Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Drive In--Fill Up, New York's First Food Truck Drive-In

With the blazing heat over the weekend, I did not feel like staying inside cooking. Thank God a few months ago I had scored tickets to the NYC Food and Film Festival's World's First Food Truck Drive-In. The idea was that the festival attendees would stroll in and the food would do the driving. Armed with my camera, an empty stomach, and a few good friends we ventured under the Brooklyn Bridge to see what the mobile food of New York City had in store.

We were barely ten feet past the gate when my friend Anne spotted what she wanted to eat. It turned out that the whole "having a truck" thing was a bit of a loosely enforced rule. Just inside the gate were several vendors familiar to anyone who goes to Brooklyn Flea and Anne had just spotted Choncho's Tacos. One beer battered fish taco later she was happily munching away.

This has been a big week for me and the fish taco. I finally got out to Rockaway Taco in Rockaway Beach recently so I actually had something to compare it to. The Rockaway taco had some unusual ingredients including radish slices, and the option to add Guacamole (an option I would recommend).  Both were hot and juicy, wrapped up in a soft tortilla, but I would say Rockaway Taco might have been a tiny bit tastier. Anne was very, very happy with her selection though. Will, having not had caffeine for two whole hours, headed straight to Crop to Cup for an iced coffee."Why did they even bring hot coffee?" he mused as we baked in the humid weather. The company works directly with the coffee farmers in Uganda, so it was a guilt free iced coffee, as well as being refreshing. I hate it when my coffee is racked with guilt.

We headed into the main area of the Drive-In, where most of the trucks were. No sooner had we entered then an energetic girl informed us there were "Free People's Pops at the Cooking Channel Truck!" The cooking channel, recently launched by the Food Network (for those of you living, like me, without cable) is brand new and promoting the hell out of itself. This was one of their first stops on a nation wide tour their doing with a big ice cream truck. I've heard the Cooking Channel uses a lot of New York artisan chefs, which I'm all for. People's Pops, another vendor born of Brooklyn Flea, has just opened a stand in Chelsea Market, making just another reason I'm totally going to move into that market. Armed with our Raspberry Basil and Rhubarb Jasmine pops, we started to do the walk around to decide what we wanted.

There was Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, which I've tried before when the truck was parked in Williamsburg Brooklyn one night. All natural and organic, it's rich tasting and well crafted, but I was looking to try new things. The only truck with a real line was the Krave NJ, the Korean BBQ Truck, which was selling among other things "Kravers" at type of burger where you get a choice of two meats served with monterey jack cheese, shredded kimchi, onion-cilantro relish on a toasted bun. It looked really good, and the crowd was certainly with them, but the line wasn't moving. After about ten minutes of standing in one spot I threw in the towel. Surrounded by food, I refused to be kept waiting. I had sent Will to get a Pulled Pork Sandwich at the Louisiana Spice Truck, but when I went to find him, there was no one in or in line for that truck. Will said that when he got there, and official looking person was writing the truck owner a ticket. A few minutes later the resumed business, but only selling pre-made sweets. Apparently, the Fire Marshall had shut down their cooking ability. I suppose I'm willing to sacrifice pulled pork in exchange for not blowing up...I guess.

Anne, meanwhile, had decided she was ready for a waffle with Nutella, strawberries, and whipped cream from Waffles and Dinges As we stood at one of the tables eating, Anne pleased with her treat, a few feet away a huge splash of water came crashing in from overhead. Miraculously it hit no one, and as we looked at the new puddle we realized it was full of rapidly melting ice. Looking up, we realized we were right under the footpath of the Brooklyn Bridge. On hot summer days enterprising New Yorkers will stand along the rather long bridge path and sell bottled water out of coolers. We hypothesized a seller, unaware of the little picnic going on directly beneath him, had sold all of his water and dumped his cooler. An indignant officer of the NYPD was on his radio right away, but I'm not sure if the mystery was ever solved completely. As the sun pounded down, however, I think more then one person may have wished the ice water had hit them.

We headed back to entrance area where the film tent was, ready to watch some films about food. Anne and Danielle went to score some seats, and Will and I headed to Red Hook Lobster Pound and Milk Truck Grilled Cheese respectively. Having read a recent New York Magazine article recently discussing the lobster glut in Maine and comparing all the different lobster rolls in New York, I felt remiss that the only one I had sampled was Luke's Lobster. Well, that and my own. Red Hook had something different then what I'm used to, a Connecticut Lobster Roll. Instead of being served cold and with mayo, the meat was tossed in a skillet, warmed, and served with butter. Will, who hates mayo, was rather pleased with this new format.

As we devoured this treats, there came a pressing question. What the hell happened to the movies? This was now about 2pm and the films were supposed to start at 1. Well, this being the "World's First Food Truck Drive-In" they had not yet worked out all the kinks. Apparently, light leaks in the tent became a huge problem, and they had to take down the screen to put masking on the back of it. Also they knocked down the side curtains. Then they changed the entire orientation of the chairs and screen to face another way. By the time they got rolling it was about 3pm, and by closing the light leaks they had also cut out all the air. With one fan blowing in a huge, sweltering tent, it was not exactly comfortable. One of the organizers referred to it as Bikram Screenings. Still, we settled in the second row and prepared for the show to start.

Here was the problem. They decided to start from the very beginning of their list, a 45 minute film called the Bread Maverick. It was a nice little Austrian portrait piece about making bread in wood burning ovens, and they gave out samples of similar bread from a local pizza place/bread bakery called Roberta's But the film was very mellow with long stretches of just scenery and music. And it was 45 minutes long. And it was about 87 million degrees in that tent. And here's the kicker: We were seated DIRECTLY BEHIND the people the damn film was about. We couldn't leave! Not without being really mean and insulting to this very sweet looking Austrian woman who was, no lie, wearing an apron.

We saw one of the other films, the ones that were blessedly only about five minutes long, and that was much more fun. Sort of a pop in, see a short film, pop out and get more food kind of atmosphere. My advice for next year: if they can't get a cooler venue for the films, then save anything longer then ten minutes for the night time block when things have cooled down a bit. I left at about 4, so I don't really know anything about the evening programing. If you were there and have thoughts, please share in the comments!

The food was great, and I'm interested to see how this all works out next year once they've had a bit of practice. You know, see if they can pull it off without baking half of the Brooklyn foodies in a tent. Or calling in the fire department. Or dumping a chest full of ice on people. Hey, I'll be there as long as they bring the lobster rolls.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Brandied Cherries--Part One

As Heather tells it, she and her Texan friend Amira go to a bar in Manhattan called Death and Company. Amira has a habit of going to a bar and asking for cherries on the side. The bartender will usually oblige without much thought and slide a shot glass of maraschinos her way for her to enjoy as she sees fit. This time around, the server looks at her quizzically and though slightly puzzled, brings back a few cherries. Amira begins to snack and her eyes widen. These may possibly be the finest cherries in the land.

She implores Heather to try one and when she does, her eyes widen similarly. Could these cherries have been picked from some magical grove on Mount Olympus? When the server comes back, they ask what the deal is. As it turns out, these were no ordinary cherries--they were brandied cherries.

Heather and I have since enjoyed them when we go to nicer bars and order Manhattans and whatnot. We always notice them right away and get excited. It's like Christmas morning. They are a little smaller than normal cherries with a dark color--almost black. That black color lets you know that the cherry is saturated with delicious sweet brandy.

Every time we have them, we swear that we are going to figure out how to do this ourselves. Well ladies and gentleman, talk is cheap and we are lazy people by nature. It's been a couple years since the discovery and we still haven't done anything. Well all that's about to change. We did some research and bought the ingredients and are ready to go. We would have done it sooner but we were so close to cherry season that it would have been a crime not to wait a few weeks.

Many of the recipes out there include a lot of ingredients and spices but we opted for one that emphasized simplicity. We got it off a website called We also liked the recipe because it did not require any complicated canning techniques. One day we will learn how to properly can things, but it is not this day.

Brandied Cherries
adapted from
-2 cups sugar
-4 cups brandy
-2 lbs. fresh sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted

Dissolve sugar in brandy in a sterilized 2-3-quart glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Add cherries. Cover jar and allow cherries to macerate in the refrigerator for 6 weeks. To serve, pour some of the brandy into a small glass and add a few cherries. Cherries will keep, refrigerated for up to 1 year.

We halved the recipe for our purposes. One pound of cherries is a lot of cherries. I was nervous about being able to dissolve sugar into the brandy. I just know that when I try to stir granulated sugar into my iced tea at a restaurant, it floats around for a minute and then sinks to the bottom. I don't want all my sweetness at the bottom of my brandy solution where the floating cherries can't get to it. I want it working on those cherries for a month and a half. As it turns out, my concerns were unfounded. It took some doing, but it wasn't as difficult as I thought it was going to be. I stirred until I got bored then let it sit and then stirred again. A cup of sugar became a half cup, then a quarter cup, than a smaller fraction and soon it was gone.

I recognize that this is a very simple recipe, but if it turns out well, who knows? We might start branching out and getting fancy with the spices. I hope that the cherries will obtain that much coveted dark color. If not, I'll try another tact. You can't keep a good scientist down. If anyone out there has any insight about brandying cherries, please leave a comment. And please stay tuned to the blog. These babies will be brandy soaked and ready to go by about the second week of August, just in time for my birthday. (The 13th if anyone's interested.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Slight Hiatus

Good morning all! I have just returned from 5 days in Chicago at a conference, and Will just returned from a friend's wedding. (Congrats Joe and Megan!) In all of the excitement, ummmmmm, no one actually sat down and wrote a blog. We're sorry!

Well, not that sorry. Because actually, we're going to take the whole week off. You know, stand back, take a deep breath, and then start with the cooking and drinking again. We'll be back blogging on June 28. If you promise to be patient with us, I'll even try to get a Friday Bonus Blog out next week to make up for it.

Now excuse me, I'm going to go sleep for about 14 hours. See you in a week!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Retro Caesar Salad

Last month I read a seductive description of seared radishes in the Times. I became determined to try cooking these root vegetables. I shopped, cooked, and was frankly not thrilled. Maybe it would be different if I was a huge fan of raw radishes; perhaps then I would have been more enamored of the cooked ones. As it was, I just found them kind of bland and disappointing. To concoct that experiment, however, I had purchased a small bottle of anchovy fillets packed in olive oil. I haven't worked much with anchovies. As a child of the 80's I'm still dealing with the general pop culture references of "Anchovies on a pizza! Ewwwww!" brought on by the stylings of the Ninja Turtles.

As an adult I've become more aware that anchovies are a gourmet ingredient dating back to Roman times, with a strong, earth flavor that is noticeable in a number of dishes. Now I stood looking at this tiny jar of preserved fish fillets, and wondered what else I could use them for now that my dreams of radish nirvana had been dashed. That's when it hit me, a dish that is so classic it's a wonder I had never tried my hand at it before. It was time to put together a classic Caesar Salad. Unfortunately I had no idea what that meant. A bit of background: while a staple of Italian/American cuisine, the lore of the Caesar Salad was invented in Tijuana, Mexico by a restaurateur named Caesar Cardini. In 1979 a reporter at the New York Times hunted down his restaurant (appropriately named Caesar's Restaurant) to find the original recipe, which apparently, at the time, they printed on the back of their business cards. The recipe includes no mustard, as some do, and to my dismay, no anchovies. According to the article the restaurant (a somewhat seedy bar and grill inside Caesar's Hotel in Tijuana) itself didn't even use olive oil, they made their base out of corn oil.

This was not the 1970's retro chic dinner party fair I was looking for. Then I realized what it was I was looking for. I needed my father's Caesar Salad. My parents were late 60's/early 70's hippies, throwing dinner parties with my mother in long dresses and horn rimmed glasses, my father sporting a spectacular white boy fro. There were the discussions that turned into debates that turned into arguments that lasted late into the night. As the story goes, at a certain point my Uncle Jimmy had to drink his cocktails out of plastic cups, my mother had lost too much stemware during a heated discussion when he would slam his glass down on the table. Being the aforementioned child of the 80's, I don't have memories of this time, just a few faded pictures and memories of the relics that still floated around when I was young. The avocado colored fondue set. My mother's old tortoiseshell glasses. A photo of mom and Aunt Donna with spectacular upswept beehives. And a giant wooden salad bowl with little carved individual bowls that used to have their own cupboard above the pantry, brought down only on special occasions when holiday parties would bring old friends. They would reminisce about the cocktail parties back then and there would be mentions of Kennedy and Nixon and my Uncle Jimmy would get handed a sippy cup of white wine...

The old wooden set is long gone, the victim of too many moves and a late 90's purging of old stuff that only a decade later would I recognize as vintage and awesome. In its place, however, is another giant wooden salad bowl, a gift of my cousin Steve and his wife Sandy at my engagement party over years ago. I don't often make salad, but in this bout of nostalgia and salad based motivation I stood on a chair and pulled it off its shelf. Luckily, getting the old family recipe was not hard. Uncle Jimmy, the glass smashing party guest previously mentioned, had made an identical salad. The recipe probably had been hammered out over croutons and vodka in about 1972, and apparently he had thought to give the recipe to his son. I imagine a solemn council much like the Continental Congress with dueling factions engaged in debate.  "Gentleman, can we please get back to the issue of the dressing."

My father having long since passed on, the sole guardian of the recipe has become my cousin Jonathan, who thankfully wrote it out for me a few years ago. It's been stashed in my recipe binder ever since and only now have I thought to tackle it head on. I made only two small alterations from the original recipe. The patriarchs favored anchovy paste, but as half the point of this experiment was to use that little bottle, I substituted chopped fillets. Also the original recipe calls for boiling the eggs for one minute before using, but the more traditional way of making the salad is to use them raw. As evidenced by the fact that Will and I have drunk more then our fair share of raw eggs, we do not shy away from their usage. This will probably last right up until one of us contracts salmonella. If you are concerned about such things, boil away.

Caesar Salad
Lightly Adapted from Dean Shock and James Alexander, as related by Jonathan Alexander

- 2 small head of Romaine, torn into pieces
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 2 large eggs
- 4 oil packed anchovy, finely chopped (or 1 tsp anchovy paste)
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- Salt and Pepper to taste

Clean the lettuce and put in your salad bowl. Pour enough olive oil into the salad bowl to coat all of your lettuce, about 3 tablespoons. Take the remaining olive oil and pour into a small bowl. Add anchovy, lemon juice, Worcestershire, garlic to the olive oil and whisk together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in eggs. Pour dressing over lettuce and mix. Then sprinkle Parmesan over top.

When going over the notes Jonathan had given me, I realized he had included a crouton recipe too. Ideally you would want to make croutons out of slightly stale bread, but I didn't happen to have any around. I made it with fresh bread, and it turned out just fine, perfectly crispy and crunchy.

Homemade Croutons

- 3 cups of cubed bread
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, halved
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat butter, olive oil, and garlic over medium heat until butter melts. In a large bowl toss bread cubes,  butter mixture, and seasoning if using (I used a focaccia mix). Spread bread cubes on a cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.

The croutons turned out perfect, and the salad was as I remembered it: oily, cheesy, earthy, and utterly bad for me. The salad is a throwback, but there's a reason it still graces the menu of every TGI Fridays, it is the salad version of comfort food. As children of the 80's we all ate it at some party where our parents were dragging out the dining repertoire of the 70's, and it was the one salad I actually ate and didn't just dig through to find the croutons. Now, it is officially part my retro repertoire. As for the salad bowl, it's now on a more reachable shelf. Next to my fondue pot.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Occasionally it's nice to make drinks in a big pitcher and work on it over the course of an evening or weekend afternoon. It gives one the opportunity to relax and enjoy several rounds without having to constantly labor after each. I suppose there are several cocktails that lend themselves to be made in large quantities. On a couple of occasions, I've made mojitos that way. But there are certain drinks that especially lend themselves to being made by the batch. One of them is sangria.

The first time I've made sangria was a couple of years ago and I haven't made any since. This is one of those drinks that has an infinite number of incarnations. First, one has to decide whether to use red or white wine. Then decide which times of fruit to incorporate. Then decide which sweetening agent (if any) to add. It's really up to the mixologist to decide. I spent a fair bit of time researching several recipes to determine which one appealed to me and my tastes. I couldn't find the recipe I used a couple years ago but I found one that is similar. I'll link to it here but post it anyway.
Red Wine Sangria
adapted from
-1 orange
-1 lemon-1 lime
-1 medium apple, sliced
-1 cup pitted cherries
-1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
-3/4 cup brandy
-1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry red wine
-1 (12 ounce) can lemon-lime soda to taste
-1 cup orange juice to taste

Slice the orange, lemon and lime into thin rounds. Place the citrus in a pitcher with the apples cherries and pineapple. Pour in the brandy and refrigerate for two hours or more. Chill the bottle of red wine, lemon-lime soda and orange juice at the same time.
Gently crush the fruits with a spoon, then stir in the red wine, lemon-lime soda and orange juice. Add additional brandy or orange juice to taste.

I've found that a dry red wine does complement the sweetness, but a wine with a bit of a spice helps as well. It gives the sangria a little complexity it might not otherwise have.

Part of me abhors this recipe for its use of lemon-lime soda, but there is a certain simplicity to its use that is appropriate to the spirit of the recipe. It's a simple way to incorporate the sweetness, citrus and effervescence into the drink and only using one ingredient. For such elegance, I'm willing to overlook its prepackaged nature.

I tried to put the cherries, apples and pineapple at the bottom of the pitcher while it was chilling so it would soak up more brandy. I figured I would be more likely to eat those things than the citrus.

I've been fortunate enough to attempt this recipe twice in the past week. I hadn't intended on it, but a whole pineapple produces much more than a cup; and I bought a big package of cherries. It would have been preferable if cherries were in season; they would have been fresher and cheaper. But in these less than ideal circumstances, I had to buy a big bag and it would have been a shame not to take advantage of this bounty. I found that cutting the apples and citrus thicker made it easier to work with the second time around. The thinly cut citrus tended to fall apart when stirred or transferred to a glass.

The nice part about this summer drink is that all the labor is done up front, which means that you're free to enjoy the sun and perhaps some pleasant company. My favorite part of mixing drinks and cocktails has always been the social aspect that comes with it. There is an aspect of fruit infusion involved which means that the garnish is taken care of by just pouring the fruit into the glass. All that's left for you to do is enjoy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Strawberry Ice Cream

I have been staking out the farmers markets. Every time I was near one, I would do a cursory glance. Strawberries? No. Damn. So I'd buy some tomatoes, and herb plant or two, and go on my way. In the grocery store I would pass California strawberries and sigh, because I was being stubborn. I was insistent on having local strawberries, so the taste would be the absolute freshest. Memorial Day weekend I spent in Pennsylvania, and I knew, if I looked, there would be strawberries, but they would be hard pressed to make the journey back to NY. It was maddening. Finally, this past Wednesday, I practically skipped through Union Square, it seemed like every booth was teeming with strawberries, cartons and cartons of them, pretty and red, cascading from tables and boxes everywhere. And I knew just what to do with them. I was going to make Strawberry Ice Cream.

The fascination has been developing for about a month now. As the temperature went up, I keep glancing at the dormant ice cream machine that has not been switched on since the Pumpkin Ice Cream last fall. I would be shifting things around in my freezer, and see my mixer bowl just sitting there, waiting to churn. Somewhere in this obsession I decided that it would have to be strawberry ice cream, with fresh, farmers market strawberries. Those lovely, red little jewels, all bumpy and misshapen and not quite perfect like the ones sold in grocery stores, with that deep intense flavor that comes from having been driven straight from the farm. I would accept nothing else. So excited was I when I found my beloved berries, I bought far too many and Will had to make drinks out of them. My life is so hard sometimes.

Strawberry Ice Cream
Lovingly Lifted from Gourmet Magazine

- 1 3/4 Cups Heavy Cream
- 3 (3 by 1 inch) strips of fresh lemon zest
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 lb strawberries (about 3 cups) trimmed and halved
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Combine cream, zest, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and discard zest.

Whisk eggs with 1/2 cup of sugar in a bowl, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking. Carefully wipe out saucepan with paper towel to remove any cream that has dried itself to the side of the pan. Pour cream and egg back into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it. An instant read thermometer will read 170 degrees. Do not boil.

Immediately pour custard into through a fine sieve into a metal bowl, then cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. (If you need to speed up this process set your bowl in a larger bowl of ice water and stir until cooled.) Refrigerate, covered, about 2 hours or up to 1 day.

While custard chills, puree strawberries with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice in a blender until smooth, then force through fine sieve (to remove seeds) into chilled custard. Stir the puree into custard until the mixture is all one color.

Freeze custard in ice-cream maker (in mine this took about 25 minutes, but check your manufacturer's instructions) then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer overnight to harden. Ice cream keeps up to 1 week.

I loved my ice cream. It was super creamy and burst with strawberry flavor. It was a bit tart, I spoke briefly of cutting back a bit on the lemon juice, but Will insists it is perfect and that I am being finicky.

Last year I bought a toy, the Ice Cream Keeper a container that you put in the freezer and then use it to store ice cream for picnics. The instructions said it would keep the ice cream frozen for up to and hour and a half. To test this theory I plunked my ice cream in, stuck in in my picnic cold bag and headed to Governors Island last weekend. I was probably pushing 2 hours by the time we got off the ferry, but it still worked pretty well! A bit mushy, but my fellow picnickers seemed undeterred, and the ice cream vanished in under 5 minutes.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Frozen Margaritas Anyone?

Summertime in our apartment can be pretty ruthless. We don't really have the funds to keep our apartment cool all the time. All we have is a window unit in the bedroom that we use when we're trying to sleep. Believe me, it's no fun waking up drenched in sweat.
The reason I'm telling you this is because one of the last lines of defense against the mercury expanding doldrums of summer is cool refreshing summer drinks. It's one of the few arrows in our frosty quiver. If you scroll down to past entries, you'll find a running theme of, "What will keep me from sweating my central nervous system out of my pores?"
I don't often resort to frozen drinks. I like them just fine, but I am very lazy. To do a frozen drink, I have to drag out the blender and then clean it afterward. But sometimes the thermometer requires bold action.

Heather has been chomping at the bit for fresh local strawberries to be in season. This past weekend she finally got her wish at the farmer's market. She used most of them to make something delicious (more details on Wednesday,) but there were enough left over for me to play around a little.

In searching the internet for a good drink recipe that incorporates strawberries, I came across a listing in The New York Times back in 2002 for a Strawberry Basil Margarita. It seemed like the perfect thing to cool us down, and easy to do because we have a makeshift herb garden on our windowsill. The only problem was that if I was going to make the recipe as written, there would be a lot of debris to deal with. I was looking for a smoother, more consistent experience. The simplest solution would be to make it frozen. It kills many birds with a single stone.

Frozen Strawberry Basil Margarita
adapted from The New York Times
-2 oz. Tequila
-2 oz. strawberries
-3/4 oz. lime juice
-1/2 oz. simple syrup
-6 basil leaves
Combine all ingredients in a blender with enough ice to thicken (1-1/2 cup.) Pour into a margarita glass and garnish with a basil leaf and lime wedge.

I liked this margarita a lot and it was very different from what I was used to. I also played around with it and replaced the six leaves of basil with about twelve leaves of mint. I think I preferred the mint to the basil. It was in keeping with the refreshing summer drinks theme. What could be more refreshing than mint? As Heather put it, the basil version might be better for pre-dinner cocktails and the mint version might be better as a dessert cocktail.

The nice part about making drinks in a blender is that once you have it out, you can do multiple drinks at once. I might have to bust one of these out for my dad this summer; he does enjoy a nice banana daiquiri from time to time. This makes these drinks an incredibly handy thing to be able to make full batches of for pool parties, get-togethers, hootenannies, and box socials...especially box socials.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cod en Papillote with Asparagus

Well, it happened again. Summer hit, my air-conditonless apartment has become a sauna, and I have thoughts like, "I should turn the oven up to 500 degrees and roast fish!" Every year it's like there's a part of my brain that can't figure out the formula Oven=BAD. But I had to do it! The seasonal recipe seduced me! It's not my fault the seasonal recipe didn't come with seasonal cooking instructions!

There were two big factors in my picking this dish. One, Cod was on sale. I've never had Cod but give me a discount and I'll try anything. Two, asparagus season is almost over. My heart is aching. From the first announcement of "Local Asparagus" it's a staple in our apartment, as we munch and grill and chop and bake it into tarts until it fades from the farmers market completely. I even splurged and bought a bunch from the farmers market, with its delicately feathered tips and deep green color. I waved the asparagus around the kitchen giggling like I had just brought home a pair of Jimmy Choos.

This particular preparation calls for creating parchment paper packets, a style that is known in french as "en papillote," though this steam entrapment method is used in a number of cultures. The NY Times has an interesting article about the whole idea from the 90's. Folding was a bit tricky, which is, I suppose, why some forgo the parchment in favor of foil. (Now that I think about it, if you are lucky enough to have an outdoor grill then the foil parchment might be an excellent way of preparing this in the summer.  I must try that.) If I was doing this for a fancy dinner party, I would need to practice this more, because a perfectly folded packet, ripped open to allow the aromatic steam to roll out in a tantalizing cloud, would be really impressive. As this was a test dinner made for only husband and best friend who forgive me anything, my packets looked a little more like mangled UPS packages held together with paper clips. Trapped steam like a charm though!

Cod en Papillote with Asparagus
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 3

- 1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon plus 3 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dry white wine
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped thyme
- 3 6 oz cod fillets, pinbones removed

Mash garlic and salt to paste in a small bowl. Melt butter with 1 tablespoon of oil in small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic paste; stir until pale golden, about 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice, wine, peel, and black pepper. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. (At this point you may want to open your windows more and turn on a fan.) Cut out 4 12-inch squares of parchment paper. Take a square, and drizzle 1 teaspoon of oil on the parchment. Place 1 cod fillet in the center of the parchment. Spoon 2 generous tablespoons of garlic-lemon mixture over fish. sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of thyme. Cover with about 6 or 7 stalks of asparagus, laying diagonally across the parchment square. Wrap two opposite corners in over the fish and asparagus, then fold in the two remaining corners, enclosing completely. Fasten edges together with a metal paper clip or two to seal your packet. Place on a large rimmed baking sheet. Repeat procedure with the other two fillets. If you have any left over asparagus, use remaining parchment square to make it its own packet, spooning over as much lemon-garlic sauce as you like. (Can be prepared up to 6 hours ahead and refrigerated.)

Bake fish until just opaque in center (parchment should turn golden brown), about 12 minutes. Transfer 1 fish packet to each plate. Open packets, being careful not to touch the paper clips, and serve.

It turned out really well, and honestly was not a huge hassle for a weeknight dinner. The neatest part was turning on the oven light, and as it shone through the paper I could see the liquid bubbling in the packets. The cod flaked apart beautifully, and was super moist. Again, this was my first cod, so I've not much to compare it to, but I was a fan. The asparagus-only packet, which was a last minute addition on my part when I realized I had too much, was possibly the biggest hit of all. I would consider making the sauce and cooking just the asparagus that way on the side of some other entree if I was really going for a neat display at a party.

I may get one or two more asparagus dishes in this year, but that season is fading. Happily though, new seasons are coming in. Specifically, berry season. I have containers of little red wonders in my kitchen right now, and who knows what kind of summer treat it might become...

PS- I went to a concert in Central Park this week, The NY City Pops featuring Melody Gardot. My friend Anne who went with me remarked that it was great music to cook to, so I downloaded the album and tried it out with this recipe. She was right.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Brandy Fizz

I'm in a very summer drinks kind of place right now. Normally I tend towards the aromatic, savory types of cocktails, but sometimes you just have to give in to what your heart desires. And since our apartment is largely un-air conditioned, my hearts have been desiring drinks that are cold, citrusy and refreshing. And as it happens, this line of thinking led me to a place I've been meaning to explore for some time now--Fizzes.

All a fizz is is a drink that incorporates effervescence and some element of citrus (most commonly lemon) into the mix. To that end, I've already done some experimenting with fizzes making drinks like collins and mojitos, but nothing that one would classically think of as a fizz. As an amateur mixologist, I value history and authenticity.

With anything old-timey, my new go-to reference is The Savoy Cocktail Book. It give a lot of prohibition-era drinks that one can sift through. Many of the drinks in the fizzes section fell into one or more of the following categories:

-Has a ton of gin
-Too elaborate/too many ingredients
-Contains mixers I don't have

There were a couple that were just too simple as well. For example, a Bucks Fizz contains orange juice and champagne--basically a fancy name for a mimosa. But finally I stumbled upon one that was simple but not too simple, contained no gin and made with items I had on hand. Success.

Brandy Fizz
adapted from The Savoy Cocktail Book
-2 oz. Brandy (I used Courvoisier)
-1 1/2 teaspoons powdered sugar
-Juice of half a lemon
Shake and strain over ice into a highball glass. Top with club soda. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

And there you have it. A perfectly refreshing summery cocktail. I found it sweet and tart with a beautiful syrupy caramel flavor lent by the Cognac. Normally I would use simple syrup for this sort of thing, but I decided that I would adhere to the recipe and use powdered sugar. In my early days of experimenting with cocktails, I tried to mix cocktails with granulated sugar and found it to be a great burden. I would be left with a fair amount of crystals at the bottom of whatever I was making.

At the time, I didn't have powdered sugar on hand so I put the effort into making simple syrup--a method that has worked for me ever since. But Heather, in all her culinary keenness, keeps a fair amount of powdered sugar on hand. I'm not sure if I can tell the difference, but I think I noticed a subtle smoothness in the sweet flavor of the cocktail--one that I will tinker with in the warm months ahead.