Sunday, May 28, 2006

I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

Oh! My...well...this is really a bit personal, but...oh goodness, but I haven't even...if I'd known you were coming...

Oh, you really think so? Why, thank you! Well, alright. If you insist. Oh, yes, photography is fine...yes, it's organic coconut milk. I'm really very particular about those sorts of things!

You're doing an article? About me!? But, dear, I'm not even full-sized! And I haven't got a thing in my crisper!

Oh, this little old thing? Just a bushel of fresh baby garlic. Isn't it darling? I love how it compliments my sugar snaps. And these are Ronnybrook. It's very exclusive, but Ronnybrook is positively my favorite...every time Sunday rolls around, I can't resist getting dolled up in everything at the stand! Today I'm wearing the chocolate milks, a creamline yogurt, a bottle of heavy cream, and the newest crème fraiche. Dairy's all the rage, you know, and the bottles are returnable - isn't that quaint? Oh, and I can never resist the chocolate pudding, there on my middle shelf. It's not too sweet and positively to die for!

Exotics? Why yes, I do have a few of those...this jar here is candied ginger puree - have you ever heard of such a thing? And these other jars are rosemary-rhubarb jelly and ginger-black tea rhubarb preserves. I made them myself. I've got cold-pressed flax seed oil...and I've got some exquisite cheeses! I'm going through a soft cheese phase - see? I've got mascarpone and herbed goat cheese. But, believe me, I'm never without a good wedge of organic parmesan.

Excuse me? Have I got any unmentionables? Certainly not! And you shouldn't ask a lady such things! What? Those are sundried tomatoes! The sell-by date doesn't matter - they're very well sealed! And anyway, they - what? A butter-flavored product? I don't have butter-flavored products. What do you think I am, a Maytag? I don't know what you're talking about.

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, it's been a pleasure, but I think it's about time we - no! don't look at the door! You said the door was off-limits - it isn't even in the photograph! I - well, you have to keep those little packets somewhere!!

This interview with my fridge was conducted in honor of the first-ever "I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours" event, hosted by Sweetnicks. The round-up will be posted there around next Saturday...check it out!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Monkey Bread

Just in case you all thought I was getting a little too healthy/veggie/prissy with my cipollini onions and peas gremolata...don't worry, I still go ape for sinful sweets.

This extremely kid-friendly recipe goes out to all my little monkeys (nine nieces and nephews!) in Atlanta and San Francisco. May you revel in indefinite sugar highs!

Aunt Kate's Monkey Bread


1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 cans Pillsbury Grands big buttermilk biscuits (or similar - 3 cans of regular-sized biscuits)

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream (or 2 tablespoons milk)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Bundt pan


Coat the inside of the Bundt pan with cooking spray or butter and set aside.

Melt butter in a bowl and stir in sweetened condensed milk until blended. In another bowl, mix the sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

Open one can of biscuits and separate. Cut each biscuit into four sections (you can do this step more efficiently by quartering the biscuits in stacks of two or three) and roll each section into a ball. Coat each ball in the sugar mixture, then place in Bundt pan. After finishing the first can of biscuits, drizzle half of the butter mixture evenly over the top of this first layer. Repeat these steps for the next can of biscuits. Sprinkle the remaining sugar over the top and bake in a preheated 350° oven for 30-35 minutes.

While bread is baking, mix sugar, cream or milk, and vanilla in a small bowl with a fork. Add more cream if necessary for desired texture (the icing must be drizzle-able).

When done, remove from the oven and let cool for a minute or two, then turn onto a plate and carefully remove the pan. (do this promptly or the bread will stick inside the pan.) While bread is still warm/hot, drizzle icing decoratively over bread.

Enjoy! Eat by tearing off biscuit hunks, monkey style.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Sugar Snap Peas with Lemon-Mint Gremolata

The hardest thing about preparing sugar snap peas, in my opinion, is getting enough of the sweet, crunchy little pods all the way to the table - most of mine never make it to the pot because they're so delicious raw! But 'tis the season for local sugar snaps, so when you buy a bunch at your local farmers' market, get enough to munch on with some left over for dinner.

When peas are fresh, crisp and in season, there's no sense in cooking them to death or masking their delicate green flavor, so keep it simple with a recipe like Sugar Snap Peas with Lemon-Mint Gremolata. There are many variations on this recipe, but this one was perfect for me because it put to use the mint that's quickly taking over my fire escape, despite my best attempts at keeping up with it via oranges sprinkled with mint, and with mojitos. The recipe is adapted from afore-worshipped Lemon Zest by Lori Longbotham. Lori taught me a very important lesson about lemons that has benefitted my cooking since I read the book: we use lemons all the time (or at least I do!), whether squeezed over grilled fish, to spritz steamed veggies, to flavor desserts, or just to freshen the scent of the fridge. From now on, every time you are going to use a lemon for its juice, take a minute first to grate the zest and freeze it in a ziploc bag or airtight container. Lemon zest, I've found, is good in everything from pasta sauces to muffins to stir-fry to a twist in your esspresso. I use my frozen zest almost every day! (Note: most lemons are waxed to preserve them better during shipping. If your lemons are waxed, be to scrub them with a vegetable brush - or a toothbrush! - before zesting.)

Sugar Snap Peas with Lemon-Mint Gremolata


1 pound sugar snap peas

1 tablespoon lemon-infused olive oil, or regular extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely shredded mint leaves

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest


Blanch the peas in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold running water and drain again.

Heat oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large pan (or wok, if you are so blessed - but not if your wok is exclusively seasoned for Asian cooking, which rarely includes olive oil) over medium heat. Add peas and cook, stirring, unti lheated through, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in zest and mint and serve hot.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Olive Oil: From Tree to Table

I just wanted to formally introduce the cookbook from the previous post:

"Finally! The definitive guide to olive oil — what it is, how to use it, how to cook with it," one review reads. Knickerbocker sidesteps many of the spaghetti-style tried-and-trues and goes for unique recipies originating from the cuisine of olive oil's many homelands - Italy, France, Greece, Tunisia...even Portugal: Seared Ahi Tuna Encrusted with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Risotto with Prosciutto and Fresh Peas, Kalamata Olives with Orange Rind, Provencal Garlic Soup, to name a few. She also includes a thorough explication of the nature and history of olive oil that includes some very interesting tidbits; for instance, did you know that Greece produces a large amount of olive oil? We think of olives as being Greek in very essence, but rarely do we see a bottle of Greek oil on the shelves. Knickerbocker explains that this is because Italian companies buy olive oil in bulk from poor Greek farmers for ready cash at the beginning of the harvest season, then bottle it in Italy - an oil can be labled "Italian" as long as it's bottled there!

I've really enjoyed everything I've made from it so far, and gotten to know a lot more about the flavors and appropriate uses of the olive oils (yes, there are a few of them) in my kitchen.

Featured above: a surprisingly delicious plate of chopped navel oranges drizzled with honey and olive oil and sprinkled with spearmint and sea salt.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Cipolline en Agrodolce

Aren't they adorable? I just think cipolline are the cutest.

Often called cipollini onions for their oniony appearance and flavor, cipolline are actually the underground bulb of grape hyacinth, a flower native to Italy. Cipollini bulbs are small and flat, and are usually harvested in the fall, and are available primarily in specialty markets through winter and early spring. We've had such a cold spring that the roots have really stuck around in the greenmarkets (although the cold is also affecting spring crops like lettuce and arugula - I talked to Zaid of Norwich Meadows Farm, which supplies our CSA from June to November, and he told me that everything is coming along slowly, despite the tremendous quantity of rain we've had (which is an improvement over last year's drought). This slowness to grow is reflected in my timid little fire escape garden.

Anyway, cipollini are still around, and here's a simple, aesthetic, and delicious way to prepare them. This recipe is from Olive Oil: From Tree to Table by Peggy Knickerbocker, which was a gift from my mother on my birthday; it's a simple, informational cookbook about both the history of olive oil and cooking with it, and it has lovely photography...I imagine you'll be seeing it again on Pie in the Sky.

Cipolline en Agrodolce is excellent served as an appetizer (they have a tangy butteriness and are similar in texture to the onions in french onion soup) or as a vegetable accompaniment to a main course.

Cipolline en Agrodulce (Sweet and Sour Cipolline Onions)


1 pound cipolline

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano


Soak cipolline in chilled water for a few minutes to loosen their skins, then peel them with a small knife, removing top and bottom nubs.

Put cipolline in a large pan with water to a depth of two inches. Bring to a simmer on medium heat and cook uncovered for 15 minutes. If the water evaporates, add more as needed to cover the onions.

Stir in the vinegar, sugar, and salt. Reduce heat to low and simmer 40 minutes to an hour, adding more water as neccessary.

Transfer to serving plate with slotted spoon. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with oregano, and serve.

Cook's note: The author's serving suggestions vary somewhat - she says to serve the cipollini in the remaining pan juices, but that's a lot of juice and I think it might be a bit overwhelming. Anyway, Peggy didn't serve the juices in her accompanying photograph! She also recommends letting the onions cool to room temperature before drizzling and serving...but I can't imagine why!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Save the Internet

Word up to Network Neutrality! I just want to take a moment to climb on board the "Save the Internet" bandwagon, which is a campaign fighting internet bandwidth regulation. Mega-corporate service providers like Comcast, AT&T, etc., are lobbying Congress to permit a fee-based "two-tiered" internet: high speed and...not. In a future world of regulated bandwidth, would load instantly, while small, independent websites - like some poor little food blogs I know! - would crawl, dial-up style (and this is, of course, after we've all got cable).

Anyway, others have already explained the issue at hand better than I, so if you want to learn more about it and/or get involved, check out these links:

Moby speaks out for Save the Internet
Alternet article summarizing the issue
The Other Kate at Accidental Hedonist
Save the Internet mainpage

I Coppi, I Crave Thee!

Does anybody remember my story about trying to get a job at I Coppi, my all-time favorite Italian restaurant? Where I was interrogation-scorched and left to scrabble home, marinating in my own humiliation?

Well, I’ve come a long way since then. I think. I hope you do too. I mean, I not only know what gnocchi is now—I can make it!

I used to go to I Coppi (pronounced "Ee KOPE-ee")as often as my budget would allow me; there was even a time when J and I went almost every other weekend for brunch, because their food is so outstanding and was miraculously in our price range. They had an entrée-coffee-cocktail deal for $8.50—a real steal for homemade pastas, fabulously fresh ingredients, and innovative Italian cooking. The family-owned trattoria was primarily built by Lorella Innocenti and her husband John Brennan; Lorella’s mother was invited from Tuscany to design the seasonal menu of family recipes, and Lorella’s sister Maristella (the infamous inquisitor and extraordinary culinary artist) came to co-manage the restaurant and subsequently became head chef. She’s there overseeing, cooking, hosting and even serving every night. They have an impeccable wine list boasting a select variety of Super Tuscans. Since my days as a regular, they’ve upped the brunch price (and the menu prices in general—a completely merited increase, to their credit), so while it’s still an all-time favorite, we’re not such frequent customers…

Which is why when grown-ups come to town to celebrate their kids’ graduation by spending a little money, I Coppi is one of the first places we recommend.

In honor of Glod’s graduation and final days as a New York resident (see other mentions of the illustrious Glod at Olive Oil Tasting), I Coppi was our destination, via the generosity of his mom. Seeking an early dinner (Glod had capped-and-gowned his way through lunchtime), we came knocking around 4:30—whereupon Maristella looked at her watch, looked at us as though slightly insane, and said, “It’s early! Twenty minutes. Take a walk around the block.” So that is what we did.

Twenty minutes later, we followed our noses back around the block, tracking the wafts of home-baked bread. We were welcomed and promptly seated in I Coppi’s Eden-like garden; the covered area with vines in bloom opened up to a little outdoor plot with azaleas and a black cat roaming about. Verdant potted plants adorned each table, alongside an elegant bottle of olive oil. We began with Fett’unta con olive—grilled triangles of that home-baked Tuscan bread soaked in garlic, olive oil and sea salt, served with a mound of zesty black olives—and that wonderful Italian staple, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. I’ve never had mozzarella quite like this, though—it was was slightly sweet and had a spreadable, clotted-cream-type texture.

All of our entrees were excellent, but of particular note was I Coppi’s signature dish, Gnocchi all' arancia e granchio: homemade potato gnocchi with crabmeat in an orange-gin sauce. I either have this dish or convince someone else to have it (so that I can get the fusilli with pine nut-dandelion pesto) every time I come. It’s a wonderful sweet-savory combination, with the sweet orange-gin flavor agreeably offsetting the crabmeat. Their handmade gnocchi (a sight better than mine!) is always perfectly prepared and very complimentary to the creamy sauce.

We finished by sharing a generous slice of orange-flavored olive oil cake. I’ve never had olive oil cake before, but I can’t wait to try and make it myself! The cake was rich and buttery (can I say ‘buttery,’ it being an oil cake?), with a creamy hint of orange through the middle, and served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Another impeccable, authentic Tuscan dining experience at I Coppi came to a close with a toast to Glod and his upcoming tenure in law school. Thank you, Teresa (aka Glod’s mom), for dinner…and thank you, Glod, for your care and friendship. You’ll be missed in NYC!
(J, me, and Glod on my roof!)

I Coppi
432 East 9th Street
New York, NY 10009

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rhubarb Crumbles Are Just Very Small Pies, Too

It's rhubarb season!

Okay, I've never cooked with rhubarb before. But I wish I'd started sooner! I was at the Tompkins Square Greenmarket today (Eat Local Challengers take note - and explore the many wonders of rhubarb!), and there were only three stalks of rhubarb left. I thought, well, if it's so popular, I guess I ought to try it - though there's not a lot one can do with three reject stalks of rhubarb (clearly the other shoppers' discards, too - not red at all, just green and celery-looking). Nevertheless, I brought my three rhubarb sticks home and put together three little individual Rhubarb Crumbles (I made a half-recipe).

These turned out really well - sweet and very tart with a wonderful nutty crunch. The filling turned orange (because of the juice) instead of traditional rhubarb-pink because of the greenness of the stems, but was no less delicious. An added benefit - I got to try out my new food processor on the almonds! No more using my pathetic blender to puree things - hooray!

Things I didn't know about rhubarb before today:

- The leaves of the rhubarb plant are toxic.

-The plant is not indigenous to North America (I always thought of rhubarb pie and preserves as very all-American!).

- "Rhubarb" is a word commonly muttered by extras on theatre or movie sets "to cause the effect of general hubbub" (Wikipedia). Wiki also tells us that "[as] a result, the word "rhubarb" sometimes is used to mean "length of superfluous text in speaking or writing", or a general term to refer to irrelevant chatter by chorus or extra actors."

Individual Orange-Rhubarb Crumbles


2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole almonds
5 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup chopped toasted almonds

2 pounds fresh rhubarb, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 cup orange juice
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 tablespoon all purpose flour


For topping: Combine flour, 1/2 cup whole almonds and both sugars in processor. Blend mixture until almonds are finely ground. Add butter and process until moist clumps form, using on/off turns. Transfer to bowl. Mix in chopped toasted almonds. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

For filling: Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine rhubarb, orange juice, 5 tablespoons sugar and orange peel in heavy large saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Cook until rhubarb is tender but intact, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Using slotted spoon, divide warm rhubarb among six 1 1/4-cup custard cups, leaving excess juices behind. Blend 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon sugar in small bowl. Whisk into juices in saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until mixture boils and thickens, about 1 minute. Divide juice mixture equally among custard cups and stir into rhubarb.

Sprinkle topping over filling, dividing equally. Bake until topping is deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool crumbles on rack 15 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

Serves 6.

(Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit at

Aquagrill Oysters

Man, I love graduating. I should do it more often.

No, seriously. The last two weeks have totally rocked. I’ve gotten loving letters from my family, the occasional much-appreciated check, a giant bag-o-gifts (many of them wonderful food-nerd gifts: lemon wrappers, my favorite cookbook, a teensy food processor, and a series of nifty utensils including rubber basting brushes, all themed in red), two Broadway shows…and three exquisitely fancy meals at three restaurants I don’t anticipate my personal budget accommodating for about a decade.

I think each of these oases of gastronomical ecstasy deserves its own post, so today we’re going to start with that summit of seafood where I went on the eve of my graduation: Aquagrill.

We’re a seafood-eating family, and my dad’s a big oyster fan, so when I asked around about the best seafood in Manhattan, this is where I was told, by both peers and reviewers, to go. Apparently the oysters are second only to Grand Central Oyster Bar (in Grand Central Station), but that place isn’t reputed to have very good food-that-isn’t-oysters, so Aquagrill became our destination.

I’m not going to keep you in suspense: the oysters were fantastic. Dad and I shared a sampler that had one of each of the thirty-five or forty kinds they had on ice that night. They were arranged in a spiral on the platter, in the order of an accompanying list, so we could follow along and decide which ones were the best. They were all so different! Some were little and sweet, some were plump and briny; there were flavors of oak, melon, cucumber, berries in there. I felt incredibly decadent and pleasantly graduated.

The rest of dinner was quite good, though not nearly so extraordinary as the oysters. Of note were the seared diver sea scallops with peekytoe crabmeat risotto and the grilled Atlantic salmon with falafel crust and lemon coriander vinaigrette (which was also served with buttery hummus). We finished with a not-too-sweet blackberry crumble. Overall and oysters aside, I’d say that the meal was high-quality, but not tremendously innovative, in terms of flavor combinations or presentations. I had hoped to be bowled over and was instead just pleasantly sated (except, of course, with regard to the oysters). Another irksome thing about the already-spare menu was that they were out of tuna and “low on lobster,” meaning that there wasn’t any in the bouillabaisse. Low on lobster?! I could hear my mother’s heart sinking from all the way across the table. On the other hand, the service was exceptional—our hyper-charismatic waiter was attentive and knowledgeable—and the wine list was excellent.

So I’ll make this recommendation: graduates, if Mom and Dad are in town for the Big Day…make them take you to Aquagrill for oysters and a glass of wine.

210 Spring St., New York 10012 (at 6th Ave.)
Phone: 212-274-0505

Friday, May 12, 2006

Luck at Lucien

We interrupt our scheduled programming to relay this classically unpredictable New York experience:

I had arranged to get lunch with my friend S. We picked a corner in the East Village to meet on and decided to pick a cuisine from the several options available to us there. That corner was 2nd Street and 1st Avenue, and the restaurant we picked was Lucien.

Lucien is a French bistro that had come highly recommended and that I have passed often and forgotten to try. It’s very small—only a few tables—and the bistro ambiance is quite authentic...cozy, busy-feeling, full of fresh tulips and good smells. S. and I poked our heads in on that fortuitous afternoon (yesterday) and asked to consult a menu.

"A little pricey," I said. It's actually very affordable for fancy French bistro food, but as a new graduate, I'm doing my best to conserve my funds.

"Let's try somewhere else," said S. We headed towards the door.

"Where are you going?" inquired a strongly accented voice from behind an adjacent table. Two portly figures reclined there, the man in a bright blue jumpsuit, the woman festooned with a bulky, bun-shaped knot of silver dreadlocks. Both wore thick-lensed, black-framed, owly glasses.

We apologized, confessing that the menu was out of our price range. The bun woman shot the jumpsuit man a meaningful look.

“You stay!” he said emphatically. “I buy you lunch. I give you one hundred dollars.”

Let me take a moment to relay my thoughts here, which were, WHAT?!?!

“He is perfect,” said the bun woman in a semi-indeciperable accent. She stood, adjusting an elegant black shawl, and picked up a bundle from the booth beside her. She handed it to S. “You go in bathroom, you put this on,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. S. unfolded the bundle, finding a nice button down shirt and a suit coat. He looked at me. I looked at him with an expression that says, free lunch at Lucien! Do whatever she wants!

While S. was changing in the bathroom, I gleaned what information I could from our enthusiastic waitress. Here is what I learned:

- Jumpsuit man is Lucien.
- Bun woman is the head of a “very fashionable and important” Italian newspaper.
- There is a photographer waiting in the booth next to me for a shoot.
- The pictures will be in an article about where Europeans should eat when they visit New York City.

She had no idea what role S. might be playing in these pictures; the best hypothesis I could get out of her was that he might be playing a waiter or a model. S. is a good-looking guy and could pass easily for either of these, but Lucien and bun woman were deep in conversation with the photographer and unavailable for comment.

S. came back from the bathroom looking dapper. He looked around, waiting for direction, and receiving none, sat down with me and ate crusty French bread and butter. At that moment, a handsome older man came in and was greeted warmly by both Lucien and Bun Woman; S. and I speculated that he might be the head chef (if Lucien isn’t himself), or perhaps the proprietor of Lucien’s sister restaurant, The Pink Pony. Bun Woman’s assistant handed him an elegant shirt on a hanger, which he changed into in the middle of the restaurant. Then Bun Woman motioned for S., who was ushered into the booth and sandwiched between Lucien and the newcomer.

Lucien roared for the waitress in French, commanding wine and food for the photographs. Bottles were uncorked and glasses were filled—all while S. fussed with his hair and shot me perplexed looks across the room. The in came the photographer with a big fancy camera! He snapped rapid exposures of the three men sipping wine, talking and fake-laughing, S. looking fabulously like the perplexed male model wedged between infamous restaurateurs.

When the food came, S. was ushered out of the booth, and the food was photographed on the table by itself: thick, juicy Carré d’Agneau aux Flageolots (Rack of Lamb with flageolet beans, menu price: $24) and the most beautiful bouillabaisse I have ever seen, with enormous whole prawns arranged like a pyramid in a steaming bowl of mussels, calamari and aromatic broth. Lucien leaned across the table to inform us that his bouillabaisse is so authentic that they don't even make it like this in Marseille anymore.

Bun Woman came over to our table, leafed through a hefty money clip, and handed S. a $100 bill. “Where is your food?” she asked. I explained that we hadn’t had a chance to order yet. She turned and shouted, “Lucien! Lucien! Something-something-something-in-Italian! Bring them some food!”

While S. changed back into his own clothes (an equally snappy jacket and button-down), I tried to pry some details about the shoot from her—like, say, the name of the magazine, or when it would be published—but her accent was incomprehensible and she was too busy to talk to me anyway. Before we could even manage a thank you or a goodbye, she bustled outside and a bottle of wine appeared on our table, followed by fabulously garlicky escargot and a half-dozen succulent Blue Point oysters with homemade cocktail sauce. We ravenously devoured these, and they were replaced by an artichoke-asparagus-arugula-hearts-of-palm salad (which was just perfect! Served with teeny little halved cherry tomatoes and a light, lemony vinaigrette) and clam linguini (which was the real thing, shells and all—no cream sauce or anything, just the juicy clams and briny, garlic-infused oil on the linguini. To die for!). We finished with warm and flawlessly creamy crème brulée (which was uncharacteristically served in a broad, shallow dish—more caramelized crust to break! Yay!).

Lucien would accept no money and was emphatic that we come back and remain neighborhood friends. He even gestured to the wall, where pictures of celebrity guests hung, and told S. that he would surely be up there soon!

And that, friends, is my recommendation for Lucien. I can’t promise that you will get to pose as a waiter in an Italian photo shoot, or that anyone will slip you a hundred-dollar bill…but I can assure a very friendly proprietor and a perfect bistro meal.

14 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10009
Everyday 11:00am- 2:00am
Full Menu Served All Day Tel: (212) 260-6481

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Small Plate Smorgasbord: Tapas Chez Moi

When my parents come visit me here in New York, it’s standard practice to splurge a little—eat some fancy food, maybe do a little shopping, take the occasional taxi. With that agenda in mind, it’s my scheme to begin the visit by preparing them an outstanding meal; that way, they can subsequently eat five-star Manhattan cuisine and know that their little graduate is every bit as good a chef!

We picked them up at The Hotel on Rivington (which harbors a restaurant called “THOR” where my mother had a meal she described as being “three bites”) and took them on a whirlwind tour of the LES as we gathered our groceries. Our first stop was the Chinatown vegetable and seafood markets, where my mother exclaimed over the prices and my dad ogled the heaps of lobsters and blue crabs, the cleverest of which enact brave escapes across dunes of glassy-eyed fish; after that we hit Essex Street Market for hard-to-find produce and cheap cuts of prosciutto. On the way home we stop by the green market and one overpriced specialty shop to pick up the couple of remaining items we couldn’t find previously (mascarpone cheese, flax seed bread); we grab a nice bottle of Napa white on the way home and the gastronomy begins.

Mom and Dad poke around my 430 square feet of apartment while J and I get cooking. I’ve done a reasonable amount if prep work (shelled the fava beans, marinated the artichokes overnight, sugared the lemons and made the shortbread dough into long rolls swathed in wax paper and refrigerated), and we planned to menu to be easily preparable (nothing that takes more than 15 minutes), but we’re running behind schedule due to hotel complications and only have an hour and a half before we have to hit the pavement for a show, so after the table is arranged and the guests are settled, dinner begins.

(I’d also like to make a note that this meal is, in part, an ode to the influence of my lovely fellow bloggers—Tea, Ivonne, Vanessa, and Sarah, in particular, as I borrowed and fussed with their recipes—but to all of you who have contributed to my culinary growth over the last few months. Thanks, friends!)

Course One
Fava Bean and Pecorino Salad
With Lemon-Infused Olive Oil

Straightforward enough. The favas I shelled last night are rich and tangy, beautifully complimenting the bite of pecorino and my homemade lemon olive oil (thanks once again, Ivonne!), which I decanted this morning after the requisite three weeks’ infusion. With freshly cracked pepper and coarse sea salt, this dish is a simple delight.

Course Two
Marinated Baby Artichokes
With Garlic and Basil

Again, simple, straightforward and delicious. I love that baby artichokes are in season—they’re one of my favorites! The garlic-basil combination, along with salt, pepper, and a very flavorful extra-virgin olive oil, was perfect.

Course Three
Fiddlehead Ferns
With Brown Butter and Prosciutto

I’ve been reading about seasonal fiddleheads in a lot of blogs and magazines recently, and was delighted to find them in a specialy market (along with the Meyer lemons from the previous post). They were so fun to cook and had a yummy asparagus-artichoke thing going on, but with a bite all their own. I served them in the brown butter over folds of prosciutto.

Course Four
Pan-Seared Sesame Tuna
With Wasabi Mascarpone Cream

I’ve made the tuna before (the addition of smoked salt makes this transcend regular seared ahi), but the mascarpone cream was a shift from my previous wasabi aioli. I liked it a lot better—it was rich and spicy with buttery, sweet undertones.

Course Five
King Crab and Stone Crab Claws
With Ginger-Soy Glass Noodles

Many thanks to Vanessa at she craves for the inspiration for this recipe. I tweaked it a little (used glass noodles instead of rice noodles, etc.) but retained its simplicity and assortment of piquant flavors. I had actually intended on using lobster instead of crabmeat, but they didn’t have any tails at the market, and I didn’t want to carry live ones around for another hour and a half while shopping. The substitute king- and stone crab legs turned out to be delicious but very messy…I don’t have any cracker-things…so there I was, hitting claws arranged on a cutting board with a hammer… This was the first non-stir-fried-vegetable-thing to ever be prepared in my wok!

Course Six
Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade
On Flax Seed Toast

The first-ever sampling of my marmalade. I put one little teeny jar in the middle of the plate and served it with four teeny flax toasts. Hooray marmalade! Delicious!

Course Seven
Lemon Ginger Ice
In Sugared Lemon Cups

Holla to Sarah at delicious life for this recipe. I saw your beautiful photograph of these and have been waiting to try them ever since. What a success they were! You were right—cleaning out the shells was pretty hard…how did you do it without tearing holes in the bottom? They were so pretty! And the lemon ginger ice was scrumptious.

Course Eight
Warm Lemon Coconut Shortbread

Let me tell you how these came about: I was gifted a package of organic shredded coconut (thanks, Linda!). One day last week, I decided I really wanted macaroons. I’ve never made macaroons before and didn’t really consider what their constituents might be before spying a recipe on the back of the package (I know, what was I thinking?) for coconut cookies and assuming they must be macaroons. Wrong! After already adding two cups of flour (macaroons are, of course, more or less flourless), I realized my mistake, and also realized that the back-of-the-package recipe was completely yucky (two tablespoons of sugar? With two cups of flour and unsweetened coconut? You call that a cookie?). So I improvised to the best of my ability (a weird ingredient that made its way into this recipe: homemade lemonade) and ended up with a zesty, very agreeable little shortbread.

* * *

So that was the meal. The kitchen was littered with crab shells and I unknowingly got wok oil on my jacket and wore it subsequently in every single picture over the course of the entire weekend…but it was worth it.
Coming up next...dining out reviews, and a bizarre serendipity at Lucien!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Graduating and Marmalade

Well, everyone, I did it...I graduated from college. Hooray! Note the change in my profile.

The focus of the next few posts, however, will be the numerous notable culinary events that led up to the Big Violet Event (we wear purple gowns: though sometimes a very tough-looking bobcat parades around our [scarce] sporting events, our official mascot is a violet). My parents came to visit and begat opportunities for blogging about marmalade, a cooking spree, and several restaurants.

First things first: The Marmalade. Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade, to be exact.

There are several important components of my Marmalade Experience. They are:

1. The inspiration. I will now issue a warning: this marmalade is contagious. I caught it from Tea (although I had first caught the lemon bug from Cream Puff), who caught it from Messy Cucina. You can read about our various results.

2. My previous jamming experiences. There is a place in my heart for homemade jams and jellies; growing up part-time in the North Georgia Mountains, I spent summers concocting wild blackberry jam with my mom (along with canning applesauce and the various fruits of our vegetable garden). I will never think about homemade jams/jellies/marmalades without remembering coming in - scratched, bleeding, twigs in our hair - bearing buckets of blackberries, ripe for jamming.

3. My new gourmet market discovery: Garden of Eden, on 14th St. near 5th Ave. After hunting for Meyer lemons in various markets for a couple of weeks, I found them quite by accident while shopping for sofa cushions (to adorn my new, premium sidewalk-find pullout) in this specialty market - which also carries red corn (which we grilled on the roof) and fiddleheads (which you'll read about presently), among many other things. The lemons were so beautiful: gold and soft with leaves and stems still green and pliable.

4. Buying a vanilla bean. I had immediate success finding one at the specialty food imports store around the corner, Truffette (aka. S.O.S. Chefs), which is a truly unique shop that carries a zillion different mushrooms (including black truffles), a dozen oak drawers full of flavored salts...they carried four different varieties of vanilla beans! I got one of the "regular" ones ($6). So exciting! Embarrassingly, I wasn't really sure what to expect inside a vanilla bean...when the recipe tells you to scrape out the seeds, I guess I assumed there would be big seeds, like peas. Imagine my surprise when I opened up the priceless pod to find the fragrant paste inside!

5. The pectin problem. In the South, your average gas station probably carries pectin - because canning jams and jellies is a normal household activity. In New York, however, you're lucky if a grocery attendant knows what pectin is. (I've had similar problems finding frozen pie-crusts here...not that I use those...) I thought I had solved all my problems when I thought to ask the importers at Truffette if they carried pectin and they said yes, and that it was even pure citrus pectin (perfect for marmalade!). I came to discover, however, that they only sold it by the kilo - meaning I would be making marmalade every day for the rest of my life. After visiting several local stores, I was about to give in and buy a freakin' kilo of pectin when I found out that a kilo of pectin goes for the bargain price of $75. Now, I wanted Meyer lemon vanilla bean marmalade badly, but not that badly. Thankfully, the sympathetic Truffette employee made some calls and found a market that carries organic pectin nearby: Commodities Natural Market.

6. The party. You know, I cook because I really, really enjoy it. In fact, under the right circumstances, cooking really cool, involved things like Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade can make me slightly euphoric. Friday evening began this way, with me gently slicing the beautiful, juicy lemons with my bad-ass new knife (thanks, mom!), when parades of semi-drunk college brats began falling up and down the stairs to the roof, where a party was in full swing. By the time the lemons were simmering in a saucepan, the party-goers had progressed from semi-drunk to completely wasted, and their escalating inebriation was accompanied by escalating numbers, volume, and glass breaking. There is only one other apartment of students in the building besides mine (and they only moved in recently), so I knew who the hosts were, and though I found the burgeoning revelry somewhat disrespectful toward the building's other occupants, I also felt like a crabby old lady and tried to concentrate on my marmalade-in-progress and rejuvenate my euphoria.

That was until - right as I was euphorically scraping seeds out of my six-dollar vanilla bean - they started peeing off the roof.

Onto my fire escape.

Where my plants are.


To spare you the gory details, I'll say simply that verbal abuse was projected at the perpetrators and nasty letters written to the (ir)responsible hosts. Administering said abuse nearly caused my marmalade to overcook. Then I really would have had to show them what's what.

So. A lot of ire went into my marmalade. And I think it made it taste even better.

Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade


1 1/4 pounds whole Meyer lemons

5 cups water

1 box fruit pectin

4 1/2 cups sugar

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

6 to 8 one-cup canning jars with lids and bands


Bring boiling-water canner, half full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain jars well before filling.

Work on a large plate to catch juice and cut lemons in half lengthwise, then very thinly crosswise. Discard seeds.

To soften fruit: In a large non-reactive pot (such as stainless steal), bring fruit, juices, and water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes.

Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. (If desired, in food processor or small grinder, grind empty vanilla pod and add to pot as well.)

Add pectin and bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly on high heat. Add sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Immediately ladle into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil.

Process 5 min. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lids spring back, lids are not sealed and you'll need to keep them in the fridge).

Let rest in a cook dark place for two weeks before enjoying.

I didn't bother with that last part.

(Recipe courtesy of Messy Cucina)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Nifty New Blog Feature

Just letting everyone know that Pie in the Sky now features a recipe index in the sidebar! All past posts have been indexed for your perusal and referral...hooray!

Off to prepare a Bacchanalian tapas feast for my visiting mom and dad. Exciting post to come...

Also, coming soon: Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Iced Lemon Corn Muffins

Following in the blogsteps of my favorite Creampuff, I'm going through a lemon phase. I purchased and have become enamoured with Lemon Zest by Lori Longbotham, a charming, fresh cookbook full of innovative citrus twists. I filled a drawer of my fridge with lemons; I made lemon oil, lemon ice cubes, frozen zest, lemonade, lemon cream pasta, lemon tilapia, chilled lemon-tomato soup, lemon all-purpose cleaner, lemon salt scrub, lemon facial cleanser. And since I just couldn't get enough, last night I made Iced Lemon Corn Muffins (because, as we all know, a muffin is just a very small pie). This isn't a recipe from the cookbook, but I think Ms. Longbotham would approve of its extreme lemony deliciousness.



1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 large egg yolks
1 whole large egg

muffin-cup liners

Juice and zest of two lemons
2 cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 400°F and line 15 (1/3-cup) muffin cups with liners, dividing evenly between 2 pans (muffins cook more evenly with empty cups among them).

Whisk together flour, cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, and zest in a large bowl. Whisk together butter, milk, yolks, and whole egg and stir into flour mixture until just combined.
Divide batter evenly among cups (each cup will be about three fourths full).

Bake in middle of oven (or upper and lower thirds if necessary) 15 minutes or until tops are golden and a tester comes out clean. Remove muffins from pans, cool 5 minutes, and ice. Serve warm.

Icing: Whisk zest, juice, and sugar together. Spoon gently onto warm muffins; drizzle remainder on serving plates.

Makes 15 muffins.

(Recipe adapted from

Cook's note: I also added a cup of chopped strawberries to mine, and they were quite complimentary. Raspberries might also be good...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Herbal Update #3

Everyone's doing so well! Look:
Tiny cucumbers!
Itsy oregano!
Teeny weeny parsely!

A lonely garlic chive...