Monday, March 26, 2012

The Red and the Black

No, it's not Stendhal's 19th century historical novel- Le Rouge et le NoirI'm talking  quinoa - red and black.
A few days ago, my friend, Betsy, took me on a guided tour of the famed Albany NY food co-op, Honest Weight.   I had received lots of good press (from those in the know) about this spot.  I was ready - but just slightly skeptical.  It wouldn't be the first time that I had heard good things about a place and then been disappointed.
Since Betsy lives on the west side of the river - the opposite side of where I live - and Albany is also on the "other side" - we agreed upon a meeting spot on route 9W.    I crossed the Rip Van Winkle bridge  turned right onto 9W and drove back in time.  I passed drive-in theatres, miniature golf courses, and roadside stands selling soft serve ice cream and hot dogs.  Geez - here were all the fixings for  an innocent, mid-summer's eve entertainment.  
I met my friend and we continued until we pulled into Honest Weight's parking lot.  While the store looked like many food co-ops that I've visited over the years, entering I felt like something was different.  I think the expression is  "there was a good vibe" in the place.   The store was populated with smiling and helpful employee/members and equally as pleasant shoppers - who were representative of the city's population. 

My eyes widened as Betsy led me from aisle to aisle each one filled with an enormous variety of choices in each category.  There were more grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, flours, and spices than I've ever seen gathered in one spot.  What to do?  Where would I begin?    The quinoa, red and black, spoke to me.   Can't say why.  Color, maybe.   So I bought a bit of each.  And things on my list.  And things not on my list.

The deeply colored quinoa comes from different cultivars of the same quinoa species.  You can also find yellow and orange quinoa.   While quinoa is grain-like, it's not a grain but the seeds of a plant similar to spinach.  In fact quinoa is closely related to spinach and beets.   The  red and black quinoa have real vegetable flavor - something like the sprouted flowers of broccoli.  Just a little crunchier.  Anyway you eat eat quinoa, it's loaded with protein and iron.  It's a wonder food.


serves 4 - 6

The ratio for cooking most quinoa is 1 cup to 2 cups water.  I needed to add just under a 1/4 cup more water to the darker quinoa.

2 1/4 cups water
1 cup red quinoa
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pint tiny cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped olives - any type, or a combo
2 heaping tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt - or to taste - the feta and the olives add saltiness

 1.   Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a medium-sized saucepan.   Add the quinoa.  Bring back to a boil then immediately lower to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes or until the curlicue sprouts emerge from the seed and it's tender to your taste.  Remove from heat and let the quinoa continue to  steam in the covered pot.  
2.   Add the room temperature quinoa to a mixing bowl.    
3.   Add the the olive to a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the the tomatoes to the warm oil and cook, stirring occasionally until the skins are blistered.  Dump into the mixing bowl.
4.   Add the feta, olives, parsley, lemon juice, and pepper and toss to thoroughly combine.  Taste for salt and add as needed.

Quinoa salad is sturdy and will last a few days, stored in a tightly-lidded container, refrigerated.


serves 4 - 6

2 1/4 cups water
1 cup black quinoa
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 bunch scallions, white part and about 1-inch of the green, chopped
2 heaping tablespoons chopped chives
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground red pepper flakes, or a pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

1.    Bring 2 cups water to boil in a medium sized saucepan.  Add the quinoa.  Bring back to a boil and then immediately lower to a simmer.  Cover the pot and cook until the curlicue sprouts emerge from the seed and it's tender to your taste.  Remove from the heat and let the quinoa continue to steam in the covered pot.
2.    Add the room temperature quinoa to a mixing bowl.
3.    Add the shredded carrots.
4.    Add the olive oil to a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the pine nuts to the warm oil and cook, watching carefully until the nuts are deep golden (they burn easily).  Turn off the heat and add the scallions.  Toss to combine with the nuts.  Dump them into the mixing bowl.
5.   Add the chives, red pepper and salt.  Toss to thoroughly combine.  Taste for salt and add as needed.

The quinoa salads can stand on their own as a very simple meal.   They can be served as an accompaniment  to grilled meat, fish, or vegetables too.


  Because quinoa's crunchiness tends to scrape against your tongue as you eat it I like to have a  sweet, fruity and creamy dessert after it to counteract its texture.   I picked up a pineapple and a half  pint of heavy cream from Meadowbrook Farms while at Honest Weight.   I added some chunks of pineapple to large stemmed glass, a few rum raisins - kept on hand for an occasion like this one - poured over some the wonderfully thick and sweet cream and was happy.
Soak 1 1/2 cups  golden raisins in a cup of light rum in a glass jar, covered, for at least 24 hours before using.  The raisins will last for months and months and can pulled out for use in a way like I just did or in rice pudding or in ice cream - or, or, or....
HONEST WEIGHT is worth the trip - even every 6 months.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Favorite Things #2

I like this idea of doing a favorite things post every now and then.  You know the Quakers never celebrated holidays because they thought that every day was reason to celebrate.  That's a little bit how I feel when I make a favorite food in the middle of the week with nothing more in mind than, for example, just having a slice of warm, brimming-with-flavor meatloaf.  And, the thought that it'll be be sitting in the fridge for days waiting to be sliced and stuffed between 2 slices of toasted quinoa bread from Loaf and a few bread and butter pickles making a sublime sandwich thrills me.

I developed this meatloaf recipe on September 17th 2004 to be exact.  (I have a habit of recording memorable meals, whew - it turns out to serve me well) for a Sunday night Scrabble game that I used to play with some regularity with my friend, John.   The meatloaf never ceases to amaze - mostly me.   I have rarely deviated from the exact recipe that I recorded more than 7 years ago.  Until now.    I buy my ground pork and beef from Pigasso Farms - sometimes directly from them at the Hudson Farmer's Market - but, throughout the winter months from Lick the Market - where it's sold in 1 1/2 pound packages.   So, instead of 2 pounds of ground beef and 1 pound of ground pork as per the original recipe I use equal measurements of each.   The difference in the two recipes is subtle.  My Hudson meatloaf tastes even more like a country pate than the first NYC version.   Where did I just read a quote from a chef  saying that the best meatloaf should taste like pate?

I've always made mealoaf Italian-style, adding milk-soaked chunks of bread to the meat in order to keep the whole loaf moist - however, when I made this one the first time I happened to have a quart of whole milk yogurt and a pound of feta cheese in the refrigerator.  I asked myself, why not try those ingredients instead of milk-soaked bread? I did - it was AMAZING - just the flavor and texture that I had always desired.  I've never looked back.


Makes a 10-inch by 7-inch loaf

1 1/2 pounds round beef
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
3 eggs
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 cups plain, whole milk yogurt
3/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup catsup
1/4 cup prepared Dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1.   Add the beef, pork, eggs, feta cheese, yogurt, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and salt to a large bowl.  Using your hands, thoroughly and carefully blend all the ingredients.
2.   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.   Make the topping:  in a small bowl add the catsup, mustard and Parmesan cheese, and thoroughly combine.
3.   Place two sheets of parchment paper on a baking sheet or jelly roll pan.  Place the meat mixture on the top sheet of parchment paper and form into a loaf measuring approximately 10-inches by 7-inches.  Cover the loaf with the topping mixture.  Loosely close the loaf with the top layer of parchment paper.  Bake for 45 minutes.   Uncover and bake for 20 - 30 minutes until the outside is browned - slightly black.
4.   Serve immediately.  Leftover meatloaf can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Adding a poached dish to the top of any dish of leftover food immediately elevates right back up to an original dish with its own very special sauce.   I'm particularly enamoured of topping leftover pasta with a poached egg.  I like breaking the egg open and watching the bright yellow yolk run all over the pasta (this time with sauteed kale and blistered grape tomatoes) creating the most sumptuous and creamy sauce. Don't forget a generous sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese as the perfect counterpart to the egg and punctuation for the pasta.

I'm so happy to see the local supermarket shelves stocked with Passover provisions.  In particular, the Shoprite carries my favorite, Yehuda organic matza.  It's thin and super crispy.  Besides, #1 chewing on matza row by row, #2 spreading butter and almond butter on it, I like to make, #3, matza brei - or fried matza.  I favor salty matza brei - but when cooked, this pancake-like dish can be topped with cinnamon and sugar, or maple syrup or honey butter to consume. 
The first night of Passover is on April 6th.

for 1

1 sheet matza, broken into pieces and soaked in water until slightly soft
1 large, or 2 small eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste - or any other topping

1.  Drain the soaked matza and add to a mixing bowl.  Add the eggs and mix to thoroughly combine with the matza.
2.  Add the butter to a small frying pan over medium heat.  Let the butter brown (my preference).   Add the egg mixture to the pan and fry until the sides appear crisp and golden.  Flip over and brown the other side.
3.  Serve immediately with your choice of topping.

I like that I can walk to the train station in Hudson, get on Amtrak and be in NYC's Penn Station in just under 2 hours.  That's just what I did on March 17th.  You're an idiot, you say?  Well, yes, there were lots of drunken leprechauns on the city's streets but I managed to sidestep them right through a delicious lunch at Il Buco Alimentari - tiny fried artichokes all golden crunchy on the outside and warm, soft artichoke creaminess on the inside, and grilled octopus, exquisitely charred and served with a salad of chick peas and currants.  My mouth is still watering.  A few errands, a visit with dear friends and a magical birthday celebration in candle-lit rooms filled with various sized transparent helium ballons capped the lovely day in grand style.
I'm happy that I found, on such a tumultuous NYC eve, a cab to take me back to Penn station in plenty of time to catch my train home.


So nice to see pal Stella (known to me as Stella, Wella, Bella) looking so good in her  East Village window throne.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dinner at 8 for 7

A week or so ago a few friends came over for dinner.  Two of them got on a train at Penn Station in NYC and arrived 45 minutes before 8 pm at my house.  Two of them came over from Kingston and arrived at 8.  Another few came up from Rhinebeck and arrived at 8 as well.  We sat around a glowing fire and snacked on assorted olives, pistachios, roasted pears, pollenbert cheese and a cute little square Camenbert from Old Chatham Sheepherding Co., and Wicked Good potato chips.   We played a game.  Of course.  When my friend, John, is around we always play a game.  This one was a preprandial round of Celebrity.  Don't ask.  I did participate but was running between the living room and the kitchen so I'm not sure if I got the entire gist of the game.  I would gladly play again sometime.

A few weeks earlier, my friend, Roy, had brought me a chicken from the Heritage Meats Shop  at the Essex Street Market in NYC - frozen as solid as a glacier. (talk about coals to Newcastle).  He said it was the best chicken he had ever tasted. "It's what a chicken should taste like".   It took two days to thaw and I made - not my favorite roast chicken - no, this big bird - 4 1/2 pounds - wanted to be slow-roasted.   I made a delicious dish from my collection of Lombardian recipes - chicken filled with cabbage and amaretti.  Before you roll your eyes - consider that amaretti cookies were created in the town of Saronno in the region of Lombardy.  The crunchy little cookies made with bitter almonds are not only eaten as is, but also widely used as an ingredient in the food of the region.  They are what give tortellini stuffed with pumpkin it's unique flavor.  They make a sensational crust when crumbled to support an espresso semi-freddo.  And just wait 'til you try this chicken


serves 4 - 6   (I served 7 using a bigger chicken)

1/2 pound cabbage - preferably Savoy - which most resembles the Italian verza - however, I used Napa because I couuldn't find Savoy
1 onion, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated grana Padana - the Parmesan cheese of Lombardy
10 amaretti cookies, crumbled
1 egg
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
a few grinds black pepper
1 2 1/2 - 3 pound chicken
butcher's twine

1.   In a large pot of boiling water cook the cabbage until tender about 7 minutes.  Drain.
2.   In a large skillet over medium heat saute the onion in the butter until it's transparent, 3 - 4 minutes.  Add the cabbage, lower the heat and simmer until the liquid has absorbed, the cabbage has softened and the mixture is somewhat dry, about 10 minutes.   Remove from heat and let cool a bit.
3.   In a mixing bowl combine the grated grana, amaretti, egg, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, nutmeg and pepper.  Add this mixture to the cabbage and toss together.
4.   Open the cavity of the chicken and stuff as much of the cabbage into it as possible - there may be some leftover - add to a small baking dish.  Use the butcher's twine to tie the legs together over the cavity.  Tuck the wings underneath and secure by wrapping twine around the whole bird.  Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of salt over the bird.  Place the chicken in a cast iron skillet or roasting pan.
5.   Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.  Cook until the skin is golden and crispy, and the pan juice runs pink from the breast, about 1 1/2 hours.  Add the leftover cabbage stuffing to the oven about 1/2 hour before the chicken is finished to heat up.
6.   Serve the carved chicken with its pan juices and stuffing and soft polenta.

I did serve my chicken with soft polenta  made just as I always do (except that I doubled the recipe to insure leftovers) with the same great Hudson Valley polenta from Wild Hive Farm.   Only for this particular polenta I added a heaping  1/2 cup crumbled Ewe's Blue - a real creamy and tangy blue cheese from the above mentioned Old Chatham Sheepherding Co.

I made a topping for the baked polenta by sauteeing sliced onions until they got slightly caramel, shiitake mushrooms, and broccolini - that had been blanched to tenderize and ease out the bitterness- in butter and olive oil.

One of the guests, good friend, James, made a loaf of  sturdy, to-die-for olive-rosemary bread.

Dessert was delicious with a capital D - I can only tell you that it was the best rice pudding ever.  I can't give you the recipe. Yet.  My friend, Roy is working on a cookbook and the pudding is an unpublished recipe which he kindly shared with me.  I'll share it with you when I'm given permission to do so.   I served the rice pudding with my mother's gingersnaps.  Quite a combination.   Oh, and some adorable mandarin oranges chased with a glass of icy limoncello.

We dined.  Oh, yes, we did.


This is what I did with the leftover polenta.   Served it, reheated, to my friend, Cynthia, topped with sauteed microgreens that had just arrived at Lick the Market that morning for casual Sunday dinner seated around the fire.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Quick Trip to NYC

Last week Allegra and I got into my new/used car  and drove into NYC  for a visit to my hometown for over 3 decades for the first time in 3 months.  Without missing a beat I found my way to the East Village  like Pavlov's dog.  It was nice to be in a spot that I have loved just about all my life.  My recent move does not diminish my feelings for it.  Even my parking karma was still at work as I found a place to put my car on the correct side (Tuesday- Friday, after 10:30 am - you know what I mean?) of the street smack in front of my friend's building.   After settling in, Allegra & I took our customary afternooon walk  to check into some friendly spots - Timbuktu, a Moroccan housewares emporium on 2nd Avenue between 2nd & 3rd streets to say "Hello" to shop manager, Robert.  Owner, Blaoui, was in Morocco on a shopping spree.  Then onto to the two John Derian stores on 2nd street between the Bowery and 2nd avenue.  Allegra was especially happy to trot through the doors of  these exceptionally well-stocked dry goods and assorted home goods and accessories shops - that make you absolutely giddy with happiness with all the colorful and luxurious choices - because the shopkeepers always had a biscuit ready for her. And they still have biscuits for her.   Then back to our home-away-from home and dinner for Allegra.   I rushed over to The Bowery Hotel to meet my friends from the Dominican Republic who were passing through the city.  Sitting in front of the hotel's baronial roaring fire, we sipped single malt Scotch and had a good catch-up.  I had to force myself out of the hotel lobby's uber comfortable chairs and make a bee-line for Soba Koh on  5th street just east of 2nd avenue where I was meeting my friends, and NYC hosts, for dinner.  I was hearten to see the noodle maker just leaving his window work spot.  That meant the noodles that I was about to eat would be very fresh.  Soba Koh was one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants when I lived in the city.  It's Japanese home cooking at it's finest - and noodle heaven.   For starters we shared a plate of age soba - fried soba noodles, a succulent salad of paper thin daikon, and steamed broccolini with sesame sauce.  I had soba noodles in miso broth with floats of age tofu - fried tofu, and streamers of green onions as my main course and could not have been happier.  We shared a dish of black sesame pudding to sweeten our palates.

Wednesday's weather was nasty and as soon as I ran a few errands, I met my friend Roy at what was essentially my FAVORITE neighborhood restaurant (even although I had to walk 5 blocks to get there - oy!!!) ,  Momofuku.  It's right up there as an all-time favorite dining spot - anywhere in the world.  Chef/owner David Chang never ceases to amaze with his stunning  creations made with a combination of  disparate flavors and a deft hand.  Vegetarians, beware.  This place is not for you.  Chang uses pork as if it were a spice.

No meal at Momofuku begins without an order of their legendary pork buns.  The slices of melt-in-your-mouth heritage pork are lightly painted with hoisin sauce and propped between a cloud-like bun with thinly sliced, barely-pickled cucumbers and scallions.   We shared a a bowl of apple cider (and other Asian ingredients) glazed root vegetables that were tossed with tiny, crunchy  bits of pumpernickel, golden raisins and crispy ham.  And, a bowl of what I would describe as David Chang's interpretation of a Portuguese seafood stew - his was made with grilled octopus, scallion kimchi, salsify, chinese sausage, a kind of foam of cara cara oranges - topped with baby arugula. My palate was dazzled.  I paid no attention to the chilly, grey, drizzling outdoors - and went home to sit on the couch with my friend, Rita, and our dogs, while we watched a bad movie - Contagion, if you care to know.

 We  ventured out  a little later to pick up our opera-dinner sandwiches at the fairly new, Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria.  Opera-dinner sandwiches, you ask?   Yes, a tradition.  My friend, the late Rose Inghram and I used to go to the Met together years ago.  Rose  brought sandwiches to snack on during intermission.  Her caveat - they couldn't make noise while eating them and they had to be neat.  We almost always ate cream cheese and olive sandwiches on white bread.   Leap ahead to my opera companions of the past few years.  We bring sandwiches to eat at intermission too. They have no caveats.  I live in fear that someday the Met will follow our trail of crumbs and put us on a "do not allow entry" list.   However, the risk was worth every bite of our Il Buco sandwiches.   Even before the Met's crystal chandeliers were magically pulled up to the ceiling (I go to the opera just for the thrill of seeing that happen), we ate our "first course" sandwich - cheddar cheese and copious amounts of caramelized onions on a baguette, and a bonus piece of torta Pasqualina, a kale packed torte - not a tart because it was about 3-inches high with an egg hidden inside.    As Don Giovanni and Zerlina sang their famous duet, la ci darem la mano,  (I forgot to say that our opera was Don Giovanni - another favorite), I couldn't help but wonder about our next sandwich course.  During the only intermission we ate a sandwich made with salame rosa, an Umbrian-style mortadella, and Rupert cheese ( gruyere-like) from Vermont's Consider Bardwell Farm.    Lest you think that we were major pigs - we had 2 sandwiches and 1 piece of torte, all cut into 3 pieces each.  We were completly sated.
I was happy with my NYC sojourn.  I ate food from three well-loved spots and relaxed to the sounds of Mozart's lively and lovely Don Gionvanni.  All favorites.


And I came home to Hudson just in time for the opening of the 2012 Farmer's Market.  What joy.