Monthly Archives: January 2012

aliens of earth and sea

I was in New York City last weekend for TEDxManhattan “Changing the Way We Eat.” Embarrasingly, one of the most satisfying part of that trip was finding Romanesco broccoli for sale at Eataly. For $6.50 a head, I hesitated for a second because $6.50 is a lot for aesthetically pleasing cauliflower, but I have been on the prowl since I was 15 and seven years is long enough. Finally, this martian vegetable was mine!

I roasted the Romanesco broccoli, also known as fractal broccoli, with salt and pepper. When I took it out of the oven to cool down a bit, I shuffled all of the florets into the same corner of the pan and sprinkled it with rice vinegar to absorb as it cooled. I love how otherworldly it looks, and it is simply delicious. I hope that I’ll be able to grow it someday.

This meal had significantly more black in it than most meals I eat. The stuff on the right side is Lalibela Farm Organic Black Bean Tempeh from Dresden, Maine, roasted with soy sauce and sesame oil until the outsides crisped up. Tempeh is traditionally fermented soybeans and usually sold in stores vacuum packed to submission, petrifying in its wrapper in the vegan section of the produce aisle. This tempeh, however, is made with organic black turtle beans and it is unbelievably creamy and  fresh-tasting. It is the only tempeh I have been able to enjoy plain, but roasting it was over the top.

The other black stuff in the foreground is kombu from Ironbound Island Seaweed in Winter Harbor, Maine. The long pieces of dried seaweed were broken up and cooked in the pot with brown rice, salt, and a dried chile. I learned this technique from Justin at Mano Farm and it perfectly reconstitutes the kombu.

Topped with a sprinkle of red dulse flakes from the Maine Coastline, a fried egg from my colleague’s son, and a drizzle of sesame oil from nowhere near me, this meal was nothing short of perfect.

biography of a simple dinner

My cooking style these days often strays far from recipes and sticks close to the desires of my eyes, stomach, and mind. My ingredients also speak to me: that cabbage is finally getting old, I have way too many eggs (is there such a thing?), the hidden apple butter was suddenly noticed after months of unintentional neglect, or I take a whiff of Chinese five spice and all neurons fire “YES.” Since the messages from my mind’s eye and kitchen’s pantry change every day, I rarely replicate meals exactly.

But two nights ago, I had a simple, rustic meal for dinner that I repeated tonight and will repeat whenever the I have all of the ingredients at once:  a heaping pile of warm greens over country bread and ricotta, a celestial combination of some of my favorite Maine eats so far.

I caramelized leeks in a trifecta of butter, rendered bacon fat, and olive oil. Then, I threw in several handfuls of chopped kale that I had previously de-stemmed. This helps prevent kale from wilting, similar to how removing carrot tops keeps the root firm. (Important: I threw the stems into a jar  with garlic, fenugreek, and a dried chile and covered them with a boiling mixture of water, apple cider vinegar and maple syrup for an impromptu refrigerator pickle.)

While the kale was wilting, I toasted a thick slice of country bread from Scratch Baking Co. in South Portland. This bread is baked in huge 18-inch rounds at least 6 inches high, so the folks at Scratch sell more manageable quarter- and half-loaves as well. On my way back from visiting a friend in Portland for the weekend, I picked up a quarter loaf in addition to a dozen  perfect bagels, this establishment’s claim to fame and key to my heart.

After the bread was toasted, I rubbed both sides with raw garlic, a move that elevates toast from plebian to glorious, and smeared a generous portion of Lakin’s Gorges Cheese Basket-Molded Ricotta, a Rockport-based artisanal cheese made using organic Maine milk. I saw owner Allison Lakin speak at the Camden Library about her transition from museum jobs and an anthropology degree to owning her own cheese-making business, and I have been wanting to support this soul-sister financially ever since. Her ricotta is different, as it is left to drain to the point where it is sliceable. I opted to smear it (heavily) on the garlic-rubbed toast and never look back.

I poured the kale and leeks over the ricotta-smeared toast, and topped the whole thing off with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Voilà: a dinner that managed, with each bite, to evolve through light, sweet, smokey, spicy, creamy, crunchy, salty, and chewy. And everything except the olives in the foreground and the olive oil was produced in Maine, within about 30 miles of my house. I’m real into it.

a christmas review

A celebration is rarely complete without food and beverage. My family, like most, has such ingrained food traditions that I come to expect certain foods on certain holidays. The winter holidays (namely, Christmas and New Year’s) are the most emblematic of these food expectations. Mom always makes approximately fifteen kinds of Christmas cookies the weeks leading up to the big day. Christmas Eve consists of fette dei sette pesci, or feast of the seven fishes, with dishes like baccala salad, fried smelts, and spaghetti with tuna marinara. And Christmas morning holds my favorite tradition of all: egg nog, clementines, and panettone.

By Thanksgiving, panettone have arrived at the seasonal displays at our local grocery stores in New Jersey, and around December 15th, there are already a panettone or two in the house waiting to be unwrapped: the most desired and fleeting gift of Christmas morning. This year, though, I spent the weeks leading up to Christmas in Maine. As I might have mentioned here a few times before, Maine has few Italians and even fewer places to by Italian food. So one night, before venturing on the twenty minute drive to the nearest Hannaford to fulfill my panettone craving, I gave them a call to see if they had it in stock. After my inquiry was misheard as “melatonin” and I was transferred around between four different employees, I finally caved. I was making panettone myself.

Following Mario Batali’s recipe, I mixed the dough and watched it through the first and second rise, kneading it a bit here and there and finally adding the raisins. I was a bit hesitant about getting the shape right (right = pretty much a top hat), but the oven and the yeast seemed to do all the work for me. When I took this out of the oven, I almost sang.

Speaking of Italian pastry one cannot find in Maine, easily or at all, I visited New Haven, CT on my way back north and went to Lucibello’s Pastry Shop. The smell of butter and sugar smacks you on the head when you walk into this very unassuming bakery, coaxing you to buy their cookies and pastries. I got two pignoli cookies (probably my favorite cookie of all time) and a sfogliatella (or lobster tail, or lobster claw, or ricotta-filled pastry) for the bus.