Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rosemary-Brie Mac 'n Cheese

Someone in my building has been playing the theremin, or possibly the saw, for six consecutive days now. For at least five hours each day, the tremulous, mournful whine navigates a path through the raindrops and into my window, along with September's calling card: the damp chill that settles on sofa cushions and bloats doors until they groan in their frames. To the doleful duet between warbling theremin/saw and congested gutters slopping rainwater into the alley, W. takes practice-GRE tests sequestered in her room; I perch at my computer and wonder what to write.

I got a job serving at an upscale restaurant in the Union Square area. I'm continuing to pursue other avenues of employment more closely related to my various long-term ambitions, but this gig will definitely pay the rent without breaking my back, and also offers good food at a generous discount. I feel it would be inappropriate to write a review for it during my tenure as an employee (particularly since my superiors can consult my resume for the blog address); suffice it to say, then, that the restaurant is particularly known for its candle-lit ambiance (featured below).
I'm enjoying it so far (and will be even more so when my training is over on Thursday and I actually get to keep my tips); the consistent patterns of set-up, glass-filling, and reciting specials make me feel rhythmic and at ease. The job also offers a welcome opportunity for me to expand my knowledge of wine; and besides, being any part of a process of providing people with good food is very satisfying to me.

All that said, I haven't cooked a stitch or snapped a photo in two weeks; lately, I've been eating questionable staff meals at the restaurant, but the only thing I've bothered to make at home is another round of this self-devised "French" mac 'n cheese (or should I say, "mac et fromage"?) that I made, ostensibly for my passel of nieces and nephews, at the beach. I think the adults enjoyed it more than the children, but all-around I'd say it was a success and worth repeating.

Rosemary-Brie Mac 'n Cheese


2 cups small elbow macaroni, or similar pasta as desired
1/2 cup panko flakes or other breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons butter
1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole milk (be prepared to add more as necessary)
7 oz. Brie, rind removed
5 oz. gruyere, cut into
½-inch cubes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
5 oz. fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced and
sautéed in 1 teaspoon butter
1 cup diced fresh figs
salt and pepper to taste


Cook macaroni in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain.

Melt 3T butter in large saucepan; melt remaining tablespoon in small saucepan. Mix panko or other breadcrumbs into small saucepan; remove from heat and set aside.

Add flour to large saucepan; whisk over medium-low heat 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk. Add rosemary and bring to boil, whisking constantly. Whisk 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Add cheese, mushrooms and figs; stir until melted. Add more milk if necessary for thick, creamy consistency.

Preheat broiler. Mix macaroni into sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon into Pyrex (or, for more crunchy surface area, spoon into 9-inch pie plate); sprinkle crumbs over. Broil until crumbs brown, about 2 minutes, and serve hot.

Now that I'm not frantically job-hunting or penny-pinching so ferociously (not to say that I won't continue to be an expert on dining in the East Village for ten dollars or less for a good while yet), I hope to get back to blogging with some regularity/continuity. After all, the CSA keeps pouring in, the Greenmarket still spreads its welcoming arms every Sunday, and I continue to be hungry. Thank you for your patience and support!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Dragonfruit Blues


You know how things can seem really promising, and then, after a lot of excitement and anticipation, they just don't pan out? Like when you look back over what was supposed to be a lavish, exhilarating, fulfilling summer and see that, even after all that planning, you just spent too much time on the couch wishing for air conditioning, you forgot about the cardamom-ginger pie crusts and left them in the oven all day, your washing machine still isn't working after four months and eight visits from the repairman, you look fat in all your beach pictures, your bank account is empty, your food photos are all coming out like crap because you don't have a decent way to light them, you boiled spaghetti in forty dollars' worth of Chianti but added too much water so it came out grey, you can't afford a pedicure to make yourself feel better and apparently after graduating from college you're underqualified to be a waitress in New York City?

Well, that's sort of like dragonfruit - lots of exotic, hot-pink promise; tastes like an over-ripe kiwi from WeightWatchers.

But - when life gives you bland, mushy dragonfruits...make key lime pie with a stiff layer of sweet meringue. And potpourri.

Key Lime Pie


1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. cinnamon

4 large egg yolks
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup + 1 tbs. key lime juice

4 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/3 cup sugar


Mix together crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and butter; press into bottom and sides of 9" pie pan and bake at 375 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes. Place on rack to cool. (Do not pour filling into an uncooled crust.)

Beat egg yolks with electric mixer until thick and light yellow, about 3 minutes. Add sweetened condensed milk. Stir in half of the juice until blended. Add remaining juice and blend in. Pour mixture into pie shell.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar with electric mixer on high until stiff peaks form; add sugar and beat just until combined. Spread meringue over pie filling, making sure it touches the crust on all sides.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes until set.

Let cool to room temperature; chill and serve, garnished with twists of candied lime zest.

Spread your leftover key lime rinds on a baking sheet and dry them out in the oven at 150 degrees for four to five hours. They make the kitchen smell lovely and are a beautiful addition to a bowl of potpourri.

Now, maybe not all dragonfruits are bland and disappointing; I've only tried it once, after all. Maybe I just haven't learned how to single out a ripe, sweet dragonfruit yet. But I'm a very competent slice of pie if I do say so myself, and I'm sure I'll get it right the next time.

Crossing my fingers for autumn.

Thank you to everybody who emailed to say they missed me; your love, support and enthusiasm are very important to me and are deeply appreciated. Keep cooking =)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Breath of Sunshine

Oh, dear!

A nasty flu segued from one trip into another, and I'm off again to my family vacation in Grayton Beach, Florida! Please forgive my weeks of absence while I lay claim to the blogging hiatus which is appears to be contaigious in August's blogosphere. Frankly, without air conditioning and with record summer highs of 100 degress here in NYC, not only is it too hot to cook in my kitchen or even blog at my computer (also in my kitchen), it's almost too hot to venture out of sequestration by the window unit in the bedroom to get a glass of water.

In Grayton this coming week, as you may remember, my mojito skills will be put to the test. I'll also be preparing a Tuscan meal for eleven adults and nine children, so expect reports on that as soon as I get back - I'm very excited about the menu I planned. (Hint: it has several elements that had been featured before on Pie in the Sky!) In fact, since the week's dinner structure is that each of my siblings (and/or their spouses) prepares a meal for everyone, I ought to have lots of yummy recipes to report!

In the meantime, I shall be browning in the sun like a pie in the oven and reading Julie and Julia. And playing marco polo with nine enthusiastic little opponents. See you on the 16th!

In the meanwhile, I leave you with a simple, refreshing summer beverage and a Tuscan teaser:

Cucumber Water


1 large cucumber
1 pitcher water


Peel cucumber; remove ends, slice in half and scoop out seeds. (Alternatively, simply ppel and slice a small English cucumber, which is seedless.) Chop into quarter-inch slices. Combine with water and chill.

Ice-cold cucumber water is a summer essential in my fridge - its delicate flavor and crisp tang make it twice as refreshing as a regular glass of H20.

Lemon Olive Oil Cake


3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for greasing pan
2 lemons
1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
4 large eggs plus one additional yolk
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar


Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 9-inch layer pan or springform pan lightly with olive oil.

Grate 3 teaspoons lemon zest with a fine rasp. Toss zest with flour. Squeeze and reserve 3 tablespoon lemon juice.

Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add olive oil and lemon juice, beating until just combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture (do not beat) until just combined.

Beat egg whites (from 4 eggs) with 1/2 teaspoon salt in another large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium-high speed until foamy, then add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes.

Gently fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Transfer batter to springform pan and gently rap against work surface once or twice to release any air bubbles. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove from pan and transfer cake to a serving plate, top side up.

Recipe adapted from Gourmet via Epicurious.com

This is a light, delicately flavored pound cake with golden olive oil overtones. Fabulous with gelato or fresh fruit.