– Last week, a group of us went to Prune for dinner and I ordered the monkfish liver appetizer. I didn’t know what to expect: how big could a monkfish liver be? Well the answer is: pretty big! And pretty tasty too. Monkfish liver should have a tagline: “the foie gras of the sea.” It has the richness and smoothness of foie gras but the brinyness and the salinity of something from the ocean. Served with pieces of toast, it’s one of the more unusual and exciting appetizers I’ve had in a long time. [Prune, by the way, remains one of my favorite low-key places to get a gourmet meal. We were very fortunate: I made the reservation last minute and the woman said, “Do you mind sitting downstairs?” I wasn’t sure what that meant but I said: “Sure–that works.” When we got there they led us downstairs to this isolated table beneath the stairs where we had an entire room to ourselves. It was lots of fun except for the few times people came down the stairs to use the bathroom. The bathroom down there has lightly frosted glass so you can see pretty clearly what’s going on in there. Our table faced the bathroom so we felt like voyeurs watching people pee while noshing on monkfish liver. Still, how often do you get to do that when you’re out to dine?]
– I continue to be graced with free tickets to Broadway plays if I agree to write about them later (but only if I like them.) Well, Craig and I not only liked “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” (the most recent free ticket offering)–we loved it. Never before have we seen such explosive violence used to such great comic effect on stage. Heads literally explode before your eyes—walls are dripping with blood. It’s gruesome and gory but it’s wonderful: the audience is roaring with laughter and leaping out of their seats. Martin McDonough is rapidly becoming one of my favorite playwrights. “The Pillowman” last year was deeply memorable, and “The Lieutenant…” has moments of sheer visceral brilliance. The blurb pasted outside is dead-on: it’s like Monty Python meets Quentin Tarantino. If that tickles your fancy then go check it out and have yourself a raucous time.
– Megnut is now a food blog and it’s rapidly becoming a “must-read.” I’ve already bookmarked several of the links she’s linked to (especially the Greenmarket Report which tells you what’s out there and what looks good) and I really enjoy her reviews and recollections. Go take a gander.
– Ayun Halliday of Dirty Sugar Cookies will be visiting this blog to promote her new book (aptly named “Dirty Sugar Cookies”) on June 13th. She’s a spunky funky writer and she’s married to one of the authors of one of my favorite musicals ever, Urinetown. I’m looking forward to her virtual visit.
This has been nibbles. Hope you’ve enjoyed the nibbling.
For anyone who watches “The Dog Whisperer” (and I’m a recent convert after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s article about him last week), you will know that dogs are pack animals. For them to behave–for them to be healthy, happy dogs–you have to be their master. Dogs will read you: show any weakness, and they will own you.
Tart dough is like a dog. You have to be its master or it will own you. Last time I made a tart, I got bit: the tart dough wouldn’t roll out, I kept reclumping it, and by the time it was done it was like a brick. That tart was my master.
But it was not so with the tart you see above: the tart you see above was formed and shaped by the new me, the dominant me, the aggressive alpha dog me. Tart tasters all agreed: “this tart is flaky!” “This dough is perfect!” How did I whip that poochy dough into shape? I attacked it with confidence, with vigor, with great assurance. I am–dun dun dun dun!–The Tart Whisperer.
Chapter Two of my book is called “Master the Market” and it’s all about food shopping–particularly the challenge that awaits the neophyte at farmers markets around the country. For me personally, I’ve always been a farmer’s market nincompoop: since I grew up in mainstream grocery stores and since my mom never cooked, I go to whatever’s close by with a recipe in hand. That’s how I normally shop.
After writing the chapter, though, things changed. Now I frequent the farmer’s market on a regular basis. Since school ended and spring began, I’ve been there almost every day it’s open: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. It’s convenient to where I live and I much prefer strolling through there than jamming a cart through the crowded Whole Foods on 7th Ave. (Though I drop into the Union Square one now if I need a quick staple like pasta, canned tomatoes, or a lemon.)
What follows are three meals that were inspired by ingredients I found at the farmer’s market, a total revelation for me since I almost always shop recipe-first. This new “ingredient first” approach to cooking makes shopping much more fun: now I stroll the market and wait for inspiration. When it strikes, it’s like striking gold. You feel that much better about the food you cook. Plus you’re supporting local farmers as opposed to Big Business (which became much more apparent to me after reading the article about Whole Foods in last week’s New Yorker.) Whole Foods? Out. Farmer’s Market? IN.
Meal #1: Spicy Turkey Burger with Curried Green Tomatoes, Sauteed Asparagus and Sugar Snap Peas, and Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes
That meal above is my pride and joy. It’s the first one I made with my new market mentality. I strolled down the rows of stalls and picked up sugar snap peas, asparagus, sweet potatoes, curried green pickles from Rick’s Picks (an award winning stand)–
–ground turkey meat and several buns.
When I got home I looked up an easy turkey burger recipe. Basically, I took the ground turkey meat put it into a bowl, added a drop of oil, salt, pepper and some cumin. Heated up olive oil in a non-stick skillet, made some patties, and let it all sizzle away.
Meanwhile, I pulled the stems off the sugar snap peas, cut the asparagus into quarters and put them in a saute pan with olive oil, salt and pepper.
(Ok, you caught me, some minor credit is due the Barefoot Contessa who has a recipe for sauteed sugar snap peas and asparagus in her book. But c’mon: I still get credit for buying them without the recipe first, right?)
The sweet potatoes were sliced thin, tossed in honey and cinnamon, placed on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven for I think 20 minutes. (This came from an epicurious recipe but it’s a pretty standard technique. Works really well.)
And that’s how I assembled my first farmer’s market inspired meal! That wasn’t so hard, was it? By the way, check out the romantic table setting. Who was I being romantic for? I don’t kiss and tell…YET…
Meal #2: Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Penne
Broccoli rabe is one of the most celebrated greens in the foodie community. You often hear tell of self-congratulatory home chefs sauteeing broccoli rabe for their family. “Oh, I love to saute broccoli rabe for my family,” they will tell you. This often causes me to wonder: what’s the big deal?
After watching Lydia Bastiniach boil broccoli rabe and then saute it on her show, I picked up a big bunch at the market (she tells you to look for “tight” florets–you don’t want the broccoli head to be open.) This is what it looks like far away and up close:
To prepare, fill a bowl with cold water and dunk the broccoli rabe until the dirt settles at the bottom of the bowl. Dump it out, fill it again and repeat until the broccoli rabe is clean. Then dry the best you can (Lydia puts it in a kitchen towel and shakes it out, but I don’t like to dirty my kitchen towels. I know, I know, that’s lame.)
Lydia says the stem is highly enjoyable and should be used in the saute with the top part of the greens. If the stem is thick you need to peel it. I tried doing this with a peeler and it didn’t work that well. If you have a paring knife use that, otherwise I’d say get rid of the really thick stems and keep the smaller ones. Chop the whole rabe into 1-inch pieces.
Now slice some garlic, put it in oil with some chili flakes and after the garlic turns golden…
…add the rabe all at once. It’ll sizzle loudly (that’s the water) but as long as you add the rabe all at once it shouldn’t splatter. (Lydia also taught me that technique.)
Put the lid on for about a minute.
Meanwhile, you should be cooking pasta. I chose penne (she suggests any tube pasta.) After the minutes up, add about two cups of the pasta water to the broccoli rabe and stir it all around. Let it cook until the rabe is fully cooked and the liquid has created a sauce. If the sauce is too soupy, let it evaporate some. If it’s too dry add more water.
And that’s it! You add the pasta to the rabe, take it off the heat, grate some cheese over it and it’s a delicious dinner. I’m a broccoli rabe convert: another farmer’s market triumph.
Market Meal #3: A Very Weird Salad Plate
Today was a strange day for me at the market. The flowers you saw on my lovely table setting above died (I bought them last week) so the first thing I did at the market was I searched out lilacs. My mom actually told me to buy lilacs if I went to the market (I suppose there was a time in her life when she bought lilacs) and it was because of her that I bought lilacs last week. And they smell sublime–if you haven’t smelled a lilac lately, go do so. You’ll love it.
I saw a friendly woman selling lilacs for $5 a bunch so I approached her and said: “One bunch please.” She began to lift lilacs out of the huge tub. “I’m going to give you THREE bunches,” she said, “because you’re very sweet.” I was deeply flattered and honored and I gave her $5 and she handed me more flowers than I’ve held since that time I was a flower girl at Liza Minnelli’s wedding. Here are 2/3rds of the lilacs from when I got them home (the other third is in my bedroom in a big water glass):
[I also bought a rosemary plant the other day for my windowsill.
Will I use the rosemary soon? Stay tuned!]
Anyway, back to the lilacs. Well after she handed me three bunches of lilacs, I was virtually handicapped for the rest of my farmer’s market jaunt. I was carrying around a miniature jungle.
So let’s blame the lilacs for the strange salad you see above. It’s not really that strange a salad: it just has eclectic components. The greens in the middle are baby arugala which I washed, put in the salad spinner, and then tossed with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. The radishes–
–are breakfast radishes and I prepared them in a way that I hear is delectable and that I’d never tried. I dipped them in butter and salt. Strange no? But it did indeed taste wonderful. I recommend it. It’s fun.
The beet I had left over from a rhubarb tart that I’m going to tell you about tomorrow. So I boiled the beet–and let me tell you: boiling a beet is SO much easier and faster than roasting it in the oven. If you do it in the oven, you have to clean a baking dish, use foil, oil, and a bunch of other junk. When you boil a beet you just fill up a small pot with water, bring it to a boil, add the beet and you’re done. Sure, people say the flavor suffers but I honestly didn’t think so. This is the end of my beet spiel.
I sliced the beet and layered it with goat cheese I purchased a few weeks back from a goat cheese stand.
Today I bought cheese from a man whose table had a blurb from Saveur. I forget the name of the cheese I bought (I’m bad about such things) but the man told me it tasted like a smoky gouda and it was their most popular. I served it sliced on top of the baguette you see above.
And so, my friends, that concludes my presentation of three meals prepared after shopping (without a recipe!) at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. Let’s hope as spring turns into summer that inspiration continues to strike and I promise to document it all here for you to savor. Hope I inspired you a little.
Bene is a new Italian culture magazine that will be distributed in “150 of the best Italian restaurants in the United States, starting May 15th.” Why am I telling you this? Well Bene’s Editorial Director, Joanna Goddard, wrote me recently to see if I wanted to write for them. “Umm,” I wrote back, “You know I’m not Italian right?” She wrote back “yes, not a problem” and then offered to take me to dinner. This is the story of that dinner.
As you can tell by the picture above, Joanna took me to Una Pizza Neopoletana. This made me very happy because I’ve never been to Una Pizza Neopoletana but I’ve heard all about it. It’s on the same block in the East Village as Hearth, one of my favorite New York restaurants. Joanna met me outside and then we went inside to talk business.
Joanna: Let’s talk business.
Joanna: I think we should order two pizzas–two different kinds and we can each have half of the other’s.
Joanna: I really like the Filetti–I had that when I was here with my cousin.
The filetti is described as having “fresh cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and sea salt.”
We also ordered the Margherita: “San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and sea salt.”
Here they are, hot from the oven. First the filetti:
Then the margherita:
These pizzas were absolutely, undeniably fresh and delicious and wonderful. “Mmmm!” I moaned in ecstasy.
“So anyway, we’d like you to write, maybe, starting–”
“MmmmMMM!” I continued to groan.
“–and we really like your humor so we’d like–”
“ARRRRRM!!! ERRRRM!!! YUMMMM!!”
“–unless you’re too busy writing your book.”
“Oh, yes, I’d love to write for you.”
This is what we’d call a successful business meeting. It was even more successful because I didn’t have to pay which, actually, is the only set-back to dining at Una Pizza Napoletana: the price! Each of those pizzas cost close to $20. That’s pricey for a small pizza. But it’s a divinely authentic small pizza and you have to decide what your values are. If your values involve getting taken to dinner, then head straight to Una Pizza Napoletana–you won’t regret it.
In the Caribbean issue of “Bon Apetit” is a recipe for Coconut Spice Cake. I’m sure it’ll appear soon (if it hasn’t appeared already) on epicurious.com (which, by the way, has a blog that links to me!) I love Epicurious, I enjoy Bon Apetit quite a bit but this recipe is just all right with me. Like Jesus in that song. Here’s what it looks like before it bakes:
And here’s what it looks like after:
Hey, do you like the way that 2nd picture looks? I edited it with the new iPhoto instead of Photoshop and took “sharpening” to the highest level. I think it looks cool.
Anyway, this tastes like pumpkin bread without the pumpkin with coconut sprinkled on top. If that appeals to you, please make it with my blessing.
My Tivo “now playing” list is an embarrassment of cooking show riches: Lydia Bastianich, The Barefoot Contessa, and Martha Stewart all top the list. (Actually, Martha isn’t faring too well. I became convinced that she jumped the shark when I read, in one of the episode descriptions: “Martha and Richard Simmons make tiaras.” Yikes!) Yet my stand-out favorite, and the one I watch compulsively, is the show I watched compulsively when I first started cooking five years ago: Molto Mario.
Love him or hate him, Mario Batali knows his Italian food. Watching his show is an education in history, geography, language, agriculture and, of course, cookery. I watch his show pretty much every day (and what I’m watching, apparently, are old reruns–the Tivo descriptions date the shows back to 2001 and 2002; I don’t think he’s filming “Molto Mario” anymore) and I’m starting to really grasp the techniques that he advocates. Watching Mario is making me a better cook.
But that’s not the best part about watching. The very best and most gawkery aspect of watching his show are the celebrity guests. Mario always cooks for three guests–they sit on stools watching him cook. Often they are just average folk–or, presumably, family and friends of The Food Network. But VERY often (I’d say, at least twice a week) you will spot an important food personality on one of those stools. An important food personality or even a bona fide celebrity. Here are the guests I’ve spotted in my time watching Mario:
– Ruth Reichl (she was on the one that aired today)
– Amanda Hesser
– Bill Buford
– Jake Gyllenhaal
– Maggie Gyllenhaal
– Mario Cantone
– Rocco Dispirito
– Anthony Bourdain
– Joe Bastianich (Mario’s partner—ok, not a celebrity, but notable nonetheless)
– Michael Imperioli
And those are all the ones I can remember off the top of my head. Clearly Mario has one of those personalities that draw important people to him. That and his superior cooking skills. If you have a Tivo, I suggest you check it out: come for the gawking, stay for the food.
We are now entering the phase of this website known as “the phase in which Adam juggles writing his blog and writing his book.” I have decided that when it comes down to choosing the best place to share new material–the blog or the book–the best choice is the book because the book is more permanent. Accordingly, I will now share pictures with you from the Mother’s Day dinner we cooked last week (when I say “we” I mean my brother and I) but no commentary. Look for the commentary next year when you buy the book!
Here’s the meal:
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Green Beans with Roasted Vegetables
Potatoes (HINT FOR THE BOOK: these didn’t come out very well)
Mom and I applying the strawberries to the Strawberry Country Cake:
Strawberry Country Cake up close (it comes from The Barefoot Contessa):