Monthly Archives: May 2007

Picnic in the Park: Tuna Salad Niçoise, Rosemary-Garlic White Bean Dip, & Macedonia di Frutta

Not only has the weather started staying consistently nicer, but it seems to have gone from a pale imitation of spring, right into summer. What a rare treat for the holiday weekend to have three nice, picnic-perfect days in a row. Fortunately, I was able to get together some friends I haven’t caught up with in a while for a lazy holiday Monday in the park.  So, I packed up containers of homemade Tuna Salad Niçoise, Rosemary-Garlic White Bean Dip, and Macedonia di Frutta (Italian-style fruit salad) and headed over to the park.

It wasn’t until I moved to this city that I realized that picnicking is, in itself, a separate level of planning. It’s almost like working out the movements of a small army: organizing logistics for food, drink, blankets, plates; exchanging coordinates for where to meet in the park (behind the backstop on the west side closest to the ice cream cart); swapping cell phone numbers and sorting out just whom will camp out at the chosen site until the other guests get there.  Still, it’s all worth it in the end, I feel, to get outside in the cool green solace of the park.

Doubtless that Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux didn’t have my social life in mind when they put together the design for Central Park, but New Yorkers have enjoyed the respite from their overheated apartments there for years.  There’s a series of concerts, plays, even the opera and the Philharmonic put on productions in the park during the warmer months.  It’s an annual rite of passage: bringing food and drink and eating alfresco.

As some of these events are still a few weeks off, today was a perfect excuse to test-drive some new recipes I’d put together for just such picnics.  I was looking for portable food that could keep its flavor and still stay fresh and refreshing, even if it had been an hour or more since it had seen the refrigerator.  My friends enjoyed these and appreciated that nothing was heavy or weighed down with lots of mayonnaise.

Tuna Salad Niçoise

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4-6 people

2 6-oz. cans Italian Tuna in olive oil
2 Eggs, hard-cooked
20 Green Beans, cut into 1-inch pieces and blanched
8 small, Red New Potatoes, cubed and cooked
1 cup Tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup (about 20) Niçoise Olives, pitted and chopped
1 Tbsp Shallot, finely minced
grated zest of one Lemon

1/4 cup extra virgin Olive Oil
juice of one Lemon
2 small cloves of Garlic, finely minced or put through a press
1/4 tsp. Black Pepper

Chop the tomatoes and the olives.  Place in large mixing bowl.  Add the shallots.  Hard-cook the eggs; set aside to cool.  In the meantime, boil a pot of water.

Put the potatoes into the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the green beans to the potatoes and cook together for another 3-4 minutes, until the green beans and potatoes are just tender enough for a fork to go through.  Drain the pan and rinse under cold water to stop them from continuing to cook.

Add the vegetables to the bowl with the tomatoes, olives and shallots.  Mix together the items for the dressing.  Drain the oil from the cans of tuna and add to the other ingredients in the bowl.  Pour the dressing over the tuna and gently toss everything together.

Cut the hard-cooked egg into 1/4-inch cubes.  Set aside.  Sprinkle the tuna mixture with lemon zest and top with the chopped egg.  Serve at room temperature with mixed greens and a baguette.

Rosemary-Garlic-White Bean Dip

Prep time: 15 minutes
Serves: makes about 2 cups dip

1 19-oz. can Cannellini Beans
2 large cloves of Garlic
1 Tbsp fresh (not dried) Rosemary
juice of 1/2 Lemon
extra virgin Olive Oil

A selection of vegetables to serve (carrots, peppers, etc.)

Drain beans and rinse.  Put in food processor and pulse until puréed.  Add garlic and rosemary and mix until combined.  Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil and juice of 1/2 of a lemon and blend until creamy and garlic and rosemary seem to be incorporated.

Taste.  To finish, add 1/8 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Pulse again.  Place in serving bowl and drizzle with additional olive oil.  Serve with chopped vegetables.

Macedonia di Frutta

Prep time: 15 minutes
Serves: makes about 3 cups fruit salad

Ingredients: Can use any fresh, seasonal fruit
1 cup Blackberries, halved
4 White Peaches, cubed
2 Apricots, cubed
1 cup Cherries, pitted and halved
3 Plums, cubed
2 tsp. White or Cane Sugar
juice of 1/2 Orange
1/4 cup Brandy

Chop all of the fruit and put into a bowl.  Sprinkle with sugar.  Pour orange juice over fruit.  Add brandy.  Toss together and put in refrigerator to macerate for at least an hour.

Serve on its own or with ice cream, brownies, sponge cake or anything that can also soak up the syrup.

“Shameless Brownies”

This is my all-time favorite brownie recipe.  After discovering how easy and delicious it was to make these, I never went back to the box again.  This recipe has been internationally road-tested and the results devoured on a multi-national level.  It is always a hit when I make it.  Today was no exception.

It is from the March 1990 issue of Food & Wine magazine and was named “River Oaks Brownies.” Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the recipe on the website for the magazine.  Also, due to copyright issues, I don’t feel as though it is appropriate for me to type it in and re-publish it here.  It isn’t my property to do that.

So, I will leave you with one last longing look at them.  If you’d made it to our picnic today, you could have had some, too.  They are now nicknamed “shameless,” because when trying to decide who got to take them home, we each, in turn, confessed that we’d eaten at least three apiece.

Buon appetito!

Eating with Out-of-Town Visitors

My folks came to town last weekend for the Mother’s Day holiday and just to get a dose of the Big Apple. They hadn’t been up here for a while so it was great to spend time with them and to run around the city doing different activities. The great thing about when they come to visit is that we generally eat very well; it’s sort of a common, shared hobby, this interest in food.

In fact, the trips of anyone in my family are usually planned around when and where to eat, and even though we didn’t go to anyplace entirely new this visit, we did get to do the rounds of some great standbys. We also got to check out the changes that had taken place at a couple of places that we’d been to before. These are each, in their own way, some of my favorite places to eat in the city.

There’s just one big caveat to these listings. You’ll notice that I didn’t take any pictures of the dishes that we ate. There’s been some chatter on the blogs about whether or not it is appropriate to take photos in restaurants, with quite a few votes on the nay side. While food doesn’t generally fidget around like squirmy children, it can be just as difficult to get the right, publishing-worthy shot with the lighting and shadows, and constant flashes can annoy other customers. I’ve decided that, henceforth, I will not be taking pictures in restaurants unless I really feel that it would not be a detriment to others’ enjoyment of their meals or the setting is conducive to it. Instead, I invite you to try these places so that you can see their wares yourself.

Arrival – Dinner

Avra Estiatorio
(141 East 48th Street btwn Lexington and 3rd Avenues;

The first evening they were in town, I met my parents at a restaurant near my office. My mom gets the credit for finding this place. I’d probably walked by it a dozen or more times and had pretty much written it off as a typical Midtown business-lunch joint, most likely Italian. I was completely wrong; it’s Greek.

This has become one of my new, all-time favorites at anytime. I think the only meal I haven’t eaten here is breakfast, and that’s because they don’t serve it. This time, my dad and I had the lamb chops. My mom took advantage of a seasonal specialty and had the langoustines, which are one of those rarely-found delicacies. She had a bit of a struggle with her choice, as they were also offering soft-shell crabs that evening.

I’ve found that it’s generally pretty hard to go wrong with any of the choices on their menu. The fresh fish (on display in the back of the restaurant), cooked simply with just an extra drizzle of olive oil is delicate and sweet; the green beans cooked in tomatoes are meaty and tangy; and their dips with bread can make (and have made) a meal in and of themselves. They have a selection of Greek wines as well which pair nicely with their food offerings.

Day 1 – Dinner

Water’s Edge
(East River at 44th Drive, Long Island City, NY;

It’s hard to believe, but, yes, we did travel to another borough for dinner. A friend of mine and I had been here during Restaurant Week a few years ago. My mom was in town at the time and joined us. The decor is a little on the kitschy, overstuffed side for my tastes (lots of pastels and florals), but, when the sun goes down and the lights go on across the river in Manhattan, the view is splendid and makes the trip across the river completely worth it.

The food is quite good and the chef creates some intriguing combinations. This type I had a great yellowfin tuna tartare with crème fraîche and a touch of caviar. For dinner, I had pink snapper and spinach wrapped in puff pastry and service with a chunky lobster sauce. My folks started their evening with a savory strudel of hearts of palm with proscuitto. They also had the duck legs served with a swiss chard tart. On a previous trip, I’d had a wonderful dish of grilled scallops with a truffle foam that was just amazing.

The menu has changed somewhat from our previous trips and gone from being ala carte to prix fixe. There was a change of chef recently, and I guess it makes it somewhat easier for to plan his selections, but it was a bit of a shock, as we’d not been there in a while and didn’t know this. The service was the same as it has been on our earlier trips and the view was still as spectacular as ever. The website gives the details of the free ferry service that the restaurant runs from 34th Street in Manhattan for restaurant patrons.

Day 2 – Breakfast

(1295 Madison Avenue btwn 92nd and 93rd Streets;

My parents, especially my dad, don’t mess around getting out of bed in the morning. Brunch doesn’t normally start until about 11:00 a.m. most places. They’d been to a neighborhood joint for breakfast the day before, while I was a work, but I knew from past experience, that that restaurant wouldn’t be open early enough for us.

Once place they’d considered but decided to pass on the day before was a pretty famous brunch locale in this city: Sarabeth’s. Noted for its long lines for weekend meals, I had a good feeling that we’d be able to beat the rush as I was running around with the early-riser crew. I wasn’t wrong.

The food is well-done, large-portioned brunch standards. This time around I had the salmon eggs benedict and my favorite, their 4 Flowers Juice. My dad had their potato waffles with chicken sausage, served with sour cream and apple sauce. It looked great. I can’t remember what my mom had but she asked for the pumpkin muffin with it, which looked delicious. On a previous trip, I had their omelette with red peppers, tomatoes and cheese, which I’d really enjoyed.

With locations on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Central Park South, and at the Whitney, Sarabeth’s has itself in great locations for the traveler looking to get a hearty breakfast with enough fuel to tackle both shopping and sightseeing. The link above will give you the exact address of each location as well as their hours of operation. You can also check them out for tea and dinner as well.

Day 2 – Lunch

(676 6th Avenue at 21st Street;

A recent survivor of Meatpacking District upscalization (i.e., land under restaurant sold to make way for condo building which doesn’t want food retail in it), which also took with it the strangest grocery store in the city – Western Beef (“The Meat Supermarket”), this Belgian bistro had moved several blocks uptown, after one failed attempt to relocate elsewhere in the neighborhood. I’d been waiting for weeks to try its new location. My parents and I had eaten at their previous address on 14th Street so we were interested to see how it had held up with the move.

Not much has changed, it was literally the exact same menu. I guess they haven’t had time to get new ones printed yet, but that didn’t matter, the food was the same as well, which was the important thing. We went for mussels and salads. My mom had the garlic and cream version, really delicious, and my dad and I went for the ones steamed in beer on the theory that we’d never had them before, and, well, anything cooked in beer can’t be all bad (the same principle applies to things cooked in bacon, too, by the way). If you go, try the grilled lobster cooked in Hoegaarten cream sauce – so fantastic, but I think I might have scared my date the night I had that by my enthusiasm for ripping into the lusciously-cooked crustacean.

This light lunch was definitely enough food for all of us, especially as our mussels also came with frites. Wonderful, golden, crunchy fries served with great mayonnaise and dijon-style mustard, the latter upon request. A sliced baguette was also available on the table to use to soak up all the flavorful juices from the shellfish. It was a relief and a pleasure to see that even with the smaller size of the restaurant (my mom estimated that the new space is about a third of their former location), one of my favorite places is back in business.

Day 2 – Dinner

DeMarchelier Restaurant
(50 East 86th Street btwn Park and Madison Avenues;

When I first moved to the city, I was introduced to this French-style restaurant that attracts a mostly neighborhood crowd by a friend who lived around the corner from it. It makes a perfect place to meet someone to grab a glass of wine, eat a simple salad with goat’s cheese toasts, or even to see the pure specimen of the Upper East Sider. I’ve eaten many a prix fixe menu here and enjoyed the comfort of just having reliable, standard, bistro cuisine.

I opted for the paté, as I was actually still full from lunch, and a green salad. My mom went with the Dover sole, which was simple and light. On a previous trip, my mom had had kidneys in some type of cream sauce and had thoroughly enjoyed it. What my father had to eat that night slips my mind, but he seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. For dessert, I went with the Crêpes Suzette, something I really should learn how to make at home as they are so simple and delicious.

Day 3 – Breakfast

Gourmet Garage
(1245 Park Avenue at 96th Street;

The one perk of staying with me when they come to New York, is that it gives us the option not to eat out. So, this isn’t technically a restaurant, but it does fit in the category of our food excursions on this trip. The previous day, one of our stops had been to grab some treats for breakfast at this higher-end grocery store.

It has several locations around town, the one in my neighborhood being the newest. The nice thing about that, is that it makes it easier to get my hands on those sometimes difficult-to-locate gourmet items without having to deviate too far from my normal path between the office and home, not that I’m lazy or anything like that. They carry a great selection of fresh produce, quite a few imported cheeses, good quality pastas and sauces, and even green cleaning products.

Day 3 – Lunch

Kings’ Carriage House
(251 East 82nd Street btwn 2nd and 3rd Avenues;

To celebrate Mother’s Day, I’d been searching for a place where we could have a lovely meal and still get my parents to Penn Station in time to make their train. While walking home from church the previous week, I passed this cozy little restaurant that, from the window, looks like it could be your grandmother’s parlor (well, if she had a bar to one side of it opposite the sofa and chairs). I’d eaten here before a couple of years ago and had really enjoyed the atmosphere. Once I read the menu that they had available for the next Sunday’s lunch, I knew I’d found the place we should go.

My mom and I decided to start off with their smoked salmon tartare served over a potato cake, with crème fraîche and trout caviar for garnish. My father opted not to have an appetizer and instead saved himself for the roasted rack of lamb which had a Barolo demi-glace. He gave it a positive review. I went with the roasted chicken breast, mostly because it came with an asparagus risotto.

I could have eaten just a bowl of the risotto it was so lovely, rich and creamy. The asparagus were cooked perfectly and the soft-cooked grape tomatoes added a nice sweet counterpoint. I think my mom came out the winner, though, which was appropriate as it was her day, after all. She had the filet mignon with balsamic glaze, but the real highlight was the perfectly cooked, rosemary-fragranced polenta. It was probably the best polenta I’ve ever eaten and I would have taken two bowls of that over dessert, even though those were good too.

The desserts were the perfect end to a relaxing Sunday meal in their back room. My father and I had the dark Belgian chocolate truffle cake with pistachio sauce. My mom had the strawberry shortcake. Both were sweet, but not too heavy, which was a great way to end my parents’ trip to New York for this round.

Buon appetito!

A Springtime Treat – Wholewheat Pasta with Asparagus and Lemon

Not often, but sometimes, I’m a bit of an impulse-shopper when it comes to food. I’m very much attracted to bright, colorful displays and piles of fresh produce. This can be really helpful when trying to eat seasonally and to try to get more fruit and veg into my diet.

Springtime is when asparagus come into season. My inner clock just knows when the time is right to seek out these green gems. Truly fresh asparagus are an amazing treat. I know that it seems as though they are available year-round, but the spring is their real, natural season around here.

Compare the prices for what you might buy in December versus April-May. You’ll also feel the difference in your pocketbook when they are at their freshest. Their taste is another measure, as well. The season is short, there’s just a few weeks when they are at their peak, so you’ll have to act quickly to get them at their best. Farmers’ markets are the best place to get them.

The tips should have tightly closed buds and the ends should not look woody (kind of stringy and wrinkled). Trimming them, as the recipe below instructs, will get rid of the less-edible part and get them ready for cooking.

Each spring, I have to pace myself not to gorge on as many asparagus as I can find. My favorites are the pencil-thin variety. It took me until I was an adult to really appreciate their flavor. I find that lemon helps to bring out the best in them – this isn’t just a ploy to finish using up the ones that I bought for a post a few weeks ago – a mustard-lemon vinaigrette would also work well.

Pairing fresh asparagus with lemon, pine nuts and parmesan, is a nice, light lunch or supper. You’ll probably not make it for the kids, with their finicky tastebuds, so how about setting aside time to have an “adults only” meal, for a change.

Whole-Wheat Pasta with Asparagus and Lemon

Prep time: 30 minutes or so
Serves: 2 adults (did you really think the kids would eat asparagus?)

1 Tablespoon Pine nuts (pignoli), toasted
10-12 Asparagus spears (big or small), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Lemon zest and lemon juice
1 Tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated
Whole wheat spaghetti or spaghettini
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Centigrade, Gas Mark 4). Put the pine nuts on an ungreased baking sheet and toast for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. (It is best to check them after 10 minutes to make sure that they haven’t burned.)

Put two saucepans of water on the stove to boil (one large, one small). One is for the pasta and one is to cook the asparagus. While waiting, prepare the asparagus. Take each spear and snap off the end at the point where it starts to bend. This will trim off the woody part. Chop into 1-inch-sized pieces.

Zest the lemon and extract 1 Tablespoon of the juice. Set aside in a small bowl. Grate parmesan cheese and set aside in separate bowl.

When the first pan of water (small) has started to boil, toss in the asparagus to blanche* them. After 5 minutes, pierce a fat piece of asparagus with a fork. The fork should still go through it easily but with some resistance.

Remove pan from the heat immediately, drain, and run cold water over the asparagus. This will stop them from cooking any further and getting too mushy. The asparagus should be a bright green color. Set aside.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. Drain water, leaving about 1 teaspoon of the liquid, and return pasta to the cooking pan. Drizzle with the reserved lemon juice and with 1 teaspoon of the best extra virgin olive oil that you have.

Toss to coat all the strands of pasta. Add parmesan cheese and reserved water and blend well with the pasta.

Quickly divide the pasta into two portions. Add the asparagus and lemon zest. Dust with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top. Serve immediately.

*Kitchen Witch Tip:
Blanch = to cook quickly for a few minutes in boiling water, so as to keep natural color or to allow for easier peeling of the skins (as with tomatoes).

Buon appetito!

Chilaquiles Brunch Style

So, I had the other half of the tomatillo salsa left over from last week’s recipe, and I needed to put it to good use. When I’d been reading and doing research for the Chilaquiles I made last week, some recipes articles pointed out that this is actually more of a breakfast dish. Aside from just being a huge brunch fan in general, I love getting huevos rancheros, and this seemed like it could be a bit similar.

The only change I made from the recipe on last week’s post was to omit the chicken. Instead, I layered the tortilla chips, cheese, and salsa and baked it in the oven. I even had some left over black beans and rice that I could serve on the side.  The rest of the adjustments are easy. I used blue and yellow corn tortillas to make the dish a little more colorful. Then, I fried up an egg to serve with the baked dish. Sprinkle w/ extra chopped coriander/fresh cilantro. Serve with guacamole and sour cream if desired.

Huevos Rancheros – a great way to start a Sunday!

To accompany this, you could try one of the Sunrise Mimosas from my Easter Brunch post last year. Or maybe treat yourself to that raspberry margarita. As this article points out, you might even end up with some antioxidant benefits – now that is good news we can use!

Buon appetito!