Friday, July 30, 2010

I Break for Gelato


The weather has gotten much more tolerable, but it is still the season for something cool and refreshing, especially after spending an hour-long meeting at an outdoor eatery and sitting directly in the sunshine. After talking to my new boss regarding a non-paid project that I'm doing as part of a workforce retraining effort for displaced financial services employees (the more gentle way of phrasing it), I had thought I might head to the grocery store in that neighborhood to load up on supplies. Instead, I realized that prior to doing any big shopping expenditures, what I really should do is to have a better idea of what I already have at home.

So, the next best thing was to treat myself to a gelato as I was already in the area. An Italian treat with which I fell completely in love during my time studying there, gelato (gelati in the plural) has a lower butterfat content than ice cream. Its flavor is also considered to be denser as less air is whipped into it than ice cream. Wikipedia has a description of other criteria for gelato. What I like about it is that the flavors are more intense and deeper than American commercial frozen dairy treats. This means that a small serving goes a long way to satisfying a sweet craving.

Grom* set up shop in New York a few years back and has become my special indulgence from time to time. There isn't a store in my neighborhood [hint, hint] so this is definitely destination dining for me. What makes me take the time to make the extra stop in my day is the flavor of the gelato. I also like that they carefully source their ingredients and run their own organic farm to provide the materials for their products. They also have a chart that lets you know what you can eat in their store depending upon your food intolerances and/or allergies also telling you their policy for assisting those who are gluten-intolerant. This is taking customer service to a completely different level.

My choice, as seen above, was their monthly special for July: fior di latte all'amarena di Griotta. This roughly translates to Milk with candied Black Cherries. That name can hardly do it justice as it is more of a creamy almost vanilla soft ice cream consistency studded with chunks of toothsome, sweet-tart cherries. It was the perfect mid-morning pause in my very busy day and transported me back to a world where people do stop to take time to sit and relax in the town piazza with their friends.

If you aren't a big fan of ice cream desserts, you can also try sorbetti. Sorbetti are made without milk and capture the best of fruit flavors. Try frutti di bosco (fruits of the forest) for a summer berry fix. No matter which kind you pick, once you take that first bite, you understand the Slow Food mentality. This is a dairy treat meant to be savored slowly, not gulped down in a few slurps. If you are in New York, I highly recommend a stop by Grom if you are in one of their neighborhoods.

Buon appetito!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Really Delicious Hamburger with Zucchini Ribbon Salad

The cooking magazines have been putting out their best summer recipes lately. I've been pulling lots of them to keep to try, as is my bad habit. Now that I'm not employed full time, I have been cracking down and making them instead of grabbing the occasional dinner at one of my neighborhood places.

So, yesterday, when I was craving a burger, I pulled out a page from Bon Appetit's July issue. In it, they had a tip for filling the meat with a slab of compound butter, or butter mixed with herbs and seasonings. Serving steak with a melting pat of butter mixed with flavorings is not unusual in a restaurant but to make this at home seemed to me to be an interesting twist.

Then I recalled the few times my mother had done the same thing when I was a child. She'd fill the inside of a hamburger with a caper-dotted round of butter. I loved that briny taste when I bit into the meat. I guess the other siblings didn't like it because I don't remember it being served except for a few times.

I decided that I wanted to try to make these myself. Fortunately, Whole Foods had had hamburger on special a week or so ago, and in my new economy, I had picked up some. I also had some garlic ramp butter in the freezer that I'd made a few months back when those items were in season. It was an experiment to see if these two things would go together. I followed the instructions on the page and proceeded to cook the burger as I would normally.



Sunday, July 11, 2010

I Made Mayonnaise!

Not sure if anyone remembers my attempts almost four, yes four, years ago, to make mayonnaise a couple of times, and it flopped. Since then, I've had a bit of a phobia about it. I'm not a fan of commercial ones, and the smell of a knife globbed with mayo and left in the sink actually makes me gag, as I've told roommates in order to get them to clean up the dishes. That commercial where the kid eats a condiment-heavy sandwich with a big white glob on it also turns my stomach.

In truth, I think I've just been avoiding it. I've had plenty of success with other emulsion-style sauces like vinaigrette and hollandaise. I just can't figure out why I haven't been able to get the handle on this one. It always seems to separate or turn to goo. Yesterday, I could no longer ignore my fear. I was put in a situation where I had to confront it head-on and to tackle it.

Mid last week I received an email from Astor Center saying that they had extra places available in Chef Carl Raymond's "Downeast Feast." I decided to jump at it, as it seemed to follow on from the fish class that I took with him several months ago. I've taken several of Chef Carl's classes before at the center, and they are always educational, informative, relaxing, and delicious. This one was no different and had a personal twist for him, as these are the recipes that he grew up with in Maine.

We managed to get ahead of our timetable, so he decided to teach us to make mayonnaise. Uh oh, my anxiety started to flood over me. Could I go hide in the bathroom at this part? He had us divide into pairs and coached us through each step of the way. There was a lot riding on the success of this venture, as our results would be being eaten by the class. We managed to nail it perfectly.

Feeling somewhat confident, I thought I would attempt it again today. It really is the small food victories are sometimes the most fulfilling. Following Chef Carl's directions and tips to the T, I managed to do it: I made Mayonnaise!




Friday, July 09, 2010

Iced Coffee Weather

While the temperatures have gone down from steamy and suffocating to merely hot and muggy, the number of articles about making iced coffee seem to have gone up. Being one of those who can't pull herself together in the morning without my a.m. jolt of caffeine, I recently had to mothball my beloved Bialetti cappuccino maker for the season (best houseguest gift ever, by the way). I can't even think about tossing down a hot beverage in this weather.


Last year, I started experimenting with making iced coffee to fill the caffeine gap. Opinions on the best way to brew this beverage seem to differ quite a bit. My method, created simply because I had a small Bodum French press that I'd brought back with me from living in Europe, is to make a slightly-stronger version what I'd make to drink the coffee hot, let it cool to room temperature on the counter, and then put in in the refrigerator overnight (without pushing down on the grounds) to be drunk in the morning.

The next day, I get up, pour in a bit of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water heated up until the sugar has dissolved) and some milk and then add the (now plunger-pressed) coffee to make a caramel-colored beverage that is cool, silky-smooth, and sweet. Just one sip sliding down my parched throat makes it worth it to get up and face another brutally hot day in the city.

Buon appetito!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Salsas for the 4th


What you are looking at is my no-fail, family-favorite guacamole, which I brought to a 4th of July fireworks watching party last night. The hostess loved it and kept going back for more, as did several of the guests. This is one of my internationally-tested recipes, created by me when I lived in Italy and was missing a taste of home. You can find the directions for making it here.

The base for the guacamole is my sure-fire-hit Pico de Gallo recipe. This is best made several hours in advance of eating it, ideally the morning of the day you are going to serve it, as I did yesterday. That way, the flavors have time to come together and you can adjust the seasonings, and heat, accordingly. The recipe is found at the same link as the guacamole one above. This batch benefited from the gorgeous early-season tomatoes that I found at the Greenmarket on Saturday.

One of the real stars of my salsa trio, however, is a recipe that I cannot claim to have created. I found it years ago as a tiny sidebar in Real Simple. The Papaya Mint Salsa* is perfect as a sweet-spicy accompaniment to seared or grilled fish or seafood. It also stands well on its own scooped up with tortilla chips, as we ate it last night. With papayas now in season, and the temperatures rising in favor of no-cook grazing style meals, I definitely recommend giving this dish a slot in your meal rotation.



*Kitchen Witch Tips:
I think that the point of the sidebar was to feature the mezzaluna, a wonderful kitchen implement that I encourage you to buy, if you do not have one already. I bought one years ago, and it is perfect for those times when you need to chop anything very, very finely. There are also double-bladed ones, but I find that this one works well for what I need on a day-to-day basis. As you can see from the photo below, a few minutes under the mezzaluna, and the mint is chopped in very small bits, ready to be incorporated into the salsa dish.



Buon appetito!

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