Archive for July, 2008

Cape Cod and the Sesuit Harbor Café

First of all, let me apologize for being out of touch for so long. Last week Jim and I escaped to Cape Cod and spent most of those days with our feet buried in the sand, only looking up from our books long enough to sigh and stare at the ocean. It was wonderful and relaxing, but after seven days with little cell phone reception or Internet access, I’ve had some trouble getting back on the grid this week.

We took breaks from the beach with quick lunches at the area’s myriad seafood shacks. The options were endless: fried clams, scallops, cod and more. Tasty items indeed, but when I’m on Cape Cod, I’m there for one thing: the lobster roll. And on this trip I found my new favorite spot for it, the Sesuit Harbor Café in East Dennis.

It actually wasn’t that easy to find. Driving through the gates of the Sesuit Marina, Jim and I saw only towers of grounded boats. In addition to this industrial-looking entrance, no signs indicated the presence of a restaurant. But we had faith we would come across it (especially after we asked someone where it was), and a few turns later, our shabby shack finally appeared.

After this rather lackluster approach, we weren’t expecting much in terms of atmosphere. But once we waited in line and placed our order, we walked out back to a charming waterside patio. Boats actually sailed by the tables—that’s what I call ambiance. After a few minutes, a teenage girl emerged from the restaurant, holding a tray with our two “world famous” lobster rolls ($15.95 each). “58!” she shouted. “58!” We waved her over to our table as quickly as we could.

Forget about the French fries and cole slaw, which were perfectly decent; I went straight for the creamy, fresh lobster meat piled onto that grilled and buttered hot dog roll. And I’ll cut to the chase right now: the Sesuit Harbor Café’s lobster roll was one of the best I’d ever had. I tasted the freshness of the seafood in each bite against the crunch of crispy green lettuce. Lightly seasoned mayonnaise, in just the right amount, created a silky sauce around the dense pillows of lobster meat. One week later, I still can’t stop thinking about it.

So please forgive me for being out of touch. I was busy eating lobster rolls. And I wish I still was.

Sesuit Harbor Café, 357 Sesuit Neck Road in East Dennis, Cape Cod, Massachusetts  T: 508-385-6132

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Summer Salads

For some people, summer begins with fireworks on the 4th of July. For others, it happens with that first trip to the beach. Sometimes it’s celebrated when breaking out the open-toed sandals or by stirring up a pitcher of iced tea.

For me, the warmest of seasons has arrived when I can eat outside, whether it is at a friend’s barbeque, a picnic, or a stroll down Court Street with an ice cream cone in hand. This past weekend offered an ideal opportunity for outdoor dining, as Saturday night was breezy and beautiful in Brooklyn. Jim and I grabbed a blanket and joined our friends for a picnic in Prospect Park while Beth Orton sang to us from the stage nearby.

We had whipped up a few salads that afternoon, a combination of our CSA stash and a few store-bought items. Mark Bittman threw a bunch of picnic ideas our way last week, but I decided to go out on my own and make the most of the vegetables I had on hand.

When we arrived at the park we spread out our blanket and set up our spread. Empty patches of green grass grew smaller while our fellow concertgoers and picnickers settled in around us. Ignoring them all, we dug into our salads. Cooked orzo tossed with raw zucchini, grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, chopped fresh basil, and olive oil exuded freshness and summertime. Soft boiled potatoes coated in a lemony mustard dressing flirted with peppery arugula, while our final salad of cucumber, red onion, and feta cheese tingled under a swirl of white wine vinegar and olive oil.

I don’t think I need to post proper recipes for these salads. All I did was mix different vegetables, pasta, and cheese together until they tasted right. Rules relax in the summertime; food can be casual. The only tips I have are about the dressings: I mixed the orzo salad with olive oil, salt, and pepper a few hours before we left the apartment, just to help the flavors settle in and come together. We added the dressings to the potato and cucumber salads at the park so they wouldn’t get soggy beforehand.

Briny olives, more cheese, fresh fruit, and a crusty baguette rounded out our fresh air feast. Summer is here. All it took was a few salads, the park, and a summertime breeze.

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Cooking from the CSA: Swiss Chard

A few weeks ago the New York Times printed a list of the eleven best foods you aren’t eating. I hate lists like this, as they always make me feel guilty about whatever I’m doing wrong or not doing at all. Anyway, a quick scan down this lengthy manifesto confirmed that the Times was right: Few of the cited items make a consistent appearance in my kitchen. But as if sensing my personal shame, my CSA came to the rescue on Saturday by providing me with a beautiful, floppy-leafed, pink-ribbed bunch of Swiss chard (#3 on that darn list).

Like most greens, chard is full of healthy vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. I don’t have anything against cooking with it, but when left to my own devices I always seem to reach for a big bunch of broccoli rabe instead. Luckily, being a member of a CSA forces me to experiment with different vegetables and be more creative with my cooking. Not all of the recipes I try are winners, but on Sunday night I discovered Jack Bishop’s recipe for chard leaves stuffed with lemon rice.

The recipe is quite simple, resulting in a more Italian interpretation of stuffed Greek grape leaves. Chard leaves act as sweet wraps for the lemony and creamy rice, while fried sage adds an herby, crumbly crunch. The chard, although boiled briefly before rolling, retains its elasticity and flavor against the explosively sunny rice. Confronted with these packets of summer goodness, I became an immediate convert to the charm of chard.

So I can check Swiss chard off that list and assuage my guilt, because this versatile green will certainly pop up on my table often. I also wonder what else I can stuff into its leaves; perhaps a mixture of rice and lentils, or rice and crumbled sausage. Any other ideas? Let me know while I deal with the other 10 foods I haven’t been eating.

Recipe for Chard Leaves Stuffed with Lemon Rice (adapted from Jack Bishop’s April 5, 2000 recipe in the New York Times and his 2004 cookbook, A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen)

  • 8 large chard leaves, washed thoroughly and with the stems cut off at the bottom
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • juice squeezed from half a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 16 sage leaves

Add chard leaves to a large pot of salted, boiling water. Briefly cook the chard for about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, carefully transfer leaves to a clean kitchen towel. Lay leaves flat and blot dry with paper towels. Let them cool completely.

Cook the rice in the same boiling water you used for the chard. This will take about 15 minutes. Whisk the egg yolk, cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice together in a bowl. 

When rice is cooked drain and then return it to the pot. Thoroughly stir in the egg mixture. Add 1 tablespoon butter, cover the pot, and set it aside for 1 minute. Stir. Cool the rice for 10 minutes.

Place a small amount of rice mixture at the widest end of the chard leaf (this will be at the bottom end of the leaf, where the stem was originally attached). You will have to use your judgment on how much rice you can fit into each leaf, as the size of each leaf will be different. Do not try and overstuff the leaf. Roll the chard leaf over and around the rice, tucking in the sides as you roll them.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sage leaves and sauté until browned. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Add the chard packets to the pan, seam side down, and sauté until lightly browned, turning them once. This will take about 4 minutes. Transfer the stuffed chard leaves to a serving platter and garnish with the sage leaves. Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish. Enjoy!

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More Neighborhood Newcomers: Ghenet and Eton

Hot dogs, ribs, potato salad—I ate more than my fill of these good old American favorites on the 4th of July. But then I spent the rest of the weekend embracing America’s multicultural spirit, trying out a few new ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood.

Ghenet: Because I had been to this Ethiopian restaurant’s Manhattan location before, I was more than excited to hear of its new Park Slope outpost. The rest of the neighborhood must have felt the same way, as Ghenet’s intimate dining room was packed on Saturday night. After taking our seats next to the intricate metal screen surrounding the room, Jim and I started with the tasty sambusa, two small packets of crispy pastry dough stuffed with ground chicken and served with a spicy dipping sauce ($6). Next came our combination platter of five dishes served on a sheet of Ethiopia’s staple bread called injera ($31.95). We received another plate of this spongy bread on the side, and used it to scoop up our sega wett, tender bits of beef in a thick sauce of exotic berbere spices. The dish was a comforting yet light stew, perfect for a summer evening, and although the seasoning included red chili peppers the heat was not overwhelming. Instead, the heat factor was taken care of by the spicy mushrooms, one of our four vegetarian dishes. I preferred the creamy and buttery yellow split peas, dipping my injera into them again and again. Vinegar-tinged collard greens and pureed beans rounded out our meal. In Ethiopia it is customary to eat only with the right hand, but at Ghenet it’s difficult to keep yourself from diving in with both. 348 Douglass Street at 4th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn  T: 718-230-4475

Eton: On Sunday afternoon during the Wimbledon rain delay I strolled over to Eton, a tiny new dumpling house in Carroll Gardens. I didn’t want to miss the match, so I took two sets to go: one group of pork and beef dumplings, and another of lentils, mushrooms, and tofu ($3.50 for each set of five dumplings). While I waited for my order in the cheerful yet spare dining space, I chatted with chef Eton Chan about how the dumplings are first pan-seared in cooking spray and then steamed. They are trans-fat free and actually pretty healthy. Back at my kitchen table, I quickly realized these were not your typical take-out dumplings. The dough was delicate yet sturdy, sheltering the compact, well-balanced centers of meat and sweet vegetables. The flavors can be enhanced by condiments such as the house soy and ginger black vinegar. I have to return and try the third dumpling option of chicken with mushrooms, as well as the extensive shaved ice menu; I’ve got my eye on the lychee and green tea flavors. And when the weather gets colder Eton will start offering hand-pulled noodle soups. For once I can’t wait for winter weather. 205 Sackett Street at Henry Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

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Sunday Shopping at the New Amsterdam Market

Last weekend I spent most of my time racing against raindrops, trying to schedule outdoor activities amid the ever-present threat of extreme downpours. On Sunday Jim and I managed to explore the New Amsterdam Market at South Street Seaport before another round of thunderstorms arrived later in the day.

Sweet Cherries from the New Amsterdam Market

This was the third gathering of local farmers, purveyors, distributors, bakers, and chefs. The New Amsterdam Public Market Association’s goal is to permanently dedicate both the New Market Building and the adjacent Tin Building to a sustainably-produced, regional food market. The two buildings have been vacant since the Fulton Fish Market relocated in 2005.

Sunday’s food gathering was held in front of the Market Building, where the vendors displayed an amazing variety of products. It’s impossible to talk about all of the participants, so I’ll just highlight some of our favorite stops along the way.

Eggs from the New Amsterdam Market

We first visited the Ronnybrook Farm stand, where I tried their sweet and creamy Peach Yogurt drink. A few rows over, Hudson Valley Fresh treated us to their cool and flavorful whole and chocolate milks. They supply Ronnybrook Farm with their milk, which I took as an encouraging example of a local and sustainable relationship between two food producers. I didn’t try much cheese at the market—it was just so hot that I didn’t feel like it—but it was certainly well represented by purveyors such as Saxelby Cheesemongers.

Cranberry Pecan Bread at the New Amsterdam Market

Moving on from the dairy-based products, I tried some fresh gazpacho from McEnroe Organic Farm and tasted some beautiful, textural loaves of bread at the extensive bread pavilion. Later I topped it all off with a blue-straw-berry lavender sorbet from The Bent Spoon, and a summery bite of strawberry shortcake from the chefs at Centovini.

Marlow & Sons at the New Amsterdam Market

Although fresh fruits and vegetables were represented at the market, Jim and I were surprised by the focus on artisanal foodstuffs and purveyors. The New Amsterdam Market’s website makes some interesting points on the importance of purveyors such as Marlow & Sons and their relationships with producers and consumers. Just as creating a food product is a crucial aspect of the market system, so is having the knowledge of sourcing, preparing, and selling food.

I didn’t buy any meat from the vendors at the market, although the free tote bag from Bo Bo Chicken helped me carry all the free publications I collected during my tour, as well as a container of Health Shoppe’s organic popcorn, a bottle of Swarmbustin’ honey, and a box of sweet cherries. From the crowds I saw on Sunday, there’s no shortage of enthusiasm for this market. I’m just glad I didn’t eat lunch beforehand.

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