Monthly Archives: September 2010

Edible’s Eat Drink Local Week and a Greenmarket Tour

I’ve had an interesting food-oriented week this week, and it’s not even over yet.  On Monday, I attended several panels at The New School as part of Edible Magazine’s Eat, Drink, Local Week.  I was able to hear the thoughts behind the supposed renaissance of DIY food creation, like butchering and canning, and to listen to whether or not “authentic eats” are just coming into their own or if they are already past their prime.  The topic of what are “authentic” eats was quite debated, as this is a term that morphs with each wave of immigrants to the city and what cuisine gains ground through osmosis into the American culture.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the entire third panel, which covered the changes in the New York area food system from the earliest menus on file at the New York Public Library to the founding of the Greenmarkets and beyond.  Having read Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York by William Grimes, I’ve been fascinated about how what previous inhabitants of this area ate and how things have changed.  In some ways, I thought that all of these should have been melded into one giant panel or brought together in some manner, as they seemed to cover an arc of food history that encompasses how we make our food (pre-packaged vs. DIY), what kind of dishes we eat (Italo-American, German, Jewish, etc.), and how we actually get the items we need to make meals to eat (i.e., local farmers’ markets and small speciality shops)
As part of the Eat Drink Local Week, Edible is partnering with several organizations, including GrowNYC, which organizes the Greenmarkets.  Edible has even issued a challenge to make folks more aware of their local food community and the resources that exist in their region.  While some of these are specific to New York, it’s not a bad list to try to tackle in any area to become in tune with what might be some locavore options where you live.  I’ve actually done quite a few items on the list as my diet has become more oriented towards shopping in the farmers’ markets in the city.  The one thing I did decide to do this week is a variation on item #2; I decided to go to the Union Square Greenmarket but on a different day.
So I know that may not be entirely in keeping with the spirit of the challenge, but, for me, it’s a big change.  I’m wedded to going to the market on Saturdays and planning all of my meals around what is there, especially as it is a little bit of a trek from where I live.  Today proved to be a bit of an adventure for me. First of all, I stumbled upon New Green City, which was being sponsored at the southern end of the park.  The exhibits there were intriguing and interesting, all in the name of environmental education:
Solar S’mores Maker – why didn’t we think of this in scouts!
How many plastic bottles NYC-ers go through in 20 minutes
Fresh-pressed apple cider via a hand-crank press
After walking around for a bit, I decided I needed to visit the usual market vendors as well.  The sun had started to get strong, so it was time to try something I’d been reading about for a while, locally made People’s Pops.  I had the Peach and White Grape variety.  Cool and tart, this is the way to get up to your 5-a-day fruit intake!  They are located right next to one of my favorite stands for juice: Red Jacket Orchards.  I am hooked on their Grape-Apple flavor.

Another stop I made was by Hot Bread Kitchen, whose story you really need to read.  Not only a bakery, it is a place that uses baking to teach lower-income woman how to run a food business.  Some of the breads they sell are inspired by recipes from the women who have come through the program.  I had a sample of the intriguingly named M’smen.  It is a Moroccan flatbread that has a soft, chewy consistency, not quite but not unlike a crepe.  In reading more about it on the site, I realized that I should not have gulped it down in a few bites but that I should have taken it home to eat with some of the local honey I purchased a few weeks back.  This just means that I’ll have to find another Wednesday to visit their stall.

Another unique find on my tour of the market today was the eggs.  From Roaming Acres Ostrich Farm came ostrich and emu eggs.  The owner let me hold one of the former.  It is really heavy, and I can see why it is considered the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs.  I don’t even think I have a pan big enough to cook that size omelette.  The shells, however, are gorgeous, and I can see why they are sometimes used to hold egg dishes in restaurants.  Ostrich meat is considered very lean and tasty, as I found out when I had it on a visit to Arizona.  Maybe this is something I could try at home now that I know where to buy it.

It was interesting being at the market on a day other than my usual one.  The vibe was more relaxed and the crowds less hurried.  I was able to see some new vendors in addition to doing my regular errands with Ronnybrook Farm and Knoll Krest eggs.  For all the changes that the panelist brought up in their discussions, I think that we are going back to a time where we get to know our food suppliers and those that help to fill our plates with great local produce.  Or, is this us moving forward to a new model of sustainability?

Buon appetito!

Eggplant Parmesan

This is what I had for lunch today: Homemade Eggplant Parmesan (from a recipe in the October issue of Food & Wine magazine) on a toasted whole-wheat olive roll.  Now that I no longer have a company cafeteria to rely upon for my mid-day repasts I have to [sigh] fend for my self when it comes to figuring out what to eat every day.  Fortunately, on some days this is easier than on others.

The visual in the magazine was enough to draw me in to attempting to make this.  The mozzarella came from Tonjes Farm, whose product I have used before and really loved.  The basil was also from the Greenmarket, as were the gorgeous in-season eggplant, which I had picked up last weekend.

When the instructions say that it will take two hours to prepare, including the cooking time, they are not kidding.  It is a bit on the fussy side prep-wise, with all the frying up of the eggplant in batches.  That said,  I’m not sure that any eggplant parmesan dish is going to be less so.  The effort put forth, however, is completely worth it when you see the results.

This is a Sunday-supper meal.  In Italy, this dish is actually served as a meat-less secondo, or second course (after the antipasto and primo (pasta) courses).  One bite will tell you why.  It has layers of soft and crispy eggplant topped with gooey, creamy cheese all wrapped up with tangy-tart tomato sauce.  This is a hearty meal that needs nothing more than a cool green salad and some crusty bread to complement it.

I really like this dish and have been looking for a sure-fire, keeper-file recipe for it for ages.  This might just be the one.  Hopefully, if you do make it for your family, you can sneak away a slab of it in reserve so that you, too, can have leftovers to replicate what I had for lunch today.

Buon appetito!

FeastUp Picnic in Central Park

Yesterday, grabbing on to one of the more beautiful days that are marking the end of summer this year, hosted a picnic in Central Park for food bloggers.  This gave me a chance to bring out my Rosemary-Garlic White Bean Dip, or as I like to pitch it “the alternative to hummus that always appears at gatherings.”  I also attempted to make a Roasted Red Pepper and Goat’s Cheese Dip, but that seemed a little less successful, so I’ll have to work on that.  Armed with a beach towel, the two dips, and loads of gorgeous summer vegetables from the Greenmarket, I piled everything into a beach tote and headed across town to the meeting point.

Mine was just a small contribution to the culinary efforts of the afternoon.  In addition to meeting all the wonderful folks who are involved in the food and blogging world in New York, I had a chance to sample some great dishes, which is helpful in inspiring my taste buds and own culinary efforts.  Hard to admit it, but even people who love to spend time in the kitchen sometimes get bored with their same meals and need a bit of a kick to jump start that creative cooking engine.

I was able to sample crabcakes with coconut and Thai basil, almond-crusted chicken tenders, gooey macaroni and cheese, sesame noodle salad, sliders, quinoa salad, and many savory dishes.  For dessert there were chocolate cake pops, gorgeous sugar cookies cut like flatware, and a wonderful almond-date-fig pie.  To drink, one of the most unusual things that we had was White Jasmine Sparkling Tea from Golden Star Tea Co.  I really can’t rave enough about this beverage, which is slightly fizzy, not too sweet, and very refreshing.  It is only available for purchase on-line.  I think this is something I might need to have on hand for guests.

Thanks so much to FeastUp and Hermann for organizing everything and bringing everyone together yesterday.  For other culinary events going on in the New York area, please check out their website.  It was a good time and I left with a full belly plus some new great websites to check out for recipes and food tips.

Kitchen Witch Tip:

I’ve found that sealed plastic baggies are really the way to go to transport things like pre-cut vegetables to picnics and gatherings.  That way, if someone wants to take the leftovers, there’s no scrambling to find a container in which to take them.  Take-out containers are also a good method of bringing almost anything to a potluck, as then you don’t really care if you get them back to take home.   From going to many of these types of things over the years for office parties, dinner parties or picnics, really the last thing I want to worry about is getting back my kitchenware.  With these things, I don’t care if they come back to me or go into a panic if someone accidentally took something of mine home.

Buon appetito!

How to Peel a Tomato

In my last blog, I posted a recipe that called for peeling tomatoes.  This is something that I hadn’t actually attempted to do myself before making that dish.  For the Pappa al Pomodoro, however, I felt that using end-of-summer fresh produce would be the best way to highlight their flavor so I launched in to de-skinning these round red delicacies myself.  Truthfully, if I were to make this in the wintertime, I would use canned, peeled tomatoes, but there’s no need for that now.
Start off by making an “x” on the bottom of the tomato
Submerge in pan of boiling water and cook on each side for 15-20 seconds, until skin wrinkles
Allow to cool and with knife or tongs, peel skin away starting from the “x.” 
The skin should come off easily without taking the flesh.
Tomatoes are ready for chopping up to be put into dishes that call for peeled tomatoes.
Kitchen Witch Tip:
To capture even more of the tomato flavor for the above dish, when de-seeding the tomatoes while chopping them, put the seeds and other bits into a sieve placed over a bowl, and push the liquid through the sieve to get some of the reserved juices to add to the pan when cooking down the tomatoes.
Buon appetito!

Pappa al Pomodoro

Last week Eataly opened up for business, this past week The Kitchn has been running Italian-themed posts, and the issue of Food & Wine that hit my mailbox yesterday features “Italian-American Favorites.”  Sense a pattern here?  It’s as though that part of my life is calling to me to rekindle my love for Mediterranean food.  Even yesterday, after going on an art gallery tour in Chelsea, I ended up at BuonItalia showing someone the specialties found there.

So, today when a picnic that I was supposed to attend was canceled due to the dreary weather, it seemed like a good day to make Pappa al Pomodoro, a Tuscan dish which I haven’t eaten since I was in graduate school.  I had picked up some tomatoes at the Greenmarket yesterday from Keith’s Farm, and I had some stale bread left over from one of the meals that I had had at Eataly last week.  With two of the key components in hand, I decided to put this together for lunch.
As with many Italian dishes, it is the attention to using the best ingredients possible to pull together the flavors that makes the difference.  Using seasonal ingredients, like the tomatoes, basil and garlic, high-quality olive oil, and good (but stale) bakery bread, are key to create a meal that is simple but fulfilling.  With the end of summer approaching, this is a great way to try to capture the last of its warmth in a bowl.
Pappa al Pomodoro
Prep time: 20 minutes
Serving Size: 2 adult portions
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large clove of garlic, cut into thin slices
3 slices of stale bakery bread (not sourdough), cut in half
4 good-sized tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped
1 c. vegetarian vegetable stock
1 Tbsp basil cut into strips*
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
parmesan cheese, grated
Warm olive oil in large skillet over medium-low heat for 30 seconds.  Add garlic slices and continue to cook for another 30 seconds as they release their aroma into the oil.  Place bread in one layer in the pan and cook on each side for one minute.
Put the tomatoes and any reserved juice into the pan.  Pour in the vegetable stock.  Raise the heat to medium and let the mixture cook down for 5-7 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and have broken down to create a sauce with the stock.  The bread will also absorb some of the stock and the tomato juices.
Turn off the heat.  Sprinkle the basil and black pepper on top and stir to incorporate.  Save a few pieces of basil as garnish.   Dish up three pieces of the bread and half of the tomato mixture per bowl.  Garnish with the basil, grate parmesan cheese on top, and drizzle several drops of extra-virgin olive oil over everything.  Serve while still warm.
Buon appetito!
*Kitchen Witch Tip
Cutting basil (and other leafy food items) into long thin strips is called “chiffonade.”  This technique creates prettier and more uniform pieces than simply tearing up the herb.  To make this, wipe off the basil leaves, put them one on top of the other, roll them together lengthwise, and chop across.  You will end up with something that looks like this:

FoodieLink and Fall Recipe Contest

Recently, I became involved in a newish website project called FoodieLink.   The aim is to promote sustainable, healthy eating and to bring together the local food communities.  At the moment, much of the material is New York-based as that’s where the founder lives (as well as many of the contributors, such as me).  If you have any suggestions for content you’d like to see or things you’d like us to check out, we’re open for ideas.  

Yesterday, we launched a Fall Seasonal Recipe Contest!  Do you have a favorite fall/autumn recipe using seasonal ingredients?  Would you like to see how it stands up to the competition?  One of the judges for the contest will be FoodieLink friend and Bravo Top Chef Andrea Beaman.  See the website for more contest details and how to enter.  We’re hoping to get some great new recipes to try!

I don’t really talk about it all that much, as I try not to be soapbox-y, but, especially with the food scares of the past few years, this has become an issue near and dear to my heart and stomach (and other vital organs).  First of all, seasonal eating, as I discovered when I lived overseas, just tastes better.  The quality is higher, the food fresher, and the prices much, much lower.  Does it mean I sort of overdose on asparagus in the spring or can’t stand to see another batch of apples once berries start to hit?  Yes, definitely.  

On the other hand, I noticed a long time ago that I didn’t seem to be hit by as many digestive issues as I’d had at one time once I started eating local products and organic items.  My body reacted better to the food that I was eating, and I really enjoyed getting to know the people from whom I buy my produce by going to the local markets.  It has also made me more adventurous in terms of recipes.  Do I stick to this 100%?  No, I’ll be the first one to admit it, I do buy things that are not local, such as avocados and mangos, but I do try to stick to this philosophy most of the time.  

So, I’m excited to get to know the others in and around the area in which I live who are working with locally-sourced foods to create all kinds of wonderful eats.  It’s also a chance to reach a new audience with some of my recipes and food-finds as well.  The bottom line is that we all love really great, delicious food.  Some of the best of it can be find right in my backyard (or at least up river in the Hudson Valley), and I’m glad to join a community of folks who are also exploring this foodscape to preserve our resources and make people more aware of the bounty around them.

Buon appetito!