July 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
This year was darned cold. Despite growing up outside of Chicago — or perhaps because of that — I have never enjoyed winter. And this past NYC winter was brutal.
Even now, near-August, the days have been cooler than this time last year. The evenings have been downright chilly at times. All this means that my rooftop garden is fruiting much more slowly.
This time last year we had gaggles of cherry and heirloom tomatoes. We lugged a tray of them to Martha’s Vineyard. This year I’ve harvested a pint — total — of cherry tomatoes and the few heirloom tomatoes on the vines are still hard and green.
But we have had gaggles of jalapeños this year…
And tonight I got to harvest three of our first eggplants and use some of our cherry tomatoes, cinnamon basil and lemongrass for a home-grown, home-made Thai green curry with lemongrass-coconut rice. There’s nothing quite like coming home, picking veggies and herbs, and cooking dinner for yourself on a Wednesday…in New York City.
May 11, 2014 § 1 Comment
It’s been an unintentional year-long blogging hiatus. It was a year of experimenting with rooftop gardening in NYC — you can grow a heck of a lot on a rooftop. I’ll share more about that this season.
I decided to relaunch Together In Food with delicious eats we experienced on our trip to Copenhagen to visit my little brother, who’s studying abroad in the same program my husband did 15 years ago.
Nearly a decade after my first trip to Denmark, we were delighted to find that Copenhagen’s food scene has improved dramatically. On our last trip, we subsisted on Carlsberg beer, Fanta soda, and their admittedly delicious hot dogs with spicy mustard. This time, it was a whole new world. And that world began with Noma, the #1 restaurant globally.
We had 20 courses crafted from ingredients grown or foraged in Scandanavia. A sampling of the most unusual (clockwise from upper left): the “Nordic coconut” with nearly meat-like warm beet broth sipped through a straw; fried moss with creme fraiche; a beautiful hen egg with foraged herbs, fiddlehead ferns and flowers; an apple cooked for 12 hours in sloe berries; and new elm seeds with yeast sauce.
But the strangest experience was this:
You may have looked twice. I did. But yep, those are ants. As there’s no citrus in Scandanavia, a Brazilian chef dispatched his knowledge to the Noma team that ants impart a lemony burst. So the cooks traipse through the forest to forage ants, then they rub ‘em with salt and adorn your dish with them. I have to admit, they were surprisingly citrusy and delicious.
Noma’s service, atmosphere, and experience definitely made the 4.5 hours and dollar amount I don’t want to think about at the moment worth it. But honestly, the best meal we had was at Amass, located in the middle of nowhere and run by a Noma alum who was also a chef at Per Se in NYC and hails from San Diego.
We loved the graffiti art, the use of our favorite glassware, the open kitchen..
…and the straightforward set menu that was more California in its cooking style: high quality ingredients, preparations that helped those ingredients shine, and lovely yet not highly constructed presentation. We sampled (clockwise from upper left) sour pancakes with foraged herbs, fermented potato flatbread, salad gathered from the garden out back, and monkfish.
Of course, we tasted more basic aspects of Copenhagen cuisine. We trekked to Torvehallerne Food Market, where we tried Coffee Collective (laughing that they had a very Blue Bottle-like approach); delicate, perfumey local strawberries and peas that tasted like spring; and ice cream cones as big as our heads.
We had the classic Danish smorrebrod, freshened up by a shop called Aamaans. The best were the avocado and the sirloin with fried onions.
And it wouldn’t be a trip to Copenhagen without sampling classic fare: a traditional Danish meal at my brother’s host family’s lovely home (apples with jam, cabbage, potatoes and roast pork); toasted malt at the Carlsberg factory tour; those famous hot dogs; and a new discovery, sea buckthorn berry tart at an excellent seafood restaurant, Kodbyens Fiskebar.
January 2, 2013 § 2 Comments
I can’t believe that I’m about to reference the movie Pitch Perfect while discussing cooking, but here goes. Last night, I watched this perfectly “popcorn for the brain” flick. The movie’s main character, Beca, likes to make electronic music, and she takes her penchant for mash-ups to a college acapella group that she’s somehow strong-armed into joining. She takes a bass line from one song, a melody from another, lyrics from another and puts them together in surprising but harmonious ways.
As I was figuring out what to do with the container of bulgur wheat that I accidentally cooked (rather than soaked) two days ago, the large bag of chard in my fridge, and not much else in the way of dinner ingredients, this idea of mash-ups came back to me.
So I did it to the bulgur and the chard.
I took the idea of Indian flavor pastes and made a simple one out of minced cipollini onions and garlic, a generous squirt of tomato paste, cumin, cayenne and salt. I added collard greens, which I learned to slice into thin ribbons and saute in olive oil from a South American recipe, maintaining their fresh green flavor rather than cooking them to a pulp as you often see. I stirred in the cooked bulgur like I might when making fried rice (or rather, when my husband does, as that’s his specialty). And then I topped the whole lovely mess with toasted walnuts, which I got from a vegan cooking website.
And it was a heck of a lot tastier than I expected. A pleasant surprise for a Wednesday night dinner. Happy new year!
BULGUR CHARD MASH-UP
Yields: 2 servings
November 25, 2012 § 2 Comments
Two years ago, we hosted Thanksgiving for nine of our family members, plus the two of us. I photo-logged our experience here — everything from having to clean the turkey in the bathroom sink to grilling leek bread pudding due to a lack of oven height. We experimented with a lot of recipes. I started five days in advance and cooked way too much food.
It was a good feast overall, and it was rewarding to host. But as it was my first time, I was kind of stressed, and some parts didn’t turn out so great (while the grill imparted a nice smoky flavor to the leek bread pudding, it also made the bottom and sides way too crunchy).
This year, we did a redux. And it was awesome.
It was awesome because our NYC apartment renovations were completed just in time, the day before. After a long 14 months of living in a temporary apartment, and even a few hotels, and eating out nearly all the time, it felt glorious to be HOME. To smell turkey roasting, to have a pie cooling on the counter, to drink wine while chatting with family and listening to jazz…all in our own place, candles lit and a fire burning.
It was also awesome because while I haven’t cooked Thanksgiving dinner enough times to have experienced the magic of habit-forming, there was a flow to it. While I wrote out a menu and plan last time, this year, I just went with it. We also invited my brother Paul and his girlfriend Stephanie F to help. (Note to self: two different dressings are easier to make when you have helpers dicing all the onions and celery.)
Stephanie F fortified us with a deliciously spicy salsa fresca.
We made a cornbread, bacon and kale dressing…
…along with a traditional Thanksgiving dressing with challah from Amy’s Bread, fresh herbs, Cortland apples and chestnuts.
After letting it rest for an hour, Matt carved the heritage turkey.
The 48-hour dry aging in the fridge under a salt crust, and the long rest, allowed the turkey to reabsorb its juices, making it one moist, tasty turkey.
We filled our plates…
…and sat down to eat.
Then we ate some more.
And this is how we felt.
April 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
Nearly two years ago, we happened upon Freeman’s winery. We listened to a dream that became real life, enthralled while drinking pretty pinot noir in a dim, humid wine cave carved out of a eucalyptus-crowned hill in the heat of August.
Today, we’re back. At an open house with a crowd of friends and Freeman wine lovers, lying in the grass listening to crickets while drinking more pretty pinot, simply…enjoying ourselves. Loving the warmth, the sun, the wine and life.
And it all makes me realize: there are dreams that we may one day make true. But in the meantime, there is living the dream of this moment — being with people you love, enraptured by the present.
December 22, 2010 § 6 Comments
My first memory of gingerbread: eating brunch in the West Village when we lived in New York City. I don’t remember what else we ate or the name of the spot, but I remember the setting. A red rooster painted on the steamy window greeted us as we walked in from the snowy cold to meet two friends. A crush of people were smashed together at tiny tables, giving us that sensation of eating in intimate proximity with strangers that’s so familiar in Manhattan. At 2:00 p.m., hunger rumbled in the belly I hadn’t fed since 9:30 the night before.
Someone suggested ordering the gingerbread appetizer to share. The waitress placed a blunt white plate on the table, covered almost entirely with a thick, fresh-from-the-oven slice of gingerbread. The scent of its spices wafted into our nostrils. It was deeply hued, festooned with a lopsided cap of whipped cream. A moist, cakey inside was enveloped in a faintly crispy crust. That first bite turned me into a gingerbread lover.
I made my first gingerbread three years ago. As you may have read about in my last post here about my relationship with baking, that first gingerbread came out a bit burned. Since then, I’ve tried other recipes and taken full advantage of my oven thermometer to regulate heat. Baking our own gingerbread has become a nascent holiday tradition, something I make every December before we join the traveling hordes flying to relatives’ for Christmas.
Following is the recipe my husband and I like best so far. Enjoy!
adapted from the Joy of Cooking recipe
Yields: 1 9-inch round cake or 2 loaves
Planning Notes: You can make this a day in advance of serving and keep, covered tightly, on the counter.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons dried ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water
1/4 cup dark molasses (such as blackstrap)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 — Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line bottom of baking pan(s) with parchment paper.
2 — Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and salt and whisk together thoroughly.
3 — Put the hot water in a small bowl or 2-cup glass measuring cup. Add molasses, maple syrup and honey and whisk together thoroughly.
4 — Put butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on low speed until butter and sugar are combined.
5 — Break egg into small bowl; make sure the egg is good and there aren’t any shell shards. Slip the egg into the stand mixer bowl; whisk on low speed until combined with butter and sugar.
6 — Add half of dry ingredients to stand mixer bowl. Whisk on low speed until flour is incorporated, then whisk on medium speed to fully combine.
7 — Add half of water-molasses-syrup-honey liquid to stand mixer bowl. Whisk on low speed until incorporated, then whisk on medium speed to fully combine.
8 — Repeat steps 5 and 6 with remaining dry ingredients then liquid.
9 — Remove bowl from stand mixer. Stir in chopped ginger with a rubber spatula (which you can use to scrape the batter out of the bowl into the pan).
10 — Pour batter (which will be fairly thin and may have some bubbles — don’t worry about it) into prepared pan(s). Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. If you’re using 1 9-inch round pan, it’ll take about 45 minutes (may take up to an hour). If you’re using 2 loaf pans, it’ll take about 35 minutes (may take up to 45). Cool 10 minutes in the pan on top of a rack before digging in!
Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar or capped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
Notes on the Recipe
We like a spicy cake and love the bits of crystallized ginger. If you want a milder cake, cut the amount of ginger, cinnamon and allspice in half. If you don’t like spicy, chewy bits of ginger in your cake, you can omit those.
The type of honey you use will affect the flavor. If you want neutral sweetness, stick to a plain clover honey. If you like a stronger, more complex honey, by all means, use it.
Finally, you don’t need to use a stand mixer; it’s just easier and faster. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use a hand mixer or a plain old whisk and bowl.
December 15, 2010 § 3 Comments
I’m not good at reading magazines. Every time I open one, a neurotic voice inside urges me to read every single word on every single page. For years, I felt guilty pitching a magazine into the recycling bin if I hadn’t read everything in it, even the articles I found boring. Which meant that magazines would pile up around the house, and I’d feel even guiltier.
So in a bid for self-preservation, I don’t subscribe to many magazines. But one I’ve subscribed to for as long as I can remember is Saveur. I love that I can be transported to 20 different states and nations reading one issue, and that every time I pick it up, I learn something new about a cuisine and a culture. It’s one magazine I thoroughly enjoy reading cover to cover, and for years, I’ve read through it soon after it landed in my mailbox.
Except lately. Somehow, I’ve gotten really behind in my Saveur reading. To lessen the guilt, I’ve been piling up the magazines in the closet — outta sight, outta mind. But then they became truly “outta mind,” until I realized that I had nearly a year’s worth of magazines squirreled away amidst the linens.
Just recently, I read the May issue…and with great interest, as it had a feature by Lillian Chou, who reconnected with her roots one stir-fried dish at a time in Beijing. I love Chinese food and learning to cook it well is another thing on my food-focused bucket list. Although my mother is ethnically Chinese, she and her family have hailed from Indonesia for generations, so growing up, she cooked gado gado (more on that dish here from Pepy of Indonesia-Eats) and nasi goreng (fried rice), not Chinese stir fries.
“A good wok is the foundation of good cooking: stir-frying is said to activate food with the wok’s energy.”–Lillian Chou, “A Stir-Fry Education,” Saveur
Reading about the women Lillian visited, cooking in simple kitchens often outfitted only with a blackened, seasoned wok; a wood-fired or gas stove; and a cutting board with a sharp cleaver, I was mesmerized. Taking in the descriptions of these women’s uncompromising focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients, impeccable knife skills yielding perfectly uniform, 1/8-inch thick strips of meats and veggies that will cook evenly and quickly, and elegantly efficient moves in their kitchens, and then seeing the step-by-step recipes for four simple stir-fries, I knew I had to try them myself.
I’ve tried three of the four, and the stir-fried tomato and eggs dish has become a staple in our home. When I made it earlier this week, I was thrilled that I got to use one of the jars of tomatoes I put up when they were at their flavor peak in September (see more about my 30-pounds-of-tomatoes extravaganza here), and that I could snip shallot greens from our new garden to garnish the stir-fry instead of having to buy green onions or chives.
Below are links to the recipes and my notes on them. For the original Saveur article, click here.
STIR-FRIED TOMATO AND EGGS – Recipe here
My Notes on the Recipe
1 — Trust the recipe when it tells you to heat the wok until it’s smoking. You need the heat to prevent the food, especially eggs and meat, from sticking to the wok.
2 — Because I used canned tomatoes that had been peeled, you can see from the photo above that my dish turned out soupier than the one on Saveur’s website. It’s still delicious. Since it’s nearly winter, I’m guessing you’ll use canned tomatoes too — I think it’s better to use tomatoes canned at their flavor peak than mushy, tasteless ones flown in from South America.
STIR-FRIED MUSHROOMS AND BOK CHOY – Recipe here
My Notes on the Recipe
1 — One of my favorite dishes at Charles Phan’s Out The Door is this one — even though it’s a Vietnamese, not a Chinese, restaurant, I always envied the technique with which the veggies were cooked. Every time, the bok choy would be crisp-tender, the mushrooms pleasantly chewy, and the entire thing melded together with fresh flavors. After trying this recipe, I’m pleased that I can now make this at home!
2 — I used fresh rather than dried shiitake mushrooms. I accidentally stir-fried them 3-4 minutes versus 2, but it was a lucky mistake: they browned deeply and became nearly crisp (think: skinny mushroom fries). Yum.
3 — It’s surprising how so few flavorings can yield such a tasty dish. I think the key is buying very fresh mushrooms and bok choy.
STIR-FRIED PORK WITH LEEKS – Recipe here
My Notes on the Recipe
1 — I used regular, rather than dark, soy sauce, and while my version didn’t turn out as deeply-hued as the one on Saveur’s site and likely would not be called authentic by the Beijing ladies featured in the article, my husband and I still enjoyed it.
2 — I also didn’t belabor the pork slicing. Instead of 2-inch by 1/8-inch strips, mine were probably more like 2 inches by 1/4 inch. I cooked the pork about 4 minutes instead of 2, and it turned out great.
History and Nutritional Info
Bok choy: This member of the Chinese cabbage family has been cultivated in China for 6,000 years. A 1-cup serving of shredded bok choy has only 10 calories and is a significant source of vitamins A and C, folate, and calcium.
Leeks: Leeks have been cultivated since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Romans thought leeks would improve your singing voice; Emperor Nero was nicknamed Porrophagus (leek eater). Leeks are an excellent source of vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, iron, fiber, and antioxidants that enhance cardiovascular health.
When in Season and How to Select, Store, & Prepare
Bok choy: In S.F., in season year-round. Select bok choy that have bright, fresh green leaves with no brown spots or wilting. Store bok choy in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to one week.
Leeks: In S.F., in season year-round. Select leeks that are firm, straight, and less then 1 1/2 inches in diameter (bigger ones are more fibrous), with dark green leaves, white necks, and no yellowing, wilting, cracks, or bruises. Store fresh leeks unwashed and untrimmed, wrapped loosely in a plastic bag to retain moisture, in your fridge, for one to two weeks. When preparing leeks, remove tough outer leaves, cut off the root, and slice leeks in half lengthwise. Fan out the leeks and hold them under running water to wash out all of the dirt (often, dirt will be hiding inside the leeks’ layers and folds). Most recipes call for the white and light green portion only and tell you to discard the dark green tops. I trim off the very top bit, then slice the dark green portion very thinly and use in stir fries, or I use the dark green parts for stock.
How to Grow Your Own*
I haven’t grown my own bok choy or leeks, but I am going to try planting leeks early next year (if it ever stops raining). I’ve read that bok choy is a bit trickier, since it attracts slugs and snails in hordes, which take up residence in our backyard as if they own the place. So I’ll probably rely on my friendly farmers’ markets for our bok choy needs, at least this coming year.
How & when to plant leeks: Sow seeds outdoors (in S.F.) January through March. Direct-seed 1/2 inch deep and 1/2 inch apart, then thin seedlings to 3-6 inches apart. You can also plant purchased seedlings to get a head start.
How & when to harvest: Pull up baby leeks whenever you need them. For mature leeks, dig them when they are at least one inch in diameter, usually in September. Harvest as needed throughout winter but finish picking by March or they’ll go to seed.
*Adapted from Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Pierce, p. 230