running, I took my too-tired-to-cook-my-own-food self into Tawa Tandoor, the little Indian joint that opened a few months ago on 34th just east of 9th (in the former Soul Fixin's space). Some friends had said it was pretty good, and it looked more than acceptable the few times I'd peered in, so it was about time.

I was just going to pick up a samosa, but when I spied Papri Chaat on the menu (that most wonderful Indian snack), that's what it had to be. I must say, even though my little illness may be skewing my flavor receptors a bit, I think this is among the best chaat I've had. Not only was it kick-ass spicy, but it was interestingly herby, offering up flavors I've never before had in this particular dish.

The place is very modern and shiny, and everything else looked pretty damn good. They have dosai, kati rolls, a selection of breads, a few North Indian things, and the "masala fries" looked intriguing (like the fresh version of Andy Capp's Hot Fries, perhaps?). It's kind of dangerous to know I can get a good chaat or dosa so close to home...

Tawa Tandoor, 371 W. 34th Street.


Power To The People's Pops

I hadn't been to Chelsea Market in a couple of weeks (unusual), but in desperate need of decent veggies, I stopped in... Zipping past the strolling Sunday masses on my way to Manhattan Fruit Exchange, I noticed signs announcing two more additions to the recently revamped space in the middle of the market: Bar Suzette (a creperie) and People's Pops.

I'd heard the buzz about People's Pops (local ingredients, etc.) and, intrigued by the creative flavors, I splashed out for a fruit pop lunch. While I pondered the spiced rhubarb, I went for the plum/yogurt/tarragon, which really made me curious. It was pretty great and nicely satisfying...chunks of plum, not too much yogurt (just a touch to smooth out the texture and enhance the flavors), and the tarragon added a nice savoriness that rounded everything out beautifully.

It made me want to clean out my freezer, buy some popsicle molds, and ramp up for some summertime creativity!

UPDATE: They're closed! Read their farewell letter here, though it's not entirely clear to me that they're gone forever? And some of their signs are still up... In the meantime, go have an Australian meat pie at Tuck Shop!

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Heard back from the People's Pops folks on my Tuck Shop post, and they'll be back when the weather warms up. Hooray!


Garden 34th Street: I've Decided Not To Obsess

In case you haven't noticed, I haven't been documenting my baby plants as meticulously as last year. I've decided not to get so attached to them. Last year it was new, exciting, and wondrous...and then loved-for baby plants were left on a train by a well meaning but tired friend...the blight killed the tomatoes...mystery bugs killed the squash...and finally, the aphids took over my hot peppers. And then word of Stony Kill's potential closure (which is still a possibility). It's all too depressing.

So this year, I need to step back. If the blight comes back, it'll be a bummer, but I won't get so upset. I'll keep my fingers crossed for the hot peppers, but I have a feeling the aphids know where I live and will come to avenge their fallen brethren, and I won't get so frustrated if they do. If Stony Kill's a no-go, I suppose I'll have to give my babies to someone who can actually grow them, and just hope I get to taste the results.

In the meantime, I'll keep watering my little tomatoes, peppers, herbs, marigolds, squash, and lettuce. I guess I've finally learned a lesson about the realities of nature...


Ramp Pizza @ Otto

Went to Otto Monday night, and completely flipped when I saw ramp pizza on the list of specials. My vote for one of our pies, hands down.

Have to say...kind of disappointed. Why did they decide to use red sauce? (Why would anyone? Apparently Motorino did the same thing.) The sauce overpowered the delicate ramps, so to me, we ended up with something that was kind of "meh." I was with out of town guests and didn't want to ruin their celebrity chef dining experience (and I've always been happy at Otto), so I made the appropriate yummy sounds...but it was completely lame. The ramp pizza Jimmy and I created a few weeks ago was way better.

At least the olive oil gelato I had for dessert made up for it. Love that stuff. I think I'm going to start hitting Otto's bar for a glass of wine and an e.v.o.o. ge-la-to.


Nice View...

I finally hit the Top of the Standard (originally called the Boom Boom Room) yesterday evening, and it's certainly a new addition to to my list of favorite places to splash out and take visitors for a posh drink & nice view. Not only is the décor totally up my alley (retro 70s), but the drinks are good and the view is absolutely spectacular.

Though The Standard is way west in the Meatpacking District, it's removed from the other high buildings in the neighborhood and offers a panoramic view of the city. And frankly, while Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building are great, I'd rather take that entry fee and pay for a schmancy cocktail in a place you can sit, sip, and enjoy.

It is, of course, not perfect. We were there at 5:30 on a Monday, so the place was empty. It's still new to the scene and pretty popular, so I'm sure getting in after 7 or 8--especially on a busier night--is probably annoying and problematic (I was almost bounced for my footwear, and you obviously have to look the part). It's also completely inside, therefore perfect for the bad weather, but perhaps a little sad when it's beautiful outside. Regardless, it's worth a visit.

We sat at the bar and mulled over the lengthy list of drinks. The decision was difficult, but at the suggestion of the bartender I ended up with the Boom Boom. I don't remember the ingredients (all of the other drink possibilities were swimming in my head), but essentially combined strawberry with a nicely intense dose of muddled ginger. The service was great and I was happily satisfied, so I sipped and enjoyed the view of my lovely city...

The Top of the Standard is on the 18th floor of The Standard hotel, at 13th and Washington Streets.