February 26, 2008

Kale Hummus

Last Saturday I had some week-old kale that was on its last legs, yellowing in its vase. I wasn't sure what to do with it. It didn't fit into my dinner plan of braised lamb and cabbage. Being just a few leaves, it didn't seem like enough to make it worth it to sautee and freeze it for some future meal. And the leaves were too small to make kale chips.

Then Jesse requested an appetizer before dinner. Not wanting to spend money on cheese and crackers or non-local salad greens, I thought about what I had in the kitchen. A can of chickpeas, easily transformable into hummus. And an opportunity to use up old flour to try my hand at making crackers for dipping. But would kale go well with hummus? A quick search on google revealed that it has indeed been done before
in the form of kale and sundried tomato hummus
. I didn't have sundried tomatoes on hand, but I went ahead and made it without it.

The kale hummus turned out surprisingly tasty (though my crackers did not). And as I mentioned, it was so good that we ruined our appetite for dinner. In fact, I'm still paying the consequences of this - I've been trying to use up the leftover rice and cabbage in various forms for lunch and dinner all week. I've found that grated parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper work wonders at masking the taste of slimy old braised cabbage.

I recommend only using half a bunch of kale or less so that the kale taste isn't overpowering. While I enjoyed this kale hummus just fine, I can see how it would benefit from sweet sundried tomatoes. But I'll have to wait till tomato season to try that combination, if I ever get around to making my own sundried tomatoes.

Kale Hummus

1 can chickpeas (or 1 cup chickpeas soaked overnight and simmered for an hour until tender)
few leaves of kale
2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp olive oil
2 fat cloves garlic
lemon juice
cayenne pepper

Tear or chop kale into pieces, discarding thick stems. Place in a pot with half an inch of simmering water and cover until steamed(wilted). Remove kale from pot and let cool.

Combine first six ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Add remaining spices to taste and process again. Add water if needed until hummus reaches a creamy consistency. Serve with pita or crackers.

February 23, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Week 7: Braised Lamb Shanks and Cabbage over Rice

I know I said weeks ago that I would be making braised lamb shanks soon, but life got in the way. It was hard to find time to go to Union Square to procure the shanks from 3-Corner Field Farm, and then to find at least three hours to hang out in the house while the shanks cooked away in the oven. This weekend, I worked out a plan - Saturday I would stay home, bake bread, and cook lamb for diner, and then Sunday we could go out and play, somewhere upstate to indulge fantasies of wanting to move out of the city.

So while Jesse went out drinking in the afternoon (his typical weekend activity), I baked a loaf of bread, made crackers inspired by Straight by the Farm (that turned out too thick and tough because I didn't roll them thin enough and I skimped on the oil, so be careful about that), made a hummus with kale that turned out fab, made braised lamb, and and braised cabbage. I was going to make them in the same pan, until I realized that lamb is meant to braised in red wine and green cabbage is not. So two separate pans it was. And then Jesse made the rice. We used Red Himalayan Rice that was a gift from Jesse's mom, but you could also serve this over brown rice, polenta, or mashed potatoes. And then after we ate I did all the dishes while he watched TV. Housewife much??

After all that we were too full on crackers and hummus to really enjoy the meal. But at least we will have lots of tasty leftovers. I was a little disappointed by how fatty the lamb tasted, but maybe I should have expected that. Or maybe I should have done a better job cutting off the fat (I am horrible at cutting off fat, it's so hard to maneuver a slippery piece of meat and a knife.) But still overall a good dinner - tender meat falling off the bone, with soft warm wedges of cabbage and sweet red rice.

Braised Lamb Shanks
olive oil
2 lamb shanks
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 cup red wine
2 cups chicken stock

Preheat oven to 325.
Trim fat off the lamb shanks.
Brown shanks in butter and olive oil over medium high heat, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove lamb and drain off most of the fat.
Add a little more olive oil to the pan and return lamb to pan. Sautee diced garlic and onion over medium heat with the lamb.
Once onion has softened, add red wine, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and then let simmer a few minutes until wine has reduced by half.
Add chicken stock, bring to boil, and let simmer a few minutes. Transfer everything to a casserole pan and add additional stock if needed, until shanks are covered halfway. Cover pan and place in oven.
Let braise in oven for 2 1/2 hours until tender, turning shanks over halfway.
Serve each lamb shank over rice and cabbage, with spoonfuls of the sauce the lamb was cooked in.

Braised Green Cabbage
1 medium head green cabbage
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock
olive oil

Once lamb shanks are in oven, prepare cabbage. Discard outer layer of green cabbage. Chop off bottom core. Cut into approximately eight wedges. Lay cabbage in a large baking dish. Dice onion and garlic and scatter over pan. Pour in chicken stock. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and olive oil. Cover and let braise in oven for 1 1/2 hour until tender.

February 21, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Week 7: Gramercy Tavern

I have wanted to go to Gramercy Tavern since, oh, I don't know, probably since I moved to New York City. Not only is it one of the best restaurants in the city, but they also rely heavily on foods from the nearby Union Square Greenmarket, elevating it to the status of food heaven for me. (Hence why I am including it as part of my Dark Days Challenge). As they describe it so wonderfully on their website: "Committed to local produce and inspired by the seasons, Executive Chef Mike Anthony cooks from the heart with a blend of fresh greenmarket ingredients, bold flavors, and refined presentation."

But it always seemed like I needed a special occasion to go. There was one horrible Sunday when Jesse and I were wandering hungover around Flatiron and Gramercy and thought we might as well give Gramercy Tavern a try, but alas it was closed. After that, I plotted for months to take Jesse there for his birthday. Except when his birthday finally rolled around, he, being the Manhattan-snubbing/Brooklyn-snob he is, wanted nothing to do with a night out in the big city, so we ended up at an old favorite in Brooklyn, Flatbush Farm, instead. A delicious meal all the same, but still, Gramercy Tavern remained elusive.

Until my coworkers were chatting about going to Gramercy Tavern and we all decided to bite the bullet and just make plans to go. We headed over right after work and got there early enough that we didn't have to wait for a seat in the Tavern Room. (You can make reservations for the Dining Room in the back, but why would you do that unless you were a bazillionnaire who could afford to shell out $88 for a prix fixe, not including drinks, extras, tax, tip, etc.)

I forgot to bring my camera, so I apologize for a lack of pictures. Picking out a drink was easy - a pint of Brooklyn-made Sixpoint IPA of course (also luckily one of the cheapest drinks on the menu). For my entree, I had trouble deciding between pulled pork and scallops, but eventually I went with the scallops because it sounded healthier. It was elegantly plated, simple, fresh, and well executed - grilled scallops over roasted beets thickened with a little yogurt dyed deep red from the juice of the beets, and dotted with flecks of bacon. The scallops were nicely charred from the grill, and it was fun to run them with my fork across the plate and coat them in rich red sauce. I realized I could make this at home with ingredients from the Greenmarket - and I probably will before the winter is out - though it probably wouldn't taste as good. It is nice when eating out actually inspires my home cooking.

I also had a chance to try the stuffed meatballs, which I've heard is considered one of the restaurant's signature dishes, and I would agree that the meatballs were worthy of the title. I took a bite, expecting an ordinary meatball, but suddenly there was an explosion of spices in my mouth, followed by a rich, velvety texture from soft fontina cheese. Wow.

I was glad the portion size of my entree was filling without overstuffing, because I actually had room for dessert without feeling guilty. We split the apple crisp, which I definitely recommend. Warm baked apples with a sweet crunchy crumb topping, all coated in balls of cinnamon and vanilla sour cream ice creams that melted over it into a sweet gooey and delicious mess.

What a night. So the moral is - you need not be intimidated into thinking that you need a special or romantic occasion to dine at Gramercy Tavern. Just gather your lover or friends, show up early (before 6:30 or so) on a weekday to get a table without waiting, and enjoy a good meal with good conversation.

February 18, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Week 7: Sausage Pizza and Roasted Beet Salad

I've made pizza before, but it always came out dense and crunchy throughout. This time I was amazed to open the oven and see a beautiful golden brown puffy crust. It may have actually risen this time because I used sugar instead of raw honey. I know I shouldn't use raw honey, since I've read it sometimes has bacteria that can kill yeast, but I love the idea of using local honey too much to give it up. Well maybe I should.

Or it could have been because I kneaded the dough in the food processor instead of by hand. I have always been afraid of using the dough option on my food processor, worried that the dough would come out over-kneaded. However, it was so amazingly easy and quick that I'll have to do it again. I'm horribly inefficient at kneading dough. First I am never sure if the consistency is right so I keep adding water and flour. Then I feel like I'm kneading forever but the dough never stops being sticky. But 45 seconds in the food processor and the dough was perfectly kneaded.

I topped this with flavorful DiPaolo turkey sausage, tomato sauce, and some parmesan. I'm not big on cheesy, greasy pizzas and can thus hardly stand most pizzeria pizzas these days - so this simple combination was enough for me. On the side, we enjoyed a roasted beet salad again. Amazing how I gobble down roasted beets these days, when I barely knew beets existed before this year.

Pizza Dough
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 tsp raw sugar

1 cup tomato sauce (from a jar or can since it's winter)
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 onion
1/3 lb turkey sausage, not in casing

Pour flour and salt into a food processor and stir to combine. In a small bowl, combine water, yeast, oil, and sugar. Pour wet mixture into food processor. Process on dough button for 45 seconds. Use a spatula to turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a couple times. Form dough into a ball and place in a large bowl, covered with a plate, and let rise in a warm spot (I place the bowl inside my oven, turned off and propped slightly open) for 45-90 minutes, depending on the temperature of the ingredients and your warm spot. My yeast came straight from the fridge and the flour straight from the freezer, so it took a full 90 minutes to double in size.

Turn dough out upside down on a lightly floured surface and gently press down to deflate. Form dough into a ball and return to bowl. Let rise another 25-40 minutes, approximately half the time of the first rise.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place a large cookie sheet at bottom rung of oven to preheat.

Meanwhile, sautee diced onion and garlic in olive oil over low heat. Add turkey sausage, stir and chop it into crumbles, and continue to cook until browned.

Turn dough out upside down on lightly floured surface and gently press down to deflate. Roll dough out into a thin, flat circle. Top pizza with drizzled olive oil, then tomato sauce, then sausage mixture, then grated parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper, and oregano and basil.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and sprinkle cornmeal over it. Carefully slide pizza onto the sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until puffed and golden brown.

Makes two filling servings.

February 14, 2008

Falafel in Pita with Red Cabbage Slaw and Tahini Sauce

I've wanted to make falafel and pita for a while, since I started reading cookbooks about various types of bread. As an advocate of eating less meat, I love getting falafel and pita from street vendors instead of chicken gyros, and I wanted to replicate it at home. I attempted this once a few weeks ago, but let the chickpeas soak out at room temperature for 36 hours, and they foamed and smelled bad, and after much innternet research, I decided I was scared of the bad chickpeas and thre them out. This time I let my chickpeas soak in the fridge for just 24 hours and was determined to make it happen. I even left early from hanging out with my friends on a lazy Sunday evening to get 'er done.

It was really making pitas that was the time consuming part of this meal. Look! My pita puffed! Not perfectly, though. I don't think I rolled my pitas out thinly enough. Or else I let them rest for too long before putting them in the oven. I've read that if you leave them too thick they will think they are supposed to be buns. These were like half buns/half pita - small in diameter but thick and fluffy on the inside, with pockets of air. Most importantly, they were delicious! Bread is bread and I'll always love it unless it tastes bad. I just sliced them down the middle to be able to stuff them pita-style.

I followed Jennie's pita recipe from Straight From the Farm almost exactly, with a few changes - I used half whole wheat flour and half white flour and replaced the 1 tsp sugar with 3/4 tbsp honey to up my crunchy factor, and then baked the pitas on personal squares of aluminum foil instead of a preheated bakingsheet. I got that idea from Susan from Farmgirl Fare. Dealing with a preheated baking sheet scares me so much. I have to take this huge scalding hot sheet out of the oven, lay things on it, and then put it back in the oven again. Me and hot baking sheets don't get along. That's how I've gotten so many burns, and why this blog is called The Wounded Chef. Anyway, so squares of aluminum foil was easy, and foil cools much more quickly than a baking pan. And it worked all the same.

I don't do deep frying. Instead I cooked each falafel ball in a thin layer of olive oil on one side for a few minutes till it browned, then flipped it over till the other side browned. I kind of squashed my falafel balls down in the pan so that as much as surface area browned as possible. Then I was paranoid that I didn't cook them enough, but I didn't get sick later that night, so I think they were cooked just fine.

Lettuce and tomato are typical accompaniments to pita, but since it's winter and they're not really seasonally available, I used a diced red cabbage slaw for the vegetable factor. I was amazed at how well the tastes of the pita, falafel, cruncy cabbage, and saucy tahini went together. It needed all four components to make it whole. Without the tahini it would have been try dry, and withought the cabbage it would have been too boring. I'm finding that cabbage is a great winter replacement for crunchy summer vegetables like lettuce, celery, or cucumbers. For example, shredded cabbage also worked well in place of celery in a chicken salad recently.

1 cup dried chickpeas
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp fresh parsley
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp flour
olive oil

Soak chickpeas overnight in water. Rinse and drain chickpeas. Combine ingredients in a food processor until smooth. You want to be able to form small balls of dough without it sticking too much to your fingers.

Heat a thin layer of oil in a pan. Fry falafel balls several at a time in the pan until browned on each side, and then place on paper towel to cool and to absorb off some of the oil.

Makes more than enough falafels for 8 small to medium-sized pitas.

Tahini Sauce
This one's easy.

4 tbsp tahini paste (look for it near peanut butter in your grocery store)
3 tbsp water
ample salt, pepper, and paprika
squeeze of fresh lemon juice if you have it
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced

Whisk ingredients together, adding water slowly, until smooth creamy sauce forms. Use less water for a thinner sauce, or more water for thicker sauce.

Red Cabbage Slaw
1/3 head red cabbage
1/2 red onion
1/2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt

Chop cabbage into very thin slices, or even dice if desired. Dice red onion. Combine ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Voila.

Stuff a few falafels into a pita, top with slaw, and then spoon sauce over it to coat the top. Take a giant bite and enjoy.

Dark Days Challenge Week 6: Grilled Bison, Colcannon, and Roasted Beet Salad

A true Valentines Day feast. Those are the same flowers from last week's dinner party, just barely holding on. I'm such a weirdo environmentalist and frugalist that I didn't even want my boyfriend to bother getting new flowers, organic or not. I just wanted him home for a great dinner.

We picked up bison from Elk Trails Farm at the Union Square Greenmarket last Saturday with the plan of cooking it for V-Day. "Oh yeah, I had grilled bison last night," I can just imagine myself saying tomorrow. Doesn't that just sound so cool? I did some research online and read that good cuts of bison, such as rib eye, strip, or tenderloin, can be grilled straight off with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. But lesser cuts like flank steak, which we bought pretty much because it was cheaper than better cuts, are best marinated for at least 6 hours before grilling. I didn't have any wine, so I improvised a marinade of: 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp mustard, 3 tbsp water, 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice, 2 minced garlic cloves, and plenty of fresh ground pepper. Elk Trails sells their bison frozen, so I let it defrost overnight in a water bath in the fridge and then left it in the marinade in the fridge throughout the work day.

We are lucky enough to have a grill on our miniscule deck, and it wasn't freezing tonight, so Jesse grilled the bison. "Not too long," I warned him. Bison is so lean that you have to be careful not to cook it too hot or too long, because there's not enough fat in it to slow down the cooking. My research also warned us to turn the bison on the grill using tongs, not a fork, because piercing it lets out its vital juices. Well, with my advice, Jesse cooked it perfectly. I've never been one for steak - I always find it too tough and tedious to chew, even when on the rare side. But this bison steak was delicious, tender, and lean. I'm glad that our experiment into bison, and my first time marinating steak, was a success. On the side, we enjoyed colcannon and a salad of roasted beets over mixed greens dressed with splashes of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and lemon juice. A yummy, healthy, and guilt free meal worthy of a special night like tonight.

So take a chance and try bison, the other red meat, the one you forget exists. I was intimidated and had passed Elk Trails stand dozens of time in the past, but now I've seen the light, and I look forward to more bison to come in my life.

PS. I remember having a conversation with some people earlier this week about how it's hard to eat local in the winter because so little is available. Not in New York City - are you kidding me? I feel filled with an amazing sense of possibility even at Union Square in the winter. Check out this handy dandy guide for which vendors are there when from New York Magazine.

All ingredients for this meal were found at Greenmakets from farms within approximately 250 miles away, except except for balsamic vinegar, mustard, olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. Oh and the organic mixed greens from California I could have done without, but Jesse requested them, and I obliged to make him happy on this romantic occasion.

Dark Days Challenge Week 6: Buckwheat Apple and Chocolate Chip Muffins

I know Valentine's Day is the day you are supposed to bake a deliciously decadent chocolate treat, but between feeling like I overloaded on sweets last week, and reading that eating too much sugar is bad for you in Nina Planck's Real Food: What to Eat and Why I decided to take it easy and make muffins. Plus Jesse coerced me into getting a huge bag of buckwheat flour at the farmers market last week, so I needed to start using that up.

I still haven't found my tried and true muffin recipe. I tend to play around with them, and they usually come out okay anyway. This time, I used half honey and half sugar to cut down on the sugariness that would go straight to my bloodstream. Then I used the wetness of the honey as an excuse to cut down on the oil/eggs. And you know what, this recipe worked out great. Delicious and moist, with a touch of the buckwheat taste that I love in pancakes. You could also replace the buckwheat flour with more whole wheat flour or white flour.

Just be careful or you will eat half the muffins yourself in one sitting. You should aim to at least save a few for breakfast the next morning, or else what's the point of making muffins? These are definitely better for you than the ginormous muffins you might get at a nearby bakery on your way to work. Who even knows what's in those things? Corn syrup, god forbid.

Buckwheat Apple and Chocolate Chip Muffins

1/3 cup canola oil (or olive oil)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup milk

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger (optional)
1 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 apple, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine wet ingredients in a large bowl until combined. Then dump dry ingredients over wet mixture and stir till mixture is smooth. Stir in chocolate chips and apple. Distribute among greased muffin pan. Bake for 22-30 minutes, until knife inserted comes out mostly clean. Let cool for ten minutes before removing from muffin pan.

The flour, eggs, and apple for this recipe were local. I could have used local milk if I hadn't run out out of it earlier this week. I think this might work with 1/2 cup local butter in place of the oil too. But isn't butter supposed to be more of a cookie thing and oil more of a cake/muffin thing? I still haven't figured out the difference. My cakes and muffins err on the dense side while my cookies err on the light cakey side. Traditional baking 101 this is not.

February 13, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Week 6: Orzo with Sausage, White Beans, and Kale

I've wanted to make orzo ever since a coworker brought a delicious orzo and vegetable salad tossed simply with olive oil to a potluck last spring. So I bought some dried colorful orzo from Fairway in bulk, and then kind of forgot about it in the back of my cabinet, not sure what to do with it.

Then I was reminded of it when I saw a post on Serious Eats about cooking orzo as a kind of short-cut risotto. I looove risotto - it's one of my go-to dishes - and the idea of being able to make something almost like risotto in less than half the time sounded brilliant.

So last night I was starving on the way home, dreaming up a creamy orzo dish that I would make as soon as I walked in the door. I figured I could make it quickly, have a bite to satiate my hunger, and then save the rest for lunch tomorrow. But Jesse got home earlier than I expected, so there wasn't time to cook before we went off in the snow in search of sushi. Instead, I ended up making a cozy orzo dish later that night, long after we had returned home, shaken off the snow, drank some wine, and he fell asleep. He is in for a real treat when he opens his lunch box tomorrow.

It surprised me in how creamy it turned out. I threw a ton of stuff in there, including local turkey sausage, a can of white beans (yes I feel guilty about using a can lined with plastic that leaches potentially harmful chemicals but sometimes convenience wins), parsley leftover from making falafel over the weekend (yes I know parsley is not in season right now, but a girl's gotta have some fun sometimes), and even a couple leaves of kale so I can pretend I am being healthy without it overwhelming the flavor. Altogether, it formed a cozy one-pot winter dish that is tender and delicious, and with enough parmesan, tastes almost like risotto.

Orzo with Sausage, White Beans, and Kale

1/2 lb sausage
2 cloves garlic
1/2 onion
handful of kale, rinsed and torn into pieces
1 can white beans (or 3/4 cup dried white beans soaked and cooked)
1 1/2 cup dried orzo
3 cups water
crushed red pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Heat sausage in a large pot over medium heat until it begins to brown. Add garlic and onion, turn down to low heat, add a little olive oil or butter if necessary to keep from sticking to bottom of pan, and sautee until onions soften. Add kale and white beans and continue to sautee another few minutes until kale wilts. Add orzo and stir to combine. Add water and salt, bring to a boil, and then let simmer for approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the water is absorbed and orzo is creamy and tender. Add pepper, crushed red pepper, parmesan, and parsley (optional).

All ingredients for this meal were found at Greenmakets from farms within approximately 250 miles away, except except for dried bulk orzo, beans, salt, pepper, red pepper, and parmesan. So I guess you could say half local on this one.

February 9, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Week 5: Mark Bittman's Fish and Cabbage

I've been very into flounder lately, ever since I pledged to eat fish at least once a week. It it is one of the cheaper fish that I can get at my Greenmarket dayboat stand, and it's nice to know there is little to no mercury risk with flounder. I think I've had it four times in the last two weeks, but it's just so good it never gets old.

Jesse, aka Sir Fishmonger, sautees flounder simply with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and that's all it needs. But tonight I was inspired by Mark Bittman's (aka the New York Times Minimalist) new food blog, Bitten with a simple recipe for braised cabbage and fish.

I tried to make braised red cabbage last weekend to serve alongside flounder, but I was a little overzealous and incorporated red onions, honey, apple, red wine, and rice wine vinegar in my recipe, thinking it would taste tres gourmet. Actually, it tasted overly sweet and no one wanted to eat, it so I've been feeding it to my dog instead. He'll eat anything. But when I saw Mark Bittman's recipe for wedges of green cabbage braised in stock with fish fillets steamed on top, I realized that's what I'd been trying to achieve.

It almost seemed too easy - just bring chicken stock to boil in a large pan, let wedges of cabbage sit in simmering stock till tender, place fish fillets atop the cabbage, cover, and let steam for about eight minutes, and season it all with salt and pepper to serve. My gut tried to tell me to sautee some garlic and onion with the cabbage before braising. But you know what, sometimes it's okay for dinner to just be simple and uncomplicated. So I trusted in Mark Bittman, the Minimalist, figuring he knows what he's doing. And he does. The cabbage was deliciously warm and tender in broth, like the perfect winter comfort dish, and the flounder tasted just as flavorful as when we've sauteed it.

We started out with a local artisinal cheddar from the Greenmarket as an appetizer. It seemed good when we tasted slivers at the market, but when we brought it home we realized it was actually tastless and waxy. Oh well, lesson learned, that next time I need try another cheese vendor at the market.

I also sauteed thinly sliced Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips in butter with onion, garlic, and thyme as a side dish. Those vegetables had been sitting in my fridge forever, softening slowly, and needed to be used up. But I destroyed them by using too little butter in my pan so everything stuck and burned to the pan, and since the vegetables were going soft to begin with, they carried that meek flavor into the final dish. So, I still don't like Jerusalem artichokes.

This post is part of the Dark Days Challenge, in which I prepare at least one meal each week comprised of mostly local ingredients. All ingredients for this meal were found at Greenmakets from farms within approximately 250 miles away, except except for organic free range low-sodium chicken stock, salt, pepper, and thyme.

February 3, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Week 5: Flounder, Kale, and Homemade Fries

We're really into fish, potatoes, and kale this winter. You may have noticed kale starring in many meals lately. It's interesting...I didn't eat kale or swiss chard all that much this summer, but now that it's winter, I get a bunch of kale every week, I guess because it's one of the only greens I can find these days. Jesse loves it, while I just tolerate it, but hey, it's good for me. As I've mentioned before, my favorite way to eat kale is sauteed with a lot of onions and garlic and a little bit of balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard, which really sweetens up its bitter taste.

I saw a video online a while ago about preserving basil by keeping it in a water-filled vase and covering it with a plastic bag, and I thought I would try it on kale.

It works like a charm. It perks up old floppy kale right back up and makes it last for about a week, which is good for those of use who live in NYC where life tends to get in the way of dinner plans.

So speaking of dinner, last Saturday we enjoyed sauteed flounder, a terrible braised red cabbage, and homemade fries. (Check out this post for a better way to cook fish and cabbage). We love our "fish and chips" so much that we made flounder and fries again for a dinner party later that week, with sauteed kale to replace botched cabbage.

We like to roast our potatoes in thick wedges, eat them with our hands, and call them fries.

I toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper before they go in the oven, roast them for 40 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, flipping after 20 minutes so both sides get brown and crunchy. Then we serve them Dutch-style alongside a mayonnaise dip spiked with white vinegar, salt, pepper, and paprika. They are damn good.

And I was in luck. I had these beautiful flowers left over from a work event this week, so I brought them home to enhance our dinner party. I love it when that happens - it makes me seem like the domestic goddess that I'm not.

February 2, 2008

Joanna Newsom at BAM

When I listen to live music, it tends to put me in a sad/contemplative/inspring mood all at the same time, wherein I reflect on the great talent before me, how I'll never be that good, how I should play more, how I should go play right now. This has only gotten worse since graduating and falling away from music. In college, I was a music major and was always listening to or making music. Now, ironically, I work for a performing arts institution, but don't have music in my life. I am afraid to practice in my home because my downstairs neighbors complain. I feel totally uninspired to write songs. I used to think, I'll always have my love for music, I will always care more about that than anything else. And now, it's fallen to the background. I don't know how to fix it. Well, I joined a choir recently, so that's a start.

And there are still those occasional transcendental moments. Notably Sufjan Stevens at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) in November, and Joanna Newsom at BAM last Friday night. Joanna Newsom can be classified as a freak-folk singer-songwriter-harpist with a childlike voice. On Friday night, she performed with a small orchestra comprised of members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic for her first set. The orchestra sounded terrifically like the arrangements in her orchestral album Ys. But it was interesting to note how much of a difference the live percussion made - its prominence, dull or sharp at times, altered the entire color or timbre of the whole ensemble, giving it a rougher, live feel, and occasionally drowning out the strings.

For the second half, she performed just with her band - drums, banjo, violin/fiddle. It was really great to hear old songs, that I knew in my mind as just her voice and tingling harp, reworked with more country/bluegrass/Appalachia flair. It underscored for me that live concerts are best when I can hear new and different versions or songs, to get more out of a live concert than I would just listening to an album for the millionth time in my own home.

During the concert, I was hit with the sudden memory of when I first heard Joanna Newsom. My college boyfriend gave me Joanna Newsom's first album for Christmas three years ago. That was the winter he gave me one CD for Christmas, while I gave him two CDs and knit him a scarf . A sign of the state of our relationship at the time - my devotion to him, and his breaking away from me. He broke up with me that same week in his cold Colorado house. And then Joanna Newsom was what I listened to on so many drives from Poughkeepsie to Cold Spring that early spring, along a cold Hudson River sidled with icy mountains and gray trees. Singing along and moving on. I must have bought her second album last winter with an iTunes gift card for my birthday.

My current boyfriend was surprised to discover that he liked Joanna Newsom, when he chanced upon free tickets to join me at her concert in McCarren Park Pool a couple summers ago (a concert I spent $35 to attend). He came along with me to the concert at BAM this week. But while I was lulled by her melodies and streams of senseless lyrics into wallowing in sadness and memories, he was jolted into negativity by her between-song bantering and terribly cramped balcony seats (so high, I felt I could almost touch the gilded ceiling). I personally think all between song bantering is dumb and annoying, but I don't let that ruin concerts for me. Or maybe I enjoyed the concert more because Joanna Newsom's music, and music in general, has had so much more meaning in my life.

Dark Days Challenge Week 4: Saturday Mornings

What you see above is a typical brunch in my home on the weekends - eggs, toast, and homefries - and it's all local. I've been waiting to tell you all about my weekend morning feasts until I could say that. Last weekend I found flour at the farmers market, so I was able to make my weekly bread local AND homemade! I don't know how I missed the flour before...maybe I never looked closely enough, or maybe the farmer had just freshly milled some that week. It's from Oak Grove Mill on the Blew Farm in Franklin, NJ, only 50 miles away, and in addition to the whole wheat flour I purchased, he was selling a whole cornucopia of rye, cornmeal, pancake mixes, and buckwheat. I was happy to discover that this local flour worked just as well for breadmaking as King Arthur flour. So there you have it, homemade toast, potatoes and onions from the GreenMarket, and eggs and butter from Ronnybrook Farm. Somtimes I wash my breakfast down with a cup of sweet Ronnybrook milk too.

Afterward, we get dressed and trek a few blocks away to the Greenmarket in McCarren Park, where we refresh our supply of eggs, milk, butter, vegetables, and so on for the next week. (Sometimes I also supplement this with a trip to the Union Square market, if the selection in McCarren Park is particularly scarce). Saturday mornings have become my favorite part of the week ever since I started going to Greenmarkets this summer. For some reason, I really look forward to the chance to be outside in the morning air to pick out my food for the week from farmers who always manage to smile even when that morning air is frigid. And the chance to enjoy a leisurely, terrific, fresh meal, knowing that it's better than Enid's, which I used to think served the best brunch in Williamsburg. When the weather was warmer and the Greenmarket teemed with hipsters, strollers, dogs, and other ecletctic personalities, I was energized on Saturday mornings to wake up as early as possible and get to the market before all the good stuff ran out. Now that it's winter, I'm lazier and sleep in because there isn't much competition over eggs and vegetables, and also because I think I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder.

To think that last winter I didn't even think about where my food came from and felt awkward and intimidated by farmers markets. Actually, I think my whole environmental awareness emerged around this time last year, when I started reading No Impact Man and other green blogs, but my enthusiasm for local eating didn't really start until I was inspired by One Local Summer to make great meals out of ingredients from farmers markets. So next time you're planning a grocery store trip, consider spending a fun morning or afternoon at a farmers market instead. Something tells me you'll find it more enjoyable and rewarding.