Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Saucy, Spicy, & Sweet - Oscars

No, not the actual show - if you ask me - are you asking?  That Seth McFarlane, who showed a bit of promise at the beginning of the show very quickly turned into a real jerk. Or, am I lacking a sense of humor?   We had fun anyway - dinner was served, downstairs in the dining room -  saucy & spicy - and dessert was served in front of the TV in my bedroom -  sweet - the place where I keep a TV.  We were four humans and two dogs.

We started with a salad made with the best blood oranges that  that I've eaten since I was in Sicily, and insalata Trevigiano which is the radicchio-like large endive that you see around from time to time, especially in this season ( you can find both items at, where else, Lick the Market).  The two Italian products, one from the north, the bitter Trevigiano, and the tangy-sweet, slurpy blood oranges  from the south of the  country make for a perfect marriage.  They "complete" each other. Yup, it's corny Oscar time.

The blood oranges and Trevigiano were tossed with a dressing made with finely chopped shallots, Dijon mustard, lingonberry-apple vinegar (any fruity vinegar will do), extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground white pepper.  The salad was served on a bed of peppery greens and garnished with pistachios, pan-toasted with pink Hawaiian salt.

I had a concept for the main course which involved adding a little of this and little of that in order to achieve the flavor that I imagined.  Which means I don't really have a recipe.  However, I'll talk you through what I did to accomplish a kind of Chicken Puttanesca.  I sauteed whole cloves of unpeeled garlic, chopped, fresh hot peppers and sprigs of fresh rosemary in olive oil and a bit of butter (my new ingredient - duh - that every chef on earth uses to really transport, and enrich flavors) in a brazier (or a large skillet) over medium heat.  Meanwhile I cut up a chicken into 10-12 pieces (cut the breast in half or into thirds depending on the size of the breast - or as Seth McFarlane would so daintily say, boobs) and browned them, on all sides, in a bit of olive oil and added them to the saute pan.  I tossed them around to make sure they were coated with the fat then added about a cup and a half of chopped tomatoes, a cup and a half of red wine, 1/2 cup or so of pitted Kalamata olives and let it simmer until it tasted like I thought it should.  I added salt after the olives had cooked for awhile, and I added more hot pepper in the form of dried flakes.  I covered the pan and turned off the heat.  Done.  When I reheated it to serve - I  removed the peel from the garlic  and mashed the cloves into the sauce - I added copious amounts of freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley and tossed to combine with the sauce.  I served the chicken with polenta made with Nantucket polenta.


Dinner were served with Veuve Cliquot - it was the Oscars after all.   I wore Gap jeans, a blue and white striped long-sleeved T-shirt (label, long gone) , a navy blue Saint-James sweater, and bright, blue velvet Friulane (gondolier slippers), one guest looked very chic in an orange cashmere pullover and jeans, another kept his grey striped scarf wrapped around his neck all night, and yet another accessorised his lap with a very handsome white, French bulldog called Cicero.  Are you taking note, Joan Rivers?

At 8:29 pm we went upstairs to my small bedroom and made ourselves comfortable on the bed, and on a few extra chairs.  The comments started made a rapid run from "Hmmm, not so bad", to "What on earth is he saying?" to "Are they really that skinny?".    At about the 5th or 6th commercial I went downstairs to get dessert.   I made a blueberry shortcake.  I have about 4 quarts of cooked, frozen blueberries from last summer.  (Aren't you just feeling the need for some berries right about now?)
The shortcake comes from Roy Finamore's, James Beard award-winning book, Tasty....  I can give you that recipe.  You'll never look back - it's simple, and simply delicious.  You don't have to make a berry shortcake - use any kind of fruit with it; pineapple, sauteed apples, sliced poached pears, etc.  Make sure to use plenty of whipped cream with it and you'll be OK.


Roy says, "I've been baking this tender cake - almost cake, almost biscuit - for thirty years now.  When I lived in Vermont, I'd make it for breakfast, putting slabs of the cake into bowls, topping it with fresh-picked raspberries from the yard, and ladling in top milk, which we got from the dairy farmer down the road."
makes one 8-inch layer cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup milk

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until it starts to lighten.  Gradually pour in the sugar, beating while you pour, and continue beating until very light.  Beat in the eggs.
Now switch to a wooden spoon and stir in the dry ingredients and milk in batches: half the dry, all the milk, and the rest of the dry.  Beat for a moment or two with the spoon until the batter is smooth.  It will be stiff.
Divide the batter between the pans, and pat it into the pans with floured fingers.  Give the pans a rap on the counter top to release any air bubbles, then slip them into the oven.   Bake the cakes for about 25 minutes, until risen and browned in spots.
Let cakes cool on racks for  about 5 minutes, then turn them out of the pans and let cool completely on the racks.
Serving:   Set one layer on a cake plate.  Spoon some of the juices or syrup from whichever fruit you're using over the cake and then spoon on half the fruit.  Spread half  the whipped cream (1 cup, whipped) over the fruit and set the second layer on top.  Repeat, spooning over juice or syrup, then fruit, then cream.
Serve the shortcake right away or refrigerate for later. 

Oh yes, and there was a little coconut Lady cake from The Red Barn via Lick - just in case we were feeling peckish after everything else.  Geez - if anything was going to leave us wanting it could have been what we were watching.   Oy. But, it's always a good time.  Isn't it?  Something else to bitch about.
 This is the 2nd time I've had a little Oscar party in my bedroom (the first time was years ago in the City).  It works.  Maybe it will become a tradition.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:    Last week I attended a press conference to announce the kick-off of  Hudson Valley Restaurant Week (March 11- 24), at the CIA - Culinary Institute of  America.   Prior to the actual press event,  the attendees were given the opportunity to tour the just-opened Bocuse Restaurant in the space once occupied by the Escoffier Restaurant.  I was enchanted.  I'll be returning next week for lunch and will give you a full blog report afterwards.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Favorite Things #3

I can't believe that almost a year has passed since I last posted a collection of my favorite things.  Each post I write is actually a favorite thing.  In between the main posts I'm cooking up something that's tasty but doesn't seem to contain enough information to stand on its own.  Or maybe it does - I seem to like to crowd up the posts with lots information. Have you noticed?  It's kind of the way my house is too - full of lots of stuff.  I keep throwing things away, having yards sales, and giving it away - but it just keeps growing.  It's like this stuff has spores. 
Sometimes the inside of my refrigerator  starts to look like my bedroom - a jumble of things that I forgot that I have.  The reason that I purchased the products in the first place, is, well, because they are favorite things.  If I'm lucky I'll get to that head of cauliflower before it needs to be tossed.  
The easiest and tastiest dish that I make with the cauliflower is Roasted Fragrant and Spicy Cauliflower:  

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F; separate the head into florets; spread them out on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, sprinkle some fennel seeds, red pepper flakes , sea salt flakes, and olive oil over them and toss to thoroughly coat; roast, turning from time to time until deep gold - 30 - 40 minutes - depending on your oven.  If you have the capability to use a convection setting - you may not even have to toss them, and they cook more quickly.   Serve the roasted cauliflower as a side to anything.  I ate about half the head with a piece of Adirondack cheddar cheese and found it to be a most satisfying meal.

One of my Christmas presents from my sister, Laura were two winter squashes from her fabled garden.  I call them pumpkins - because that's what they look like - but she reminded me that we're not in England or Italy where they're are called pumpkins.  Oy.  A squash by any other name.  However, they were in fact an Australian Butter squash and a Speckled Hound squash.   They both have very hard skin and I think are quick dangerous to peel as you risk seriously slashing your hand if the knife slips from the skin.  Which it's sure to happen when the skin is so hard.  I baked the Australian Butter squash in order to remove its flesh and continue with my recipe - Seychelloise Pumpkin (!) Chutney:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F;  remove the stem end from the squash; stab it in several spots all around (to keep it from exploding in the oven!); place it on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet; bake until a tester easily passes through the skin and the flesh seems to be tender - 45 minutes to an hour; meanwhile, caramelize two thinly sliced red onions in canola oil; remove the cooked squash from oven and let cool to the touch;  cut it into quarters and use a soup spoon to remove the seeds- if you're ambitious you could rinse the seeds, let them dry out then roast them with a bit of salt - then remove the flesh from the skin and place it in a bowl; add the caramelized onions, the juice of a very juicy lime, hot pepper flakes and salt.  Stir to combine.  Serve at room temperature as a side dish to anything.

I've extolled the pleasure of Sunday lunch with friends, and was pleased to be able to recently share  another with the same friends I wrote about in that post.  This time it was at their house where Bert cooked a plant based meal that started with a  colorful, and emphatically-flavored beet and orange salad on radicchio leaves (for my salad, Bert added some shards of ricotta salata).   The main dish was a super-savory mushroom farrotto.  Farrotto is made with same method as you use for risotto - just a different grain, farro instead of rice.  Bert used mushrooms two ways to achieve deep, layered flavors in his dish.   He hydrated dried porcini mushrooms in warm water, and in the meantime sauteed - no, more like pan-fried little cremini mushrooms in olive oil until they were crispy and deep brown.   The farrotto was started by sauteing chopped red onions and the hydrated mushrooms in olive oil, in a large saucepan, until translucent.  He added farro to the pan and let it dry out for about a minute.   He used the water in which the porcini had hydrated as the liquid to cook the farro.  Basically, add the liquid a few cupsful at a time and cook until evaporated, and then add more until the farro is cooked.  Bert added more water to the mushroom water in order to finish the dish.  The fresh mushrooms were added to the pan just as it finished cooking. As the photo shows - the finished dish is wet - what the Venetians call, all'onda - like a wave.  Now, if this weren't a strictly plant-based dish you might want to use chicken broth in combination with the mushroom water and finish the dish with a shower of grated Parmesan cheese.   Either way, it's the perfect dish for a chilly winter's day.

Even Allegra was treated to a warm lunch.  Lucky dog.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:   Starting this Friday, February 22nd, my weekly column in The Register Star, Hudson's daily paper, and The Daily Mail, Catskill's daily paper will begin.  If you don't have access to a real paper you can find it at www.registerstar.com  .   It's called SUSAN SIMON SAYS - FOOD FOR THOUGHT   Should be easy enough to remember??**!!!  Yes, the information for the column will be different from the blog.

Monday, February 11, 2013


It's been a cold and somewhat gloomy winter here in the northeast.    When you can't escape to warmer and brighter climates you can bring sunshine inside via citrus fruits.   You can't even imagine the salubrious effect the globes of orange, yellow, and green will have on your physical well-being.  For moment, discount the nutritional value of an orange, grapefruit or lime and consider the visuals.  Fill a bowl or basket with assorted citrus fruit and place it somewhere in your home where you must walk past it many times a day.  That sight alone will fill you with joy and  the courage to carry just a bit longer 'til spring is here.
I can now add  the bergamot to the list of citrus fruits.   Bergamot as a whole fruit had almost completely gone away from my culinary points of reference.  It's never far away as the ingredient that gives Earl Grey tea is unique flavor, or the essential oil used in soothing skin lotions, and as a component in most every fragrance.

When I wrote the little cookbook, "Cooking from the Market - make good food with ingredients from LICK the market"  I included a recipe for  Indian Ocean Pan-Fried Fluke which is based on a memory of a fish preparation that I enjoyed in the Seychelles Islands many (many) years ago.  My memory also included a sauce for the fish made with bergamots and onions.  I didn't include that part in the recipe because I never would have imagined that the bergamot would be an easy-to-find ingredient anywhere, much less in Hudson.   And then, there it was on the shelves of LICK. (after I had already published my book).  I realize that what the Seychelloise referred to as bergamot is not exactly the same size and color as the orange-sized fruit that's grown in Italy, France, Turkey and in the USA - LICK's come from California.  The Seychelloise bergamot is small, maybe the size of a golf ball with lime-green skin and a bright orange interior. All bergamots are a sub-species of the bitter orange whose flavor it resembles. The Seychelloise bergamots are simply cut in half and used whole with fried onions in the sauce for fish.    The more common European bergamot looks like a fat lemon - with a bit deeper yellow rind - it's sometimes mistaken for a Meyer lemon whose flavor it somewhat resembles.  It's flesh is sweeter than a lemon - but NOT edible like an orange, or even a grapefruit.   It's most common preparation as food is marmalade.  The marmalade that comes from bergamot tastes exactly like the description of all the fruit's capacities - it's bitter-sweet with a slightly floral nuance.


serves 3 - 4

1 pound fluke or flounder fillet, skin on, scaled
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 scallions, roots removed, leave 2-inches of the green, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small hot pepper, minced
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bergamot - peeled, including the pith, cut in half, use a sharp paring knife to remove the sections from the membrane of 1/2 of the fruit - squeeze the juice from the other half and add to the sections - make sure all pits are removed
1/4 cup cornstarch
Enough canola oil to fill a small skillet to 1 inch

1.   Cut the fluke into 4 - 6 pieces.  Make horizontal slits, about 1/8-inch deep on the skin-side of each piece.  You'll need a very sharp knife.
2.   Add the ginger, sesame oil, soy, hot pepper, scallions and garlic to a small bowl.  Stir to combine.   Add the fish fillets and toss to thoroughly coat with the mixture.  Reserve.
3.   In a small skillet saute the onion in the olive oil until completely wilted and slightly gold.  Add the bergamot sections and juice.  Cook for a minute.  Remove from heat and reserve.
4.   In a small skillet heat the canola oil until it has small bubbles around the edges.
5.   Meanwhile, add the corn starch to a dinner plate and coat the fish fillets.
6.   Fry, skin side down, a few pieces at a time until golden - about 1 minute.  No need to turn the fillets as they're so thin they cook very quickly.  Drain on paper towels.
7.   Serve immediately topped with the bergamot onion sauce.   The skin will stay crispy while the fish is hot.

makes about 1 quart

This recipe comes to me via Michael Harris the owner of LICK from his friend, Suri Farman-Farmaian who lives in Switzerland.  I have not made the marmalade but I was grateful to be on the receiving end of a jar made-by-Michael (photo of marmalade with thermometer is Michael's - he cooked his to 215 degrees F.).   It's delicious on a piece of toasted quinoa bread from Bonfiglio & Bread that has first been buttered with Kate's sea-salted butter available from LICK or Hannaford's supermarket.

8 bergamots
3 cups sugar
4 cups water plus more for blanching the bergamots
pinch of sea salt
optional: 2 teaspoons Kirsch or Limoncello

1.   Rinse and dry the bergamots, trim off stem ends, then cut each in half and pluck out the seeds.
2.   Cut the bergamots into quarters and using a sharp knife, slice the quarters as thinly as possible.
Tip:  if you have trouble getting them very small, after slicing, you can use a chef's knife to chop them to the right size.  Don't use a food processor, as that will make the marmalade muddy.
3.   Put in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil.  Let boil for 5 minutes, then drain well.
4.   Return the bergamots to the pot, add the sugar, 1 quart of the water, and salt, and bring to a boil.  Cook the bergamots, stirring occasionally until the marmalade  begins to set using the wrinkle test: turn the marmalade off and put a dab on a plate that's been in the freezer then check it after 5 minutes; if it wrinkles when you nudge it, it's done.  If not, continue to cook, repeating this step, until it reaches the desired consistency.
Depending on the heat, the marmalade will take at least 30 minutes to reach this point, although if you're used to making other jams, it will look slightly more liquid than others when done.  You can also use a candy thermometer, the jam will be done when the temperature reaches around 220 degrees F.
5.   Once done, stir in the liqueur, if using, then ladle into clean jars and twist on the lids.   Once cool, store in the refrigerator where they'll keep for at least 6 months.

 a few of Suri's notes:
 " .... what I did was to cut them into eights, this way you can just cut the skin bits and pop out all the seeds with a knife, instead of trying to take them out individually.  So, you need to take out all the seeds, not the flesh, leave that and slice the skin to the size you want - it will be the only  visible thing at the end.  Keep all the seeds aside....after you've done the first boiling bit and it says chuck out water and drain well, DO IT.  I didn't want to thinking that's the best bit, but boy is it bitter...we tried drinking it in hot water, not bad...I'm sure you can find find some use for it.  Someone who like Fernet-Branca ...bi-tttter! ...then you put it back on the heat with water and sugar.  I put the seeds into a spice diffuser, because I don't have cheese cloth here...you need them for it to thicken {recipe does not give those instructions}.  I put in less sugar than it says - I always try and get away with as little sugar as possible.  I've used brown cane sugar in the past..."


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Things that I like to do in NYC

 I hadn't been to my favorite City (big city, that is) in about 3 months when I finally went in last weekend.  You know, I bought a house and had to get it ready for residency, and  there were the holidays - so, when I received an invitation to a gingerbread party/Eden's 70th birthday celebration (Eden Ross Lipson, my late friend would have  turned 70 on February 2nd) given by her daughter, Margo, my first trip to NYC of 2013 was decided.
I packed the car with a few bags - some of them empty waiting to be filled with goodies that I only know how to find in the city, and the city-dog herself, Allegra.  ("she's a New York city-special" is the reply I give to whoever inquires about her breed.)
We stayed with friends in my old neighborhood, the East Village.   First thing, take the dogs for a walk - yes, dogs.  I like to bring my friends' dog, Frankie for walks with us.  She, as well as Allegra enjoy making stops at all our favorite shops - because they always have a treat waiting for visiting canines.

Dinner  - Perbacco  We just happened to show up on the little Italian restaurant's 10th anniversary.  It wasn't advertised and I would not have known this had I not asked our waiter how long they had been open.  I seem to remember walking by the spot for years - I just didn't know it was 10 years.   The menu - as it reads on line (and, in person)- is very seductive.  There's a nice choice of dishes in every category from antipasti through dolci.  We were hungry and ordered with abandon.  We were a bit disappointed.   A bit.  Well, if you were to know that my friends live almost across the street from the place, had never been there and vowed never to return.  I did not have as negative a reaction.  What they deemed too heavy-handed I knew was just the regional food of Emilia-Romagna which is - heavy.  Lots of butter and besciamella.  Fried things too.    I found one of Perbacco's signature dishes, Parmesan creme brulee with a balsamic vinegar brulee very tasty - and original.  That may be because we shared one order and I ate just a few spoonfuls.  The creme part was super silky and unexpectedly cheesy and salty, and the very hard, candy-like topping was slightly bitter - from overcaramelizing(?) and musty from the vinegar.   I would go back for that dish alone - and the spaghetti with bottarga, lemon and garlic.    Our waiter was very concerned that we were the oldest people in the very full - and noisy room.  I realized, in retrospect, that the occasion prepared me for the following evening's activity.  I'll get there.

Breakfast - Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria - I've barely eaten at all the restaurants that exist in NYC- but this one is my favorite restaurant.  Hands down.  I know it's a bit short-sighted of me.  But it's consistently good - at every meal.  And now I can add breakfast to the delicious lunches, dinners and take-out food that I've eaten there.   I had the ultimate breakfast sandwich: poached egg, rupert cheese from Consider Bardwell (found, here, in Hudson, NY as one of the cheese choices on a Grazin' Acres cheeseburgers) and house-made salame rosa on the restaurant's own spongy, olive oil bread.   Moutherwatering - I'm drooling as I write this (TMI?).  Too much sandwich for breakfast - so I took the other half home for dinner.   That other plate of breakfast food, in the background, is sliced porchetta on the same olive oily bread topped with eggs.

Lunch - 88 Palace Restaurant - dim sum - followed closely on the heels of that above mentioned sandwich. Why not.  I get very greedy when I'm in NYC.   Venture deep into the bowels of Chinatown - find the "Palace"  and enter through thoroughly unimpressive doors and Bong! Bong! you're in Hong Kong.  Walk past vendors selling everything from eyes of toad (can't really say for sure - but looked that way) to every style of sparkling red shoes that you'll need to get back home again, and take an escalator up one floor to the cavernous restaurant - dodge the dim sum carts to get seated and before your coat is removed a server will start offering you bamboo baskets filled with steamed dumplings, sweet rice wrapped in lotus leaves, shrimp shumai, and so on.  We drank copious amounts of tea and ate all that we desired, and more.   I loved the sweet rice with bits of pork, mushrooms and tiny shrimp, and was very fond of the pan-fried turnip cakes also studded with pork and shrimp.  Everything else was just fine.  Dim sum in a place this huge is definitely a worthwhile experience.  And very New York-on-the-weekend.

After lunch - Took a tour through the latest food emporium to set up in the East Village, The Union Market.   Will it give the nearby Whole Foods a run for its money?  Mah?  Both markets were packed when I visited them over the weekend.        Off to the main event - the gingerbread party.   Some of the guests made their own versions of gingerbread cookie dough which was brought to the party uncooked, rolled out, cut into a gazillion different shapes , baked and decorated in the most fanciful ways by the guests - many of them under 5 years old.  It was a real party - and the house was fragrant with spices.
Dinner, saturday night - home alone with the dogs and HBO.  I happily ate the other half of my breakfast sandwich and watched 6 episodes in a row of "Girls".  I don't get it - is it really only one note, or am I really old?   The waiter from the previous night's dinner seemed to be concerned about our age as we were surrounded by what I now understood to be characters straight out of "Girls".   Oh, geez.

Sunday breakfast with my friends and then off  on my East Village Sunday morning routine, one that I've followed for nearly three decades.   Met my friend, Roy at the Tompkins Square farmers' market and didn't buy anything because  - it all comes from where I live now.  It was nice to see the smiling face of the lady who sells the great dairy products from Ronnybrook and let her know that we were now living much closer to the source.  She didn't bat an eye.  

On from the market to:

 Holyland Market , an Israeli grocery store  at 122 St. Mark's Place, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A for my favorite tahini - organic and imported from Israel.  I also like the shop's pocketless pita bread which is grand when toasted.

Russo's,  an Italian deli at 344 east 11th street near 1st Avenue.   Russo's specializes in homemade mozzarella and pasta.  They also have a huge assortment of cheese, cured meats, dried pasta, olives (and other marinated vegetables), and imported canned tomatoes, tuna, capers, etc.    I always buy Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh mozzarella when I'm there.  The other day I bought some imported prosciutto as well.   So when I returned to Hudson I could make a makeshift pizza with the pita as the base, some reduced-to-jam cherry tomatoes, topped with mozzarella and prosciutto.  Not bad.

Dual, at 91 1st Avenue between 5th and 6th streets, is a store that specializes in mostly Indian, but some Middle-Eastern, and Asian groceries, spices, herbs, teas, nuts, grains and other curiosities such as a selection of soap and 400 varieties of beer.   I buy almost all my spices from them as well as mango chutney and some Indian sweet rusks.   When I lived nearby I'd get their frozen pakoras to keep on hand for a last minute cocktail party.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:   Here's another topping for the schiacciata dough from last week's post.
Make the dough per recipe.  Heat the oven, stretch out the dough, cover with thinly sliced red onions and bake for 12 - 14 minutes until nicely browned.   Cover with creme fraiche flavored with dill - or, if you can't find creme fraiche - and please don't stress about it - combine cream cheese and unsalted butter until smooth.  Cover the cream with smoked salmon.  I like Ducktrap brand that is always available at the local Hannaford's supermarket.