Thursday, December 13, 2012
In the wine world, the term terroir is something you hear a lot. The concept itself is the basis for the delineation of French wines and their system of Appellation d’origine controlee, which has been the model for most wine laws around the world. It is the idea that one specific place and only that place, that land, the soil thereof and the way it interacts with the vines lends remarkable and unique characteristic to the resulting wine. It is, essentially, the taste of place. It’s a concept that I think is wonderful and romantic and truly, accurate in many ways.
I found myself thinking about the idea of the taste of a place when strolling around Arthur Avenue in the Bronx on Sunday on the drive home from a dear friend’s wedding in New York. And even though it’s not quite the same idea, I thought to myself that this physical place, the blocks of Arthur Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx has a strong taste of place for me. And that taste is mostly pizza. And also prosciutto.
It’s easy for most any of us to wax nostalgic about a particular place where we once lived, where we have happy memories and knowledge of how to get around. But Arthur Ave., in my life, in my mind and in my memory is of epic proportions. Living off campus senior year was the first time in my life I really began cooking for myself. The first place I explored grocery stores and markets and branched out beyond just pizza and chicken rolls (although I ate my fair share of them both). It was the first place where my friend Stevie and I paged through cookbooks for fun on a Saturday afternoon (for the record we are both still unashamed food geeks) and made an event of going to get bread. It was in many ways where Porky Dickens began.
So I was thrilled to share this place with Paul. To walk around and hit up the Madonia Brother bakery for olive bread, fennel raisin bread and delicious biscotti. And to go to Tino’s- arguably my favorite place to get lunch on the planet- to grab prosciutto, aged provolone, sun dried tomatoes, spicy olives and sacks of farro. The stuff we gathered we spread out later on that night for a snack. The bread baked that day, the prosciutto sliced perfectly thin and the sundried tomatoes, so ridiculously good that I’m almost positive someone’s Nonna dried them out on her patio in Tuscany. It’s the kind of food that’s so good it almost makes you mad you can’t get it every day. You just can’t beat it.
New York has a LOT of AMAZING food to try. From sweet roasted nuts on the street corner and super cheap dogs at Gray’s Papaya to the height of haute cuisine. But for me: Arthur Ave. is it. The day prior we explored Eataly, Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali’s Italian food and wine megaplex and it was impressive (and crowded) and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t toss back a giant Sicilian slice with ease there. But I didn’t buy one thing. Because I knew the next day I could hit up good old Tino’s and get the exact same food at lower prices with a dose of awesome Bronx style hospitality. If you have never been to Arthur Ave. or even heard of it: do yourself a favor and go. It’s the best place I’ve ever tasted.
To explore Arthur Ave. check out the neighborhood website. My personal recommendations are the Arthur Ave. Retail Market (not open on Sundays), Madonia Brothers Bakery, Tino's Deli and Catering, Full Moon Restaurant and Full Moon Pizzeria. Also, for full dinner Pasquale Rigolettos, Domenick's or Giovanni's are awesome as well. It's all good.
Posted by Jess at 9:08 PM
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Well there’s nothing all that sexy about today’s dish, folks. This is just a straight up, simple to make, slightly spicy root vegetable soup. It kind of looks like baby food but I promise it tastes quite nice indeed. This was one of those occasions where I just sort of chucked a few ideas together and added stock to call it a soup. I was talking with my sister recently about how it’s fun to do that sometimes when it comes to soup.
She admitted she likes to be a bit of a renegade when it comes to soup making but added how sometimes not having a plan can really blow up in your face. I have plenty experience in that department as well. With exploding soups that is. No just kidding, with soups that come out kind of crappy. Thankfully, this was one of those times when things worked out just fine. No explosions or crappiness of any kind. The resulting soup is quite spicy- so if you’re not a fan of heat dial down the cayenne.
ROASTED ACORN SQUASH and SWEET POTATO SOUP
with WALNUT and ROSEMARY PESTO
FOR THE SOUP
1 whole acorn squash
1 large sweet potato, diced
2 small shallots, minced
1 medium sized yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pinches cayenne pepper, divided
2 pinches brown sugar
3 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garam masala
1 (32 oz.) container chicken or vegetable stock
FOR THE WALNUT and ROSEMARY PESTO
½ cup walnuts, toasted
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Leaves from 1 small sprig rosemary
Juice from half a lemon
¼ cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Half and seed acorn squash and rub 1-2 tablespoons olive oil onto the cut flesh. Sprinkle with one pinch cayenne, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Set to roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until completely tender. While the squash roasts prepare the onion, shallot, sweet potato and garlic.
Heat olive oil (about 2 tbs.) in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add shallots and onion and sweat until fragrant and translucent (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and spices and a generous pinch of salt and pepper and toss together for another minute. Add sweet potato and top with stock. Raise heat to high, bring to a boil and then reduce to a rolling simmer until sweet potatoes are cooked through (about 15-20 minutes). Reduce heat to low until all other ingredients are ready.
Remove squash from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. While the squash cools, place the walnuts in the oven to toast for a few minutes, until they are warm and fragrant (only about 5 minutes since the oven is so hot). Scrape the squash out of its skin and add to the soup pot. Puree everything together using an immersion blender, or in batches in a conventional blender (taking care not to overfill- hot liquids expand when blended). Let the soup simmer on low while you prepare the walnut pesto. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. I wanted a real kick so I added a touch more cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper until it was to my liking.
In a small food processor combine all of the ingredients for the walnut pesto and pulse together completely. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Because parmesan is so sharp and salty and the walnuts are a touch bitter, I found a big pinch of sugar, a touch more lemon juice and some salt and pepper improved the taste quite a bit after the first processing.
Serve soup hot and spoon in a heaping teaspoon full of walnut pesto on top. Yields: about 6 servings.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Yo these things are nuts. I mean of course they are LIT-rally nuts- cashews to be exact- but it is also nuts how stinking good they are. Just a little sweet, a little salty, and herbaceous backed up by the cutest little kick of cayenne. I would write a freaking sonnet about these things if I was feeling more creative. But that would be nuts (wah waaaah).
And there is nothing more holiday gathering appropriate than a warm bowl of delicious nuts for everyone to snack on as they down their first adult beverage of the evening. I am going to make these so many times this month that people will beg me to stop. It’s not just that they’re delectable (though they are) they are also so quick to make it almost seems like it should be illegal. While you roast the cashews to warm them through, you toss together the spicy topping and melt the butter in the microwave. You know those Rolo things they advertise on the radio that take three minutes to bake? Well these take a mere seven minutes more and they would beat the pants off those mini melts in a holiday snack showdown. I guarantee it.
ROSEMARY ROASTED CASHEWS
(from Barefoot Contessa)
1 ¼ pounds cashew nuts
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
½ teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
Preheat oven to 375. Place cashews on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes, until warm and fragrant. While the cashews warm combine the rosemary, pepper, brown sugar and salt in a mortar and pestle. Grind everything together and set aside. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, simply combine all the dry ingredients in a small bowl. I wanted my rosemary chopped up fairly fine so I decided to grind everything up a bit.
Melt butter, either on the stove top or in the microwave. Remove the hot nuts from the oven and toss into a large bowl, pour butter over and top with half the spice mixture. Toss thoroughly, pour in the remainder of the spice mixture and toss together again. Serve warm if possible. Although, not necessary, they really are next level when they’re warm. To make ahead: nuts can be made two to three days ahead of time. Store in an air tight container. Warm before serving if you'd like. Double the recipe: to make a massive batch to bring to two parties or to wrap as gifts, use 2 lbs. cashews and double everything else.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
I’d like to say that this homemade cranberry sauce is so delicious, that you’ll never buy canned cranberry jelly again. But everyone knows that would be a lie. Last week, during a foray into experimental stuffing making I talked about certain absolutes when it comes to the Thanksgiving menu. And I believe I am correct in assuming that Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce is easily in the top five on the list of don’t-mess-with-this–Thanksgiving-side-dish.
It’s hard to come up with a homemade alternative to adequately compete with the familiar visible can lines and predictable jiggle of Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce. Typically, when some well meaning fool makes a dish of homemade, chunky cranberry relish for the Thanksgiving table it sits rejected in its fine china bowl while the canned variety is gone before people dive into seconds. This year, I will be that well meaning fool, because I’m bringing this sauce. Come Thursday I’ll be armed with a few other contributions and a jar of this sweet-tart, slightly drunken cranberry sauce. I’m hoping the troops at turkey day go Lansbury for this cransberry, but I’m prepared for the worst.
BOOZY HOMEMADE CRANSBERRY SAUCE
(a hybrid of an old Bon Appetit recipe and one rattled off by my boss)
1 ¼ cup ruby Port
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar
2-3 strips of orange zest
Juice from one orange
2-3 sprigs thyme or rosemary
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 (1 lb.) bag fresh cranberries
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
Combine the first 7 ingredients in a medium sized saucepan. Bring up to a boil, stirring often; until sugar is dissolved. Turn heat to medium-low and let simmer for 10 minutes. Fish out thyme or rosemary sprigs, add cranberries, granulated sugar and water and cook over medium heat until most berries are burst and liquid is slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, about another 6-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week. Yields: about 2 ½ - 3 cups.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody! I hope Thursday finds you with full bellies the company of at least a few people you love very much. I would drop a meaningful quote about gratitude here, but instead here’s one that simply made me laugh: “Thanksgiving, man. Not a good day to be my pants.” –Kevin James
Thursday, November 15, 2012
There are a couple of absolutes when it comes to Thanksgiving food in my family. And one of those is that a stuffing is simply not a stuffing without Pepperidge Fahms stuffing mix. At least we all thought it was that way. A few years ago someone made a turkey with Stouffers stuffing and half of us almost burned the house to the ground in protest. We didn’t even know that in the other room not 10 feet away there was a turkey- made by my Aunt Linda as a “leftovers turkey” stuffed with pure Pepperidge Farm goodness. IF ONLY WE’D HAVE KNOWN! Does the fact that I’m still salty over a stuffing that I didn’t eat two years ago tell you anything about me that you didn’t know already? But, there are just some things you don’t mess with and getting too funky with Thanksgiving sides- especially the stuffing- is just something you don’t want to do.
Now in Paul’s family, his paternal grandmother, Ma’s stuffing recipe is something that you simply don’t mess with. Because it is, apparently, “stupid good”. In lieu of traditional celery and sausage for moisture, it is made with bacon and mushrooms. Since the one hang up I have with regular stuffing is the fact that I sort of hate celery and I just so happen to adore mushrooms: color me intrigued. Also, color me a total Wife because upon hearing about this amazing stuffing I felt a powerful urge that as his bride I needed to be able to make this stuffing for him. Perhaps it’s some kind of female territorial situation. Dogs pee on things; women, we make food for our dudes. At least I do.
So armed with only the knowledge that there was bacon and mushroom in the stuffing, coupled with a loose know-how about how to make stuffing in general I made up this hybrid stuffing which pairs perfectly cubed Pepperidge Farms with the backbone of Ma’s killer stuffing. The ultimate verdict was that it was pretty delicious, albeit not exactly a perfect replica of the stuffing of my man’s childhood. Probably thanks to the creative license I took and the fact that it wasn’t roasted inside a turkey. I know the real deal from inside the bird’s is really what’s up but I wasn’t about to make a whole entire turkey in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. Believe it or not even I have my limits.
BACON and MUSHROOM STUFFING*
¾ bag Pepperidge Farms stuffing mix (about 3-4 cups)
½ lb. mixed mushrooms (I used cremini and shitake)
3-4 tbs. olive oil
½ lb. bacon, cut into a small dice
1 large onion, diced
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
One 32 oz. container chicken stock (or equal amount homemade)
1 egg, beaten
½ cup milk
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
Heat oven to 375. Clean, stem and chop mushrooms; toss with olive oil on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper and set to roast for about 18-20 minutes. While the mushrooms roast, place diced bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook until well crisped. Drain bacon on a folded paper towel and set aside.
Turn heat off and pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of bacon fat. Bring skillet up to medium heat and sauté shallot and onion until softened and fragrant (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and sauté another minute before pouring in chicken stock. Add thyme, salt and pepper and bring up to a simmer for a few minutes more.
Remove mushrooms from the oven and toss in a large bowl with stuffing mix; fish the thyme sprigs out of the stock mixture and pour on top of bread and mushrooms. Add beaten egg and milk, mixing well; fold in bacon and add a touch of salt and pepper. The mixture should be quite wet, if it’s not, add a splash more stock or milk. Spoon the stuffing mixture into a buttered baking dish and cover tightly with tin foil. Bake for 20 minutes, remove foil and let bake another 30-40 minutes until crisp and browned on top. Yields: approximately 6 servings. Double and use a full size baking dish for serving a Thanksgiving crowd.
*so technically when stuffing is not stuffed into a bird it’s referred to as "dressing", I guess. I found this out when I read some corrective comments over here. But seriously, let’s not get too technical. People that have time to get into vocabulary fights over the minute details of food blog fodder are the reason why the terrorists hate us. So I prefer to call it stuffing-whether it sees the business end of a turkey or not.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
This soup is What’s Up right now. I’m super pumped about it, because I’ve needed a go-to tomato soup for a while now. Campbell’s tomato, while a classic, is loaded with crap and reminds me of the “sauce” that comes on spaghetti-Os which to me vaguely smells of barf (sorry). The issue I’ve found with some other tomato basil soups, like the one they serve at Whole Foods, is that they taste like a straight up bowl of tomato sauce. If I wanted to eat a whole bowl of tomato sauce well, I’d make damn sure there were some meatballs dropped in it, ya heard? This soup has layers of flavor thanks to the high heat roasting of the tomatoes onion and garlic, tastes rich with the addition of just a tiny bit of butter and cream, but comes together in no time. It really is so yum that I just got up in the middle of writing this and heated up a second serving- and burnt my mouth ‘cause I got excited.
It was worth it. And did I mention the homemade cheese straws/ cheez-ITs? What you need to know about these is that they are crackers made of MOSTLY CHEESE. Which means that yeah, they are good. And ridiculously easy. I think perhaps I will make a round of these to contribute to the Thanksgiving appetizer spread or maybe just begin drinking all my beverages through cheese straws until people started to get worried about me. They take about 5 minutes to prepare and 15 to bake. I’m not a mathematician by any means, but by my calculations this means you could be snacking on these within the half hour. Get on board! Though equally tasty on their own; together, these two players are greater than the sum of their parts. The weather outside is cold and windy and raw, this soup is savory, warm and satisfying and also has home-style cheez-ITs in it, on it and all around it. And that, my friends is What’s Up.
CREAMY ROASTED TOMATO SOUP
(adapted and hacked from a Michael “grey salt” Ciarello recipe)
1 large can whole tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
Fresh cracked pepper
1 tsp. butter
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
Heat oven to 450. Strain tomatoes, reserving juice. Place tomatoes, sliced onion and garlic in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and place in oven to roast for 15-20 minutes, until caramelized and fragrant. Remove from oven and pour entire contents of pan into a Dutch oven; add reserved tomato juice, chicken stock and heat burner to medium high. Salt and pepper generously and add a pinch of sugar. Let simmer for about 20 minutes.
Turn heat to low, add basil leaves, a touch more salt and pepper and puree the soup with an immersion blender. Stir in cream (if using) and butter. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
(from Smitten Kitchen)
1 ½ cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 tbs. butter, softened and cut into pieces
¾ cup flour, plus more for dusting
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. or more cracked black pepper
1 tbs. half and half
Heat oven to 350. In a food processor combine cheese, butter, flour, salt and pepper. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs; add the half and half and process until the dough forms into a ball, about 15-20 seconds.
Flour counter or cutting board generously and roll dough out into a round-ish rectangle until it’s approximately 1/8 of an inch thick. Use a pizza cutter to slice into thin strips. Mine were about a full ½ inch thick or so, you can get creative here and do what you feel. Although, technically if you cut them too thick, it would probably be misleading to continue to call them “straws.” For my leftover scraps, I decided to slice them in both directions, making slightly misshapen “cheez-ITs.”
Because the straws puff a bit, I poked each one with a hole or two using a wooden skewer (just like the folks er, machines at the actual cheez-IT factory!) Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the tips or sides are just a little browned.
Remove and let cool. Serve at room temperature; store in fridge for a few days if not eating right away (but good luck with that).