Category Archives: Dinner

eggs, history, and sweets

In An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, Tamar Adler weaves together methods about “How to Teach an Egg to Fly” and her opinion mirrors my philosophy: “meals still qualify as meals if they are eggless. But an egg can turn anything into a meal and is never so pleased as when it is allowed to.” A fried or poached egg is the perfect punctuation mark to leftovers or odds & ends that need to be eaten. I love eggs, and this love will never grow old or tired. If I ever open a restaurant, I will hire a person to walk around and ask people if they would like a fried egg with that instead of a grind or two of pepper. They are that important.

The food historian in me has always wondered how eggs have become so integral to our diet. Egg-based pasta and noodles, egg drop soup, frittatas, potato latkes, lamb and egg tagines, omelettes — the savory applications are countless and wholesome. But what really gets me is the foundation eggs provide for the world of baking and pastry. Mastering the potential of an egg–its yolks and whites, separately or together–seems to be a precursor to mastering true desserts.

My 100 word preview of the Encyclopedia Britannia article on the use of eggs in baking elucidated only the how, not the when or who. I learned that yolks are 50 percent solid (60 percent of which is strongly emulsified fat), and they effect the color, flavor, and texture of baked goods. Whites, on the other hand, are mostly protein with no fat, and are most important for texture. They also hold air well. (NB: My use of the word “learned” above is very generous.) I was pleased when a slightly more aggressive set of Internet search terms led to The Food Timeline and an FAQ about eggs. It offered the following quotation from The History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Sama:

In the Roman period pastry cooks made much use of eggs for desserts as well as cakes. Apicius (25 BC) invented baked custard: milk, honey and eggs beaten and cooked in an earthenware dish on gentle heat. Eggs really made their way into the kitchen with Apicius, who mentioned them frequently in the Ars Magirica.

Lynne Olver, the author of The Food Timeline, elaborates that once eggs were recognized as binders and thickeners, their culinary applications proliferated. But when asked about when this began, she notes: “The food historians do not venture into this territory.” When one reaches this wall, one must accept defeat. And I did just that, by diving into my egg carton, separating a few eggs, and utilizing centuries of culinary wisdom with no known origin. I made Meyer lemon curd (below) and almond meringues (in progress above), and reinforced that while I can eat lemon curd all day, I’m not big into meringue cookies.

This particular curd & meringue night was before Christmas, and I put the jar of lemon curd in my Mom’s stocking. I hear she stirred it into whipped cream as topping for angel food cake, another egg white-heavy treat. She allowed the yolk and white to meet and mingle on the dessert plate, and it sounded divine.

Tonight, I answered cries from my sweet tooth by revisiting this treatment of eggs: separating them and letting the parts grow independently bigger than the whole, creating cranberry curd and chocolate cookies. I utilized Alton Brown’s lemon curd recipe but replaced the lemon juice with unsweetened cranberry juice  and the lemon zest with orange blossom water. The result was ethereal, complete with tart, sweet, and perfume-y notes.

To care for my egg whites, I made François Payard’s Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies. These are perfect for anyone who lusts after chewy brownies, so everyone. They taste like crunchy walnut Nutella. Unlike meringues, which are made from whites whipped into stiff peaks, these cookies utilize whites in their original form as the only liquid ingredient besides a bit of vanilla extract. They came out looking exactly like those pictured above and are now added to my list of future party favorites. Make them for your gluten-free friends, your Jewish friends (or self) during Passover (as recommended by the NYMag article), or if you would like the smell of chocolate and toasted walnuts to permeate your home.

Thank you, eggs, for making possible so many culinary wonders.

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.

when nothing else will do

After work, I rode to the Rockland Public Library to see John Piotti of the Maine Farmland Trust give a talk called “Are Farms the Key to Maine’s Future?” The short answer: Yes. The long answer: If $50 million dollars doesn’t get poured into agricultural conservation easements,  property value will force farmers (more specifically, family of deceased farmers) to sell their property to developers instead of other farmers. Luckily, the Maine Farmland Trust, which was founded 12 years ago, is optimistic about raising these funds and achieving their goal to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland by 2014.

One the drive home from this talk, my coworker shared that Waldoboro, the town where my office lies, used to be the pumpkin capital of New England, growing the majority of the pumpkin for canning by One Pie. As far as I know, nary a commercial pumpkin patch exists in Waldoboro anymore, but all this talk of pumpkins got my stomach screaming for pumpkin gnocchi.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Gnocchi
Adapted from this recipe on Tastebook
Serves 2

I lost the recipe I used to use to make these, but after going through ten or so Google search results, I settled on a recipe that called for whole wheat flour. Normally, I look at whole wheat pastas in disdain because the larger flour grains fail at mimicking the texture of white or semolina flour, but I was running seriously low on all-purpose flour, so whole wheat would have to do. These gnocchi turned out so light and lovely regardless, and the choice of grain made me feel a little better about eating a bowl of (basically) flour and cheese.

When I made these in the past, I would pan-fry them in browned butter after a quick boil to add a contrasting textural element to the edible pillows, then serve them with fresh pesto. (Sometimes, I even opted for cilantro pesto with pumpkin seeds and red onion and cumin to make my Italian relatives turn in their graves.) This time, I had pesto butter (!) in the refrigerator from Borealis Breads, so I used that to cover my butter and pesto bases then topped my dinner with grated cheese and pumpkin seeds.

1 cup canned pumpkin puree (or homemade pumpkin puree, drained thoroughly)
1/2 cup Parmesean or Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg white, whipped until frothy
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons of your favorite butter or oil

Fill a large pot with water (and some salt) and let it get boiling. (It takes about as long for a large pot of water to boil as it does for this dough to come together. Amazing!)

In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, cheese, salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Carefully fold in the frothy egg whites. Next, fold in the whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup at a time. Add the all-purpose flour until just incorporated. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a rectangle about 1-inch high. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into 1-inch pieces, as shown above. (Another method is to roll the dough into 1-inch-wide snakes and then to cut each snake into 1-inch pieces.)

Put some butter in a frying pan and set it to medium heat. Add your gnocchi to the boiling water, give a quick stir, and leave them be until they rise to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the buttered frying pan. Toss a few times until they are at your desired level of doneness, transfer to a bowl, top with more cheese, and enjoy.

I was cooking for one so after I finished eating, I shaped the rest of the gnocchi and went at them with a fork to get a more traditional gnocchi look. (With the job I did, I think I caused my Italian ancestor grave-turning, but taste matters more than presentation, right?) I placed them all on a cornmeal-dusted cookie sheet, threw them in the freezer for about 90 minutes, and then transferred them to a bag. They will be ready to greet my tongue and tum in the ides of March when I am as likely to find pumpkin as I am to find gold at the end of a leprechaun’s rainbow.

three months in maine

It has required more than one pinch for me to believe that I am already a quarter of the way through my contracted time in Maine. These three months have been very fulfilling: sometimes difficult, often fun, and nearly always delicious. Cooking has provided a consistent comfort throughout these three months of hard work and increasingly short days. Shopping at Rising Tide Community Market and Sheepscot General Store have made that cooking even more enjoyable because I look forward to the actual food shopping as much as putting the ingredients together. I often resort to Facebook Mobile Uploads to share images of my culinary endeavors instead of this blog because by the time I’ve worked all day and finishing my meal, I’m ready to drink a beer and go to bed. Since my blog audience and Facebook friend community are nearly identical, I am not going to fret about my delinquent ignorance of “one palate, many plates.” Instead, I will fill in where it seems right, and settle into the rhythm of a long winter’s blogfest. Or at least that is the intention.

Image

Pictured above is some apple-zucchini bread French toast. Half a loaf was going stale in my refrigerator so I revived it into French toast. I credit San Francisco’s famous Mama’s for turning me onto making French toast out of quick bread. Their cranberry-orange bread and banana bread versions blew my mind and altered my palate to crave this denser French toast.

A few notes about the other items in the picture:

  • Since moving to Maine, I have made the switch to raw milk as my milk of choice. The last time I went to the store, they ran out of my favorite (from Straw’s Farm in Newcastle), so I got some raw goat’s milk instead. It is delicious, with an almost savory tang that lends goat cheese its distinctive taste. [The next product I want to try from Straw’s Farm is the lamb. Lee Straw boats his animals out to an island where they forage on seaweed and other goodies until it is time for slaughter. I don’t think I’ll ever find an animal that has lived a more chill life.]
  • I put maple syrup on/in everything. Yogurt, roasted vegetables, cookie batter (instead of sugar), tea, toast, salad dressings. You name it.
  • That smaller jar has homemade “apple butter” in it. I use quotation marks because whatever that stuff is does not resemble apple butter in the slightest, but it is a delicious apple spread that I’ve enjoyed coating breakfasts like this one, mixed with Grey Poupon and apple cider vinegar to drizzle over roasted squash, or eaten by the spoonful straight out of the jar.

When I lived at home, it was not uncommon for my father to bring home an unmarked paper bag filled with fresh mozzarella (like, milk-leaking-everywhere fresh, not whatever that stuff is you buy at the supermarket), butcher paper lined with thinly-slice prosciutto di Parma, and a loaf of panella bread sliced to order. At Haverford, I lived minutes away from Carlino’s Market where I could get my fix. In Maine, I have to search a lot harder, but I occasionally visit Sweets & Meats for positively scrumptious baguettes and an expertly curated selection of meats and cheeses. The sandwich above is from the first visit to the store. I layered foraged oyster mushrooms (first sauteed in butter) on the bread with prosciutto and local cheddar for a Italian-American/Mainer fusion sandwich that hit the spot, and several other spots I didn’t even know were there until I was hitting them.

Fried eggs are the perfect food; the runnier the yolk, the better. My eggs come from the backyard of one of my co-workers, whose sons raise chickens and sell their unbelievably fresh, orange-yolked eggs for $2.50 a dozen. This dish paired a fried egg with roasted radicchio with balsamic vinegar and a sourdough olive roll from Borealis Breads. Few things are better than sopping up egg yolk (this time with balsamic vinegar as well) with good bread to finish a meal. Yum.

seattle, or sandwich city

Prior to my brief sojourn in August, my exposure to Seattle was two-fold: watching Grey’s Anatomy in high schooland hearing excellent things about it in college from native Seattleites.

I stayed with my friend Hannah and her family, which was great. It is pretty special to contextualize college friends in their home environment, especially when that environment involves adventures in cooking salmon whole.

Wassup, fish? You were one tasty finned creature.

Now, I know Seattle is known for its rain and its salmon and that giant thing that was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, but I came to know Seattle for its sandwiches. Hannah picked up at the airport and we went directly to get banh mi at Saigon Deli in the International District, conveniently on the way from the airport to Hannah’s house. Cilantro needs to appear in more sandwiches I make for myself. Maybe I’ll start a container garden for the winter.

We went to Pike Place Market, watched the guys throw the fish, tried some uncooked chocolate pasta (what?), and bought some Rainier cherries to have as the dessert course for the lunch we were both anticipating. A few hours earlier, we had been waiting on line at Salumi to order sandwiches. The employees make the wait a lot easier by bringing around plates of samples. Bless them. It’s only right, considering that the store is owned by Armandino Batali, father of Mario.

My sandwich had mozzarella, peppers, onions, and Agrumi salami, a variety cured with citrus and cardamom. Slathered together on some great chewy-crunchy-airy bread, it shot me right up to sandwich heaven. My favorite part of Salumi, besides the actual food, was this narrow walk-in refrigerator filled with salami. If I could live anywhere…

The final sandwich stop was Paseo’s, where I got the straight up Cuban roast sandwich for which they are apparently known. Very hard to eat, in a great way. Thick, succulent grilled onions. Well-seasoned and perfectly-textured pork. Really, how was I ever a vegetarian?

Seattle treated me well. The weather was ideal, the company great, the coffee unforgettable, and you know how I feel about the sandwiches. And Mount Rainier bid farewell to me on my way back East, for a breath-taking finale to my West Coast summer.

my week in the bay, pt. 1 (in pictures, over a month later)

When I left Mano Farm, I hopped up north for about a week and a half before returning to NJ and ultimately making the move to Maine. My week in San Francisco and Berkeley was delicious and invigorating, and I was finally able to sit down and share it with all of you.

My first meal in SF: a wild boar sausage from Rosamunde with an Anchor Steam to wash it down. Also, pickles. My decision to go for the boar was undoubtedly influenced by Michael Pollan’s recount of hunting one down in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Mano Farm zucchini, tomatoes and onions travelled up the coast with me to provide this nommy breakfast, coupled with a poached egg and some toast, all consumed in the very lovely, very French apartment of my friend Rachel who had visited me in Ojai a few weeks before my northward trek.

Tomato, manchego, red onion, parsley pizza at Arizmendi, a collective bakery where they churn out tons of scones and breads and muffins and cookies, and focaccia (oh my) but only one pizza variety per day. When I went to the bathroom, I saw a huge garbage pail labeled “Compost” filled to the brim with fennel fronds for tomorrow’s ‘za. Also spotted were countless 50 pound bags of wheat grown and milled in Northern California and a very attractive staff.

My hands still encrusted with Ojai soil, here I am sharing a brew with my friend Connor on his balcony in Berkeley. I don’t remember what this particular beer was, just that we had it with hummus and tortilla chips and called it dinner.

Dinner with Kristina and Rachel was a group effort: Kristina provided the tortellini while Rachel and I threw together the sauce and salad. Topped with some goat’s milk parmesan from a farmer’s market and chased with Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Wild, dinner was a success.