Izzy (and Mama) Eat: The Gourmand Grows up...

Tales of Empty Nesting ...The Next Chapter

Friday, November 27, 2009

Behold The Batter Bowl

If ever there were a reason to rush off and make pancakes, this bowl is it. It is a "batter bowl" so named I gather, for its spout which makes for easy pouring. I have no idea if these are common but I only just happened upon them the other day, at my next door neighbor's house.

You see my next door neighbor, J. is a potter and quite an accomplished one at that. I knew of his profession but had seen only a few samples of his work in the backyard and I had not an inkling of what lay within. Last weekend I discovered that his yearly pottery event which I had always just thought was a private viewing, was actually a sale, open to those in the know. So Izzy and I made an appearance and it was there that I came upon this gorgeous bowl and two floors of extensive pottery offerings. You can check out more of his work here and next year try to make it to his sale.

So inspired by our new bowl, the morning after its purchase, Izzy and I made some raspberry pancakes ( I just added frozen raspberries to the original recipe) and I was thrilled to be able to pour them straight from the bowl.

Thanksgiving Vows: One Broken, One Kept

Four years ago, we made a vow never to travel very far on Thanksgiving (and other holidays). This came following a less than stellar taxi ride to my dad's house and our difficulties locating a taxi for the return trip home during a torrential downpour. The following year, in keeping with our plans, we held Thanksgiving at our house. My overambitious menu left me exhausted and stressed. That year, I vowed to keep future meals simpler. Last year, I kept to both vows. We took the train to my friend L's house for the holiday, where I simply contributed a few dishes to the meal, making for probably the calmest Thanksgiving ever. Perhaps it was because we didn't have to worry about anything like this.

This year, I had every intention of making Thanksgiving chez moi but as the day drew nearer, and I grew sicker, my certitude turned to indecision. Even though I dragged my cold-infested self over to the New Amsterdam market, last Sunday, in hopes of still procuring a turkey, I was only slightly disappointed when I didn't find one. Fate had spoken. I was not meant to make Thanksgiving this year. My potential guest list was quite short and friends convinced me my health was more important. I did not need to be roaming the streets in search of the perfect heritage bird, even if I did get better by Tuesday ( I did not).

And so I did break the vow of Thanksgiving travel, though this time with Zipcar. We went to my dad's for a brief spell, enough time to sample the birds, deep-fried and roasted. Yes, my stepmother L. manages to put two birds on the table wherein I have enough trouble getting one bird on time. Her secret? Preparing all of the side dishes the day before; something I hope to try next year. And as for the birds? I can't give an adequate comparison as my sense of taste is on hiatus. All I noted was that the roasted one was saltier.

Along with the birds there were the usual sides, potatoes, sweet and mashed, stuffing, Brussels sprouts and such. Izzy made the cranberry mold which we brought along and I made some cookies which I will post soon. The highlight of Izzy's day was raiding the basement, as there is a closet full of all of my sister C.'s old toys. Each time we go, Izzy makes a new discovery. This time he left with a crystal-making kit. Turned out to be exactly what he needed for entertainment today as my nagging sickness just won't go away.

And so, in my post-Thanksgiving daze, I am thankful that we managed to get home by 8:30, just in time for Izzy to go to bed. I am thankful for the friends who kept me from cooking and my stepmother for doing all the work instead.

I have already clipped a few new recipes for next year, and hope to test them out soon so I can keep both vows when the time comes (unless of course we forgo the feast for the parade and dinner out!).

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Gift of Food: A Squash Surprise

There is nothing more heart-warming then the offer of food from a friend, especially when one is feeling sickly, as I have been. Stuffed nose, achy head, green boogers and the like have been plaguing me for the last few days, a nasty bug that Izzy passed on to me. I sat home today bemoaning my fate when the offer of a friend brightened my day.

My friend C. , was not only kind enough to pick up some cat food for me but also she brought along some of her roasted vegetables for me to nibble. I must let you know that C. seems to roast a never-ending supply of vegetables, as she is always offering to bring some over. I have marveled at her prolific vegetable-roasting talents and wondered why I never get around to all of that roasting myself. At the same time, I have also marveled over C.'s general health. She is rarely sick. She attributes part of her sturdy constitution to all of her vegetable eating (hence all of that roasting)...

Today I discovered C.'s secrets..

Secret #1. Vegetable Roasting Proclivity

I opened the small container of roasted squash chunks and stuck a forkful in my mouth, only to be met with unwieldy outer skin. I crunched down a bit and then decided to take a closer look.. I noted that the chunks had been roasted with the skin. It all became clear. C. was able to go around roasting squashes like there was no tomorrow, because she didn't go through the painstaking work of peeling them, something I am none to keen on doing. What I wondered was if she then cut around the skin before eating it or indeed did eat the entire chunk, skin and all. I had to find out.

Secret # 2: Exceptional Good Health

I sent C. a message innocently asking if she ate the skin on that particular variety of squash (Hubbard ). I was stunned to learn that not only did she purposely eat the skin of that squash but of all others as well!!! Now the only edible winter squash skin I have ever heard of is the delicata variety. The others are far too tough and chewy for my tastes. To each his own they say. Why does my friend C. enjoy veggies with their skins on? Who can say but I do know that eating vegetable skins must be C.'s secret to good health. After all, they do say that most of the vitamins in many vegetables are found in the skin. C. also mentioned eating other skins, like those of sweet potatoes (which I do eat myself). And come to think of it, my grandfather was a big believer in eating the skins of his potatoes too so perhaps that is one of the secrets to his longevity.

Now I am not sure what to make of all of this skin eating but I do know this.
As much as I envy C.'s good health, I am not sure I am willing to eat a bunch of squash skins to achieve it. Instead I will try her recommendation of a multi-vitamin and fish oil and see if that does the trick.

Meanwhile C. wonders if there are any other squash skin eaters out there....

Saturday, November 21, 2009

They Coined A Name For MY Job: Hunter-Gatheress

In reality, the term was recently used to describe Annie Myers' job. She is the official forager for the Spotted Pig. A friend who read the article, immediately thought of me and said, "I found the perfect job for you."

An enviable job indeed! One that that I already do. In my position, I work for my family and friends, instead of restaurants. I develop relationships with farmers and food purveyors, continually on the lookout for what is new and noteworthy. I bring my finds back to our table instead of back to the chef.

The key difference? She gets paid and has to be at the Union Square Market at 7:30 a.m., whereas I have an unpaid gig and am just awaking at that hour.

Still and all, I wouldn't mind getting paid for my work so if any other restaurant is seeking a Hunter-Gatheress, look no further. I have all the experience required!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An Apple For Izzy's Teacher?

No. Instead Ms. B. got a TKO. For those of you not in the know (that was me until the other day), a TKO is a Thomas Keller Oreo, sold at Bouchon Bakery. Even better than my homemade oreos because of the white chocolate ganache filling.

And the reason for the cookie you ask? Was it to butter up Ms. B.? No not at all. Today was her birthday.

I only knew it was Ms. B's birthday because last night, at bedtime, Izzy revealed the birthday wishes he had expressed in the card he had made for her...

Happy Birthday
"I hope you turn into a germ."

Suppressing a giggle I had to ask why he had written that. His reply?

"If she were a germ she would be sick and not at school and then I wouldn't have to do the hard math problems she gives me."

Of course I let Izzy know that those were not the kindest birthday wishes and I suggested perhaps we give her a little something (hence the cookie) as well. But it doesn't end there.

Today, after I gave Ms. B. the cookie, Izzy explained that he had changed the birthday card, which now read,

"I hope you turn into a gem".

Apparently the card also features a rendering of Ms. B. as a robot, along with some other "scientific" scribblings. Whatever the case may be, I hope Ms. B. enjoyed her TKO and "germ" or "gem", had a lovely birthday.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Trotter Terrine and Porchetta With My Partner In Pig: A Visit To Dickson's Farmstand at Chelsea Market

Since our visit to Marlow and Daughters awhile back, my partner in pig, Y., and I have been craving more house-made pate. She even went back to Williamsburg , hoping to obtain an entire pound but came back empty-handed. She was told that they just don't make the stuff on a regular basis. We tried calling. We tried special ordering. To no avail.

We had no choice but to search elsewhere for a porky fix. This time, we found it much closer to home, at Dickson's Farmstand in the Chelsea Market. Not only that but a trip to Chelsea Market opens up an entire realm of shopping. Not only would we have pate, but many other fixings for dinner and beyond.

Dickson's is set up as a butcher shop and offers up an exciting selection of grass-fed, farm-raised meats and poultry. We entered the shop, looked around but didn't see any pate in sight. When I inquired they told us there was no pate on hand. We were crestfallen until they mentioned they did have Trotter Terrine. I jumped on the chance to sample but Y. hung back, seemingly not interested. She didn't realize what she was passing up but I quickly set her straight. This distinctly herbaceous terrine was made with long cooked pigs' trotters, a fine substitute for pate to be sure. We immediately purchased some hefty slices and moved on to some other important shopping.

The old standbys like Amy's Bread and Buon Italia are still there and I stopped at both for some great bread and a completely superfluous slice of porchetta (thanks to Y. for whom pate is not enough pork). Notably new are a Jacques Torres Chocolate outpost, where I purchased two amazing chocolate chip cookies, clear contenders for some of the best in the city and Lucy's Whey, a tiny cheese purveyor carrying some premier local, artisanal cheeses.

Purchases in hand, we even found time to stop at the Ronnybrook Farm store/diner for a brief lunch. My egg in the hole with Grafton Cheddar and Egg Cream beverage were just what I needed for energy before we left for home.

So next time you crave a bit of something porky and beyond, get thee to Chelsea Market for something porcine and beyond.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Keeping It Simple: On Unexpected Guests, Singed Hair, and Truffled Popcorn

Wednesday Evening...

Clothed in ratty pajamas, sitting amidst a mess of papers, books and other paraphernalia, I settled in for a cozy evening of writing at home. My solitude was interrupted by a thumping on my stoop door. I was slightly worried since my friends never knock at the stoop door and wondered who could possibly be knocking. I assumed it was someone who had found themselves at the wrong house. I immediately went to the window to see and I saw a woman with an unfamiliar face leaning over the railing. I shook my head at her and said, "Wrong house." She glanced at me quizzically and then a man appeared in front of my window. Again I looked at him and repeated, "Wrong house." He looked baffled and then asked, "Isn't this the house of A. ( my husband)?

At once I realized who these strangers were, A.'s foreign colleagues in town for a visit. But A. was working and had given no notification of their arrival. I had no idea why they were at our doorstep. Despite my shabby dress, I had no choice but to open the door. They explained that A. had told them to come by to meet him at 8:30. I told them there must be some terrible mistake because there was no way he would be home at 8:30 and he hadn't mentioned a word about it. Still, I asked them in , apologizing for my pajamas and the attendant mess that greeted them.

It turned out that S. and S., had spoken with A., who in his overworked confusion, had somehow led them to believe that he would meet them. After about an our of laughing over the absurdity of it all we agreed to meet again when A. was available, my house was in better order and I was appropriately dressed, which turned out to be Friday night.

Friday Evening...

I invited S. and S. for drinks, that evening on our way out to dinner. I intended to put out a few snacks for us and I thought truffled popcorn would be just the thing. As the hour drew near, I began to think that popcorn was not enough and contemplated a bowl of roasted chickpeas. I turned up the oven to 450 F. to reheat and went about my business for a few minutes before realizing that I hadn't heard the gas ignite. Instead of turning off the oven and starting over, I opened the door, only to hear the burst of gas and see the giant blue flame leap out at me, as Izzy looked on.

I shut the door in horror, only then smelling the odor of burnt hair. I assumed I had just gotten a strand or two until the smell lingered and I went to the mirror where I found a substantial clump of hairs were singed and frizzled. Considering I had just had my hair cut that day I was rather distraught. I combed out the frizzle and tried to calm down enough to at least make some popcorn. Before I could, the guests arrived.

I ushered them in and then set to work on my popcorn, fearing that more bad luck would come my way. S. and S. are from Germany and although they said they eat popcorn, they had never seen anyone do it my way. They watched in the kitchen while I heated olive oil with a few test kernels, allowed them to pop and then added the rest. When all of the kernels had popped I dumped the popcorn into a bowl and melted a couple of tablespoons of
D'Artagnan Black Truffle Butter (thanks D.) in the hot pot. I drizzled the butter over the warm popcorn and then sprinkled with salt.

This popcorn, which is horribly addictive, was quite a success. We drank red wine while S. and S. munched happily away, awaiting A.'s arrival. And I of frizzled hair, wondered why I thought that I needed anything more. Truffled popcorn was all the excitement we needed.

So once more I am reminded of the importance of keeping things simple, so as to avoid singed hair and other unpleasantness.

P.S. A. arrived on time that evening and we all went out into to the stormy windy night, for dinner. In the interest of keeping it simple, we went to a nearby restaurant and the food was mediocre at best. Would our evening have been that much better, had we traipsed further from home and endured the storm? Probably not.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Your Moose Is In The Mail...Part I


Having a blog does have its perks I suppose. And this week has been a banner week. From discovering local honey to Alaskan moose meat, I simply can't complain.

It happened like this. Last year, I received an unexpected email from B., probably my only blog fan in Wasilla, Alaska. We continued to correspond sporadically and she mentioned her penchant for moose meat. She also expressed her desire to share this staple of her diet with me, the next time she had a moose on hand. I was intrigued yet frightened by the offer and nothing ever came of it.

Until a few weeks ago, when I received yet another message from B. once again offering up some moose meat. I was more intrigued than ever but worried that it would be prohibitively expensive to ship and raised my concerns. The following was B.'s reply:

But of course I am serious about the Moose. This years moose is the best. I will send you some burger and pot roast. You can't get better burger. And Moose stew.... where would we be without moose stew? (Really, where would we be!!!)

This was most definitely an offer I couldn't refuse so I sent along our address and wondered if it would actually happen. This morning I awoke to a message, the essence of which was, " Be on the lookout. Your moose will be arriving today, before 3 p.m."

I actually had the moose delivered to our p.o. box so off I went at 2 p.m., ready to hunt down my moose which was patiently awaiting my arrival inside a white USPS box, still miraculously frozen, even without dry ice. Once opened I found three packages of chopped meat and a small roast. It is now resting safely in my freezer, its next fate, as yet unknown.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hyped Up On Honey: The Secret Beekeeper Of Jersey City

Always on the lookout for things local and organic, I was intrigued by a post on a Jersey City website, offering local honey from Jersey City bees. I immediately emailed an inquiry, hoping to get my hands on some local honey. Andrew's Honey at the Greenmarket has supplied my habit, along with various other honey vendors but I loved the idea of having a source closer to home, what better way to feed my increasing honey habit. Not only that but perhaps this uber-local honey would be instrumental in alleviating my seasonal allergies next spring. More importantly, I was hyped up on the notion of meeting and supporting a local beekeeper.

M. (the honey man), contacted me and we set up a time for a clandestine meeting at a nearby park. Apparently beekeeping has to been done on the down-low, so as to avoid drawing too much attention to the bees and all their attendant charms. How could I be sure that he was really a beekeeper and not a kook? I guess I couldn't but I forged ahead, willing to take the risk for what could be some exceptional honey.

Izzy joined me on the adventure and we went out to play at the park. Izzy played while I sat on a bench awaiting the honey man. He arrived bearing a few jars of the dark amber liquid, in 8 oz. bottles bearing an artsy black and white label. M. and I chatted a long while about all things honey-related and then he came over to see my garden. We also had some tea, served of course with ample doses of the dark amber liquid. This honey seems more complex than the lighter honey I am used to. M. explained that the honey was a mixture of spring and autumn honey allowed to mingle together in the hive before collection.

The honey was better than I had imagined and I became so smitten with it and the whole notion of urban beekeeping that I offered to assist him with spreading the honey word around JC and beyond. He brought over several jars of his "Liberty City" limited edition, small batch artisanal honey. I wished I could keep them all for myself but promised I would do my best to find buyers. At 7$ a jar, this honey is a bargain, considering that New York City Rooftop honey sells for $15. If you moved to JC for more affordable housing, you can also benefit from the lower honey prices too! If you are interested, send me an email soon and some honey could be yours. Once you try it you will be longing for a hive in your own backyard. I sure am!

This honey is so local that the bees probably feasted on flowers from my very own garden, perhaps yours as well!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Just A Few Oranges...

Are all Izzy needs to make his own orange juice in the morning. Well, that and a Wearever vintage juicer, courtesy of my stepmother, who gave it to me ages ago.

Time was, I drank orange juice every morning. As a child, I was given the orange juice that was made from concentrate and later on graduated to the pasteurized variety. I simply had to have orange juice every morning or my breakfast wasn't complete. I have since kicked that habit, often having grapefruit juice or just tea instead. Although Izzy doesn't drink juice throughout the day, I started him on the same morning juice habit and he now expects some kind of juice with his breakfast.

Lately though, I have be rethinking this morning juice habit. I can't drink it myself anymore, for health reasons. So I have decided to take a break from buying orange juice, as the pasteurized, vitamin-fortified variety is a poor substitute for the real thing. In fact, not only is the flavor less appealing, it has hidden ingredients. I would rather that Izzy have something fresher, but what?

Home-squeezed juice was the obvious answer. Izzy only needs two oranges for an adequate amount of juice and he squeezes it while I make his breakfast. He looks forward to doing it every morning and revels in the taste difference.

Now I just have to make sure to keep an ample supply of oranges in the house, which hasn't been as easy as I thought. First I bought a bag from Trader Joe's and they were perfect. Next we tried some navel oranges from Whole Foods (which I realize are not juicing oranges but that was all they had). The former produced a beautifully vibrant colored orange juice while the later produced a paler less intense juice. As orange season approaches, it should get easier to find good juicing oranges. If not, I'll be seeking an on-line source.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beware Superlatives: Eggs Benedict At Elysian Cafe

This do look gorgeous, don't they?

But to label them the best I'd ever eaten would be bordering on the extreme. Indeed they were a fine example of the genre, barring the fact that they were lukewarm and the English muffin could have benefited from being crisper on the outside and chewier on the inside.

Yet I had read that they were"the best", forgetting that the best of Hoboken is a superlative that has little meaning if few places actually prepare a particular dish and the area in question is rather small. That being said, if you live not far from Cafe Elysian, they do offer a decent brunch option at affordable prices.

Izzy cleared his plate of the French Toast and everyone else was reasonably happy with their food too. So do go, and keep in mind that if you don't expect "the best", you will probably be satisfied with your meal.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Airing My Dirty Pantry...

I would imagine that many people who have a pantry that resembles mine would rather shut the door and turn away. I have opted for the opposite, to exhibit mine to for all to see. I do so in hopes of somehow finding a way to change it.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I am seeking a cure for what ails my pantry and I am counting on the thousands of readers who follow The Kitchen to chime in with some advice. I haven't advanced beyond Step #1 of The Cure because I feel that the first part is not yet done.

Meanwhile, the notes for steps 2 and 3 are languishing in my in-box. I suppose I would be happy simply curing my pantry, although I will certainly make an attempt to tackle the other areas of my kitchen too.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A New Way Of Looking At Chicken: Head - On

Our foray into local foodstuffs at the New Amsterdam Market, also led us to the Bo Bo Chicken vendor. I examined their fowl offerings and I was intrigued by the promise of a chicken with more dark meat, since that is what we all prefer.

The chicken came wrapped up inside a plastic bag, with its head tucked neatly on the side, enabling me to promptly forget about exactly what I was in for later. When the time came to cut open the bag and prepare the chicken for dinner, I called Izzy into the kitchen to partake of the experience.

As Izzy looked on, I carefully cut the plastic bag open with a pair of kitchen scissors, allowing the blood to drip down into the sink. Izzy took one look at the bird and pronounced it, "Dead as a dumpling" (not sure what that means but you get the idea). I was far more traumatized by the sight of the sleeping bird than he, yet still I pressed on with my task of preparing it for dinner.

Part of my discomfort in looking the bird square in the face is the fact that we are so unaccustomed to doing so. Izzy, on the other hand, hasn't seen enough dead chickens to have formed a clear opinion. In fact, for him the sight of headless chickens may be more upsetting. (Recently, he was so disturbed by a scene of dancing headless chickens in the abominable movie, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, we had to walk out.)

Back to the chicken in question, I was faced with what to do with the head. I pondered cooking it with the head on, duck-style or simply cutting it off, which is what I ended up doing. I tossed it out, which was probably a mistake but I didn't have time to contemplate other ideas. I roasted the bird like this and we were pleased with the moist results.

Some might recoil in horror at the fact that I exposed Izzy to a chicken head but I would much prefer he recognizes a chicken as a chicken, rather than eat mysterious nuggets that masquerade as chicken. Food experiences such as this one, help him gain a greater understanding of what we eat and why.