Friday, January 21, 2011

Dog days of winter

Right about now I long for the all too familiar sight of an umbrellaed Sabrett hot dog cart hugging a New York City street corner.  The cold, short-on-sunlight days depress my mind and body to the point that only junk food seems to satisfy.  Oh sure, talk about hearty soups and savory stews all you want - but it's a dirty-water dog that perks me up like nothing else.  Alas,  street corners are very short on hot dog carts these days -  you're more than likely to find a food truck.  The vendor can stay warm inside his metal, mini diner and has the space to offer not only hot dogs, but also cook falafel, shrimp and French fries, cheeseburgers, chicken and rice to order, and have on hand ever-popular breakfast choices; doughnuts and bagels.  It's just not the same.
So, I make my own version of a hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard - with special fries to boot!  This way I can feel a bit less guilty about downing pure junk and select high quality - organic when possible - ingredients for my oh-so gratifying meal.


This quick - you could even say finto or fake sauerkraut (it doesn't require pickling time) comes from my book, "Contorni: Authentic Italian Side Dishes for All Seasons".  The original recipe calls for bacon.  I left it out and added a little extra butter and some extra virgin olive oil for this particular application.

Serves 6 as a side dish - will cover at least a dozen hot dogs

1 head green cabbage, 2 to 2 1/4 pounds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1.   Eliminate the tough outer leaves of the cabbage.  Cut the head into quarters through the stem end, and then cut out the core.  Use a sharp knife or a mandoline to thinly slice crosswise.
2.    In a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil.  Add the cabbage and stir with 2 wooden spoons to ensure that all the cabbage is coated.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Add the wine and broth or water and stir to combine. Lower the heat, cover and simmer from 1 1/2  to 3 hours (much depends on how the cabbage has been sliced).  The liquid should be almost completely absorbed and the cabbage very soft.
3.   Add the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to a couple of weeks.  Reheat as needed.


My friend, Roy Finamore, adapted this highly fragrant and nose-clearly mustard to his taste.  I love having it on hand.  It gives just the right punctuation to any dish - especially a hot dog.

Makes about 2 pints

1 12-ounce bottle stout
1 cup cider vinegar
8 ounces brown mustard seeds
2 ounces black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1.  Mix all the ingredients together. Cover the bowl with plastic film and leave at room temperature for 2 days. Add the mixture  to a food processor  and process until thick - about 3 minutes. 
2.  Store in 1/2 pint Mason jars.  The mustard will keep, refrigerated, for years.


Now, here's a really good twist on fries.  I find these oven fries instantly appealing.  Turnips are definitely an acquired taste.  They almost sting at first bite  - but rapidly fill your mouth with pure earthy sweetness.   The addition of Parmesan cheese adds a kind of salty crust to the fries - a perfect antidote to the sweet interior.

Serves 4 - 6

2 - 2 1/4 pounds large turnips or rutabagas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1.   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2.   Peel the turnips. Cut into 1/4 - 1/2 -inch sticks.   Place on a baking sheet with sides or a jelly roll pan.  Add the olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Use your hands to evenly coat the turnips with all the ingredients.
3.   Bake, turning every 20 minutes until each piece is golden brown on the outside and soft in the center, about 1 hour.
4.  Serve immediately.  Leftovers are reheated with great succcess!

SUSANSIMONSAYS:   Nothing beats the doldrums of winter like a dog loaded with homemade sauerkraut, Roy's grainy mustard on a well-toasted bun.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Let it snow

Best thing about the snow in New York City?  The light -  any part of 24 hours of the day.  Morning light shining so brightly on the crytalline heaps that you feel like you might go permanently blind if you continue to look; the afternoon light, faintly rose-gold, shows up as the low-in-the-sky sun  begins its early departure, the evening light reflecting on the the remnants of the setting sun - and grey buildings - becomes violet-blue, and the calming, navy blue night provides a canopy for a good night's sleep.  That is for about the first 8 hours or so until the general population starts walking around, littering along the way, and clanking City plows mound dirty snow up against cars.  Second best thing (really, first for me - but it seemed kind of selfish to declare it number one) - alternate side of the street parking is suspended - and suspended - and suspended, then the winter holidays begin, more suspensions. Maybe, if I really play it right I'll only have to move my car 4 times this month!  Oh joy.
Third best thing? Scraping off the top layer of snow,  making perfect, pristine snowballs  with the under-layer, and covering them with maple syrup and chopped nuts. Consuming, immediately.  Of course.


A friend, who lives, part-time, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont once suggested that I pour the syrup from his area over snow for a tasty treat.  I've refined his recipe.  Just a tiny bit.

Make 3-inch diameter snow balls and place in a bowl. Pour maple syrup over them.  Let it seep into the snow.  Pour some more syrup  to insure the the snow is thoroughly drenched with flavor. Sprinkle with chopped nuts of your choice.  Ah, granita di sciroppo d'acero.  

Allegra just loves a bite of snow - neat.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  I recommend grade B maple syrup for this particular applcation.  It's deep, rich, mapley flavor gives the snow the boost you want.  In fact, I always use grade B maple syrup - which is something like maple caramel syrup!  I chopped up some sweet and salty roasted almonds -  leftover from last week's cocktail prolonge` - for the topping.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cocktail party prolonge` - 12th Day of Christmas Eve

I sent out an invitation to a few friends on December 26th, 2010. It went something like this - "Do you think that Christmas was over and done with yesterday?  Oh no.   There are twelve days of Christmas and I'm not just talking a partridge in a pear tree.  The 12th day, January 6th, Epiphany, is the time that the 3 wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus.  The 12th eve is January 5th and this Jewish girl has decided to celebrate with a cocktail prolonge`.  7pm - whatever.   A light supper will be served a 9 or so."
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the term cocktail prolonge` (just as I was up until about a year ago) - let me explain, this style of party was at the height of its popularity in the mid-19th century in Europe. It's a cocktail buffet.  A "prolonged" cocktail party.  Guests can stand or sit, go to a table filled with bite-sized food as many times as they wish, and drink cocktails, and glasses of  wine. Somewhere around 9 - 9:30 a small plate of hot food- which I call a light supper is served.  I usually choose a simple pasta dish - or for this particular party, risotto.  I choose starchy dishes because they always satisfy any remaining hunger and sop up too many cocktails or glasses of wine. Another reason  I  chose risotto was because it let me showcase some of those freshly shucked Nantucket bay scallops that I spoke about in a previous posting. The addition of pomegranate seeds with their sugary, tart flavor and crunchy texture marry, in stunning way, with the sweet, velvety smooth bay scallops.   The dish was inspired by a  pomegranate-seed studded risotto made with Prosecco that I ate a few years ago while visiting a friend in the Veneto region of Italy.   Two years ago I made that pomegranate risotto and topped it with bay scallops, cooked Venetian-style.  It has become a signature dish.

But wait - here's what I served to graze upon - along with cocktail shaker-fulls of Pisco Sours (see  "And then I went to Patagonia" post for recipe), glasses of icy Prosecco, red wine and anything else people wanted to drink.

Sweet and Salty Roasted Almonds - Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spread about a pound or a pound and a half  raw almonds onto a parchment paper-covered baking sheet with sides or a jelly roll pan.  Add 2 tablespoons brown rice syrup, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive and 1 heaping teaspoon of flaky sea salt to the pan.  Use a rubber spatula to evenly coat the almonds with the the other ingredients.  Make sure are evenly spread out.   Bake until the almonds are darker brown and the liquid ingredients are bubbling, about an hour.   Let cool on a baking rack.  Some of the almonds will clump together as they cool.  Separate before serving.  The almonds should be stored in a container with a tight-fitting lid.  They will stay fresh for weeks.

Raw vegetables; celery sticks, English cucumber slices, endive leaves and jicama slices (there was a color scheme!) with spicy peanut sauce.   1/3 cup freshly ground organic peanut butter, 1/4 cup water, zest of 1 lime and juice of 2, 2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce,  and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Nantucket honey (more about it in posts to come).  Add the ingredients to a sauce pan and cook until smooth - you may want to thin with a bit more water.  Finish the sauce with a handful of chopped, roasted peanuts.

Selection of cheese; Piave ( a hard Italian cheese from the northwestern part of the country), a log of soft goat's milk cheese, Kunik - an over-the-top, dangerous (because you will become addicted),  New York State (Nettle Meadow) soft cheese made with goat's milk and Jersey cow's milk cream - it will make you deliriously happy served with roasted pears (see Apples and Pears post), medjool dates, semi-dried figs and little toasts made with raisin-pecan bread.

Large, poached shrimp with cocktail sauce.  Heinz' Chili Sauce, ketchup, and very sharp horseradish.

Bacala Mantecato (see Christmas and Codfish post) served with whole wheat baguette toasts and Kalamata olives


Serves 8 - 12

for the risotto:

1/3 cup grape seed oil (neutral flavor will not compete with other delicate ingredients)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
2 cups baldo or carnaroli (or any short, fat rice)
1 1/4 cups Prosecco or dry white wine
10 - 12 cups water
kosher salt
3/4  cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
seeds from one pomegranate (see Easy, Rosy Last Minute Cocktail Party post for pomegranate seed removal method)

for the scallops:

3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh red hot pepper such as Thai, cayenne or jalapeno
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup dry white vermouth
2 pounds bay scallops
1/2 cup firmly packed, finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1.  Add the grapeseed oil and the onions to a large skillet or a brazier over medium heat.   Saute the onions until they become translucent but not brown, about 6 - 8 minutes.  Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil.  Add two cupfuls of water and stir continuously until all the liquid is absorbed.   Keep adding the water 2 cupsful at a time until the rice is tender  and a bit of liquid remains in the skillet- about 18 minutes.  During the addition of the last 2 cups of water add the grated cheese.
2.  Turn down the heat to a faint simmer, add the butter and pomegranate seeds.  Stir to combine.
3.  In a skillet over medium heat, saute the garlic and hot pepper in the olive oil.   Just as the garlic starts to turn gold, add the lemon juce and vermouth.  Lower the heat a notch and simmer 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the scallops and cook until opaque, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.  Be careful not to overcook, or the scallops will become rubbery in an instant.  Stir in the parsley.
4.   Add the risotto to a large, warm serving platter.  Cover with the scallops.  Serve immediately.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  If your guests ask you what they can bring to the party - the answer is easy.  "something sweet".   I asked my friend, Roy to bring some gingerbread. He obliged with a lovely, rotund cake glazed with tangy lemon icing.   Amy brought organic, hand-dipped elderflower and raspberry flavored (among others) chocolates from new Nantucket confectioner, Ambrosia - read Amy's article about them in Poetry of Food -, John brought dark chocolate "meltaways" from  Stowaway Sweets , and Mark brought colorful cupcakes in flavors like French toast, and cinnamon toast from The Little Cupcake Shop in downtown New York City.   A perfect end to a perfect evening.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Nantucket in the wintertime

"What's the island like in the wintertime?" is the question most asked by Nantucket summertime visitors.
First of all, and lucky for the Islanders, winter arrives on Nantucket a little later than it does on mainland New England, warmed as it is by the surrounding Gulf Stream. (the blizzard that paralyzed the northeast over Christmas weekend didn't touch the island ).  In the wintertime, Nantucket Island, world-class summer resort, sheds its fancy designer duds and is once again a New England small town inhabited with busy people.  In the almost quiet privacy of wintertime Nantucket is a beehive of activity.  Islanders finally have the time they need to socialize, share recipes, tend to their  businesses readying them for the next season, fish for world-famous Nantucket bay scallops, take long walks along the desolate moors - right out of "Wuthering Heights", beaches and ponds. It's a romantic and cozy time on island - a time that year 'rounders cherish.

The lighthouse at Brant Point welcomes visitors to the island as they round it and enter the harbor.  At Christmastime the Coast Guard, stationed on the Island, decorates it, anchoring the wreath with oars.

Every year I spend Christmas Day on Nantucket with my sister Laura, and her husband, Jimmy. And every year Jimmy treats us to the crepes that he's been cooking since he was eight years old.  They're simple, and the batter doesn't need to rest before cooking.


Serve any day, any time of the year.

Makes about 24 9-inch pancakes

4 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
unsalted butter for frying

1.   Beat the eggs in a large bowl.   Alternately add the flour and the milk, mixing continuously with a fork or a whisk (you'll run out of flour before milk).  Keep mixing until the batter is completely smooth and relatively thin - about the consistency of buttermilk.
2.   Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a 9-inch omelet pan (Jimmy uses 2 at a time).   Pour a scant 1/4 cup batter into the center of the pan and tip it from side to side to let the batter cover the bottom, not the sides, in a thin layer.  Cook for 1 1/2 minutes, or until the edge begins to curl and pulls away from the side of the pan.   Flip the pancake with a metal spatula and cook for 30 seconds more.  Add another 1 teaspoon butter to the pan every other batch.  Pile the cooked crepes on an oven proof serving platter and keep warm in a 200 degree F. oven until all are cooked and ready to serve. 
3.   Serve with a selection of fillings from sour cream and caviar, applesauce and heavy cream, marmalade and whipped cream, butter and maple syrup - and our favorite way with creme fraiche, just-thawed-from-Laura's-summertime garden red and white raspberries and blueberries, and maple syrup.

Steve Bender harvests oysters from his Pocomo Meadow farm in Polpis Harbor. He reminds everyone who's fortunate enough to have one that they must chew it in order to have a real oyster experience!  It's true - while the oyster's liquor is ocean-salty-briny, its meat is sweet.

Marina opens a daily catch of the world-renown Nantucket bay scallops.  The mollusks provide excellent employment opportunities for Islanders as fishermen, cullers, and openers during the commercial season which begins on November 1 and ends on March 31st.

A few unharvested cranberries frozen for posterity- or until the spring thaw - in the world's largest, naturally contiguous, bog, Windswept Cranberry Bog.  Sure, there are larger bogs in the world - but they are man-made.


serves 6 - 9

2 cups cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped dates
1 tablespoon water
1 cup oats
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter

1.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir the cranberries, sugar, cloves, salt, dates, and water together.  When the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until most of the cranberries have popped.   Remove from the heat and let cool.
2.   In a bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, pecans, and flour.  Use a pastry cutter or 2 knives to cut the butter in to form a crumbly mixture.
3.  Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.  Put half of the oatmeal mixture in the prepared pan and evenly cover the bottom using a rubber spatula.  Spread the cooled cranberry mixture over the oatmeal layer.  Top with the remaining oatmeal mixture.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until the juices are bubbling around the sides and the top is deep gold and crisp.  Cool on a wire rack.  Cut into 6 or 9 pieces.  You may want to quarter those pieces for one-bite morsels.

Semi-frozen Polpis Harbor.  Check out  the eyelash, treetop silhouette way in the background.  It's one of my favorite island sights 

Maxcy's Pond is located on the island's north side.  It's the site of an early 17th-century settlement.  Maxcy is a variation of Macy, one of the island's original families.  The scrubby green growths near the pond's shore brighten the grey wintertime scene.

Long-time islander, Christie Cure has followed in the footsteps of  Nantucket women who opened shops in town to keep busy while their husbands were out whaling.  She's opened the parlor of her home on Orange Street, calls it #8 ,and sells an eye-catching collection of her favorite things from note pads, soap, candles, masks, re-envisioned furniture, rugs woven with rags and chewing gum wrappers- all displayed on sleigh beds, antique cribs and library ladders.

Coatue is a barrier beach that separates Nantucket Sound from Nantucket Harbor.  Here's Coatue as seem from Brant Point Lighthouse.   Go to Nantucket in the wintertime - you're in for a treat!