Monday, November 26, 2007

Puntarelle: My New Best Friend

When I was poking around the net to see if I could find nutritional information about my new best friend,


I found this picture on the Produce Hunter website:

And the Royal Rose Products site (Everything Radicchio!) describes it as a "cross between asparagus growing out of a fennel bulb covered by dandelion leaves", which describes the PH photo, but not so much what I brought home from Paffenroth's, though the leafy parts look plausibly similar. My brilliant deduction is that I got baby puntarelle.

(Incidentally, I found my new mission in life on the RRP site. I must find and consume Radicchio di Castelfranco.

Seriously, how gorgeous is that?)

Anyway, back to puntarelle, aka "Roman Wild Chicory", aaka "Remind Me Again Why I Don't Live in Rome"? As with most leafy greens, I thought a quick saute would tell the tale quickest. The bunch I got had small enough ribs I didn't bother to separate them from the leaves, I just put the lower pieces into the pan a couple of minutes before the top pieces. It didn't take long to cook, five, maybe seven minutes. I tried a piece--it was deliciously bitter, with a barely detectable sweet undertone. I tossed it with some sundried tomatoes, garlic, black pepper and Parmesan into some rice. The tomatoes brought out the sweetness while somehow highlighting the bitterness, and the garlic, pepper and cheese worked their usual magic.

Next I tried it in a quiche with mushrooms. Spectacular! I used Cook's Illustrated's new no fail pie crust, the one that uses vodka, and it was really easy to work with and turned out pretty perfect. Bonus: I got to play with my exciting new tart pan, which I now love a lot. The bitter puntarelle, earthy mushrooms, and creamy eggs were a menage a trois made in heaven.

You may notice my friend Carla, the professional photographer, came over and gave me a tutorial on my food pics. It's really amazing what having your camera on the right settings and screwing with the lights for over an hour will accomplish. THANKS CARLA!!!!

Everything I read about this stuff indicates that anchovy is its soul mate, so I hope to find it again, perhaps in its more mature state, and report back.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Merry Thanksgiving!

And a ginormous thanks to the folks over at Serious Eats, and D'Artagnan, for my big, beautiful FREE turkey!! I've never either a) won a contest in my life, or b) eaten an $80 turkey on Thanksgiving. Does that make it unfamiliar enough to count for entry on this blog? Ok, not really. But hey, they gave me a turkey. It's the least I can do to give them a shout out.

And it was a lovely bird. The first thing my friend Jason said when he walked in the door was, "Wow, nice bird. It looks fake." How sweet is that?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Celeriac: Not My Favorite

I hate to be judgemental. Generally if I don't care for a food item, I blame myself.

Which isn't too much of a burden as the only things I really can't bear are sweet potatoes and cantaloupe. Perfectly wonderful foodstuffs. High nutritional value. Low fat/ low calories / low whatever the bogeyman of the month is. Attractive color that contrasts nicely with leafy greens and beige-y starches. They're good guys. I respect them. But to me they smell like sickly sweet death room, and I can't bear to have them near my face. I try again about once a year on principal, but so far no progress.

And that brings us to today's item: celeriac, aka celery root.

My photographic attempts were unpublishable, but you can see it in all its copyrighted loveliness by clicking here.

I have to say I'm just not digging it. It tastes like celery. It acts like a fibrous potato. If you want mashed celery and gravy beside your turkey on Thanksgiving, help yourself. Hash browned celery with your eggs in the morning, it's all yours. I see it on lots of menus, and I'm sure great chefs can do great things with it, but I don't feel any burning curiosity to keep experimenting.

To end on a cheerier note, I've been playing with other things that I like enormously, so more positive posts anon!

Monday, November 12, 2007

For Those of You Keeping Score

I am, obviously, SOOO out of the National Blog Posting Month thing. Failing to blog on the very first day of the month was not an auspicious beginning, and I've missed days since.

Good luck and Godspeed to the other participants, but I realized I had no real idea why I was participating. I thought it might be fun to network with other bloggers in the forums, but in reality if I could make time to kvetch there, I could make time to post every day. Or cook more experiments with the mystery ingredient. Or play with my dog.

I thought it might be more motivating. But for what did I need more motivation? I love my blog! I love selecting the ingredients. I love talking to farmers at the Greenmarket, and trying to talk to shopkeepers in Chinatown. I love cooking. I love the suspense of whether or not sort-of-picky Corey will deem my experiments successful. I even kind of love the agony of trying to take pictures of my food--insofar as it contributes to the deep satisfaction when I actually manage to capture a recognizable image.

I'm plenty motivated. I am, after all, Consumed. But I'm also consumed by other things that don't pertain to this blog, and I'm not going to beat myself up about my lack of quotidian posting. But the point is I fibbed to you, gentle reader, and I am sorry about that, even if I'm not sorry about failing to post every day.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

In Case You Were Wondering. . . II

Cheddar cauliflower is named exclusively for its coloring. It also tastes just like the regular stuff.

And despite it's highly photogenic color contrast,

I didn't have a much easier time

getting a halfway decent photo of it

than the purple. Because I suck. You've seen the evidence. There's no denying it. Happily, my extremely talented friend Carla is going to come over later in the week and give me a private lesson on Lighting and Shooting Close Ups of Things That are Sitting Still.

I used to be a good student. Maybe this will help.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Fun New Feature

Check out the Foodie Blogroll in the right hand column. I haven't had a chance to peruse all the sights, but I've nosed around enough to know that there's a lot of good stuff to be found. Enjoy--then y'all come back!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Meanwhile, back at Spaghetti Squash . . .

Now that the spaghetti squash has been steamed and cooled off, it's starting to look more interesting.

steamed spaghetti squash
Let's take a closer look, shall we?

spaghetti squash interior
The writhing nest of strands I expected upon opening the squash magically appear at the teasing of a fork, and only after the brute has been cooked. Now we're back to the fun!

I sampled a few strands and was pleased with the slightly al dente texture and (as that squashy/sweet potatoey flavor isn't my very favorite) the faint flavor of squash. If I had cooked it a few minutes less so the strands were crunchier, I think they would have made a fantastic base for a Thai style salad. I can't imagine how foul it would be topped with Ragu and green box cheese.

As it was, my first thought was "Hmm, it's almost the texture of shredded potatoes. Latkes!!" I sliced some onions paper thin and tossed them with the squash strands, one lightly beaten egg, and a pinch of salt. In the minute it took me to throw this together, I had some oil preheating in a pan over medium high heat. I dropped the mixture by the heaping spoonful into the oil and flattened it into patty shape with the back of the spoon. I would guess about 4 minutes per side, but using the "keep peeking till it's an appealing golden brown" method is all I can attest to. And voila!

spaghetti squash

They were . . . interesting. The never developed that crunchy crust you expect with a latke, and really came out more like a regular pancake than a potato pancake. The squash turned creamy, and even though the croquettes were about half an inch thick, the onion became so sweet that they were equally good eaten with a garlic pepper sauce and the aforementioned commercial maple syrup, of which we will never speak again. Weird, right?!

Corey actually consented to try a bite. He didn't make throw up noises, but I was shooting higher.

I used the rest of the squash in an 'interpretation' of quesadillas. I smeared a soft taco size flour tortilla with the garlic pepper sauce (sorry, this bottle doesn't have a website. You could use salsa, or whatever savory moist thing you like), put it face up on a griddle, spread spag squash strands evenly, added roasted tomato slices, topped with thinly slices of smoked Gouda, and capped the whole mess with another flour tortilla. Peek till golden, flip, peek, remove from heat, cut in quarters, consume. Repeat all. None of which I got a photo of, but they looked exactly like all other quesadillas ever.

Again Corey, my dear good sport, consented to a bite.

Then he finished the entire slice.

Then he voluntarily took and finished another slice.

Then he said "That was good."

By far this was the absolute height of my culinary non-career so far. And it gave me hope that perhaps, one day, I might breach his asparagus barricade.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Another Word About Maple Sugar,

A couple quick follow ups to last night's post. First, I had just taken a loaf of No-Knead Bread (arguably the greatest gift to mankind since fire, except double the amount of salt) out of the oven when I started writing. When I was describing the spiced seeds and went to see if the maple sugar package listed a website, the bread had cooled enough to slice. You see where this is heading. OMG--so delicious!!! Then I had another slice adding cinnamon--even more delicious. Maple sugar RULES!!

Second, after I got the website, I actually visited it for the first time. I knew the Greenmarket's "producers only" restriction, and I knew their packaging says "Vermont maple sugar", but I had never done the math. The Deep Mountain Maple people actually travel 350 miles, each way, to bless New York with their deliciousness every Saturday. I am profoundly shamed by the bottle of commercial syrup in my fridge. It won't happen again.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

At Last! The Spaghetti Squash.

Remember the spaghetti squash? Yeah, it's been sitting on my shelf this whole time.

spaghetti squash whole

When Corey and I had only been dating a couple months, I started to make asparagus for dinner one night. "Asparagus makes me vomit", he says. "Good, more for me", I say. "God, dramatic much?", I think. I go about my business lightly steaming the spears and the next thing I know, he's flung the bedroom window open and is hanging out making retching noises over the fire escape. So now I only have asparagus when he's not around.

And I took him seriously when he said he hated spaghetti squash almost as much as asparagus. The problem is that we've since moved in together, and around that same time he took a new job that requires a lot less travel than the old one, so it was a long time till I was alone long enough to cook the bloody thing. Fortunately, winter squashes have a long shelf life.

Finally one day last week, Corey had a conference in NJ, and Max was sick, so I had to work from home. First I cut the squash in half lengthwise. Somehow it's butter yellow skin had left me with the subconscious expectation that it would be relatively easy to slice, an impression that its unrotted weeks patiently awaiting use hadn't dispelled. I can be thick too.

spaghetti squash halved

As you can see from this sad, butchered specimen, it was as fun the cut as any pumpkin. And I was surprised to see that raw it looks pretty much like any other winter squash. I guess maybe I was hoping for the strands to come bursting out like one of those joke peanut cans filled with springy snakes. Not so much. Ok, so far spaghetti squash? Not nearly as exciting as my fevered childhood imagination had promised, but I would soldier on.

I scraped out the guts and set them aside then placed one half face down in a covered steamer basket over boiling water. While it was steaming, I separated the seeds from the guts and swirled them around a sieve under running water till the sliminess was considerably reduced. I spread the seeds on a few layers of paper towels to dry, then lifted the lid and poked the now very sweaty squash half with a knife. It went in with only moderate resistance, so I figured it was time to swap out the halves (this was the larger half, after about 15 minutes of steaming).

I set the cooked half to the side, face up, to cool and preheated the oven to 325. I blotted the rest of the water from the seeds and scraped them off the paper towels into a small bowl. I sprayed them with a little Trader Joe's aerosol olive oil, the sprinkled on some cayenne pepper, this maple sugar, and kosher salt, stirred till the seeds were evenly coated, spread them more or less evenly on a foil lined tray, and popped them into the oven. By this time a little over 10 minutes had elapsed, so I checked the other squash half and it was done.

I really can't say how long the seeds were in the oven. I cleaned up the mess-so-far. I prepped some other stuff. I piddled on the computer. After the first 40 minutes or so, I checked on them periodically, and after they started looking brown I checked on them more frequently, taste testing, or really texture testing, them every ten minutes until they were entirely crunchy and delicious without any lingering fiberousness in the hull or stickiness in the nut. An hour and a half? Two hours? Till they were done.

spiced spaghetti squash seeds

The seed itself was, to my taste, not significantly different from a pumpkin seed. The spicy sweet salty combination of spices was completely addictive and made me wish spaghetti squash had as many seeds as pumpkin does.

By the time we had devoured all the seeds, the meat was cooled off and ready to play with.

To be continued . . .

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Remembrance of Apples Past

Maybe it's not exactly my madeleine, but the sight of this homely little apple almost brought me to tears at the Greenmarket last Saturday.

At the far end of their one acre garden, my grandparents had a small orchard. One peach and one pear tree, neither of which ever did much, and about eight or so apple trees which produced an incredible number of these knobby, spotty little gobs. I can't count the hours I spent down in "the bottom" in an uneasy truce with the bees, leaving them to the sickly sweet rotting apple mush in peace, so long as they let me go about my Easter egg hunt for good apples unmolested. I can't even guess how many five gallon buckets of the things my grandmother and I carried back up to the house over the years, where we'd spread out newspapers and peel and quarter them till it felt like the paring knives were embedded in our fingers.

Once a year, she would make apple butter out of them, cooking them down in the crock pot with sugar, cinnamon candies, cinnamon oil, and who knows what else (she never did write down a recipe) for hours and hours and hours and then can it in Ball jars. Any commercial apple butter producer would have done very well to acquire my grandmother's recipe, if there was one.

More often she would make apple sauce or just can the quarters whole. Frequently she would slice them and fry them with butter and sugar until soft and we'd eat them with fresh hot biscuits.

I had never seen this kind of apple anywhere else, and presumed I never would again. I also presume that few outside of my immediate family have any knowledge of them, which is why I though it was appropriate to include them here. They're available from the Seriously Good Bacon folks (I think they're actually called Violet Hill Farm or something, but the bacon sign is much more prominent) at Union Square, where they just call them wild apples. I don't know what else to call them, so that will do.

Friday, November 2, 2007

I Can't Beleive Me

I am pathetic. I signed on to post every day for National Blog Posting Month (thinking it would be both fun and motivating). We're one day into November, and I'm already a day behind. Lo. Ser.

I do have several excellent excuses involving serial out of town guests and a big fundraising event at work, but whatever. From henceforth, a new post ever day in November.

Except tonight, because I have a ticket to see Cymbeline at Lincoln Center. Or, more precisely, to be mesmerized by Michael Cerveris while the rest of the play happens around his incomparable genius. Food can wait.