Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Duck Gets a Multi-Cultural Lesson

Duck confit, or Peking duck may be the classic dishes that come to mind when one hears that duck is on the menu for dinner, but that would be too mono-cultural for Brooklyn. Last night, I had a fabulous dining experience, at a duck themed dinner party hosted by Hapa Kitchen, which is a group of chefs and volunteers who joined forces to celebrate the one thing that most of them have in common, being of half-Asian decent. Their focus is to create menus that combine their different culinary traditions, and if their take on duck was any indication, they are doing a fabulous job. I suggest to everyone to sign-up for their mailing list to hear about upcoming events.
If the prospect of five-spice-duck-pastry with hot pepper jelly (an addictive combo of flavors that I nearly forgot to snap a photo before it was devoured), or steamed duck buns with dijon mustard wasn't enough to lure me in (which it absolutely was) I went there in the interest of supporting a supper club that was showcasing local ingredients on their menu. All of our vegetables were from Sang Lee Farms, an organic farm out on the Northfork of Long Island and all of our wine was from Wölffer Estates on the Southfork of Long Island (aka the Hamptons). They poured a different wine to complement each course, but I particularly loved the Rosé. I really do encourage people to start seeking out NY wines to support the great work that's going on in our backyard. Sang Lee Farms runs some CSAs around Brooklyn (Crown Heights and Dumbo) and a couple in Long Island as well as selling their great products at a farmer's market down by the South Street Seaport. Hot pepper jelly may have skyrocketed straight to the top of my must have list after tasting the one that Sang Lee produces.

As the courses flowed and a room full of virtual strangers found so much to chat about, that the volume level in the apartment was increasingly escalating, we continued with a chilled cucumber soup with a duck dumpling. This was refreshing and light and the perfect palate cleanser for the main entree. I love cucumbers and cucumber soup in the summer, but this was the best one I can remember having in a long long time. It had texture, rather than being pureed to a smooth consistency, which I think added something unexpected and made it into more of a cool cucumber sauce for the rich duck dumpling. For photos of this dish and the delicious buns I mentioned, you can check out the blog MortaDiFame written by this amazing girl Jen (yes, another one) that I met at dinner, plus her photos are excellent.

Moving along with dinner, the main entree was a seared duck breast which was perfectly seasoned and cooked, served with the sweetest, most tender baby bok choy. I think this course alone was worth coming to dinner for. I can't tell you how many times I've tried both duck and bok choy only to find them not to my liking. Either stringy duck that tasted of nothing but fat, or bok choy that was so bland it seemed like boiled celery. This time, I not only enjoyed them, I was sorry I didn't have a doggie bag for lunch today with more in it.
The salad course was a mixture of greens with crispy duck skin, which added a salty and crunchy component to the different greens that were dressed with a mildly sweet dressing. The crispy duck skin reminded me of Spanish-style Chicharrónes (fried pork rinds) that people sometime snack on by themselves. I wouldn't have guessed it before I ate this salad, but seriously throw some crispy duck skin on anything short of ice cream and it probably will improve it.
Finally, the dessert course combined a French dessert that almost everyone without their own blowtorch at home are happy to see on a menu, crème brûlée, and a classic Asian dessert ingredient, sweet red beans. Some who are unfamiliar with beans in a dessert may think this sounds crazy, but it worked, it really did. The thick sweet custard really went well with the added texture of the beans. The only critique of dessert I had is that it was a bit heavy after such a large meal that it was hard to finish. I think it might have been the only course where the plates weren't bussed back to the kitchen completely clean. So much good food & wine, so much good company, and a ton of excitement and gratitude on everyone's part really made last night hapa-ning. (sorry I had too!)

Thursday, June 18, 2009


The weather this month in New York was more like monsoon season than the start to summer. There have been a few brief afternoons when it stopped raining, and on one of those days about a week ago I scored some gorgeous red rhubarb. I know they say that your perception of food is influenced by the way it looks and smells as much as the way it tastes, and in this case, I find rhubarb to be so beautiful looking that I would have tried to eat it, even if I didn't already know it yielded tasty results. Once known as the "pie-fruit" due to its frequent use in, you guessed it, pies (strawberry-rhubarb pie being one of my favorites), it has found its way into many more creative uses recently. I've been reading about rhubarb bellinis, and rhubarb mojitos (check out Brooklyn Farmhouse's recipe for this one), and even savory dishes with rhubarb (again, the Jamie Oliver cookbook), but as this was my first time cooking it at home I chose the very simple, very common, rhubarb compote. It also has the added bonus of making a great breakfast companion to yogurt, or working just as well on top of some ice cream for dessert. Which is right up my alley seeing how I eat breakfast and dessert interchangeably.P6160046
There are as many recipes for rhubarb compote as there are food blogs on the internet, but I'll tell you what I did anyways, and what I learned from it. The best thing about this preparation was that it took no time at all to cook. I even made it before work, although to be honest I had cleaned and prepped the rhubarb in advance, when I originally brought it home from the farmer's market. Unfortunately, I made it a bit too sweet, but it was still perfect over vanilla ice cream for dessert that night, and the next, and probably tonight too. P6160050
Rhubarb can be stringy, almost like celery if not cooked until soft enough, but since it breaks down so quickly try to avoid over cooking it, otherwise you'll end up with something more of a jam consistency. Then again, rhubarb jam is also a treat so don't really fret about it.
I chose to flavor the compote with the juice of an orange, although the zest would have been nice too, if you want a stronger orange flavor. I also added some fresh ginger, to give it a bit of a kick, which contrasted nicely with the sweetness. I didn't add any additional liquid other than the juice of 1 orange, but you could certainly add some water if you'd rather have more rhubarb syrup at the end. I was after a thick consistency and that's what I got. I mistakenly added about 1 1/2 cups of rhubarb, where I think I should have added about 1 1/2 lbs., which is why my rhubarb to sugar ratio was off. No worries it really was delicious as an ice cream topping, and if I had had some angel food cake, or biscuits, it would have been on top of that too. Meanwhile, I luckily have some rhubarb left due to my faulty arthimetic, (which will probably end up in a cocktail) while I sit home waiting for the sunshine to return.

Rhubarb Compote
I think this recipe could handle lots of different variations, really whatever you have on hand will work. I had an orange, so that's what I used, but lemons, or additional fruit would be nice too.

1 1/2 lbs. rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces,
1/2 cup raw
cane sugar (regular is fine too)
Juice of 1 orange
1 inch piece of
ginger, chopped fine

Place all ingredients into a heavy pot and set to simmer on medium-low. In about 4-5 minutes you should see the rhubarb start to break down and get juicy. Simmer until it is your desired consistency. Probably
no more than 10-15 minutes.

Put on top of anything that could use a sweet accompanyment.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Things to Do this Weekend

For those interested in the local food movement, there are two really great events going on around NYC this weekend:

The first and most important event is the opening of Food Inc. the movie. It is playing at the Film Forum in Manhattan and I highly recommend you go see it. I was fortunate enough to see a screening this past Wednesday followed by a Q&A with the Director Robert Kenner. I think this film is important, as in this is the issue of our generation important. It is a well done documentary that covers the reasons why you have no idea of what you're really eating. It goes into the political, economic and social justice issues that are intertwined with food safety and food policy in this country. I took tons of notes during the film about the facts that blew my mind intending to put them into a post for this blog. But, on second thought, I hesitate to do that because I think it is important that everyone see this movie for themselves. Images are more powerful than words, and although the movie does have a clear bias at times, there is no denying that some of the imagery in the film will leave you completely clear on where you stand on these issues.

What this Movie Will Do:
Educate people about the changes they should push for in Washington and on a local level, to keep our food safe;
Expose big agro-businesses and lobbyists for pushing for profits at the expense of food safety, ethical treatment of animals; and of workers rights violations;
Give you a reason to reconsider some of your food choices.

What this Movie Will Not Do:
Try to convince you to be a vegetarian (although there are some graphic images);
Try to sway you into feeling guilty about what you eat (we're all being mislead).

The second event that I wanted to highlight going on this weekend, is an Urban Gardening Workshop and Plant Sale on Sunday, June 14 at 2pm through the Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The farm is at 44 Eagle Street. You can even volunteer to help them with the farming on the roof, (a mere 6,000 sq. foot roof), if you feel like getting your hand dirty and getting in touch with your inner farmer (oh, don't pretend you never had overalls!). For more about the farm and the awesome farmers, Annie and Ben, check out the writeup on here. If farming isn't your idea of fun, then you should go for the mere curiosity of being on a farm that also has the world's best view of NYC's skyline. Oh, and buy a plant for your windowsill while your at it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Winning isn't everything, but it sure is fun!

Porchetta booth
Last Sunday I woke up to the most surprising email from Zach at informing me that I won his contest and two tickets to the Citymeals-on-Wheels Benefit that was held this past Monday, June 8. (Here's ML's link to a really great interview with Ruth Reichl, Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine and the contest question that I had to answer). This was somewhat earth shattering news in my world, because one, "I NEVER win anything!", and two, this was to be possibly one of the best food events happening all summer long in NYC. I am incredibly happy to say that all my years of working in midtown and being forced to forage for exciting lunch options in this mecca of salad bars and chain restaurants has finally paid off.
The Treats Truck
I just wanted to write a little bit about this event, because besides being super fun and exciting it had a unique theme this year. The official theme of the benefit was "Street & Savory, A Global Street Food Festival", which amounted to 56 stations of various mini-bites of deliciousness where amazingly talented chefs prepared their take on typical street food. There were satays, gyros, tamales, bhel poori (see photo below), spring rolls, and crepes to name a few options.
Bhel Poori at the Devi booth
There was also really good wine to be had. I tried two glasses, both from local Northeast vineyards, and they did not disappoint. The one I especially liked, enough that I may have to go buy some to keep at home, was a Gewürztraminer from the Herman Wiemer winery in the Finger Lakes region of NY.

There were so many interesting interpretations on how to dress up typical street eats, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed all of them. I think that it should be noted that even though the entire event was a wonderful experience, the best concept of the night in my opinion was Park Avenue Summer's 3-Minute Picnic, which was essentially a 3 course picnic done in miniature, complete with a picnic bench that you had exactly 3 minutes to sit at and enjoy the courses. And, since I saw that Serious Eats did a write-up of their top 10 list of dream street food offerings inspired by last night's menu, I'd like to add one more to the list. It really is a reasonable request, and I think it has the potential to be a huge hit. I would love it if the blueberry pie in a cup that was served at the 3-Minute Picnic station became a street cream trucks are you listening??
Blueberry dessert at the 3 Minute Picnic
It makes pie more portable, and it would be a welcome addition anywhere where ice cream is served. Can you imagine blueberry pie in a cup à la mode at the baseball game? I mean what's more American than blueberry pie and baseball (well, maybe apple pie, but it doesn't offer as nice an alliteration). Anyways, this is most likely a dream, but then again so was the whole night, so excuse me if my head is still in the clouds.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Easy-as-a-Summer-Day Cape Cod Cookies

It's a gorgeous summer weekend, the kind that really makes me wish I had a summer house (or more friends with summer houses). It's the type of weather that makes you wish you had planned a bit better in the winter to have some time set aside for a roadtrip to places that seem made for summer. Cape Cod is one of those special places, and it seems appropo that the cookies I made this week were inspired by its simple pleasures. These are the easiest, tastiest oatmeal cookies I know of. I baked these for my bi-monthly Dessert Corp contribution. (For more on Dessert Corp, see my earlier post on this great organization). They are the epitome of an easy dessert - no creaming the butter and sugar, and no special equipment is needed. Just you, your wooden spoon, and a big bowl.

This recipe comes from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. This book has been sort of a cooking bible in my family. I have learned so much from this book, and still refer to it at times for information (although the Internet has been winning out lately - shhh!). These days I mostly use it for the baking recipes, as my culinary tastes have gotten a bit more exotic, but it is still an amazing reference book. Marion Cunningham included not 1, but 3 separate oatmeal cookie recipes in this book. I chose her Cape Cod version, only because the other recipe called for shortening, which is something I don't keep around and don't prefer to bake with.

I can tell you these cookies won't disappoint. They deliver a deeper, richer flavor than most oatmeal cookies I've tried, thanks to the addition of molasses. They are sweet and spicy, and warm and soft, the way the fresh-baked cookies of my dreams are. They are exactly the kind of cookie I imagine some storybook mom would serve up with a glass of milk to her kids after-school. Although, the feeling is just as nice for us grown-up kids when you bake a batch for yourself.
Easy-as-a-Summer-Day Cape Cod Cookies
Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
(These cookies work great frozen, so if you don't want to eat the whole batch, just spoon them out onto a cookie sheet, but instead of baking, place in the freezer until frozen, about an hour, and then store in a freezer-safe plastic bag. When ready to use, you can place them directly into the oven from the freezer, just increase the cooking time by 5 minutes.)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinammon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon molasses (I use Blackstrap Molasses, which has a sweeter flavor than regular, if you can find it)
1/4 cup milk (reduced fat works in a pinch)
1 3/4 cup oatmeal
1/2 raisins (optional, dried cranberries would be nice too)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinammon, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients all at once (it'll work, don't worry) and stir together until everything is evenly incorporated. Drop teaspoon sized cookies on a baking sheet. You may want to press them down a bit with the back of your spoon, as this batter doesn't spread much. Bake until edges look brown and cookies don't appear too gooey, about 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.