Thursday, February 24, 2011

Inspiration Outing 2: Grand Sichuan NY

Not to be confused with The Grand Sichuan, which I am sure is also good.  I just haven't been to that one yet.

Grand Central Market was no doubt a beautiful place, but often inspiration can be found from stepping out of your comfort zone.  Maybe this night was about setting my senses ablaze.  Or at least the epidermis of my tongue.

In a sea of NY restaurants, this place is a great find.  It was introduced to me by some friends and I felt it was time to pass on the recommendation.  Don't come here for the hipster vibe or romantic ambiance.  The decor is an unassuming Chinese restaurant.

Ready with our rumbling stomachs and tall glasses of water, I asked my girl friend, Janice, how adventurous she felt.  Tolerance for spicy food was already a given.  Why?, she asks me.  Because the tripe and oxtail is fantastic!  And yes, it is served cold.  Did I mention it is fantastic?

If you have never eaten tripe before, I know the kind of reservations you are experiencing.  Stomach lining.  Enough said.  However, chances are you have all too often already eaten something that would sound just as gross if someone took the time to explain it to you.  Think hot dogs.

The first time (and admittedly the only other time) I had tripe was at an engagement dinner in a restaurant  in the Italian countryside.  It was Tripa alla Romana and this place was the place to have it. The dish was passed around the table along with freshly made pasta entree`s and mouth-watering charcuterie. Although everything else was delicious, the tripe left an unpleasant aftertaste that I couldn't get past. However, as a rule of thumb, I think each gastronomic adventure deserves more than one shot before being stricken from the list of what you would order off a menu.  I would even say more than two or three.  Did I get on this soap box and relay these thoughts to Janice at dinner, I wonder?  Maybe that was when her expression stiffened and she replied "I'll try some of yours."  Let me record this and set it free into the Internet universe:  she ate half. That's the spirit!

Some other things you should try at Grand Sichuan NY:

Shrimp Shumai
Clams in Black Bean Sauce
Green Beans and Duck

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Inspiration Outing: Grand Central Market

Don't all of the great cities of the world have beautiful food markets?  The food at Grand Central Market is only part of its allure.  Maybe it's the lighting or the stroll-friendly layout or the fact that it is embedded in this glorious specimen of architecture.  I have been traveling through Grand Central Station for as long as I can remember.  I grew up off one of the Metro North Railroad stops and as a young art student I travelled into Manhattan regularly to see gallery and museum shows.  Even now, as a Brooklynite, I pass through this magnificent New York City attraction on family visits, which they love also since it is mostly Italian like them.

The most impressive selection of any food category at Grand Central Market for me is cheese.  Murray's cheese has quite the spread and I always discover a type of cheese I had not heard of before.  I also enjoy the suggested pairings of jam.  I picked up a lovely rose petal preserve that I would probably pair with a milder cheese.  
At either end of the market is Greenwich Procuce, where the pickings are both seasonal and exotic. 
My mother often asks me to bring her meyer lemons on my visits. They are a bright yellow orange.  The kind of color you might find on a Spanish tile.  They are much sweeter than your average lemon but a taste still unique from an orange.

The colors speak for themselves, don't they? 

Cereillo has every cut of beef you can dream up and it has been aged for 30 days.  They also have a great selection of charcuterie.

Don't get me wrong, this market isn't cheap and for the most part I am a frugal cook.  But sometimes it is just worth the splurge.  For a full listing and description of the vendors go here.

Dinner.  For a new twist on roasted beets I made a glaze with olive oil, rose petal preserve and meyer lemon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Musings of a Home Cook

Nothing like a six week sinus infection that kills your sense of taste and smell to re-examine your relationship with food.  That's were I have been this winter.  Now the air is clearing, the weather feels milder and I have returned to my blog.

Functioning at about seventy-five percent of my normal gusto has changed my routine.  Or should I say slowed it down.  Normally, when I get home from work, I have 2 to three hours before my husband gets home when I tackle my daily/weekly task list.  Tasks including drawing, art projects, design work, household chores or just answering emails.  Then I start dinner.  Not feeling 100 percent means I have to pair down on some of what I get done after work.  Surprisingly, what I did not change was my cooking routine.  We could have ordered pizza. Albeit, take out every night would be an expensive and less-than-healthy option, I am not entirely sure that those reasons were the ones that motivated me to return to the stove every evening.

If asked in conversation what motivates my interest in food and cooking I would respond by referencing the impact our food industry and our personal food choices have on our health and the environment.  The agriculture, production and distribution of food affect the living and working conditions of many people around the world.  Eating better can mean living better.  And if that isn't enough, I LOVE to eat!  It is one of the greatest sensory pleasures.

I would heavily emphasize that last point.  What I discovered these past weeks was that even with my senses of taste and smell impaired, I was still not willing to forgo my cooking routine.  When I felt I could no longer concentrate at my desk, my inclination was to gravitate toward my cutting board.  I realized that that is the place were my thoughts are released and my hands and senses take over.  Taste and smell excluded, there is comfort in the tactile rhythms.  The comfort of being home is slicing through a cool, crisp vegetable and hearing the sound of the sound of the knife tapping on the cutting board.

Although I must say that I am happy to have my other senses back.  The other night after having dinner at a wonderful restaurant in Williamsburg called Barberry, I spent some time chatting with part owner and chef, Diego, about the subtleties of salt and the joys of making food from scratch.  In that conversation, Diego eloquently expressed what I will paraphrase, "how often we forget a face but the memory of smells and tastes last forever."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Community Table: Belated Valentine Cupcakes

What can I tell you about the very few posts I have made this New Year?  I don't mean for it to be habit nor do I want to give excuses, but I only want to put the recipes on hear that I am genuinely proud of.  I have been plagued with a nasty sinus infection that is paired with a loss of my sense of taste. This has made knowing whether or not I can be truly proud of my recipes challenging.  So, is it too late to show you my Valentine cupcakes?  I never celebrate Valentines on the actual day anyway.  That's just me.

These were made by my friend Naomi and I for a dinner that was being held tonight at our local soup kitchen in Greenpoint.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been trying out some more sophisticated cupcake recipes.  This is Cupcake Challenge number 4.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Buttercream

Coconut Lime Cupcakes

 We are messy bakers!

From Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" with minor adaptations:

Coconut Buttercream

4 tablespoons coconut milk
2 tablespoons millk or heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (optional)
4 cups confectioners sugar
1 stick of butter

In an electric mixer, add butter and cream.  Alternately start adding sugar and heavy cream/coconut milk.    Beat on high until fluffy.

From Shelly Kaldunski's "Cupcakes" with minor adaptations:

Lime Curd

4 egg yolks
6 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoons lime zest
pinch of salt

In a saucepan, whisk together the ingredients and cook over medium high heat.   When it is thick enough to coat a the back of a spoon it is ready.  lay plastic wrap over the curd and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Coconut Cake

1 cup all purpose or cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup shredded coconut roughly chopped
1 egg plus one egg white

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and make sure your cupcake pan has is prepped with paper liners.  In a bowl whisk your dry ingredients including the coconut.  In an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar for 2 to three minutes.  Add egg, egg white and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Add flour in three addition alternating with 2 additions of coconut milk.  Beat on low and scrape down ten sides of the bowl.  Divide the batter into the cupcake tins filling 3/4 of the way up.  Bake 20 to
25 minutes.

Chocolate Cake

2/3 cup all purpose or cake flour
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 oz bittersweet chocolate chopped
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon  vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and make sure your cupcake pan has is prepped with paper liners.   In a bowl whisk your dry ingredients.  Put butter an chocolate in a heat proof bowl and set over simmering water in a saucepan; stir frequently.  When it it is melted completely  remove the bowl and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.  Add egg and chocolate mixture to dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon.  Add vanilla. Stir and fold over until completely blended.  Divide the batter into the cupcake tins filling 3/4 of the way up.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes.