Archive for February, 2009

On My Own for Dinner

lentil-salad

This past week was insane, with Jim out of town for business and me working like crazy. My dear husband finally staggered back home yesterday on the red-eye, just in time for me to leave for Italy today. I’m bleary-eyed, run-down, and can’t remember anything beyond what I ate for dinner during the past few days, so this will be a quick post before the blog goes on hiatus for a week. 

When Jim’s away I usually indulge in some of my favorite quick comfort foods for dinner. Spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, hot pepper flakes, and copious amounts of grated parmesan is a must. So is steamed broccoli, drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice and sprinkled lightly with salt. I try to cook dishes that involve a minimum of effort, using ingredients that Jim wouldn’t normally eat (unless I force him to, of course). 

During this past week on my own I focused on two of his least favorite foods: lentils and brussels sprouts. While lentils have been a staple in my pantry for years, I’m a recent convert to the wonders of brussels sprouts. I finally bought into the hype about a year ago, when my friends were eating them all the time and certain restaurants were earning raves for their treatments of this vegetable.

On Tuesday I cooked some green lentils with carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Then I threw in some sautéed brussels sprouts leaves and raw cherry tomatoes for a warm winter salad. Lentils are so versatile; I love tossing them with a jumble of cooked and raw vegetables, just to see if the contrast of textures and flavors will work. This one wasn’t perfect—next time I’ll forgo cooking the lentils with vegetables and use plain water as I usually do—but I thoroughly enjoyed it on two nights this week. A few days later I halved the remaining brussels sprouts and roasted them in the oven, pairing them with some brown rice for a simple and comforting dinner for one. 

While I always prefer to eat dinner with Jim, I bet he’s happy he missed my week of lentils and brussels sprouts. I wonder what foods he’ll enjoy while I’m gone this week. (Actually, maybe I’m better off not knowing.) What are some of your favorite comfort foods, things you cook only when you’re on your own? 

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Valentine’s Day Hits and Misses

Poor Jim. February deals him a double whammy each year: First comes my birthday on the 9th, then Valentine’s Day less than a week later. To take some pressure off this celebratory one-two punch, instead of going out we cook dinner at home on Valentine’s Day. Some meals turn out wonderfully, like last year’s rack of lamb and chocolate pots-de-crème. This year was, well…okay. Let’s start with not-so-great and save the best for last:

lambshanks

The Miss: Greek-Style Braised Lambs Shanks
I knew I wanted to make some sort of braised meat for the main course. Doesn’t a slow-cooked, rich piece of red meat sound like the perfect foundation for a romantic meal? (Sorry, vegetarians.) I stubbornly thought so. Lamb shank, a tough cut that responds well to braising, had been on my to-cook list for a long time. I sent Jim off to the butcher with a wave and a smile while I looked for a recipe.

To my surprise, my cookbooks were no help, providing not a single recipe for my desired meal. I turned to the trusty Internet and came across these Greek-style braised lamb shanks. (I still don’t really understand what is so Greek about this recipe; there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly Greek about the dish apart from the lamb. Whatever, I’m not here to argue with Epicurious.)

I’ll cut to the chase: I halved the recipe from 6 shanks to 3, and in a dumb move I decided to reduce the braising liquid without reducing the cooking time. So, after 2 hours in the oven, my extravagant, Merlot-based sauce reduced down to almost nothing, resulting more in a roasted lamb shank dinner instead of the braised-meat-falling-off-the-bone-and-swimming-in-a-deep-romantic-sauce type meal I was hoping for.

Now I am also wondering if there was a mistake in the recipe, which instructed me to cook the shanks in the oven uncovered. Aren’t most braised dishes cooked with the cover firmly in place in order to prevent evaporation of the cooking liquid? The shanks tasted fine, but I have learned my braising lesson. Oh, we also made some lemon orzo and a spinach salad on the side. sorbet2Meh.

The Hit: Blood Orange Sorbet
Jim gave me a copy of Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook for my birthday, and we decided to break it in with the recipe for blood orange sorbet. Making this frosty treat gave me the opportunity to try yet another birthday gift I received, this time from my sister: the ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.

As always, simple recipes yield the best results. After squeezing the juice from several crimson blood oranges, we mixed it with some (a lot of) sugar and threw the entire mixture in the fridge to cool. About half an hour later we put the ice cream attachment to work on the mixer. We didn’t have to lift a finger. The KitchenAid simply twirled away for about 20 minutes, and suddenly our fresh, sparkling dessert was ready. We placed it in the freezer for the end of our meal. 

And as I mentioned above, we truly saved the best for last. Cool, sweet, and simply pretty to look at, this refreshing sorbet cheered me up after my braising adventure gone bad. I can’t wait to see what other kind of sorbets and ice creams we come up with. Maybe I should start planning for next year. Jim, are you ready yet?

Recipe for Blood Orange Sorbet (adapted from Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook)

  • 6 medium blood oranges
  • 1 regular medium orange
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • fresh mint, for garnish

Wash 1 or 2 of the blood oranges and grate 2 tablespoons of zest from them. Halve and juice all of the oranges, discarding any seeds that fall in along the way. This will leave you with about 1 cup of juice. Put the orange juice and the zest in medium bowl. Add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Refrigerate the mixture until it is very cold, around 40 degrees. Add the mixture to the ice-cream churner or machine. Churn the mixture until it starts crystallizing, about 15 to 30 minutes. You can stop churning it once it has reached your desired consistency. Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and place it in the freezer until firm. When ready, scoop the sorbet into 2 bowls and garnish with fresh mint. (The sorbet can be stored in the freezer for 2 days.) Serves 2. Enjoy!

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Dinner at Tarry Lodge

On Saturday night Jim and I hopped in the car and headed out to Port Chester for dinner. What made us break our usual weekend pattern and leave Brooklyn for Port Chester? Well, a few months ago Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich—of Babbo, Esca, and Del Posto fame, to name a few of their many restaurants—brought their formidable talents to the suburbs and opened a casual Italian eatery called Tarry Lodge. We were celebrating my birthday, and knowing what a fan I am of Mario Batali’s cuisine, Jim had surprised me with the reservation.

We arrived at 6 pm for our 6:30 reservation. Tarry Lodge has been around for over 100 years in various incarnations, at one point even operating as a speakeasy. Each room of the massive, sub-divided space was already packed from wall to wall and from one end of the beautifully restored bar to the other. Although we were early, we were quickly seated in a warmly decorated room near the kitchen on the second floor.

appetizers

We made our selections from the traditional offerings of antipasti, pizza, pasta, and secondi, and noted signature Batali ingredients such as fennel pollen, chiles, and guanciale on the menu. To our disconcerted surprise, the appetizers arrived about three minutes after we placed our order. I turned first towards the marinated calamari, always one of my favorite dishes ($8). Mixed with small, pearl-shaped pasta, capers, tomatoes, and garlic, the squid exuded a refreshing lightness of flavor and texture. Soft chunks of fennel soaked in blood oranges were accompanied by briny olives and pomegranate seeds that popped with each bite ($5). Although obviously pre-made, both of these Mediterranean-infused dishes had me reaching for more. I looked for our waitress, as I wanted to ask her about the pasta used in the calamari salad. “Excuse me…” I began, as she rushed passed the table. A few minutes later she walked by again. “Excuse me…”

linguine

Jim and I both decided to go with pasta for our main course. I settled on the linguine with clams, chiles, and pancetta ($17). To be fair, our waitress had warned me that the dish would be salty, but I was overwhelmed with its saltiness from the first bite. A brown broth mixed with the pasta was obviously contributing to the effect. As my waitress drew near, I loudly said, “Excuse me, I was wondering about this broth…” I almost felt the wind on my face as she breezed by without a second look.

Jim enjoyed his black fettuccine with lobster and chiles ($24), and a quick taste confirmed that it was a more gentle and luxurious pasta than mine. As I neared the end of my bowl, I suddenly realized that our artichokes with mint had never made it to the table ($7). Somehow we got our waitress’s attention and the artichokes arrived a few minutes later. From the first choke we could tell that they had been hurriedly thrown on the stove and then onto our table; they had absolutely no flavor whatsoever.

artichokes1

By the time we ordered dessert—a decent if unremarkable chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream ($8)—it was obvious to both Jim and me that we were being rushed out of the restaurant. This was more than confirmed when our waitress took our check and ran to process it, not noticing that she had flung our credit card across the room in her haste. I scrambled after it and asked someone else to return it to our waitress. As expected, she was long gone.

I’m sure you can tell that at Tarry Lodge I was let down by both my meal and the service. I felt that the food was prepared in the simplest manner possible for maximum efficiency. Every effort seemed directed towards getting me out the door quickly so that the tables could turn over. Perhaps my expectations were too high: In this interview Joseph Bastianich states that Tarry Lodge is meant to be a spot for casual, trattoria-style dining in Westchester. If that’s indeed the goal, then the restaurant is fine and solid. But there are plenty of other Italian restaurants in Westchester filling a similar purpose. To me it seems like a lost opportunity that could have brought a special destination Italian restaurant—perhaps on the level of Blue Hill at Stone Barns—to the area. In any case, I expected more from one of my favorite chefs. I’ve never written a negative restaurant review on this blog before, and I’m sorry to do so now. I didn’t come close to sampling half the dishes on the menu, and I don’t think I ever will. I’ll return to Babbo one day, but for now, Tarry Lodge is off my list.

Tarry Lodge, 18 Mill Street, Port Chester, New York. T: 914-939-3111. Reservations are recommended but not required. 

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More Snow, More Soup

soup

How much snow can we get in one winter? Lately it seems like hardly a day has gone by without some sort of snowfall, whether as light flurries or fat, drippy flakes. And of course we can’t forget about the freezing winds and equally low temperatures. At night I struggle home from the subway in my puffy coat, arms hugging my sides as I try to reach my apartment as quickly as possible. All I want to do is to get warm. And recently, to my surprise, warming up after a long, cold day has meant soup.

I’m surprised by my need for soup because I’ve never considered myself a soup person. But since this never-ending cold arrived I’ve rarely thought of any other type of meal. I started with my soul-satisfying lentil soup and moved on to this sweet potato and butternut squash soup from the New York Times Fitness and Nutrition section one week later.

I was attracted to this soup because of its ingredients: sunny sweet potatoes and butternut squash. With these two orange vegetables, Jim and I would receive a double dose of vitamin C, always welcome during flu and cold season. I was also curious when I noticed that the recipe didn’t require cream or butter. And then I saw that the recipe was for a pureed soup and I knew I had to make it. Pureed soups are simply my favorite.

This one is especially easy to prepare after a long day at work. The most time-consuming aspect of the recipe is just peeling the potatoes and butternut squash. After that’s done you just toss the vegetables in a pot with some onion, fresh ginger, and some stock or water, and cook it for a while, maybe 30 to 40 minutes. I used up some homemade vegetable stock from the freezer mixed with a bit of water. A quick whir with the immersion blender, and dinner was served.

Pureed into a rich, soothing soup as orange as a sunset, the sweet, buttery vegetables slid easily down my throat and warmed me from head to toe. Spicy ginger added a tingly accent to the meal, and I honestly didn’t notice the lack of cream. The soup didn’t melt the snow outside, but at least I was warm inside. That’s what counts.

Recipe for Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe in the New York Times Fitness and Nutrition section)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1-1.5 lbs), peeled and diced
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 1-1.5 lbs), peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 2 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 6 cups water or vegetable stock (I used 4 cups of vegetable stock and 2 cups of water)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy soup pot or large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and cook for another minute, stirring. Add the squash, potatoes, and whatever liquid you have chosen. Bring to a simmer. Stir. Add a bit of salt to taste, lower the heat, and cover. Simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and can be broken apart with a spoon.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Stir with a whisk to even out the texture. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread. Soup should serve 4 to 6 people. Enjoy!

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Dinner at Buttermilk Channel

During the weekend I love to stay home. I know that might sound boring, especially for a young(ish) woman living in New York City, but I can’t help it. All of my favorite shops and restaurants just happen to be within walking distance of my Brooklyn apartment. Months can pass without Jim and I visiting the same spot twice. When the new restaurant Buttermilk Channel opened in the old Cafe Scaramouche space on Court Street, it took us several weeks to get there, but we recently took a long stroll around the corner to check it out.

All memories of the dark, drab cafe disappeared as soon as we walked through the door. Bright white walls tempered by gentle candlelight, a beautiful wood bar, and multiple windows facing the street immediately made us feel at home. Helmed by chef Ryan Angulo, previously of the Stanton Social, the restaurant embraces the seasonal, local food movement of the moment while also celebrating the unique spirit of the neighborhood.

Take, for example, the “snacks” section of the menu. Buttermilk Channel is serving handmade mozzarella from Caputo’s Fine Foods—my favorite Italian specialty store just a few blocks away—with chunks of buttered bread, basil, and a wonderfully salty anchovy sauce ($5). I loved experiencing one of my regular Caputo’s purchases in an entirely new way. Jim and I need to return to the restaurant for an Esposito’s sausage sandwich ($10), but we have no doubt about its greatness, as we are frequent visitors to this Court Street shop as well. Even the drinks display local pride: The beer list is firmly rooted in New York, while the U.S. based wine list offers a glass of Merlot from Brooklyn Oenology ($10).

squash-tart2

The rest of the extensive menu branches out beyond the neighborhood to offer intriguing twists on comfort food. Stand-out appetizers included spice-rubbed baby back ribs, their meat so tender it fell gently off the bone ($10). A delicata squash tart was a light, buttery surprise, as I had been expecting a quiche-like dish ($9). Instead, I received a ring of sweet, roasted squash perched on top of a flaky crust, accompanied by smooth buttermilk ricotta and a green salad.

Without a doubt the star of the second courses is the fried chicken with cheddar waffles and vegetable slaw ($18). Juicy meat nestled in a thick, crisp, buttermilk coating was perfect on a cold winter night, although the waffles were a bit bland in comparison. I also tried the warm lamb and romaine salad, a combination of tart capers, cauliflower, lamb, lettuce, and a soft-boiled egg ($14). As one of the lighter dishes on the menu it held up well against more robust fare such as the braised beef short rib and anchovy mashed potatoes. Similar to the baby back rib appetizer, the dark, tender rib meat simply dripped off the bone and onto my fork, which also returned time and time again for the tangy spiced potatoes ($22).

ribs_adjusted

For dessert I couldn’t deter myself from Doug’s pecan pie sundae ($7). Unfortunately, the caramel simply overwhelmed the dish, and it sorely needed a pie crust. Apple cider donuts—warm, fried, and spicy, and served with their donut holes—fared a little better ($7). Perhaps next time I’ll try one of the Blue Marble ice creams, another one of my neighborhood favorites ($7). After all, it’s much more convenient to walk to around the corner than to Atlantic Avenue. Although for Buttermilk Channel, I’d be willing to make the trek.

Buttermilk Channel, 524 Court Street at Huntington Street, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. T: 718-852-8490

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