Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eataly Opens in New York

It was kind of like having the holidays in August, well, for Italian food lovers anyway.  Eataly, the 50,000 square foot mega-store opened to the public this afternoon.  A collaboration between Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Bastianich, I've been waiting for this day, anticipating what tempting goodies were hiding behind the papered-up windows I saw from the bus windows for so many months since I heard that this Turin-based store was coming to Manhattan.  Fortunately, I picked the right moment to get there to check it out, about an hour after the doors were flung open wide to receive the eager public.  I threw myself into the experience hoping to be whisked back to my days in bell'Italia.

Lidia Bastianich was seated near the sweets section and was very gracious and receiving to everyone who stopped by to talk to her, to ask her for her autograph, or to take a photo.  In addition, I caught a glimpse of Mario Batali at one point taking questions and talking to people.  It reminded me a bit of Italy where the family who owns the shop also takes pride in running it and greeting the customers and was a very nice touch for opening day.

Easily identifiable by their orange Crocs, there were also many staff members in each of the different areas ready and able to assist shoppers with their questions about the products.  Unfortunately, my one question, the one product I was hoping to at last find elsewhere than Arthur Avenue, a trek from my house, they did not have.  Panna da cucina (or "kitchen cream," which is used to make cream-based sauces and blends better than regular heavy cream, was the stumper request of the day).  I do have to give the staff a gold star, though, for being willing to try to assist me, even asking a couple of other folks on the team if they knew if they carried it.  So, I went around to the various stations to see what else was available.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Family-Flexible Fajitas

So far this summer, we've had two occasions to get most of us together as a family.  Somehow, it seems that each time (actually, even the time I went away to visit a sibling in May this also happened), I ended up in the kitchen making my requested, family-favorite guacamole and pico de gallo recipe.  This is usually paired with our Family Flexible Fajitas, as it's about one of the few dishes on which we can all agree to feed the crowd gathered for dinner.

You know how it is:  one person doesn't eat meat, another can't have dairy, the kids don't like to do anything but pick at their plates, it's the day of the week where someone else only eats red food, someone is on a diet, etc., etc.  It really is enough to make one's head spin, and it sometimes gets to the point where even the local Chinese take-away can't satisfy everyone.  In that case, we turn to this meal to try to accommodate everyone's tastes and dietary situations.  It's relatively quick and easy to make, and the components can be put together by different members of the family working at separate stations in the kitchen.

The other great part about this recipe is just how colorful it is, as the photo above shows.  The produce alone was enough to make the woman behind me on line at my parents' suburban supermarket comment that I must be making something wonderful with all those gorgeous items.  As we eat with our eyes first, this is also a way to introduce some different textures and flavors to the children, although not all of them will go along with this, as everyone knows.  Sometimes, however, cousin-see, cousin-do actually gets them on board with new tastes and food.  Nothing like family peer-pressure to encourage even the fussiest ones to open up their palates!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Amsterdam Market Ice Cream Festival

This Sunday, when I looked outside, it hardly seemed like appropriate weather to head downtown to the Ice Cream Festival at the New Amsterdam Market.  Still, the chance to try six sample-sized cones of handmade, artisanal treats for just $20.00 was too tempting to keep me lounging around my apartment for long.  Besides, I had written about how much my grandfather had enjoyed eating ice cream, and this would be a way to honor his memory as well as that of his Dutch ancestry, as that same site has housed many of New York's markets.

My first stop was to try MilkMade Ice Cream's Blackberry and Gingersnap flavor.  I loved the tart fruit paired with the peppery backnote of the ginger.  This one definitely topped the fruit category for me of the samples that I had at the market.  They offer a monthly delivery program where you can have a pint of locally-sourced, handmade ice cream right at your door, if you live within a certain area.  I discovered that I am in one of the zip codes they serve, which makes this an item to put on my holiday wish list.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Food and Funerals

If the title of this entry didn't already cause you to click to some other page, I hope you'll appreciate this post. Things have been quiet over here for the past week because I was away due to the passing of a very dear family member, my grandfather. This resulted in a gathering of all of my siblings and nieces and nephews in one place, along with one of my parents. I'm just now making it back home and back on line.

As we all tried to figure out what we would contribute to the memorial service at the point when the minister (my brother-in-law, actually) would ask us to speak about my grandad and our memories of him, there was a bit of a stumbling block. There are plenty of stories that he told to us, and we have many more about spending time with him in his house in a small Midwestern town. Chief among these tales are ones about food, well, and great stories about my dad. Not all of them would be relevant to the larger audience, but they composed our picture of him.

See, he was of the "meat and two veg" generation, as my father put it. My dad recalled that was always the meal put on the table when he was growing up. He was also fond of salad, so they had that with mealtime, too. I remember going out with him to a French restaurant located near the White House when I was working in Washington, DC after graduating from college. He handed the menu (written in both English and French) back to me, asking me to pick something out to order for him. Despite the fact that he'd served overseas during World War II and had lived in DC for a period of time, his tastes still remained the same. Having multiple meat, poultry, seafood, and fish choices, especially in a foreign cuisine, was just a bit daunting for him and his palate.

When you went to stay with him, the meal was always pretty standard. I really didn't know how to tell him that the canned fruit cup that was often on offer at breakfast was something that had actually haunted me in elementary school. I had to fake it and just tell him that I would only eat the banana that was on the side. White bread was also a staple in his cabinet, as was luncheon meat, neither of which I eat willingly. Vegetables were basically limited to salad.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Scallops with Crème Fraîche-Chili Dressing

You know how sometimes there's that restaurant dish that you really enjoy and that you really wish you could figure out how to make at home without having to employ an army of sous-chefs? Occasionally, I actually manage to deconstruct one of those meals to reproduce in my own kitchen. It doesn't happen very often, and it's always an approximation of the real thing. On the other hand, it's generally easier on my wallet than going out to eat when a craving for a particular meal hits.

The first time I ate this dish was at Public restaurant in Nolita. My mother and I had gone to try it out as we'd both heard of it when it opened. The space is very industrial with several different spaces carved out of it. The menu reflects the seasons but is also adventurous, with items and flavors from New Zealand and Australia on offer. In the several times I've eaten there, I don't think I have ever had a bad dish, and I've often had something unique and wonderfully delicious.

One dish with which I fell in love and have ordered every time it has been available is the Grilled Scallops with Sweet Chili Sauce, Crème Fraîche and Green Plantain Crisps. I'm not sure the origin of the recipe, but I found something similar in a Peter Gordon cookbook that I had from when I lived in England. His Sugar Club restaurant (now closed) was also one of the places I've really enjoyed eating. Unfortunately, I found the list of ingredients to be too long and not so easy to come by to make this dish on my own. That made me sort of sad.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Peach Melba

Peach Melba is the perfect dish to celebrate three of the wonderful things about summer: ripe golden peaches, ruby red raspberries, and ice cream. It is also a dessert that my mother enjoyed eating, so it holds a sentimental place in my heart, although I'm much more of a Poire Belle Helene person myself. Named after an Australian singer, Dame Melba, and created by the famous French chef Escoffier, this can claim to be a bit more grown up ice cream sundae and something worthy of a dinner party table.

In the recipe below, you get the contrasts of sweet and tart and creamy and crunchy. This is a bright way to end any meal or for an afternoon snack, as mine was today. I served it in a bowl, but it would be really beautiful presented to your guests in a wide-mouthed champagne glass or dessert cup. Drizzle a little raspberry sauce on the bottom, add the ice cream and peaches, and then drizzle some more sauce over the top. Sprinkle the almonds over everything and eat.

Peach Melba

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Serving Size: 4 portions

1/4 c. almonds, blanched and slivered
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. vanilla sugar*
1/4 c. sugar
4 peaches, cut in half
1 c. raspberries
1 T. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 T. sugar
1 pint top-quality vanilla ice cream

Heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Place almonds on shallow baking tray. Put in oven and let toast for about ten minutes until lightly golden brown. Check on the almonds a few times in between steps with the peaches to make sure they don't get too browned or, worse, burnt.

While the almonds are toasting, prepare the poaching liquid for the peaches. This is a simple syrup, which is water and sugar cooked together in equal amounts. Put sugars and water in saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugars have dissolved and the liquid is starting to bubble a little bit. Turn the heat down to medium-low.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Curried Lamb Burgers and Grilled Veggie-Mozzarella Sandwiches

As much as I love a great hamburger, as seen a few posts down, over the past few years, I've really started to get into Lamb Burgers. I'll opt to get that if I see it on a menu when I'm out to eat so I can see how they are prepared. Restaurants also seem to be realizing that patrons are willing to try something a bit out of their comfort zone and offer more lamb on the menu, which I'm really glad to see.

A couple of years ago, Bon Appetit published a recipe that has now become part of my summer rotation. This Curried Lamb Burgers with Grilled Vegetables and Mint Raita is a handful of a title for a dish that is actually super simple to make and has great flavors. The lamb is moist and meaty with a bit of a kick from the curry (without it being too spicy or overwhelming). The yogurt sauce or raita cools it all down with a mint-citrus freshness, and the grilled vegetables take full advantage of the fresh, local produce now available.

This is definitely one of my summertime standby recipes. I love just loading up on eggplant, zucchini, and peppers and grilling up a whole batch to serve alongside these burgers. The burgers themselves freeze very well, so it is easy to have them on hand for a weeknight supper. This weekend, I seemed to have overbought in the vegetable department. I ended up cooking the whole batch and put them into the refrigerator hoping for some culinary inspiration.

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