Veggie Medley a la Mexicana

I've only had two pickups from my CSA this summer, but for one person a half-share has been more than enough. To be honest, I got a bit nervous at the shear volume of vegetables at which I came home with the first time. The eggs also have been a lot for just me to consume quickly, but it has been interesting to dream up meals with a fridge overflowing with fresh herbs and really bright yellow farm fresh eggs (I've made enough omlettes in the past month that sometimes I feel like I'm working the brunch shift in my kitchen as my second job). This past week's share had me extremely excited to see the presence of one of my all-time favorite vegetables, the zucchini. These zucchini, were small baby globe shaped ones. Very cute. They were on my cutting board before I even unpacked the rest of the groceries that night.
I knew they were going to be prepared in a Mexican style because the night before I had made a big pot of black beans with some of the amazing fresh epazote, which is normally hard to find in NYC, that I also get from the CSA (For those unfamiliar with this herb, check out this explanation). Beans are better the next day, and in this case, I had planned to have them with whatever veggies I came home with.
A quick dice of these little guys (I wondered if they would taste the same as the long cucumber shaped zucchini - which they did) along side a jalapeño, some vine-ripened tomatoes, onions and garlic (both from the CSA too) and you're all set.
The tomatoes let off their juice and at the last minute I added some chopped epazote leaves and some oregano (dried from the last pickup). Of course you could use cilantro, I was all out that night. If you're the type that needs to add cheese to everything, which I am, crumble some queso fresco on top (or use feta if that's easier to find). It was exactly what a summer night meal should be, light and refreshing but also satisfying alongside the rice and beans. All I was missing was my sangria and a sunburn.

Veggie Medley a la Mexicana

Totally flexible veggie saute, this time it was with Mexican inspired flavors, but switch out the chili and epazote for some basil and thyme and it would be a la Provencal style. As the summer progresses some corn would have been a good addition.

1 medium yellow onion chopped
2-4 garlic cloves minced (or to taste)
1 jalepeño, de-seeded and de-veined, minced
3-4 zucchini (depending on their size) chopped
2 vine-ripened tomatoes chopped
Epazote, or Cilantro leaves chopped

Put about two big swirls of olive oil in a saute pan and allow to heat up. Once hot, add your onions and saute until they're translucent. Add the garlic and pepper, watching it so it doesn't burn, saute until fragrant. Then throw in the tomatoes and zucchini. Cover and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, or until zucchini is tender. Mix a bit, add a good amount of salt & pepper and fresh herbs. Stir and serve.

Duck Gets a Multi-Cultural Lesson

Duck confit, or Peking duck may be the classic dishes that come to mind when one hears that duck is on the menu for dinner, but that would be too mono-cultural for Brooklyn. Last night, I had a fabulous dining experience, at a duck themed dinner party hosted by Hapa Kitchen, which is a group of chefs and volunteers who joined forces to celebrate the one thing that most of them have in common, being of half-Asian decent. Their focus is to create menus that combine their different culinary traditions, and if their take on duck was any indication, they are doing a fabulous job. I suggest to everyone to sign-up for their mailing list to hear about upcoming events.
If the prospect of five-spice-duck-pastry with hot pepper jelly (an addictive combo of flavors that I nearly forgot to snap a photo before it was devoured), or steamed duck buns with dijon mustard wasn't enough to lure me in (which it absolutely was) I went there in the interest of supporting a supper club that was showcasing local ingredients on their menu. All of our vegetables were from Sang Lee Farms, an organic farm out on the Northfork of Long Island and all of our wine was from Wölffer Estates on the Southfork of Long Island (aka the Hamptons). They poured a different wine to complement each course, but I particularly loved the Rosé. I really do encourage people to start seeking out NY wines to support the great work that's going on in our backyard. Sang Lee Farms runs some CSAs around Brooklyn (Crown Heights and Dumbo) and a couple in Long Island as well as selling their great products at a farmer's market down by the South Street Seaport. Hot pepper jelly may have skyrocketed straight to the top of my must have list after tasting the one that Sang Lee produces.

As the courses flowed and a room full of virtual strangers found so much to chat about, that the volume level in the apartment was increasingly escalating, we continued with a chilled cucumber soup with a duck dumpling. This was refreshing and light and the perfect palate cleanser for the main entree. I love cucumbers and cucumber soup in the summer, but this was the best one I can remember having in a long long time. It had texture, rather than being pureed to a smooth consistency, which I think added something unexpected and made it into more of a cool cucumber sauce for the rich duck dumpling. For photos of this dish and the delicious buns I mentioned, you can check out the blog MortaDiFame written by this amazing girl Jen (yes, another one) that I met at dinner, plus her photos are excellent.

Moving along with dinner, the main entree was a seared duck breast which was perfectly seasoned and cooked, served with the sweetest, most tender baby bok choy. I think this course alone was worth coming to dinner for. I can't tell you how many times I've tried both duck and bok choy only to find them not to my liking. Either stringy duck that tasted of nothing but fat, or bok choy that was so bland it seemed like boiled celery. This time, I not only enjoyed them, I was sorry I didn't have a doggie bag for lunch today with more in it.
The salad course was a mixture of greens with crispy duck skin, which added a salty and crunchy component to the different greens that were dressed with a mildly sweet dressing. The crispy duck skin reminded me of Spanish-style Chicharrónes (fried pork rinds) that people sometime snack on by themselves. I wouldn't have guessed it before I ate this salad, but seriously throw some crispy duck skin on anything short of ice cream and it probably will improve it.
Finally, the dessert course combined a French dessert that almost everyone without their own blowtorch at home are happy to see on a menu, crème brûlée, and a classic Asian dessert ingredient, sweet red beans. Some who are unfamiliar with beans in a dessert may think this sounds crazy, but it worked, it really did. The thick sweet custard really went well with the added texture of the beans. The only critique of dessert I had is that it was a bit heavy after such a large meal that it was hard to finish. I think it might have been the only course where the plates weren't bussed back to the kitchen completely clean. So much good food & wine, so much good company, and a ton of excitement and gratitude on everyone's part really made last night hapa-ning. (sorry I had too!)

Things to Do this Weekend

For those interested in the local food movement, there are two really great events going on around NYC this weekend:

The first and most important event is the opening of Food Inc. the movie. It is playing at the Film Forum in Manhattan and I highly recommend you go see it. I was fortunate enough to see a screening this past Wednesday followed by a Q&A with the Director Robert Kenner. I think this film is important, as in this is the issue of our generation important. It is a well done documentary that covers the reasons why you have no idea of what you're really eating. It goes into the political, economic and social justice issues that are intertwined with food safety and food policy in this country. I took tons of notes during the film about the facts that blew my mind intending to put them into a post for this blog. But, on second thought, I hesitate to do that because I think it is important that everyone see this movie for themselves. Images are more powerful than words, and although the movie does have a clear bias at times, there is no denying that some of the imagery in the film will leave you completely clear on where you stand on these issues.

What this Movie Will Do:
Educate people about the changes they should push for in Washington and on a local level, to keep our food safe;
Expose big agro-businesses and lobbyists for pushing for profits at the expense of food safety, ethical treatment of animals; and of workers rights violations;
Give you a reason to reconsider some of your food choices.

What this Movie Will Not Do:
Try to convince you to be a vegetarian (although there are some graphic images);
Try to sway you into feeling guilty about what you eat (we're all being mislead).

The second event that I wanted to highlight going on this weekend, is an Urban Gardening Workshop and Plant Sale on Sunday, June 14 at 2pm through the Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The farm is at 44 Eagle Street. You can even volunteer to help them with the farming on the roof, (a mere 6,000 sq. foot roof), if you feel like getting your hand dirty and getting in touch with your inner farmer (oh, don't pretend you never had overalls!). For more about the farm and the awesome farmers, Annie and Ben, check out the writeup on here. If farming isn't your idea of fun, then you should go for the mere curiosity of being on a farm that also has the world's best view of NYC's skyline. Oh, and buy a plant for your windowsill while your at it.

Winning isn't everything, but it sure is fun!

Porchetta booth
Last Sunday I woke up to the most surprising email from Zach at informing me that I won his contest and two tickets to the Citymeals-on-Wheels Benefit that was held this past Monday, June 8. (Here's ML's link to a really great interview with Ruth Reichl, Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine and the contest question that I had to answer). This was somewhat earth shattering news in my world, because one, "I NEVER win anything!", and two, this was to be possibly one of the best food events happening all summer long in NYC. I am incredibly happy to say that all my years of working in midtown and being forced to forage for exciting lunch options in this mecca of salad bars and chain restaurants has finally paid off.
The Treats Truck
I just wanted to write a little bit about this event, because besides being super fun and exciting it had a unique theme this year. The official theme of the benefit was "Street & Savory, A Global Street Food Festival", which amounted to 56 stations of various mini-bites of deliciousness where amazingly talented chefs prepared their take on typical street food. There were satays, gyros, tamales, bhel poori (see photo below), spring rolls, and crepes to name a few options.
Bhel Poori at the Devi booth
There was also really good wine to be had. I tried two glasses, both from local Northeast vineyards, and they did not disappoint. The one I especially liked, enough that I may have to go buy some to keep at home, was a Gewürztraminer from the Herman Wiemer winery in the Finger Lakes region of NY.

There were so many interesting interpretations on how to dress up typical street eats, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed all of them. I think that it should be noted that even though the entire event was a wonderful experience, the best concept of the night in my opinion was Park Avenue Summer's 3-Minute Picnic, which was essentially a 3 course picnic done in miniature, complete with a picnic bench that you had exactly 3 minutes to sit at and enjoy the courses. And, since I saw that Serious Eats did a write-up of their top 10 list of dream street food offerings inspired by last night's menu, I'd like to add one more to the list. It really is a reasonable request, and I think it has the potential to be a huge hit. I would love it if the blueberry pie in a cup that was served at the 3-Minute Picnic station became a street cream trucks are you listening??
Blueberry dessert at the 3 Minute Picnic
It makes pie more portable, and it would be a welcome addition anywhere where ice cream is served. Can you imagine blueberry pie in a cup à la mode at the baseball game? I mean what's more American than blueberry pie and baseball (well, maybe apple pie, but it doesn't offer as nice an alliteration). Anyways, this is most likely a dream, but then again so was the whole night, so excuse me if my head is still in the clouds.

Spring Vegetable Dinner - Part Deux

I know it sounds crazy, but Ramps stole my culinary mojo. I had been reading about them on a daily basis. They seem to be everyone's go-to ingredient when writing about exciting things to eat this Spring. I was intrigued, so intrigued that I made a special trip to track them down, and tediously read everything I could find to learn more about them. That is where the problem began. I think it caused me to lose the nerve to cook anything for a few days, paralysed by a loss of confidence. The more I read, the more I began to fear cooking with this really strong smelling member of the Allium family. As various sites warned about the negative effects of eating ramp dishes,"don't be surprised if people continue to keep their distance after a few days have passed!", and "Just beware of ramp belches; warn your co-workers and share at the lunch table", I quickly began to lose my nerve to give this harmless looking vegetable a try. I mean, why chance the potential embarrassment for a wild leek? I began to obsess for recipe ideas that would sound so delicious I'd be willing to risk people on the subway moving a seat away from me (now that I think of it, that might not count as a bad side-effect).

Ramp risotto, and scrambled eggs with ramps seemed to be ubiquitous, and failed to entice me. Pickled ramps was what I was leaning towards, but laziness kicked in, and since I didn't have a supply of canning jars laying around (although I might change that in a few weeks, once the CSA starts), I chose not to go buy them. What I settled on was Roasted Ramps.

As roasting brings out the sweetness in an ingredient, I felt it might help the flavor, or at least make it taste better than it smelled. One problem was how long to roast them, and how high. They are substantially smaller then their cousin the leek, more like a scallion as you can see. I actually procrastinated so long on this decision, that I lost the tops. The green wispy part of the ramp, that is also edible, shrivelled up after some time in my fridge. That's when I realized it was time to act, or wait until next year. I kept coming back to a post by Meg from that seemed like a fail-proof idea. So, following her cooking temperature and time, I made a few quick additions and I was back in the game.

I am happy to report that I did not suffer any of the forewarned after-effects of eating ramps, but maybe that's because the roasting helped with that. I'm sure it would have been worse if I ate them raw. I must also report, for the sake of being totally honest, I don't get what all the hype is about. Sure, they were fine and a good way to add flavor to otherwise bland partners (potatoes, rice, eggs) but the flavor was somewhat subtle. I can't say that I'd prefer them to regular leeks, or onions, or garlic for that matter. But, I did enjoy the idea of eating a wild growing ramp that would only be around for a few weeks, and I think in the end, that's what really made the dish a bit special.

Roasted Ramps and New Potatoes with Bacon

Adapted from's recipe found here.
Keep in mind, this is more of a guideline than a recipe, any potatoes, or any additional seasoning would work great here.

1 bunch of ramps, cleaned and cut into equal size pieces.
2 handfuls of small-sized new potatoes, about enough to feed 2-4 people
4-5 slices bacon
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prep the vegetables, slice the potatoes in half. Place a good swirl or two of olive oil in an oven-proof pan and allow to heat up. Toss the potatoes in and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5-7 minutes, or until the potatoes start to look crispy. (This step will ensure that your roasted potatoes have that good crisp exterior without the extra cooking time.) Place pan into the preheated oven for 10 minutes, and then toss in the ramp bulbs, or bottoms. Make sure to stir it all together to coat the ramps with the oil and seasoning. Place back in the oven for an additional 10 minutes, or until the ramps appear soft and fragrant. Meanwhile cook the bacon slices until crispy, then crumble and reserve.

After ramps have been roasting for about 10 minutes, that's the time to toss in the leaves (as you should, unless you're me and let them sit too long in your fridge) and allow them to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Take out of the oven and mix in the bacon pieces and some chopped parsley or cilantro for color.

Enjoy with the eggs of your choice, or really any main course.

Spring Vegetable Dinner -Part One

My first trip to the farmer's market this Spring was last weekend, where I acquired a beautiful vegetable that I had never heard of, and most certainly had never tasted. Despite my lack of knowledge, I felt inclined to buy it since it was the best looking piece of produce in the market that day. I left the market thinking I bought something called flowering cabbage, thanks to a helpful soul who tried to explain to me what it was. After doing some research, I realized that the these skinny stalks covered in a mix of leaves and little broccoli buds were not flowering cabbages, which seem to be something that you plant in your garden for decoration. I was quickly losing excitement about my mysterious find. Until yesterday. I was reading through the Spring chapter in this book (one of two amazing new cookbooks I received for my birthday - thanks guys!!) when I stumbled upon a recipe for Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Lo and behold, that was what was in my fridge. (I guess that guy in the market wasn't so far off. Broccoli is a cruciferous plant and therefore in the cabbage family.)

I must confess I'm definitely not the biggest broccoli fan, but I was going to forge ahead confident that I would feel differently this time. Plus, Jamie Oliver had supplied inspiration for a cheesy pasta dish to help. Maybe it was the calm that came over me from watching a giant bowl of cheese melt, that had me feeling confident that this wasn't going to be a flash-back to traumatic dinners where I was forced to try new vegetables as a kid. Or maybe, it was the fondue-like cheese sauce that had me practically salivating to try some...broccoli? Wow. So strange, but in the end this was certainly not like any broccoli I've ever had. It was slightly sweet, and once cooked reminded me of a Swiss chard. One of those work-horse vegetables that, no matter what you do with it, it adapts beautifully. The stalks did remain a bit tougher than the rest of the leaves, but maybe I just didn't remove enough of the bottoms. No matter, it was still quite tasty, and a welcome addition in this rich, silky pasta sauce. I think you should definitely give this a try if you find it in your market. I only hope it's not too late in the season to find some more. Next time I'll be brave enough to just try it sauteed in garlic and olive oil. Oh, and my Grandma thanks you, Mr. Oliver, for getting me to eat my vegetables.

Fettuccine with Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Cheese Sauce
Adapted from Jamie at Home, by Jamie Oliver

1lb. of Fettuccine or other broad noodle
1 bunch of Purple Sprouting Broccoli
6 oz. creme fraiche
5 oz. good melting cheese (I used an alpine-style cheese from here:
5 oz. grated Parmesan
2 egg yolks beaten
Bunch of fresh herbs (I used tarragon, but oregano would be nice too)

Prep greens by
cutting off tough ends and cutting diagonally into reasonable size pieces. Boil
a pot of water for the pasta. About 3 minutes before it is done, toss in the
greens to cook. Strain when done, but reserve a bit (1 cup is more than plenty)
of the cooking water for the sauce.

Meanwhile, over another pot of
boiling water, place a large bowl with the creme fraiche, the two cheeses and a
bit of salt and pepper. Let this start to boil, stirring occasionally to break
up clumps of cheese.

When the sauce is completely melted add the egg
yolks and herbs and toss with pasta and greens until evenly coated. If needed to
make the sauce thinner, add some of the leftover pasta water. Top with more
grated Parmesan and some pepper.

Call your mom and tell her you ate your
broccoli today.

Sweet Potato O'Mine

I am sitting on my couch, asking myself what possessed me to turn on my oven to 450 degrees in May while my building is still supplying heat? Was it a desire to rush the season, and face the fact that I probably won't be able to make it all summer without buying an air-conditioner? No, maybe it was a desperate attempt to make use of these last few cool nights (it's in the 50's tonight) to convince myself that this type of cooking is still de rigueur. I mean, it's not summer. Yet.

Or maybe it was the magical power of a certain orange-skinned, funny-shaped, super-food had over me. Oh, sweet potato, oh sweet love of mine.

No, seriously, have you ever eaten a bad sweet potato dish? Probably not. Whether it's prepared in a sweet or savory manner, on a Thanksgiving menu, or in late Spring, this is one vegetable that I have always considered more closely aligned to treats and dessert than vegetables and super-foods. Which, brings me back to why I thought it not strange that instead of baking tonight, I made some sweet potato fries. The smell of sweet potatoes roasting in the oven fills your home with sweet smells just as baking would. The bubbling and crispy edges are just as difficult to resist as any batch of fried goodies would be. And one bite takes you away to that...we'll you'll have to try it for yourself.

Super Sweet Potato Fries

These really could go with any meal, but they also make a great snack to eat while watching late-night TV, if you made them in place of cookies, like I did.

Take 2-3 sweet potatoes (more if you're feeding a crowd) and peel them and slice them into equal size fries. Throw them on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Roast at 450 degrees Fahrenheit covered for 15 minutes, and then flip them and roast for an additional 30 minutes, flipping one more time. When they appear crunchy (them will get a bit more crunchy once out of the oven) toss with your choice of sweet or savory seasonings.

Sweet: cinnamon sugar and/or maple syrup;

Savory: Minced garlic (1-2 cloves) and your choice or chopped parsley or cilantro (see blurry photo below).

Seis de Mayo dinner

Thanks to the non-festive mood set yesterday (rain, the hysteria of swine flu, and a scary amount of laundry), the official Cinco de Mayo holiday was postponed in my kitchen, until tonight, the Seis. I had my mind set on some concoction I dreamed up. Chorizo and potato soft tacos inspired by a recipe for fried quesadillas with the same filling my cookbook called for (incidentally, this book, never fails me: I didn't feel like doing any frying and besides, it seemed like it wouldn't be worth the trouble unless I had the homemade masa tortillas pictured in the book. Actually, it tasted delish...and I'm positive it was a lot better than you're imagining. I added cilantro, for color, and well, because I think everything tastes better with cilantro. (It's becoming an addiction). Anyways, after filling a few soft tacos with chorizo-potato mash, I realized it was missing something... Always on the lookout for new combinations of sweet-n-salty, I dug out a neglected bottle of Trader Joe's peach salsa, and lo and behold, I had a very exciting impromptu creation.

In the midst of my post-dinner-success happy dance, I did stop to wonder if this meal was going against my goal to eat locally, when possible. I started thinking about the elements of the dish. I remembered that I read that local tortillerias exist in Brooklyn:, but I wasn't sure how I would get local tortillas, short of visiting the source. Well, was I wrong. I took a look at my tortilla package... it was labeled Tortilleria Plaza Piaxtla. Wait a minute, hadn't I heard of that name somewhere? I double-checked, and it turns out that Piaxtla is one of the three manufacturing plants mentioned in the article. I could hardly believe it, mainly because I didn't purchase this product from a specialty store, but my local Key Food!! The local antithesis of Whole Foods. This is sort of a revelation for me. This local chain grocery, often reserved for "regular joe" neighborhoods, a one-time waste-land of anything local, organic or artisan, was suddently a grocery that carried food I'd only expect to find at fancier, yuppy-centric, food markets. It took me awhile to realize I'd been buying local tortillas, all along, but then again, Cinco de Mayo arrived late this year as well.

Dinner - Some roasted peppers in olive oil and salt and pepper I made for lunch tomorrow; Chorizo-potato tacos with peach salsa.

Moral of the Story - supporting small local food purveyors does not have to be something only those with extra money to spend at the grocery can partake in.

Important Petition from Food & Water Watch

Tell the Senate to Include Farms in the Foreclosure Relief Legislation:

Take action!! Preventing local farms from foreclosure is vital to LocalAppetite's goal, of eating good food that didn't rack up frequent flyer miles to get to your plate. Thanks!

Lunch - One salmon onigiri (home-made); small New-England Clam Chowder

Recently read and inspired by: The Snail, Slow Food USA's Magazine

Conference for Change

Today was the Brooklyn Food Conference in Park Slope ( It was quite a busy event, with a full booklet of all the workshops, talks, demonstrations, and vendors involved. I want to write in more detail about it, but it'll have to be at another point, cause I'm exhausted from the day. Next year, hopefully I'll hear about it ahead of time, and get a chance to volunteer.

Dinner - Farfalle with pesto and oven-roasted tomatoes;
3 oatmeal-raisen cookies and some grapes.

Recently read - lots and lots of literature I picked up from all the vendors at the conference.

Moral of the Story - There's a lot more than meets the eye (or that I've noticed) going on in local farming in Brooklyn.

beginnings are awkward but exciting...

Well, here I am. One of a gazillion budding food bloggers. Despite, my trepidation of jumping into a already crowded pond, it's my way of being an active part of a world I've been watching from a distance for years. I'm excited to be part of this community and to continue learning. I believe learning by doing is the best way. For instance, tonight while making fried rice for dinner, I decided to try the old wrist flick of the wok to toss the rice, ya know, more professionally. I knew I didn't really have the move down enough to attempt it with more than a half-full pot, but I figured, I had to try in order to get better. What I learned is that I need more practice, and cooking in flip flops can lead to burnt toes when wok-tossed fried rice takes flight.

Dinner - 4 potato-spinach pierogies fried in butter with onions and sour cream,;
Small portion of bizarre fried rice (brown basmati rice, Japanese-style recipe, with choizo in place of bacon)

Recently read and loving - Shuna's Extreme Baking write-up, check it:

Moral of the story - Willingness to fail, a crucial quality of creative people the world over, is also a key ingredient in becoming a better cook. I'm one wok flip closer to being a better ... something.