Saturday, March 28, 2009

Auf Deutsch, bitte!

German post markEver get a hankering for something that you just can't shake? That happened to me this week. I was looking over some photos of a trip to Germany. We took a group of high school rowers on a month-long exchange program, and our tour guide was a foodie. We ate our way through southern Germany. I think we may have rowed a little as well. With that trip down memory lane I'd been obsessed with spätzle and wasn't gonna be happy until I had some. And what is the national meat of the das Vaterland? Pork.
Stuffed pork chops
Herbed Spätzle
Roasted Roma tomatoes
Stuffed pork chop still lifeStuffed pork chop still life (detail)
Stuffed pork chop still life detailStuffed pork chop still life detail
Tell your butcher you're making stuffed pork chops. He'll know just what to do: cut double-thick chops with a slit in the side of each one. In the U.S., we stuff pork chops with Stove Top, the Italians grind pork and veal for a filling. I chose apples and onions (Äpfel und Zwiebeln) because I love pronouncing it and the Germans love their apples and onions.
Double-thick pork chopsSeason chops with plenty of salt and pepper
Stuff chops with apple slices and caramelized onionsStuffed chops ready for roasting
Spätzle is a soft flour noodle. It's really not a side, but a base for gravy or braised vegetables. It's such an easy dough: flour, eggs, salt and cold water. The hard part is forming the noodle. You can buy a sort of potato ricer contraption, and if you're gonna be making a lot of spätzle or if people refer to you as Fräulein, go for it. Otherwise, use a box grater or colander and press your own noodles into boiling water. Roll up your sleeves and be ready for a big, fun mess.
Spätzle ingredientsSpätzle ingredients (detail)
Spätzle ingredients (detail)Spätzle ingredients (detail)
I almost went with red cabbage as a side, but wanted a time saver. Roasted Roma tomatoes were a good fit. The flavors paired well with the pork stuffing, and would spice up the starch side like a champ. Roma tomatoes are famously bland in this country. Like a lot of market tomatoes, they're picked green and gassed with nitrogen to turn them red. They taste pretty much like one would imagine. Roasting them with balsamic vinegar, garlic and a pinch of sugar transforms them into a Pantheon side. Intense and sweet, they taste sun-dried.
Halved Roma tomaotesRemove seeds from halved tomatotes
Roast tomatoes for 30 minutesRoasted Roma tomatoes (detail)
Stuffed pork chops
  • 4 double-thick pork loin chops
  • 1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 Granny Smith apples, halved, cored and sliced
  • ½ tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • salt &pepper to taste
Sauté onion and thyme in half the olive oil and butter over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until deeply caramelized. Season with salt & pepper. Remove pan from heat and let onions cool slightly. In an oven-proof sauté pan, sear pork chops on both sides in the remainder of olive oil and butter over medium-high heat, just until brown. Meanwhile toss cooled onions with sliced apples and brown sugar. Once chops have browned, transfer to a platter and stuff each one with a ¼ of the apple & onion mixture. Return to sauté pan and finish cooking in a 350° pre-heated oven until the chops reach an internal temperature of 140°, about 10 minutes (chops will continue to rise in temperature once removed from the oven). If you're serving with roasted tomatoes, finish off the tomatoes first, then reduce the heat in the oven. The tomatoes will stay warm for quite some time.
Roasted balsamic tomatoes
  • 8 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1½ tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 oz (2Tbsp) fresh basil, roughly chopped
Toss halved tomatoes with olive oil and vinegar. Arranged on a sheet pan in a single layer, cut-side up. Sprinkle with sugar, garlic, salt & pepper. Roast for 30 minutes in a pre-heated 450° oven, or until caramelized. Move to serving dish and garnish with chopped basil. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Begin sautéing onionsSear outside of pork chopsStuffed pork chops with roasted tomatoes and spätzle
Onions begin to caramelizeSeared pork chopsStuffed pork chops with roasted tomatoes and spätzle
Caramelized onionsSeared pork chopsLeftovers
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup cold water
Combine flour, eggs, salt and nutmeg in stand mixer with beater attachment. Mix on medium until combined. Slowly pour in water, mixing until smooth. Continue mixing until dough is elastic, 5 minutes. Bring 2 quarts salted water to a boil. Scrape dough into a colander. Press dough through colander holes into boiling water. Stirring occasionally, cook until firm, but still tender, 3-4 minutes. Spätzle will rise to the surface when done. With a spider, lift spätzle out of water and immediately into an ice bath. Drain and toss with vegetable oil. You can store cooled spätzle in an airtight container for a few days. To re-heat, shock in boiling water, or brown with herbs and butter in a sauté pan.
You will be transported with this meal. Immigration may check for a stamp in your passport afterwards, or you might just find yourself online booking tickets to Octoberfest.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Monday, March 23, 2009

Too Long A Solitude

Lily pads
"I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion." ~ Henry David Thoreau
My friends have come to accept my self-imposed winter exile, or maybe they just put up with my a-holery, I dunno. In any event, along with the welcome fair weather, invitations are starting to trickle in. One just came from friends to whom I was introduced when I first moved to New York. Back then, they were kind enough to take me under their wing, make some introductions for me, and open up a world it would have taken me years to discover on my own. We had a most excellent outing catching the early spring migration out on Jamaica Bay. Afterwards, a cozy dinner at their home on the upper West Side.
Stuffed olives and nutsVermont cheddar cheese and Wasa crackers
S&J are two very high-profile people in their professional lives who guard their privacy and entertain only very intimately and simply. It's a chance for them to let their hair down as it were. However, you never feel more wanted, comfortable, or well fed after an evening in their company.
Hybrid cherry tomatoes Mako shark steaksSeasoned eggplant
Simple salad (detail)Grilling mako shark steaksRoasted eggplant (detail)
Simple saladGrilled teriyaki mako steaksRoasted eggplant
Our meal Sunday started with less than ten ingredients. S&J work wonders with a straightforward, honest approach to food. A simple salad of hybrid cherry tomatoes and red romaine lettuce dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of dried herbs. The Mako steaks had an unfussy marinade of teriyaki and soy sauces, and some minced garlic. Eggplant got minimal seasoning with olive oil, salt and pepper before roasting. Every step though, was executed deliberately and with care. There was no sense of urgency to get the meal on the table, the plates cleared and the guest out the door. I think my blood pressure actually drops after an evening with S&J. As always, the meal was exceptional; the conversation and camaraderie even more so.
I often shake my head in amazement at my good fortune. My wealth cannot be counted in dollars, however. My friends are my riches. I hope yours are too.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Experience in Immortality*

Stained glass manuscript (detail)"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." ~ Charles Dickens

When snow flurries greeted my awakening Friday morning, I had to bury my head under a pillow in denial. Only in the East can March be so taunting and cruel. But the first day of spring dawned clear, bright and temperate; a very good start to a very great day.
I started the day with some pampering. A pot of freshly ground French roast coffee, a light breakfast of sliced tomato and La Vache Qui Rit on a toasted English muffin, and a junkie's fix of the Food Network. Charged and ready to meet the day head on, I whipped through the bathrooms making them sparkling clean, showered and headed to the Botanical Garden to satisfy another addiction: books. The manager there knows me by face if not name and remarked on my prolonged winter absence. I let him know that with spring finally in the air, I would again become a frequent visitor.
Mt Carmel Wines hosts a tasting every Saturday afternoon. I made a detour there on my way to the market and made some very productive discoveries and in fact, brought two of them home. At the market, I decided to atone for last night's rich dishes with some roasted root vegetables and a simple pasta. Easter and Passover are quickly approaching, and along with Spring, guilt is the other fragrance wafting into the nostrils.
Bow tie pasta salad with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts
This here is just a teaser. I've written about my pasta salad before. It's a summertime favorite around these parts. The green grocer was just putting out fresh hothouse basil when I arrived at the produce stand, and the fine day made me so giddily optimistic that I just had to pick up a bunch for the first pasta salad of the season. I had some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano so tangy and salty that all I had to do practically was wave it over the noodles. It was a great starter. Sweet extra virgin olive oil; bright, clean basil; sweet nuts, woody olives and acidic tomatoes. I could have easily had seconds and then thirds.
Fennel, carrots and eggplant salted and drizzled with olive oil.Roasted vegetables hot out of the oven
Roasted vegetables tossed with balsamic vinegar, feta cheese and red pepper flakeRoasted root vegetable salad
I wish everything were as easy to prepare as roasted vegetables. Pick your favorites or whatever's available at the produce market. This was eggplant, carrots and a fennel bulb. Cut everything to roughly comparable sizes, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt & freshly ground pepper, toss and roast for 30 minutes in a 425° oven. Give a shake in the pan half-way through the roasting process. After roasting, I tossed mine with some feta cheese, a little thyme and red pepper flake and just a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Roasted carrots taste almost candied. It's amazing. Eggplant turns magically from an insipid watery sponge into a complex, creamy delight. For once, I pushed away from the table not stuffed to the gills but pleasantly satiated.
2006 Clos de los Siete MendozaI mentioned a discovery or two from Mt Carmel Wines earlier this afternoon. One was a Bordeaux-style blend from seven French winemakers who've emigrated to Argentina to produce something new and exciting from the promising microclimates at the foot of the Andes. The Clos de los Siete Mendoza is already a phenom within the industry. The 2006 vintage (50% Malbec, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Syrah), is a heavyweight at the ripe age of three, and will only improve with cellaring. The wine is an inky, dark red color; full-bodied and subtle at the same time. Lots of floral red fruit in the bouquet with rich ripe plums, caramel & vanilla in the mouth. Tannins come through in the finish to balance out the flavor. Clos 7 is a young winery with old world sensibilities. What makes this wine truly jaw dropping is its price: $19 retail. I'm heading back to Mt Carmel tomorrow for a case which temptation will no doubt prevent me from storing for any length of time, but what the hell.
And so ends the first day of spring 2009. I hope wherever you are reading this that your day was just as awesome, and you too have a contented sense of accomplishment and satisfaction if only for this brief respite.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
*Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Now That's Italian

The Arthur Avenue CookbookHere are two dishes right out of The Arthur Avenue Cookbook. Author Ann Volkwein totally captures the spirit of the real Little Italy with encyclopedic research, great vignettes, and personal interviews. It's awesome to walk into the shops and see her characters come to life.  I've been dying to take a stab at some of the recipes, but am - as you know by now - easily distracted. What with spring break and a lull in the day-to-day routine, I finally had a chance to sit down and bookmark a few favorites.

Everything in the Arthur Avenue Cookbook is straightforward. There aren't a lot of obscure ingredients and the steps couldn't be simpler. The best part though, is everything can be found from vendors just a couple of blocks from my front door; a couch potato's wet dream.
Farfalle con funghiLemon & capers chicken cutlets
Short of some internal compass, who can really adequately explain how the eye and brain work, but one look at the Farfalle con Funghi and I knew I had to make it. And what better foil for a rich, creamy mushroom sauce, than a light, tart lemon chicken cutlet? Any mama mia within a six-block radius would be proud to call me mio figlio after this meal.
Primo - Farfalle con Funghi
Base for the mushroom sauceThickened mushroom sauce
Thickened sauce run through a food processorToss bowtie pasta with broken down sauce
  • 1 lb farfalle pasta
  • 2 oz dry porcini mushrooms
  • 10 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 shallots, peeled and diced
  • 4 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
In a small saucepan, bring 1 pint of water to the boil, and add the porcini mushrooms. Allow to boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let mushrooms steep for 15-20 minutes. Drain the porcinis, saving the liquid. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and sauté shallots until lightly browned, about 5-8 minutes. Chop the porcinis and add them along with the button mushrooms to the pan. Sauté 4-5 minutes until the button mushrooms are lightly golden. Reduce heat to medium and add the mascarpone and cream. Stir slowly until everything blends. Add half the porcini cooking liquid and the Parmesan cheese. Reduce the sauce for 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove form the heat and allow to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add pasta, and cook to al dente, about 8 minutes. Put the cooled mushroom sauce into a food processor and pulse until the mushrooms are broken down into small pieces. Toss the sauce over drained pasta in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Serve hot.
Secondo - Chicken with lemon & caper sauce
Coat chicken cutlets in seasoned flourSauté floured cutlets in butter
Fresh lemons, parsely and zestFinishing the sauce for lemon chicken cutlets
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • flour for dredging
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp capers
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup white wine
  • Salt to taste
  • lemon slices and chopped parsley for garnish
With a mallet or rolling pin, pound chicken breasts until very thin (¼ inch or less). Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess. In 2 large sauté pans set over medium-high heat, melt the butter (2 Tbsp each). Sauté chicken for 2 minutes, then flip. (You're not looking for it to brown.) Stir in lemon zest, capers, lemon juice, pepper and white wine. Simmer 2 minutes to reduce. Salt to taste. Plate the chicken with some of the pan sauce and lemon slices. Garnish with parsley and serve at once.
photo: Tara Bradford
Copper pots and 19th-century stoves in good working order (detail).
There's a nice little wine shop in the neighborhood with some extensive Italian selections. The proprietor steered me to an excellent Jermann Pinot Grigio which perfectly complimented the chicken and brought the pasta course into balanced contrast. Dang, that was meal! The kind of dinner you can't wait to show off and brag about for days. I'll be taking my bows now.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food