Friday, June 26, 2009

New York City Pride

NYC Gay Blogger logo
It's Gay Pride weekend here in New York City. I'll be marching with the New York City Gay Bloggers in Sunday's parade. If you're in the City, do make a point of saying hello as we march by. It would be my pleasure to meet you.
Thanks for reading my blog - Blog O. Food

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Labour of Love

Still Life with Rolling Pin
The calendar notwithstanding, summer has yet to arrive in the northeast. We've had measurable precipitation and lower than normal temperatures since June 1. I've been fighting the urge to go back into hibernation. The only way to combat the blues was to take refuge in the kitchen with something warm and comforting.
This is one recipe where any sane person would take the easy way out. There is very passable chicken broth out there in the marketplace. Homemade stock takes a couple of hours if you really want to do it right. Puff pastry in the refrigerated section of the grocery store is a godsend. Cutting fat into flour, chilling then rolling out dough is an anxiety-ridden chore. But I have a mile-long stubborn streak and a luddite snobbery about taking shortcuts. I also think that all that extra labor makes for a superior finished dish. The irony here being, it took me two days to finish a rustic casserole that any Irish pub can churn out hourly. I may never go to this much trouble again, but at least I know that I can.
Chicken Pot Pie
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 1 4lb whole roasting chicken
  • 2 cups pearl onions, blanched and peeled
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into ½" slices
  • ½lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" dice
  • ¼lb snap peas, trimmed
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼lb button mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ tsp hot sauce
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tbsp water
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1¼ tsp salt
  • ¼lb (1 stick) chilled butter, cut into small cubes
  • ½ cup chilled shortening
Chop enough parsley for ¼ cup and set aside. Place remaining parsley, whole chicken and half the onions in a large stock pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Reserving the liquid, remove chicken from stock pot and allow to cool.. Pull meat from bones and place in a large mixing bowl. Return carcass to pot and simmer another hour. Strain stock, then return to pot over medium heat. Cook carrots, potatoes, peas and remaining onions in stock just until tender. Remove vegetables from stock and add to the bowl with the chicken meat.
Sauté mushrooms & garlicCombine chicken, vegetables, mushrooms and sauce
Cook garlic and mushrooms in 1 Tbsp butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until mushrooms release much of their liquid (about 3 minutes). Add to chicken mixture. In the same pan over medium heat, make a roux with remaining 3 Tbsp butter and the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup chicken stock until thickened. Remove from heat and add cream. Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Add parsley. Gently fold sauce into chicken mixture.
Cut butter & shortening into flourWrap dough in plastic
Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Cut butter and shortening into flour with a pastry cutter until it forms a coarse, crumb-like texture. Stir in 4-8 Tbsp of ice water a tablespoon at a time until dough just holds together. Divide dough into two balls; roughly two-thirds for the bottom crust, one-third for the top. Form each ball into a disk, wrap in plastic and allow to rest refrigerated for one hour.
Roll chilled dough on floured surfaceLine pie pan with round of dough
Fill dough-lined pan with chicken mixtureCover chicken with rolled out dough
Pre-heat oven to 450°. Roll out cooled pastry rounds to fit a 9" pie pan. Line pan with larger round, fill with chicken mixture and cover with top pastry. Crimp edges, cut vents into top pastry and brush with egg wash. Place pie pan on a baking sheet and bake 15 minutes. Turn down oven to 350° and continue to bake pot pie until crust is brown, about 35 minutes more. Allow pie to cool a bit before cutting into wedges and serving.
Pot pie cooling on rackChicken pot pie
I swear to god, I felt just like Donna Reed when the pie came out of the oven. I could have pranced around the kitchen, giddy with pride, in a big puffy skirt and an apron. Everything turned out perfectly. The crust was awesome; light, buttery and toasty. The filling was a masterpiece. The vegetables were substantial, not mushy or watered down. Every bite offered big chunks of tender chicken and creamy sauce. I desperately wished someone would walk through the door calling out, "Honey, I'm home! What smells so good?"
If I blog long enough, maybe Mr. Right will cross my threshold one day. A girl can dream, right?
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NYBG Farmer's Market

The New York Botanical Garden Farmers Market opened today. I ordered the McDonalds double cheeseburger meal by way of celebration. I kid! I kid! I have been marking off my calendar for weeks and was giddy with anticipation this morning packing my camera and a couple of canvas bags while getting ready for work. It's a kinder, gentler Farmers Market this season, with stalls open on Wednesdays AND Saturdays now.

Before I get carried away singing the praises of the Market, can I make one observation that really gets under my skin? I have been an enthusiastic member of the Garden since moving to the Bronx in 2001, but why do they have to waste paper with a printed receipt every time I flash my membership card for a simple stroll through the grounds? I make a point of reminding the staffer at the membership kiosk that the Garden is supposed to be an eco-groovy company, and all that paper waste is upsetting. They always smile and agree. But the thought has never occurred to upper management? Really? It's aggravating.
Red leaf lettuce
BUT! Back to the market. There were only a couple of produce stalls open, but the bread maker was there, along with Joseph Bases of The Little Bakeshop. He brings delicious fresh berry pies and quiche every Wednesday, and I always snag something for lunch at my desk. The custard in his quiche is heavenly; smooth, light and creamy. I'll be taking a stab at one later this month.
White, red & purple beets
Along with sprucing up my diet with fresh produce, another goal for frequenting the Farmers Market this season will be to chronicle the progression of food through the summer and into the autumn months. You'll get tips and recipes for seasonal faire from the garden, and hopefully garner an appreciation of the seasons and where your food actually comes from and when.
Snap peas
See these snap peas? They're gonna end up in a pot pie later this week. Well, not ALL these peas, but some will.
New yellow onions
Asparagus bunches
Young asparagus will be out of season before the end of the month. You can do almost anything with young spears: grill them for a side dish, purée them in a soup, blanche them for a salad, steam them and drown them in butter if you must. Most importantly? Make sure to smell your pee afterwards! I'm not kidding. True foodies will understand and not be grossed out by the prospect.
Spring garlic
New red potatoes
Why do you think potato salad is such a summertime favorite? Just take a look at these beauties and you begin to grasp the concept.
Farmers Markets in the USThere are thousands and thousands of farmers markets across the US. Click the map at left to find a market in your neighborhood. If you live in a rural area, you're even more likely to know of a roadside farm stand. That produce was grown within mere miles of your front door. You know it's fresh. Studies are showing that supplements just can't provide the vitamins and minerals found in fresh produce. What are you waiting for, bad news from your doctor? Skip the fast food value meal and put freshness back in your kitchen.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chicken Marsala

Chicken MarsalaIt's wedding season. I just returned from an especially touching ceremony in the Pocono's where we had a terrific reunion of sorts while commemorating the love and commitment of a very special couple, Dan & Megan. It's particularly moving to be included in these celebrations and I am, as always, awed by the expression of love manifest not just by the bride and groom, but by all those in attendance. Deep down, I'm a sucker for ritual and my emotions run just below the surface. I left with a renewed sense of gratitude for all the love in my own life.
Another couple having just returned from their own honeymoon were looking for advice on something easy and quick to serve the in-laws Sunday evening. Both are young and inexperienced in the kitchen, but willing students, so I suggested an Italian favorite with newlyweds and anyone else with minimal skills and even less time: Chicken Marsala. Marsala wine has a very distinctive and sweet aroma that lends a unique flavor to sauces. Not counting salt & pepper and cooking oil, there are about five ingredients total in this recipe. I walked them both through the steps between holes on the golf course the morning of the ceremony.
Chicken Marsala 
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded ⅛" thick
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
  • ¾ cup Marsala wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Chicken cutletsBrown cutlets dredged in flour
Brown cutlets on both sidesSoften shallots in cooking oil
If you have an Italian butcher, he'll pound your chicken breasts for you at the market. Otherwise, lay breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap, and pound with a mallet or rolling pin.

Heat oil and 2 Tbsp of butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Put flour in a shallow dish and season with salt & pepper. You can add dried herbs to the flour as well. I like oregano or thyme. Dredge chicken cutlets in flour shaking off excess.

Cook cutlets in oil until just brown on both sides, about two minutes per side. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Soften shallots in same pan until translucent, then add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms have browned and released their liquid.

Add Marsala and bring to a boil, reducing by half. Add the chicken stock and thicken the sauce slightly, about 3-5 minutes. Lower heat to medium, and return cutlets to the pan, cooking for 5-6 minutes. Sauce will continue to thicken.

Just before serving, swirl in remaining 2 Tbsp butter and top with chopped parsley. Salt & pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Brown mushrooms and cook out their liquidReduce Marsala wine by half
Return cutlets to reducing sauce and simmer Stir in butter and add chopped parsley just before serving
You'll see this dish served with every kind of pasta from penne to spaghetti. Irish/Mexican that I am, I opted for roasted potatoes.

This is another meal that is all about the sauce really. A chicken cutlet is just a chicken cutlet. But you reduce some Marsala and stir in some butter, and now you're cooking with gas.
Storrs 2006 Lester Family Vineyards Pinot NoirMy quarterly shipment for Storrs came in just before packing for the trip to eastern PA. I threw an '04 Merlot and the 2005 Mann Vineyard Bordeaux-blend into a backpack for the post-rehearsal party Friday night, and reserved a Zinfandel and the Lester Family Vineyard Pinot for the cellar. The blend was the hit of the weekend. Everyone wanted to know about Storrs after that. The Pinot got opened tonight. Medium bodied, lots of red berries and herbs in the nose, and again the beach tar that I always seem to pick up with Pinot Noirs. The wine just expands in the mouth. The berries open up, making way for earthy, woody notes. It's complex and terrifically balanced in the finish. This one is hand-crafted, and unfortunately comes with a price tag to match ($38 at the winery or for members). However, it's still a great bargain for a special summer leg of lamb or roasted pork loin.
Chicken Marsala with roasted potatoes
I've prepared hundred of elaborate meals for groups large and small. But on a Monday night with nothing but a good book for company, I can still whip up a memorable dish and feel pretty good about myself. I brown bag it, or in this case, Tupperware it for lunch at work every day. If I get past midnight without raiding the ice box tonight, I'm in for a real treat tomorrow around the noon hour.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pax Romana

Vercingetorix surrendering to Julius CaesarFrom where do ideas spring? Are they triggered by external forces, or do they spring fully formed from the psyche? What do I know, I'm a food blogger, not a philosopher. In any event, here's how last night's menu came to be. I was at the Arthur Avenue Retail Market looking at produce. The grocer proffered a handful of yellow cherries. I popped a couple in my mouth and couldn't believe how sweet they were. I had to have a pound. While he weighed them out for me, I spied some beautifully ripe figs tucked under some herbs, and the cogs started turning...
Saltimbocca alla Romana
  • 8 2oz veal cutlets
  • 8oz prosciutto, thinly sliced
  • fresh sage leaves
  • ½ cup flour
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup marsala wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Salt & pepper
Stitch cutlets with sage leavesDredge cutlets in flour
Lightly brown cutlets on both sidesServe saltimbocca with broccoli rabe and reserved pan sauce
Use a mallet or rolling pin to pound cutlets to ⅛" thick. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Press 2 or 3 slices of prosciutto on top of each cutlet. Stitch 2 sage leaves on top of the prosciutto and through the veal. Dredge cutlets in flour, shaking off excess, and set aside.
Heat 2 Tbsp of oil and 2 Tbsp of butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook veal in batches until cutlets are lightly browned and the prosciutto side is crisp, about 1 minute per side. Move meat to a platter lined with paper towels. Repeat procedure with remaining cutlets. Discard toothpicks after cooking.
Pour off the cooking fat and return pan to high heat. Deglaze with marsala, scraping up browned bits. Reduce wine by half. Add chicken stock and reduce again. Stir in remaining 4 Tbsp of butter and reduce heat to medium. Return cutlets to the pan and cook until sauce thickens, turning veal occasionally.
Still life with figs and prosciuttoFigs with Balsamic and honey reduction
What of the figs you ask? I made a reduced syrup of 1 part Balsamic vinegar and 2 parts honey that I drizzled over quartered figs for a simple, elegant dessert. Toasted, shaved almonds sprinkled about added a nice crunch.
2007 Livio Felluga Pinot GrigioA 2007 Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio made for a fine addition to the meal. Fruit forward, apricot notes in the bouquet and on the palate. Great balance and a beautiful finish with more fruit and spice. Mount Carmel Wines sells it for $24. A worthy companion with veal, poultry and saltier seafood dishes.

Veal is such a light, airy meat. It's more a blank canvas for inspired sauces and simple techniques. Whichever Roman chef came up with saltimbocca needs an award named in his honor. One that rewards excellence in simplicity and flavors. I paired my saltimbocca with another Italian favorite, broccoli rabe. You've seen it here before. It's bitter and salty and garlicy and I just love it.

All this because I chanced upon some figs at the market. I think it best not to analyze these things too thoroughly, but I suspect figs reminded me of prosciutto and melon, and prosciutto lead logically to veal. There, I just showed you the man behind the curtain.
The aftermath
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Highway 80 Revisited

Powerhouse Eatery exteriorBack in a former life as a rowing coach, I and a couple of athletes would haul our racing shells from NYC to Lewisburg, PA for regattas against Bucknell University every spring. Along the way we would pass a re-tooled power plant overlooking I-80 in White Haven, Pennsylvania: the Powerhouse Eatery. We swore one day we'd stop in for what we fantasized must surely be huge slabs of beef wheeled out on rickety carts to rough hewn tables and benches. Itineraries never permitted the leisure of discovering what feasting awaited within and eventually our dreams faded. A few years ago, one of those same rowers took a job at Bucknell as assistant coach and this past weekend former teammates and friends descended on his place for a surprise bachelor party. As we zipped along the highway the sight of the old plant stirred forgotten longings. This time we would not be denied.
Powerhouse eatery interiors
Well the weekend was a success from beginning to end. The groom's fiancée managed to keep our secret and the guy was caught totally off guard when we kidnapped him for a round of golf, horse shoes and a fierce BBQ afterwards. Steaks, baked potatoes, even a vegetable were washed down with plenty of beer pong. The shenanigans went late into the night. A little bleary-eyed the next morning we walked into town for breakfast (lots of stomach-lining grease and hot  black coffee) before packing up for the drive home. Our copilot kept his eyes peeled for the brick smokestack that announced our interim destination.
Powerhouse Eatery interiors
Originally, the coal-powered plant served the nearby White Haven Sanatorium, a late 19th century tuberculosis institute. Antibiotics and immunization eventually took their toll on the place and the power plant sat idle for many years until 1989 when it was gutted and converted into a restaurant. Much of the machinery was retained however, making the atmosphere unique. The decor and menu were a lot more refined than what we were expecting. But when portions started coming out of the kitchen, nobody seemed to mind.
It was a Man weekend, so everyone in our party ordered burgers from the "small" plate menu. They were huge, perfectly grilled and delicious. Even the buns were out of the ordinary. Fresh, moist, multigrain rolls with the beef patty formed to fit the oblong bread. They were surely ground sirloin sandwiches. Nothing that moist and flavorful could be anything less. A gigantic mound of fries came with each order. Tugger, one of our crew, had to finish my burger for me.
The rest of the menu features dressed up version of classic pub fare: calamari fritti, French onion soup, jumbo shrimp cocktail for starters; Caesar and seafood salads; lots of chicken and beef entrées, delicious soups and tempting desserts. Now that we know about the place, it won't be just an interesting landmark we pass to and from Lewisburg. It will be a regular stop.
The Powerhouse Eatery is is located right off exit 273 on Interstate 80 in White Haven, PA.
They are open for dinner Monday through Saturday at 4:00pm. They open for lunch at noon on Sundays.
Welcome to the open road - Blog O. Food