Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Our first CSA feast!

A good part of the beauty of our CSA share is that we aren't entirely sure what's going to come our way every week. When we're just cooking for ourselves, this fact leads to a bit of constraint where before there was simply Whole Foods and its endless supply of comfortable ingredients.

But when we are cooking for others, as we were this past Thursday, it leads to inspiration, and a multi-course (mostly) farm-fresh meal through which we attempt to convey the sublime quality of real food, a sort of culinary proselytizing spoken through turnips, lettuce, chard. This is especially true when the meal in question takes place hours after the CSA pick-up; in such a situation, we are forced (thrilled) to depend even more heavily on the bounty of Windflower Farms.

This meal was a special occasion. Our close friend Lacey, about to depart this coast for the land of Chez Panisse and trolley cars, found a few hours of her final New York week to have a meal with us. This was a major occasion, befitting a real feast, and so we developed a lengthy menu that bracketed a CSA-centric tableau with a couple pre-planned courses.

First up, Jon made an amuse bouche of bacon-wrapped tri-colored raisins (shown above). The raisins were tossed with brown sugar and ginger, and then wrapped in bacon and baked. These were out of control delicious, a perfect combination of sweet and savory. Though different than the bacon-wrapped dates of Homeslice West, they were at least as good and certainly more unique.

Next up, Ali made a salad of farm-fresh lettuce, homemade croutons, and baked goat cheese medallions. This lettuce, picked up from our farm earlier that day, was the best head of lettuce either of us had ever had, and the goat cheese medallions came out beautiful.

After that came Ali's Swiss chard gratin, a full-bodied gratin whose cheese played well with the sharp bite of the chard.

For the main dish, Jon made a garlic scape pesto and baked some cod in it. The garlic scapes were a combination of those we got from our CSA and some we picked up from the greenmarket. The real trick of this pesto, though, was the inclusion of toasted pistachios. The result was a unique type of nutty pesto, one we would highly recommend for as long as you can get your hands on some scapes. As a side, Jon made some more of his CSA turnip fries, this time spicing them with the to-be-named Italian spice mix his mom brought back from Turkey.

For dessert, Ali made wine-marinated frozen spiced grapes, which turned out to be the perfect antidote to the humidity that Lacey was about to leave behind. They were plump, sweet, and extremely cold. They were convenient as well, as this recipe, which requires a day or two to make, leaves behind a marinade of spiced wine, which Ali easily converted into a delicious and complex sangria that we enjoyed all night, sending Lacey stumbling home, drunk, and, we hope, satisfied and happy.


Time: 10 minutes active, 15 minutes inactive

4 strips bacon
1 tbs butter
2 cups raisins
Brown sugar to taste
Pureed or very finely diced ginger to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a bowl, mix raisins, sugar, and ginger
3. Cut bacon strips in half. Carefully place raisins on the piece of bacon, centered. Roll the bacon around the raisins, and press in sides to firm roll.
4. Rub butter on foiled baking sheet. Place rolls on buttered surface, and bake for 15 minutes. Serve.

Time: 15 minutes active, 30 minutes inactive, excluding croutons

1 head red-leaf lettuce, chopped into 1-inch diameter pieces
1 tomato, sliced and then quartered
homemade whole-wheat garlic croutons
1 log chevre (we used some from the Vermont Butter & Cheese Co)
breadcrumbs (I ground some up while I was baking the croutons)
1 egg white

For the citrus-champagne vinaigrette:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup muscat orange vinaigrette (from Trader Joe's)
1 tbsp chopped garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Slice the chevre into four discs. Coat each medallion with egg white and then dip into breadcrumbs, coating it well. Refrigerate medallions on parchment paper for 10 minutes or so.
2. Slide the medallions on parchment paper onto a baking sheet and into a 350 degree oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is pretty soft.
3. While cheese is baking, whisk together vinaigrette ingredients, and dress the lettuce, tomato and breadcrumbs, tossing to coat.
4. Portion out the salad, then top each bowl with one goat cheese medallion.

(Adapted from here)

Time: 10 minutes active, 20 minutes inactive

2 bunches Swiss chard leaves, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 cup low-fat milk
2 tbsp white whole-wheat flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano, divided in two
2 tbsp whole wheat bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Place chard leaves in a saucepan with water and cook over medium heat until leaves are just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Set chard aside.
3. In the same saucepan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. When butter has melted, whisk in the flour until blended. Whisk constantly for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and reserved cooking liquid. Continue cooking and stirring until the sauce thickens, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in half of the grated cheese. Stir in the cooked chard and transfer to four small baking dishes.
4. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Serve immediately.

(Adapted from eggs on sunday)

Time: 30 minutes active, 10 minutes inactive

4 cod fillets, approx. 1/3 lb each
1.5 cup chopped garlic scapes, finely chopped
1/2 cup toasted pistachios
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup bread crumbs
coarse salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a small pan over medium-low heat, toast the pistachios.
3. Place the scapes, pistachios, lemon juice, and cheese in a food processor. As you pulse, drizzle in the olive oil until desired consistency is reached.
4. After processing is complete, mix in salt, pepper, and breadcrumbs.
5. Spread pesto onto cod, and bake for 10 minutes, or until fish is flaky.

(Adapted from Thursday Night Smackdown)

1/2 bottle white wine (we used this great slightly sweet Hungarian stuff we picked up at Astor Place)
1 lb seedless green grapes
1/2 cup organic sugar
1 tbsp of lemon zest
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the grapes. Marinate in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
2. Drain the grapes, retaining the liquid in the empty wine bottle (or adding it back to the other 1/2 bottle...we added a peach and strawberries to the mixture for some delicious white sangria). Put the grapes in a bowl, toss with a little more sugar to coat, then place in the freezer and freeze overnight.
3. Remove the grapes from freezer 20 minutes before eating so they thaw to the perfect consistency and serve.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Baked garam masala turnip fries

Ali and I joined the Stanton Street CSA this summer, which brings us farm-fresh produce from Windflower Farm, and our first pickup of the season was this past Thursday. Sadly, Ali was in Chicago for her brother's graduation, so it was just my friend James and I walking over to the garden in Sara D Roosevelt Park for pickup. We got a nice, manageable first half-share, at a size I am sure is to grow as the season progresses: turnips, radishes, bok choy, lettuce, salad greens, garlic scapes, and a basil plant all made their way back to the apartment in our bags.

Though we were excited to jump in immediately and make a veggie-feast for the ages, my dad was also in town, and, he not being one for veggies, we agreed to go out to dinner. To get a taste of our spoils, though, we made these turnip fries in a flash before heading out to dinner. They were like potato fries, only earthier, on account of the truly fantastic turnips we got from the farm. They were fantastic, and, though they were good baked, I have a feeling they'd be even better fried, if you're feeling naughty.


3 large turnips
1.5 tbs olive oil
1.5 tsp garlic salt
1 tbs garam masala powder
Pepper to taste

1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
1. Peel the turnips, then cut to fry size, about 3/8" by 2". If you have one, julienne them with a mandoline.
2. Put the fries in a bowl; toss with olive oil.
3. Put all other ingredients in a bag; shake to mix. Put oiled fries in the bag; shake vigorously.
4. Cover a baking sheet with tin foil. Place the fries on the foil, and put the baking sheet in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, until brown.

Yield: A quick snack for two.

Goat's milk cheesecake frozen yogurt

My best friend James and I dreamed up this recipe during his recent visit to the city. It started, as most meals in our apartment do, with a random walk through the Greenmarket. James has always been one for off-beat foods, especially if they're in liquid form, and so it wasn't surprising that a small stand selling single-serving drinkable goat's milk yogurt caught his eye. He picked one up, and stashed it away in the fridge for a snackable moment.

Goat's milk yogurt, we learned, has both the central pungency of goat cheese and the sourness of a strong greek yogurt. We decided to use it, along with some cream cheese, as an ice cream base, yielding by far the best, most professional and unique frozen dessert our churner has produced yet.

(aka Frosty the Goatman's Zesty Yogurtcake)

8 oz goat's milk yogurt
8 oz cream cheese
zest of 1 lemon
6 oz greek yogurt (we used Trader Joe's honey greek yogurt)
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth.
2. Freeze, following directions, in your ice cream maker.

Yield: 4 servings

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Spinach, heirloom tomato, and squash salad

As we were leaving the Greenmarket with our lamb and garlic scapes, we popped into one last stall in search of bok choy to go with them. Jon found a few happy heads of it set among the spinach and arugula, but my eye wandered (as it tends to do) to a small crate full of even smaller squash: inch-long zucchini and yellow squash, green and golden patty pan, and even a few blob-like specimens with gorgeous squash blossoms still attached.

I picked out a choice few, and (as often happens) they waited patiently for a few days in our produce bin before I had a chance to call them up for duty. Our friend Lily came over for dinner one night, while James was still staying with us, and I needed a salad to accompany Jon's reprise of his now-famous scallop curry, this time with butternut squash. I figured that there's no such thing as too much squash, so I sautéed all the little buggers with a bit of olive oil and garlic and tossed them into a salad of spinach, spring onions, and gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. Few things go together as well as zucchini and mint, so I tied it all together with a mint vinaigrette from the copy of Mediterranean Fresh, by Joyce Goldstein, that my friend Margaret had given us.


Time: 15 minutes active, 10 minutes inactive

1/4 lb assorted baby squash
1/2 lb spinach
4 spring onions, sliced
2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
pecorino romano (for grating)

1. Slice the squash thinly, and sauté it with garlic and olive oil until slightly soft.
2. Combine squash with spinach, spring onions, and tomatoes. Toss with mint vinaigrette (see below) to coat, and top with grated hard cheese like pecorino.

For mint vinaigrette:
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 cups olive oil

1. Boil the lemon juice and chopped mint to create an infusion. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and let steep for about 10 minutes.
2. Strain into a mixing bowl, then add all other ingredients and whisk together.
Note: I don't ever really measure things out when I cook, but these are basically the amounts given in the original recipe. I swapped in apple cider vinegar for the recommended red wine vinegar, because we had it and I like it.

Yield: 4 servings

Monday, June 23, 2008

Twice-cooked lamb and bok choy with chili paste

On my first visit to China, when I traveled across the country in 1999 with an amazing program called Where There Be Dragons, I was a vegetarian. Even though I made it out to Sichuan province, I never tried its renowned twice-cooked pork. It was left for some friends I made in Hangzhou, six years and much of a lifetime later, to introduce me to the delicacy. I was there researching a travel guide to the city, and my old friends Jason and Colette put me in touch with Si Meng, a teacher and Chongqing native, who now called the more temperate city by the lake her home. I met Si Meng and her husband, Justin, for dinner one night, and we left on what I thought would be a short walk to the restaurant. Well over an hour later, we had hiked across the hills that line the northwestern shore of the lake, and I was staring at a dingy hole-in-the-wall, known for its authentic Sichuan spices and friendly owners.

The outgoing couple ordered up a storm, but the standout dish was the crispy, glistening pork belly, sliced thin atop a mound of these cylindrical, grass-green vegetables that I'd never seen before. Si Meng explained that these were garlic scapes, the early shoots of hard-neck garlic, which farmers remove to concentrate the flow of nutrients into the developing bulbs. In the States, even as recently as 2005, those bright stalks were discarded, which is why they seemed utterly new. How wonderful for me, then, that they seem to be gaining a wide following now, at least here in New York. Jon and I have found them at the Greenmarket consistently for the past couple of weeks.

We were there last weekend with his friend, James, who was in town for the week from San Diego, and the scapes beckoned to me from their curled abundance on one of the covered stands. I bought as many as I could reasonably justify, and we continued on into the market. There, we encountered the yarn-covered stall of the Catskill Merino Sheep Farm, where we picked up just under a pound of lamb shoulder. If you can cook pork twice and eat it too, why not lamb?

That night, we were off to Homeslice West, but the lamb sat waiting in the fridge for our next dinner at home. The next evening, I adapted this recipe to use our meat of choice and items from our pantry, and Jon sautéed up some bok choy, smothered in his homemade chili paste.


Time: 30 minutes

3/4 lb lamb shoulder (all fat and connective tissue removed)
1 tbsp mirin or white wine
3 slices ginger
2 cloves garlic, flattened
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/4 lb garlic scapes
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp sambal olek
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1. Place the lamb in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then add wine and ginger
2. Cook the lamb for 20 minutes, then remove from the water and allow to cool (discard the other contents of the pan). When the lamb is cool enough to handle, slice across the grain as thinly as possible in pieces about 2 inches long, removing all fat.
3. Slice the garlic scapes in 1 inch pieces. Julienne the bell pepper and jalapeño.
4. Heat a wok or sauté pan over medium-high to high heat. Add the oil, and when it is hot, add the flattened garlic cloves. Fry the garlic until it is very brown, then remove it and discard. Add the peppers to the wok, and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic scapes, and cook for another minute.
5. Push the vegetables to the side of the wok and add the sambal olek; heat briefly. Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and lamb slices, mixing all well and ensuring the lamb is covered with all the spicy mixture. Cook only for another 1-2 minutes, until everything is heated through.

Yield: 2-3 servings

Eating Out: Homeslice West

A few months ago, an article about underground New York City dining clubs caught our eye. People were charging relatively large sums of money for home-cooked meals and serving them to groups of 20 or 30 against the will of the Department of Health. Obviously, we were intrigued.

We signed up for the mailing lists of all the groups mentioned in the article, and the first one to get back to us was Homeslice West. Billing themselves as "a culinary speakeasy," Homeslice West is the brainchild of Hayden and Becky, two Upper-West-siders from the South who grew up cooking and never tired of it. After falling in love with the city, they wanted to give something back by creating a cozy space in which groups of friends could comfortably mingle and enjoy good food and drink. In creating such an atmosphere, Hayden and Becky have undoubtedly succeeded. The space they used, the apartment of a friend, was nothing but friendly, and most of the diners (average age, about 30) were repeats, greeting each other by name.

The food began on its highest note, and, from there on, was always adequate but often uneven. The finger-food appetizer waiting for us when we entered was a jalapeño-bacon wrapped date stuffed with pecan cream. It was exquisite, perfectly crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside. After taking our seats, we were served buttermilk biscuits with honey butter. These were above-average biscuits, at least on par with the fabulous biscuits at Little Giant. The appetizer of rock shrimp ceviche with plantain chips, however, was simply sufficient, lacking anything to set it apart from any other straight-up ceviche. The salad was summer asparagus with heart of palm, in a blood orange vinaigrette. It too was simply adequate.

The entree, pictured above, was a macadamia-crusted mahi mahi with pineapple-papaya relish on black lentils. The lentils themselves were the highlight of the sit-down portion of the meal. Exquisitely smoky, they perfectly offset a quite-good piece of fish. Lastly, the dessert was crispy cake fritters with key lime creme, a shout out to one of the cooks' Florida roots. These were delicious.

Homeslice's food, simply put, did not merit $50 a head, especially when New York restaurants like Little Owl set the bar so high at that price point. On the other hand, dining there was, if nothing else, a fascinating social experience. We'd certainly recommend it to everyone once, and we were encouraged enough by it that we plan on trying another one of the dining clubs sometime soon.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Chili-cilantro flounder and peas with pesto and pistachios

This past Friday I noticed a new stand in the Greenmarket: Pura Vida Fishery. I'm not sure if they're new at the market, or I just hadn't noticed them before, but their catch looked beautiful, and their prices were reasonable.

The fishmonger recommended the flounder, and I started recipe-hunting for something appropriate. I came across this recipe from Apartment Therapy and adapted it to include the remnants of my last batch of homemade chili paste. To go along with the fish, Ali made a fantastic side with some peas in the pod I picked up from the market.

She shucked the peas, then tossed them briefly in a pan with the pesto left over from her tart, a handful of raw pistachios, and some low-fat greek yogurt. The result was sweetly green and herbaceous, the perfect evocation of spring.


3/4 lb flounder
1 jalapeño
3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp white wine
1/2 cup chili paste
1 tsp sesame oil
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, with more for garnish
scallions, chopped for garnish
1 cup organic brown rice, cooked according to package instructions

1. Heat the oven to 475 degrees. Pat the fish dry and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place in a glass baking dish.
2. Chop the pepper and garlic, and grate the ginger. Put in a food processor with the soy sauce, white wine, chili paste, sesame oil, and cilantro. Pulse until blended. Pour the sauce over the fish. Bake for about 8 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily and is cooked through.
3. Serve immediately over brown rice, garnished with scallions and cilantro.


1 lb peas in the pod, shucked
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 green onions, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp homemade basil pesto
1/3 cup raw pistachios
2 tbsp low-fat greek yogurt
1 tsp tarragon
freshly ground pepper

1. Heat the pistachios in a sauté pan for 3-5 minutes, until toasted, then reserve on the side.
2. Add olive oil to the pan, then sauté onion and green onion 3-5 minutes until soft.
3. Return pistachios to the pan, and add peas, pesto, and yogurt to the pan and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until pesto and yogurt mix and peas start to change color. Season with tarragon, salt, and pepper, and serve.

Sweet potato ice cream

This tasty batch of ice cream came about as the result of a happy synchronicity: on the same day, last week, that I ran around the Greenmarket before work picking out whatever veggies looked especially tasty (a journey that led to Ali's wonderful tart), I discovered that our ice cream maker's bowl was, once again, frozen and ready to go. Just an hour later, we were having our first taste of this ice cream, made from a single sweet potato and a few spices.

The recipe is an adaptation of a David Lebovitz recipe, but I suggest you simply use your instincts when spicing the mix.


Time: 15 minutes active, 40-45 minutes inactive

1-2 sweet potatoes
12 oz whole milk
2-3 tbs butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cinnamon

1. Quarter the sweet potato. Microwave for five or six minutes. Remove from microwave, and butter the sweet potato as best you can with about a third of the butter. Microwave for another eight or so, or until the sweet potatoes are soft and mashable.
2. Scoop the potato into a bowl, and mash in the rest of the butter. Put the buttered, mashed potatoes in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Purée until fine. Add more milk if mix is too thick.
3. Cool in your fridge or freezer for 20-30 minutes, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the instructions.

Yield: 4-5 servings

Summer squash, spring onion, and heirloom tomato tart

My friend Margaret came over for dinner the other night, and I felt a bit like she'd joined the audience at an Iron Chef taping. Jon had surprised me with produce from the Greenmarket, and I had to figure out a way to use the featured ingredients. Margaret and Jon went along with it, somehow unflinchingly confident that I'd pull together a dinner in the end, using all the things that had caught Jon's eye on his way to work that morning. The last item he bought, a sweet potato, inspired us both to think – hmmm, wouldn't that be good as ice cream? – and Jon took on the challenge.

I began with a version of my now-fallback spinach and strawberry salad, with the addition of pea shoots that we'd bought the weekend before. It went over well, as expected, and I could concentrate my creative efforts on the main course. We had two beautiful heirloom tomatoes, like bruises ready to bleed, and four young specimens of yellow squash. I found this recipe for a summer squash tart, held together with chevre and pesto, and we just happened to have a whole bunch of basil left over from ceviche night. I whipped up some pesto on the spot with that, the last crunchy bits of a block of parmigiano (augmented with cage-aged gruyere), and some raw pecans, in place of pignoli. That got mixed in with a log of chevre from the Vermont Butter & Cheese Company to make a sort of pesto spread.

We've been very good about sticking to whole grains around here, so I scoured the internet for a puff pastry recipe that uses white whole wheat flour, which I've come to love. Nothing doing in that realm, so I just risked it all and subbed it into this recipe for a rough puff. Happily, despite my adventurous streak and my lack of baking experience, the crust turned out delicious. I'm sure it'll come into frequent rotation as our CSA starts up this week, and next time I'll take it out of the broiler 30 seconds sooner!


Time: 50 minutes active, 60 minutes inactive

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb small yellow squash, sliced 1/4 inch thick
5 large spring onions, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp prepared pesto
5 oz fresh goat cheese, softened
2 red heirloom tomatoes, very thinly sliced

For the puff pastry:
1 1/4 cups cold white whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. salt
12 tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup very cold water

1. Pour the flour and salt onto the cold cubes of butter. Using a chef's knife, cut the butter into the flour. Work until you have a crumbly mixture. Flatten any large chunks of butter with just your fingertips. Add the ice-cold water a little at a time to loosely bind the dough. Mix the dough until it just hangs together. Shape the messy, shaggy dough into a rough rectangle and roll it out until it's 1/2 inch thick. Resist the temptation to overwater or overwork the dough; it will eventually hold together.
2. Fold the dough in thirds like a business letter. Don't worry if it breaks in pieces. Turn the package of dough 90 degrees so the folds run vertically. Square off the edges of the dough as you work. Roll the dough into a rectangle that's 1/2 inch thick, always rolling from open end to open end. Continue rolling, folding, and turning until the dough looks smooth. By four or five "turns," the dough should hang together well.
3. For even more layers, fold the smooth dough up like a book. To do this, fold the two shorter sides into the center and then fold the dough like a book. Brush off excess flour as you fold. Wrap the dough and chill it for half an hour before giving it two final turns. At this point, you can then use the dough, though another short rest will make rolling and shaping easier.
4. Preheat the oven to 425° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the squash and onion and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the squash and onion are lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, blend the pesto with the goat cheese. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to a 12-inch by 8-inch rectangle. Lay it on the parchment sheet. Spread the goat cheese all over the pastry, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Top with the squash mixture. Arrange the tomato slices on the tart and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fold up the sides, pressing the corners together. Trim any excess pastry at the corners.
6. Bake in the lower third of the oven for about 35 minutes, until the edges are golden and the bottom is completely cooked through. Finish in the broiler for 2 minutes, watching more carefully than I did that it doesn't burn. Cut into squares and serve right away.

Yield: 6 servings

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Eating out: Little Owl

Jon and I have wanted to eat at Little Owl for ages, and Jon tried for weeks to get us a reservation at a good time. Finally, a month or so ago, he lucked into an 8 pm table for this past week, and so we went. It's more than we used to spend for dinner on anything but a special occasion, but we've decided that it's only really worth eating out when we can have truly incredible food (or incredible company).

After work on the first cool evening following a serious heat wave, we walked from our apartment across the 6th Avenue gauntlet of frat boy sex shops and rainbow-flagged cafes to the still-charming inner reaches of the West Village. The Little Owl sits on the corner of Bedford and Grove, in a glass-walled space under the watch of a small sculpted owl that perches on the roof of the building across the street.

We decided that the best way to explore the menu was to share three appetizers and an entrée. The soft-shell crab at Tabla has newly converted me to a fan, and we couldn't resist trying Little Owl's version. They split all three appetizers between us, and plated them in a row on long rectangular plates. The crab was perfectly crisp, with tender flesh peeking out of every crevice, and it stood, statuesque, above a reflecting pool of perfect asparagus risotto, attended by a few cherry tomatoes, cooked to the bursting point. The cavatelli arrived in a small dish, filled to the brim with tomato broth, covered with favas, bacon, and ricotta. I've been excited about trying it since its mention – and gorgeous masthead photo – in the Times article about ricotta. The third dish was perhaps chef Joey Campanaro's most famous creation – meatball sliders, sandwiched between homemade cheese rolls. The photo and recipe in New York Magazine gave us no choice.

Beyond the appetizers, we opted for the special, a generous portion of blackfish on a mound of chive mashed potatoes with truffles and caramelized onions. It was wondrously flaky, and earthy with all the alliums and truffles.

Afterwards, we figured our restraint in the alcohol department merited reward – in the form of a strawberry rhubarb crumble. The slightly sour rhubarb dominated the berries, but a heaping scoop of near-orgasmic mascarpone gelato kept all the flavors in balance. In short, Little Owl blew our expectations out of the water.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ceviche night!

The story of ceviche night goes all the way back to mid-March, when we took a cooking class at the Institute for Culinary Education. Taught by Melanie Underwood, the five-hour course covered a range of ceviche recipes, from tuna to scallops to bass; our station even got to make mojitos from scratch for the rest of the class. The whole night was unforgettable, and apparently so were our mojitos: a woman from our class approached us on the street a few weeks ago, excitedly referring to us as "the mojito couple."

Ever since then, we've been itching to try our hand at a few of the recipes. Could we duplicate what we made in that professional kitchen? Would it taste as good without Melanie's handpicked fish fillets, straight from Katagiri & Co. on the Upper East Side? There was only one way to find out.

Our guest for ceviche night was our friend Elyssa, who came over with a kindred love for cooking and a fantastic recipe for mango slaw. It was sweet and delicious, the perfect addition to our seafood spread.

The two ceviches we made were a spicy shrimp –- which, to be fair, is more of a shrimp salad than a ceviche –- and a "Thai" tuna ceviche. The spicy shrimp dish, pictured at the top of this post, is bathed in a spicy mayo sauce, giving it an unbeatable umami note.

The tuna ceviche, though extremely easy to make, is actually quite complex. Sesame oil, coconut milk, avocado and lime and grapefruit juices all coalesce and become something new. We ate our fish when the juices had only partially cooked it, a taste we prefer as sushi lovers.

To top it all off, Ali made baked quinoa cakes with roasted corn and green onions. Though all reports were that keeping quinoa together would be a serious challenge, her take on this recipe worked perfectly, and the cakes were heavenly. (We each took one for breakfast the next morning, heated up with some honey on top.)

The night was fabulous, a fitting follow-up to our amazing experience at the ICE. There's no food we would recommend more than ceviche for a fun night at home -– what with the communal chopping, and then the slow, quiet "cooking" process, it's the best way we could imagine to spend a relaxed night with a wonderful friend.


Time: 5 minutes active, 30 minutes inactive

3 cups shredded cabbage
1 mango, chopped
1/4 cup greek yogurt
2 tbsp cilantro
1 tbsp jalapeño pepper
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp honey

1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate for up to 30 minutes; serve.

Yield: 4 servings


Time: 10 minutes active, 30 minutes inactive

1/2 lb large shrimp
1 qt water
1/2 vanilla bean, split
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
1 tbsp ginger
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 cup finely diced yellow pepper
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
juice of 2 limes
2 tbps mayo
3 tbsp sambal olek chili paste, to taste

1. Combine water, vanilla bean, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic. Bring to a boil, add in shrimp, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until shrimp are cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove form heat and cool shrimp in a bowl of ice. Once cooled, remove shells and devein. Chop shrimp into 1 inch pieces.
2. Combine yellow pepper, scallion, garlic, herbs, lime juice, mayonnaise and chili paste. Stir in shrimp. Chill about 1/2 hour before serving.

Yield: 4 servings


Time: 15 minutes active, 30+ minutes inactive

1/2 pound tuna, cubed
juice of 1 lime
juice of 1 grapefruit
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp coconut milk
1 tbsp soy sauce
4 basil leaves, chiffonade
6 cilantro leaves, chopped
1/3 cup chopped green onions
4 kaffir lime leaves, chiffonade
1 tsp finely chopped chili
1 diced mango
1 tbsp canola oil
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 avocado, chopped

1. Combine tuna, lime juice, grapefruit juice, sesame oil, coconut milk and soy sauce. Refrigerate 15 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator.
2. Add in basil, cilantro, scallions, kaffir leaves, chili, and mango.
3. Meanwhile heat oil in a sauté pan. Add shallots and cook until crisp.
4. Serve tuna on plate with greens. Sprinkle with shallots and avocado. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings


Time: 15 minutes active, 40 minutes inactive

1 1/2 cups raw organic quinoa
2 1/2 cups water
2 eggs
1/2 cup roasted corn (we had some from Trader Joe's sitting in the freezer)
3 green onions, chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Olive oil cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 450.
2. Rinse quinoa and cook with water according to package directions (we used the microwave). Once cooled, place quinoa in a medium bowl. Beat together the two eggs in a small bowl and add to quinoa. Stir in thoroughly and add corn, green onions, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
3. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray sheet with cooking spray.
4. Spray 1/2 cup measuring cup with oil. Fill with quinoa mixture. Empty the contents of the measuring cup onto the sheet. Repeat for 5 more cakes.
5. Place cakes in oven for 20 minutes. Flip carefully with a large spatula, working to make sure that parts don't stick to the pan. Spray pan one more time before placing cakes back down on pan. Return to oven for 10 minutes or until both sides are browned.

Yield: 6 servings as a side, 3 as an entree

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Strawberry rhubarb sorbet

Ali and I have gotten in a rhythm of making sorbet or ice cream every week or so, as that's how long it seems to take for our ice cream maker bowl to fully freeze. This past Saturday we found it frozen again, and the timing couldn't have been better – a heat wave was sweeping the city, leaving us sweltering in 100 degree heat. This strawberry rhubarb sorbet, taken from the pages of David Lebovitz' The Perfect Scoop, was the perfect antidote.


1 qt strawberries
3 stalks rhubarb, trimmed
1/3-1/2 cup sugar, to taste
2/3 cup water

1. Cut the rhubarb stalks into 1/2 inch pieces and quarter the strawberries.
2. Combine rhubarb and water in a pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook for five more minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Combine rhubarb, water, and strawberries in food processor; purée until smooth. Put mixture in the fridge for thirty minutes, then freeze in your ice cream maker.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The best turkey burgers ever

There's something magical about showing up at the Union Square Greenmarket without a shopping list or a recipe in mind. The trip becomes a type of foodie dérive, and we are able to wander the stalls, drooling over the freshest, most local produce in New York without the premise of a specific search. At some point, the things we covet come together on their own and become a meal.

This past Saturday that meal was turkey burgers with Austrian fingerling potatoes and peas. We picked up fresh tomatoes, potatoes, and peas, still in the pod, from a few different Jersey farms, and we got organic jalapeño cheddar and whole-wheat sourdough rolls from Hawthorne Valley Farms, which is upstate in Columbia County. The turkey meat is from Trader Joe's, seasoned with a marinade I came up with on the spot. Most of its components are interchangeable; for the best turkey burger, the cumin is not.


Time: 20 minutes, plus 30 minutes to marinate

1 1/3 lbs ground turkey
1 1/3 tbsp cumin
1 tsp hot paprika
1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced
1 tbsp garlic, finely diced
1/2 tbsp ginger, finely diced
1 cup teriyaki sauce (we used Soy Vey)
salt and pepper to taste
a few tomato slices
a few leaves of spinach
garlic mayo (add 2 tbsp minced garlic to 3 tbsp mayonnaise)
organic jalapeño cheddar cheese
caramelized onions

1. Put ground turkey in a ziploc bag with salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, jalapeño, garlic, ginger, and soy vey. Shake vigorously, then let marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
2. Shape meat into four patties, then cook in a skillet until well-done. A grill might be even better, if you're fortunate enough to have one.
3. Serve burgers on whole-wheat sourdough rolls, and top them with jalapeño cheddar, tomato, spinach, garlic mayo, and loads of caramelized onions.

Yield: 4 servings

(inspired by this recipe from The Pioneer Woman)

Time: 15 minutes, plus 25 minutes in the oven

6 fingerling potatoes
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Boil potatoes in well salted water until slightly tender.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle oil on a baking sheet, and lay the potatoes out on it.
3. Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and rosemary, then bake for 20 minutes or so.
4. Finish the potatoes under the broiler for 2 minutes or until the tops have browned to your liking.

Yield: 2 servings


Time: 10 minutes

1 qt fresh peas
2 shallots
2 tbsp minced tarragon
1 tbsp salted butter

1. Shell the peas (make sure to eat a few right out of the bowl).
2. Sauté the shallots in butter until they start to melt a little. Add the peas and cook for a minute or two, just until the color starts to turn. Add salt and tarragon, then serve.

Yield: 2 servings

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Nested eggs benedict

For most of my life, I ate eggs two ways: scrambled, or in an omelette. I've always hated hard-boiled eggs, which seem like another (lesser) food altogether, and I have to admit I was afraid of them sunny side up or poached. In the last few years, however, I've come to enjoy them both of those ways, but it's only recently that I've tried making them myself. I fried my first egg a few months ago, and have quickly become comfortable enough to serve up lightly fried quail eggs atop the second iteration of my warm fava bean salad.

But I hadn't tried to poach an egg until this week. I scoured the internet for advice, and I probably would have gone with the plastic wrap method if I weren't worried about dropping potentially toxic plastic into a pot of boiling water with my dinner. Then, I thought to ask my dad, who said the trick is in the vinegar – adding enough of it to the water that the egg doesn't separate – and in sliding the egg into the water with a gentle touch.

I followed his advice as I set out to deconstruct a dish that somehow I've never actually eaten. I'm no fan of Canadian bacon, generic English muffins, or hollandaise sauce at brunch, so I've so far managed to steer clear of eggs benedict, though I'm sure there's an intriguing version somewhere nearby waiting to be eaten in the near future. Still, I thought that I could take the elements that do attract me – the poached egg in butter atop some carbs – and turn them into an appealing and easy dinner.

What could be more natural than an egg in a nest? So I cooked up some whole-wheat spaghetti, swirled it in a sauté pan with a little butter, salt, and freshly ground pepper, and piled it on the plate. The poaching went as smoothly as I could have hoped for, and I placed an egg inside each little nest and topped it off with a flurry of parmigiano reggiano. A quick sauté of organic baby spinach with olive oil, onions, garlic, and a hearty shake of the compelling but unidentified spice mix Jon's mom brought back from Istanbul was perfect on the side, as a sort of improvised "florentine" accompaniment.


Time: 20 minutes

1/4 package Trader Joe's whole wheat spaghetti
2 eggs
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp salted butter
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
parmigiano reggiano

1. Add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar to a large pot of water and heat until it's just about to boil.
2. Break eggs one at a time into a small dish and carefully slide egg into the water. Cook for about 2 minutes, then carefully remove and let the water drain off the outside of the egg.
3. At the same time, cook spaghetti until it's al dente. Heat butter in a skillet. Drain the pasta, reserving a bit of cooking water, and add pasta and cooking water into skillet with butter. Season with salt and pepper, then plate with the egg.
4. Grate parmigiano reggiano over the dish to taste.

Yield: 2 servings

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Kimchi pancakes and spicy Korean pickles

We both love Korean food, but we don't eat it too frequently because our favorite spot to get it, Bonjoo, is not that inexpensive – and because of all the meat and white rice that tends to show up on our table there. Neither of us had ever cooked Korean food, though we've been enamored of gochujang chili paste for a while now, but I was craving the flavors of the transected peninsula, and we had a veritable jug of kimchi that had started to leak in the refrigerator.

This was really one of those moments that makes me appreciate the internet. By what other means could I uncover a slate of Korean family recipes to try and replicate in my own kitchen after searching for only a few minutes? I came across Kitchen Wench, where Ellie Won posts gorgeous photos of her cooking, and her exciting stash of family recipes for some of the most inescapably intriguing dishes in the cuisine. Jon and I have been pondering the process of fermenting our own kimchi for a while now, and I have a feeling it's Ellie's recipe we'll turn to when the time is right.

One of my nicknames for Jon is "Kimchi Jon" – since the pancakes we relish are transliterated as kimchi jeon, and since kimchi is one of his favorite foods – so I couldn't resist starting there, incorporating our maturing cabbage into a healthfully whole-wheat batter.

I've always loved the spicy cucumbers that often arrive among the banchan presented with your meal at a Korean restaurant, and I figured that with enough chili powder, salt, and vinegar, even Jon would eat these kirbies, despite his innate disrespect for the vegetable. This recipe came from Merril, at Food to Savor, and I'll definitely be returning to her site for more ideas. We snacked on these pickles all night and the next day at lunch. Jon actually just broke out the last of them now for a snack while he watches the Lakers game.


Time: 20 minutes

1 cup kimchi, liquid squeezed out and diced
1/2 white onion, finely sliced
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 - 2/3 cup water
Sunflower, olive or any other mild-flavored oil for frying

1. Put the kimchi in a bowl, season with freshly ground black pepper and garlic. Add the gochujang and onion and mix together until evenly combined.
2. Add the flour and egg and mix altogether, then slowly add the water, stirring briskly after each addition. Stop once the batter has thinned a bit but isn’t quite as thin as normal pancake batter.
3. Heat up some oil in a large skillet/frying pan over low-medium heat, and once it’s hot, pour a ladle of batter into the pan in the shape of a circle, using the back of the ladle to spread out the mixture and thin out the pancake (you want a nice thin pancake to get a good ratio of crispy outer to soft inner).
4. Once the edges have set and the bottom is nice and crispy, carefully flip the pancake and fry for another 2-3 minutes.
5. Place the pancake on a plate lined with paper towels, allow it to drain, and slice into squares before serving.

Yield: 2 large pancakes – serves 8 as an appetizer, 4 as an entrée.


Time: 10 minutes prep, 15 minutes to sit

5 seedless kirby cucumbers
1 tbsp salt
1/4 cup rice vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper flakes (not the American kind)
1 1/2 tbsp gochujang red pepper paste
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Slice cucumbers into the thinnest discs you can manage.
2. Put cucumber slices in a bowl and sprinkle salt over them. Mix the cucumber slices around so salt is evenly distributed. Let sit for at least 15 minutes.
3. Add all remaining ingredients. Toss cucumber slices to distribute ingredients evenly.
4. Taste; add more salt/vinegar/garlic/sugar as desired.

Spinach and strawberry salad

I've made this salad a few times this week, and Jon can't seem to get enough of it. Yet when I told my mom I was making a spinach and strawberry salad, she couldn't quite wrap her mind around the combination. These spring stalwarts are actually a delightful pairing, especially with a quick balsamic vinaigrette to bring them together. If my mom would try it, I'm sure she'd fall in love -- and so will you.


Time: 10 minutes

1 package organic baby spinach
1 pint perfectly ripe strawberries (organic if you can find them -- we couldn't this week)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
parmigiano reggiano

1. Cut the tops off the strawberries and slice them as thin as possible. Add them to serving bowl with washed spinach and sprinkle lightly with salt.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste.
3. Dress the salad, then shave some parmigiano over the top.

Yield: 4 servings

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sweet potato gnocchi

We've been salivating over this recipe for sweet potato gnocchi since we came across it a few weeks ago, and we decided to dedicate Saturday night to churning out bright orange pillows of deliciousness.

It was easier than we expected to make way too much gnocchi to feed the two of us, so after we played with dough and ate the first results on Saturday, we had two friends over the next night to help us eat the rest of it. Both times, we sautéed the gnocchi in brown butter with sage, but the larger crowd of night two necessitated a trip to the oven for warming -- which resulted in a delightfully crisped exterior worth replicating even when we cook up smaller batches in the future.

We tried twice this weekend to make homemade ricotta according to the recipe from the Times, since it seemed to be the zeitgeist thing to do, but failed both times to achieve the right texture in the final product. It smelled fine and tasted not-awful, but it was way too rubbery. So we resorted to local, organic ricotta from Whole Foods -- theoretically the next best thing. It added the necessary lightness to our dough, and was perfect dolloped atop a plated mound, a deep-fried sage leaf nestled in its peak.


2 large red-skinned sweet potatoes, rinsed and patted dry
1 1/2 cups fresh ricotta cheese, drained in sieve, plus 1/2 cup for garnish
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano, plus more for garnish
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 stick butter
6 tbsp chopped fresh sage plus whole leaves for garnish

1. Place sweet potatoes on plate; microwave on high until tender, about 5 minutes per side. Cut in half and cool. Scrape sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash; transfer to large bowl.
2. Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, salt, and nutmeg; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.
3. Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long rope (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces. Roll each piece over tines of fork to indent (or leave them smooth and simple). Transfer to parchment-covered baking sheet.
4. Bring large pot of water to boil; add salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 5 to 6 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 250°F. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until butter solids are brown and have toasty aroma, swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add chopped sage (mixture will bubble up). Turn off heat. Season sage butter generously with salt and pepper.
6. Transfer half of sage butter to large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add half of gnocchi. Sauté until gnocchi are heated through, about 6 minutes. Empty skillet onto baking sheet; place in oven to brown. Repeat with remaining sage butter and gnocchi.
7. Divide gnocchi and sauce among shallow bowls. Garnish with ricotta, more grated parmigiano, and sage leaves.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Baby arugula and jicama salad

Since Jon was cooking up some spicy chicken and rice, I wanted a salad with Mexican flavors to match. Since I'm still not totally comfortable following a recipe word for word, I did what I always do – my one from column A, two from column B, etc style of cooking.

I was hoping for watercress, mâche, or pea shoots when I sauntered through the Greenmarket yesterday afternoon, but it's not quite yet the season, so I ended up with some tender organic baby arugula from Migliorelli Farm in Tivoli, NY. I picked up jicama at Whole Foods, and some organic chicken chorizo at Trader Joe's, flipped through the Bayless book that we just bought with an old gift card, and threw in the cilantro left over in our produce bin, pepitas I bought in November, and some lime juice. In all, it made for a fresh and fragrant start to one of the more latin-leaning meals we've made so far together.


1/4 lb baby arugula
1 small jicama
pepitas (for garnish)

For the dressing (adapted from Rick Bayless):

1 chicken chorizo sausage, casing removed
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
salt to taste
juice from 1 small lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1. Peel jicama with a knife and cut into long sticks.
2. Whisk together oil, vinegar, lime juice, cilantro, and salt in a bowl.
3. Sauté the chorizo in a small skillet over medium heat. Stir and break up clumps until it's browned and cooked through, 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, stir for a minute, then add to vinaigrette and mix thoroughly.
4. Pour vinaigrette and chorizo over arugula and jicama. Toss to coat and garnish with salted pepitas.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A better burrito bowl

This dish, inspired by a couple recipes in Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday, is a pretty straight-up "chicken with rice and beans" recipe. What sets it apart, though, is the marinade I made from scratch the night before – my garlic and ginger chili paste, supplemented by a couple chipotle peppers to make it a bit smokier – and the spring garlic we picked up fresh at the Greenmarket. The dish actually ends up quite complex, with the rice al dente and the chicken tender as can be.


2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 lbs chicken breast
chili paste, or chili powder, to taste
1 white onion
1 cup rice
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup spring garlic (or garlic, if you're not lucky enough to find the scapes)
1/4 cup cilantro

1. If using a paste as marinade, marinate the chicken in the fridge for 1-2 hrs.
2. Heat the oil in medium-large pot. Place the chicken in a single layer in the pot. When browned on one side (2-3 minutes), flip them over and cook the other side (2-3 minutes). Remove to a plate, leaving behind as much oil as you can.
3. And the spring garlic and rice to the pot. Stir for 2-3 minutes, until the rice becomes opaque.
4. Add the broth and some salt. Stir. When it comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for about 10 mins.
5. Cube the chicken. Uncover the pot, and add the chicken and the beans. Re-cover and cook another 10-15 mins.
6. Uncover, and add the cilantro. Remove from heat, and re-cover, allowing it to cook in its own steam for 5-10 minutes.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Cumin and jalapeño rubbed lamb with homemade tzatziki

This recipe is an amalgam of several lamb and grain recipes and takes advantage of a number of things that had been laying around the apartment for some time – the jalapeños that have been drying on our windowsill and a grain mix from Trader Joe's among them. I can't say enough about the wondrous combination of cumin and finely diced jalapeño on the lamb, and Ali's homemade tzatziki was the perfect accompaniment. The meat is cooked to our liking (very rare), but I think it would probably be optimal a bit closer to the medium-rare side.


For lamb:

1 1/2 tbs vegetable oil
2 lamb steaks, about 2/3 lb
1 jalapeño, finely diced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 garlic clove, finely diced
1/4 cup cilantro

1. Rub lamb steaks with cumin and jalapeño, then place all lamb, cumin, and jalapeño in a ziploc bag. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, and store in the fridge for up to an hour.
2. In a medium-large pan, heat the oil. Place the steaks in the pan. Cook to your liking.
3. Slice thinly and serve over your preferred grains (we used a Trader Joe's mix with Israeli couscous).

For tzatziki:

1 cup Greek yogurt
1 kirby cucumber
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

1. Shred the cucumber and dice the garlic.
2. Incorporate them into the yogurt, and add enough olive oil to reach the desired texture.
3. Chill before serving if at all possible, and grind black pepper into it just before serving.

Warm fava bean salad with shallot-tarragon vinaigrette

Simply put, this was one of the most addictive vegetable dishes I've ever made. If you try it, I dare you to stop thinking about it. Jon and I have been talking about it nonstop for a couple of days now, and I'm seriously concerned that the fava bean season will end before I have the opportunity to make this at least one more time -- or seven!

The butter knocks this dish down a peg on the ladder of ideal nutrition, but it's worth it. Warming the shallots and tarragon in it results in a vinaigrette that approaches the unearthliness of bearnaise, but without its shining halo of cholesterol. The jalapeño hints at more grounded origins, without imparting any real kick of spice.

(adapted from Jean-Georges Vongerichten)

1 1/2 lbs fresh fava beans, shelled
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 medium shallot, minced
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp chopped tarragon
parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano for grating

1. Fill a large bowl with ice water. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, blanch the fava beans for 1 minute. Transfer to the ice water, drain, then peel them.
2. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the fava beans and cook over moderately high heat, without stirring, until blackened, about 1 minute. Transfer to a serving bowl and season with salt.
3. Add the butter to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until it just starts to brown, about 30 seconds. Add the garlic and cook over low heat until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the jalapeño and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the shallot and cook over low heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the heat.
4. Add the garlic-jalapeño mixture and warm shallot vinaigrette to the beans along with the tarragon and toss well to coat. Grate cheese over the bowl.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shrimp scampi with fiddleheads

I knew I wanted the garlicky comfort of a few shrimp done up as scampi last night, but I was lost for what to cook them with until I got to Whole Foods. The fiddlehead ferns waiting in their basket struck me as perfect isomorphs of the spiraled shellfish.

The flavors sang together as if fiddleheads and shrimp had more in common than their shape. I had switched them in for asparagus, the original vegetable in the recipe below (adapted from The Boston Globe), and I'd happily call on them again next spring.


1/4 lb shrimp, butterflied and deveined with the tails on
1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped
12-15 fiddleheads
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
salt and black pepper
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used sauvignon blanc, since we had it open.)
juice and zest from 1 lemon
chili powder to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh Italian parsley

1. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a sauté pan and set over high heat. When the oil just begins to smoke, add half of the shrimp and cook, without moving, until they begin to turn opaque, about 1 minute. Quickly turn the shrimp and cook until fully opaque, about 45 seconds longer, and transfer to a bowl.
2. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan, place over medium-low heat, and when the butter has melted, add the garlic and fiddleheads and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about a minute.
3. Add the wine and a teaspoon or so of chili powder and stir to blend.
4. Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the pan, add the parsley, season with salt and black pepper to taste, and stir to combine.

Yield: 2 servings

Peanut butter and jelly ice cream

The last of a series of apartment-warming gifts from friends and relatives was an ice cream maker from Ali's thoughtful aunt and uncle in Columbus – the perfect addition to our little kitchen as the oppressive summer months approach. I broke in the machine by making something extremely simple: peanut butter and jelly ice cream. The recipe, adapted from the fantastic Kitchen Chick, is a mixture of local, organic, and mass-produced, processed foods. Both of us, for example, hate organic or natural peanut butters, and prefer Jif Extra Crunchy. Feel free to use whichever you prefer (though, as Kitchen Chick points out, the results are best with Jif). The quality of the cream and milk, on the other hand, will make a huge difference, so try and find a high-quality, locally farmed product. We use Ronnybrook Farms, which is in Ancramdale, NY.


1 cup Jif Extra Crunchy peanut butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 - 1/3 cups heavy cream
3 tbs Hero raspberry preserve
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a bowl, combine the peanut butter and sugar. Stir until smooth.
2. Add milk. In a blender, blend on low speed until it's smooth. Stir in the heavy cream and the vanilla.
3. Put it in your ice cream maker and let it go until it's thickened. Remove a bit at a time, placing in a container you can seal, and layer with raspberry preserve.
4. Seal the container, and put it in your freezer for a few hours.

Yield: 6 servings

Eating Out: Tabla

For a birthday surprise, Jon decided we should go to one of the few high-end restaurants in New York that I hadn't been to -- and wanted to eat at. So we were off to Tabla, for a tasting menu full of Floyd Cardoz' innovative Indian twists on American flavors, which showcased his commitment to locally sourced ingredients.

The soft-shell crab won me over to a sea creature I'd previously thought I could live without. The fricassee of ramps and morels was the perfect evocation of the season, with a rich cloud of quail egg to top it off. The halibut swam in a pool of jalapeno-inflected watermelon, a perfect savory marriage. And the bread! We'll be dreaming of that garlic naan and corn roti for ages, dipping them into spiced tomato and green-apple-and-squash chutneys over and over again in our sleep.

We declined a wine pairing in favor of seasonal and seductive cocktails: the Thai Basil Bliss (tequila, fresh thai basil, pineapple, and sparkling wine), the Kumquat Mojito (light rum, fresh mint, kumquats, and lime), the Lots o'Passion (passionfruit purée with vodka and lime juice), and the Tamarind Margarita (tequila, cointreau, tamarind, fresh lime, and orange).

Monday, May 26, 2008

Curried scallops with acorn squash

I am impressed by the simplicity of most scallops you find in nice restaurants. They're caramelized, sautéed in some subtle reduction, and served. Even more simple is scallop sushi, the deliciousness of which proves once and for all that scallops were doing just fine as a food even before our species carved its first spear. This meal, partly inspired by the perfect scallops we ate at Little Giant a few nights ago, was an attempt to see what happens when one does seriously spice their scallops, and it proved to be an extremely easy way to prepare an impressive looking (and tasting) fleshed-out full-plate entrée.

To be honest, this is the first dish I have made that I would be thrilled to receive at a nice restaurant. The curry sauce adds spice to the scallops and squash without overwhelming their natural flavor, and, if you brown the squash just right, all the colors become perfectly matched.

adapted from epicurious

1 large (1 1/2- to 2-lb) acorn squash
2 tsp butter
3/4 lb sea scallops
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeño chile
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup water
3 tsp garam masala powder
3/4 cup coconut milk

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Halve acorn squash, and remove seeds.
3. Rub each half of the squash, including the cavity, with salted butter. Place face down on a baking sheet and put in oven.
4. After squash has been roasting 30 minutes, pat scallops dry and season with salt. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown scallops on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes total (scallops will be almost cooked through). Remove from heat. Add turmeric and toss until scallops are yellow, then transfer to a bowl.
5. Cook jalapeño, garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon lime juice in remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in skillet over moderately high heat, stirring, 1 minute. Add water and simmer until water is evaporated and chile mixture is softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add coconut milk and garam masala and simmer 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cover.
6. When squash is tender, add remaining 2 teaspoons lime juice and scallops with any liquid that has accumulated in bowl to sauce and simmer until scallops are just cooked through and sauce is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
7. Remove from heat, and spoon scallops and sauce onto squash.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Garam masala beet chips

I've always been a huge fan of beet chips, but have been frustrated by the generally unhealthy commonly available bagged varieties. Most of them are fried, or, if baked, baked in a thick layer of oil. So, with little to do on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I decided to try my hand at making them from scratch. These beet chips, which are the result of a combination of a couple recipes I found, are baked without oil, and they're the better for it.

Aside from being a fun experiment in making healthy snack foods, this was a great way to use two presents my mom gave us when she was here: garam masala curry powder (which Ali already used to make sweet potato latkes), fresh from the spice market in Istanbul, and an OXO mandoline that I used to slice the beets thin. The (organic) beets themselves are from a stall at the Union Square Greenmarket.

Make sure you slice the beets as thin as you can – they're best when they're crunchy.


Time: 1 1/4 hours (20 minutes active prep, 50-60 minutes to bake)

2-3 medium-size beets
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
4 tbs garam masala curry powder
salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel the beets, and use a mandoline to slice them as thin as possible.
2. Boil the water and sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
3. Remove the sugar water from the stove, and add curry powder and beet slices.
4. Stir beets until covered, and leave for 10 minutes.
5. Drain beets, let sit for another ten minutes.
6. Spray a small amount of cooking spray on a baking sheet. Arrange beet slices on tray so they don't touch.
7. Season beets with salt, pepper, and additional curry powder to taste. Bake for 50-60 minutes, flipping once. When you flip them, season again to taste.

Eating out: Little Giant

Our friend Andrew recommended that we try this place called Little Giant, a few blocks south into the Lower East Side from our apartment. The website promises seasonal, organic, locally sourced food, and dinner last night definitely delivered. The chive biscuits with honey butter were the star of the table, but our favorite dish was a little more inventive: ramps and orecchiette with morels, pancetta, and a poached egg. The scallops were perfectly seared, the dandelion greens salad warm with its prosciutto vinaigrette and peppers, and the cocktails creative and smoothly intoxicating.

We will definitely be heading back there sometime.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Pineapple-basil granita

I was surprised at how easy it was to make this granita, but I doubt I'll be making too many of them in the near future -- a birthday gift arrived in the mail from my aunt and uncle: a well timed, much appreciated ice cream maker!

This delicious dessert shouldn't be too hard to transform into sorbet, and for those without a magical machine of their own, it already comes pretty close to the smoothness of a sorbet, with the requisite amount of attention and care over an hour and a half in the freezer. I was inspired by this recipe on a cool blog called Cookworm, but I eliminated the simple syrup -- pineapple is sweet enough already without any added sugar.

Still, I can't wait to mix up a batch of red curry coconut ice cream to go with it. Check back soon for future adventures in frozen desserts.


Time: 10 minutes preparation, 1 1/2 hours in the freezer

1 pineapple
3 stalks fresh basil
juice from 1 lemon

1. Cut the pineapple into chunks.
2. Remove leaves from basil.
3. Add pineapple, basil, and lemon juice into a food processor and blend until smooth.
4. Freeze, being sure to stir and break up large pieces with a fork every 20 minutes or so, until granita reaches the desired consistency (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).

Yield: 2-4 servings

This post is part of Heart of the Matter 15: Herbal Essence.

Breakfast for dinner

I spent much of this week in Boston on a trip for work, and I returned exhilarated but exhausted. I was looking for a meal that would wake me up, and what could be better than breakfast?

I had been thinking about hash browns ever since I saw this photo on tastespotting last week, but I wanted to use Jon's favored sweet potatoes and to bake them instead of frying. I found a recipe for oven-baked latkes at slashfood, and subbed in the orange tubers. Then I spiced up the mixture with ginger, cumin, chili powder -– and curry powder, since Jon's mom brought us an incredible jar of the stuff from her trip to Turkey -– baked them with a bit of butter, and served them up with curry ketchup and some sour cream.

Where potatoes go, eggs will follow -– and so I felt a frittata was in order. I found this recipe for a frittata with pecorino and ramps, accompanied by a gorgeous photo, but when Jon went to Whole Foods, there were no ramps to be found, so I had him grab a bouquet of asparagus instead.


Time: 45 minutes

2 sweet potatoes
1 russet potato
1 small, sweet onion
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp chili powder
4 tbsp white whole wheat flour
butter (to grease the baking sheet)

1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. Peel sweet potatoes, potato, and onion, and grate in a food processor (or by hand, oy!).
3. Transfer potato mixture to a large bowl and stir in the eggs, flour, and all spices.
4. Drop latke mixture in 2-3 tbsp measures, forming 2-3 inch pancakes that are about 1/4 inch thick (sightly thicker is ok), on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, then turn the pancakes over, and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Latkes should be deep gold on both sides when done, so add a minute or two to the baking time, if necessary.
The latkes can be served immediately, but will stay crisp a bit longer than their fried counterparts and can also be served at room temperature.

Yield: 4-6 servings


Time: 15 minutes

8 eggs
1 tbsp butter
1 bunch asparagus, chopped
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
freshly-ground black pepper

1. Turn on the broiler.
2. Beat eggs in a medium bowl.
3. Beat in cheese, along with a few twists of your pepper mill.
4. Gently stir in asparagus, reserving some of the tips for decoration.
5. Add butter to an 8" skillet over medium heat, swirling it around the skillet to ensure that it coats the sides. As soon as the butter stops foaming, reduce the heat to low, give the frittata mixture a stir and pour it into the skillet.
6. Allow the frittata to cook undisturbed for 4-6 minutes, until only the top of the frittata remains runny, but the rest of the frittata has set. Use a silicone spatula to check doneness on the sides. When the frittata is set, you should be able to easily run a spatula around the sides of the frittata and peak at the browned sides.
7. Place the reserved asparagus tips on top of the frittata in a flower design and place it under the broiler until the runny top of the frittata is cooked and beginning to brown just a bit, 1-2 minutes.

Yield: 3-4 servings

Monday, May 19, 2008

Garlic and ginger chili paste

As a pet project I've been drying a bunch of different peppers that I picked up at M2M Mart on 3rd Avenue. There's no sauce I love more than sambal olek, and I wanted to see if I could do it myself. The timing was right, too–with Ali out of town, I needed something to spice up my night.

The result is a flavorful, dynamic sauce that will go well with anything pan-Asian. I recommend adding garlic, ginger, and salt freely in order to balance the sheer spice of the peppers. Also, it's fun to experiment with the peppers you use. In this batch, I added one long medium-hot pepper whose name I don't know to the mix of smaller, more powerful peppers.


Time: 1 hour

5 dried ancho chilies
1 dried habañero pepper
5 semi-dried thai chilies
1 semi-dried long medium-hot pepper (pictured above with the thai peppers)
2 tablespoons garlic
2 teaspoons ginger
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt to taste

Place all fully dried chilies in a bowl of boiling water, with a weight on top to keep them submerged, for 25-30 minutes. Remove the chilies from the water and pull them open, removing the stem and seeds. If you want a hotter paste, retain some of the seeds. Retain about half a cup of the soaking water.

Place chilies, garlic, ginger, salt, and oil in a food processor or blender. Puree, adding a spoonful of the retained water every few seconds until it becomes a thick paste.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Citrus salad

This is an old standby of mine, but I whipped it out to follow Jon's fish tacos, and it served as the perfect dessert. I know the goal is to eat more vegetables, but when fruit is so delicious, how can we stop ourselves? It still feels really good for us...


Time: 10 minutes

1 ruby red grapefruit
1 tangelo
1 honey tangerine
1 blood orange
fresh mint
powdered ginger

1. Supreme the fruit over a bowl, retaining as much of the juice as you can.
2. Add a teaspoon and a half or so of honey, powdered ginger, and cinnamon to taste.
3. Toss in a few fresh mint leaves, which you'll use later for garnish.
4. Chill for at least half an hour.

Yield: 4 servings

This post is part of Sugar High Fridays #43: Citrus.

Fish tacos with gingered mango salsa

There's a spirited, longstanding, ongoing debate in food writing over who invented the fish taco. Ensenada certainly gets the most credit for it, but that may simply be the spoils of convenience – Ensenada is right across the border from my hometown, San Diego, making it easy for foodie luminaries like Calvin Trillin to sample the wares and declare it, unequivocally, the best, and probably the first, fish taco in the world.

San Felipe, on the other hand, is almost three hours' drive from the border towns of Calexico and Mexicali, which themselves are in the middle of nowhere. I've been there twice, and it wasn't easy either time. The trip requires passage through a windswept, empty desert, not to mention two or three sketchy-looking military checkpoints. But it's worth it – San Felipe's population of fishermen/cooks, for my money, make the best – and probably the first – fish tacos in the world. My mom was in town this week, reminding me of our first trip there together, and so I made this dish.


Time: 30 minutes

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless perch fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 scallions, chopped

Mango salsa:
2 mangos
1/2 red onion
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup lime juice
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced, with half its seeds
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all salsa ingredients, veggies roughly chopped, in a food processor and pulse.

Heat three tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Saute scallions for one minute, then saute fish for two. Pour over lime juice, and saute for another minute, until cooked through.

Serve fish in corn tortillas. Pour salsa on top, and garnish with cilantro.

Yield: 4 servings

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