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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Please visit us at our new home:

http://www.avenuefood.com

We look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ah, exalted New York restaurants with their grass-fed beef, artisanal cheeses and local produce bicycled over from the farmer’s market—how lucky you Manhattanites are! And us outer-borough dwellers, if we don’t mind trekking in and scurrying back to our provincial hovels when the meal’s over.

Out here in Forest Hills, restaurants haven’t yet grasped the concepts of “local,” “seasonal,” or “good” food, for that matter. With the exception of one excellent pizza joint and a Kosher Uzbeki restaurant Brian and I are quite fond of (but that’s closed on Fridays and Saturdays for the Jewish Sabbath) the places around here tend to either be TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s or serve food indistinguishable from TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s—gallingly, at twice the price.

After many, many bad meals, it’s finally sunk in that if we want to eat well in the neighborhood—let alone enjoy the bounty of the season—Brian and I are best off doing the cooking ourselves. So on Saturday, we trolled the farmer’s market in Manhattan, picking up some colorful heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, and a red onion. We made a quick stop at Whole Foods to buy some scallops, and headed back to the sticks to see what we could whip up. We combined the tomatoes, corn, and a bit of the red onion into a simple salad topped with curls of parmigiano and dressed with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. The scallops we just seasoned up and seared. We were glad we stayed in.

Monday, August 14, 2006

These days, the bulk of my summer produce comes from the Union Square Farmer’s Market in Manhattan. I work just a few blocks away, and it’s easy to zoom there on my lunch break and buy a few tomatoes, a couple ears of corn, a shiny eggplant, or whatever looks especially appealing that particular afternoon. For an apartment dweller like me, a farmer’s market is a fantastic resource indeed—and I’m lucky to have easy access to probably the best one in New York City.

But when my mother sent me this picture of tomatoes from her garden in northern California, I was reminded that even a great farmer’s market does not compare to a home plot. The market may have more variety, sure, but one’s own garden offers so much more: a deep sense of pride, for one thing. That hefty tomato in your hand? You nurtured it and, in all likelihood, observed it as it grew day by day. And there’s nothing like that sense of joyful abundance when everything finally begins to ripen—creativity kicks in (how can I showcase a zucchini, two eggplant, ten jalapeno peppers, and three cherry tomatoes?), meals become more colorful.

Brian and I had a garden for two blissful summers. We lived in Brooklyn, in a damp basement studio that we not-so-affectionately nicknamed “the cave.” Its one saving grace was the yard. We bought a brand-new Weber gas grill for the patio, raked out a square plot in the enormous garden, and began planting. Being garden neophytes, we had no idea how much to plant that first summer. I bought one green bean plant, which never yielded more than five or so beans at once. The cucumber plant was an utter failure. For whatever reason, I decided to put in eight cherry tomatoes, so at one point we had buckets of fruit—and more seemed to ripen by the minute. It was a chore keeping up with them, but I don’t regret my gardening mishaps at all. In fact, I would quite happily trade a four-dollar heirloom tomato from the farmer’s market for a bucket of those cherry tomatoes, grown by my own hand.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

SALMONELLA SURPRISE? OR JUST A REALLY GOOD DRINK?

I’ve ingested plenty of raw egg in my life (mostly via cookie dough, which I gobble like candy during baking sessions), and I’m happy to say that I am, as of yet, a salmonella virgin. Have I been extraordinarily lucky for the past three decades? Or is salmonella, perhaps, less of a threat than most of us assume? Trolling online for answers, I encountered an August, 2000 New York Times article that put the chance of an egg being contaminated with salmonella at 1 in 20,000. So there is a slight risk, but it’s a risk I can live with. (It should be noted, however, that the article did stress that children, the elderly, and others with compromised immune systems should never eat raw eggs.)

Now, this post is not about eating cookie dough—though I intend to continue that practice with abandon. The real reason I’m interested in raw eggs is for their use in drinks, an old-fashioned trick that seems to be enjoying a resurgence, thanks to the current popularity of classic cocktails. At the Pegu Club, a slick new bar in New York that takes its mixology very, very seriously, egg white is a component of many cocktails. The white provides body—just a slight viscosity—and a pleasantly foamy cap. Maybe I’m a reckless fool, but I believe it's well worth taking that 1 in 20,000 chance.

Give this drink—the Ramos Fizz—a try. It’s tangy, yet mellow from the cream, and the orange flower water gives it a distinct floral bouquet. And yes, you can omit the raw egg and it’ll taste fine, though it will lack body and the foamy head won’t be as smoothly integrated with the rest of the drink. A better idea: spring for pasteurized eggs.

RAMOS FIZZ

1 ½ oz. gin
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ teaspoon orange flower water
1 fresh egg white
1 oz. cream
Club soda

Combine all ingredients except for club soda in a shaker. Add ice. Shake vigorously for two minutes (it’s best to have at least one other person around, as the shaker will get too cold to handle for long). Pour drink into a chilled old-fashioned glass, with ice if you want. Top with club soda.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Ugh. The weather this week has been killer. 100 degrees each of the last three days (more like 110 with humidity factored in), and no letup likely until tomorrow. You know it's bad when you get so sweaty walking the two blocks home from the subway, you have to take a shower first thing in the door.

On Wednesday, squeaky clean and happily cocooned in our air-conditioned apartment, Brian and I decided to celebrate with a mini tapas party. Okay, it's a stupid reason to celebrate—really just an excuse to do something fun. But there's nothing wrong with that, is there? This is food fit for grazing—and it's perfect for triple-digit days, when the last thing you want is a heavy meal. My Tortilla Espanola is thick with potatoes and onions, a bit custardy from the egg. I actually cheated a bit with the tortilla—I made it the night before so we could enjoy it at room temperature. Luscious Pan con Tomate is a glorious way to showcase flavorful farmer's market tomatoes. Those tomatoes looked so good, in fact, I had to buy a couple extra to slice up. Is it possible to improve upon the perfect tomato? With just a sprinkle of crunchy fleur de sel, I’d call it a draw.

For the tortilla, I used a recipe (someone else’s, that is) and because A.) I respect copyrights and B.) I don’t want to get sued, I won’t reprint it here. But tortilla recipes abound, and you shouldn’t have trouble tracking one down. Fine Cooking issue number 43 has a great rendition, if you can find a copy.


For the Pan con Tomate: toast or grill slices of country bread, rub each piece with the cut surface of a halved garlic clove, then rub fairly vigorously with the cut surface of a halved ripe tomato—the juice and pulp will soak into the bread. To finish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of kosher or sea salt.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

HOT DAYS, COOL FOOD

Recently, I’ve been in a salad rut. This no-brainer side is quick to whip up and goes with practically anything; as a result, I end up making one at least twice a week. And, as far as salads go, mine are pretty good. But even though I mix it up a bit—varying the lettuces, using different types of vinegars, adding a grating of ricotta salata, a sprinkle of nuts, sliced avocados, orange segments, or whatever’s on hand—at the end of the day, it’s still pretty much the same ol’ salad. And week after week, that gets boring. In fact, it took a heat wave to reacquaint me with how fabulous a salad can be.

I don’t mind cooking on the hottest days—we do have air conditioning in our apartment—but, like most people, I tend to crave food that’s cooler, lighter, more refreshing. On a particularly brutal evening last week, a main dish salad fit the bill perfectly. I decided to go with a fairly straightforward Salade Nicoise for one very good reason: it’s filled with so many of the things Brian and I love to eat—eggs, tuna, anchovies, green beans, olives. But, of course, salads are great when improvised, too. Just make sure it’s filled with stuff you love to eat.

HEAT WAVE SALADE NICOISE

Tuna steak, about 1 ½ inches thick
Vinaigrette (I made mine with shallots and white wine vinegar)
Baby potatoes
Hard-boiled eggs, peeled
Green beans
Nicoise olives
Anchovy fillets
Baby arugula (or green of your choice)

Season tuna with salt and pepper. Sear for about 1½ minutes on each side. Halve scrubbed potatoes and cook until tender. Season still-warm potatoes with a little salt and pepper and toss with some of the vinaigrette. Cook trimmed beans until tender, then plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Dry and toss with a little vinaigrette. Cut eggs in half. Slice tuna. Mix arugula with some of the vinaigrette, and arrange on a serving platter. Place everything else on top of the greens. If you want, spoon some of the remaining vinaigrette over the tuna and eggs.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

THE LEG O' LAMB PROJECT

Perhaps the heat had something to do with it. Or maybe I’m just crazy. But recently, after reading an article in The New York Times on cold roasts, I decided to buy a 7-pound butterflied leg of lamb. Keep in mind my household consists of all of two people. But, being highly suggestible and not particularly rational, I just couldn’t help myself. To complicate matters, Brian and I hate leftovers. This has less to do with how food tastes on its second go-around than with the fact that, for us, the making of the meal—the chopping, the sizzle, the building aromas and, of course, the anticipation—is probably 75% of the pleasure. Eating something pulled straight from the fridge or the microwave is a huge letdown. Almost not worth eating at all.

But back to the lamb. After the initial meal, I wasn’t going to let this $60 prize hunk of meat go the way of so much of the other leftover food in our kitchen: that is, from the pot to the Tupperware to the fridge to, three weeks later, the garbage can. We were going to eat it. The whole thing. We were going to enjoy it, too. So my challenge was this: could I serve the lamb several nights in a row without both of us keeling over in boredom? And here’s what happened:

DAY 1:
Squeezed sausagelike into its packaging, the lamb looked encouragingly compact. But when I turned it out onto a sheet pan, it filled the whole damn thing, even threatening to hang over in spots. I blitzed some herbs, garlic, salt, and olive oil in a blender and spread the resulting mixture all over the meat. I roasted it and let it cool for a couple of hours. That night, we ate the lamb sliced, at room-temperature, sprinkled with a little fleur de sel and drizzled with olive oil. We accompanied it with cold asparagus. Verdict: tasty!

DAY 2:
Just as everything tastes better wrapped in bacon, I believe pita bread and tzatziki sauce can make any food shine. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But I do love these two things, and we all know lamb is a natural partner for them. So I decided to bake homemade pita bread, and I stirred grated cucumber, garlic, salt, and a little lemon juice into plain yogurt for an impromptu tzatziki sauce. I stuffed the warm pita with thinly sliced lamb, cucumber rounds, red onion, and drizzled the tzatziki over the top. Verdict: even tastier!

DAY 3:
I had on hand a few pita breads that hadn't properly formed their pockets. And they weren't quite large enough to do the wrap-around thing. Hmmm . . . pizza, anyone? We brushed the pitas with olive oil, topped them with finely chopped lamb, red onion, tomato, fresh oregano, and feta cheese. We then popped them under the broiler. Verdict: almost as tasty as the pitas!


DAY 4:
When I was growing up, my mom rarely made pot roast, but when she did, my favorite part of the experience was the hash she would make with the leftovers. So, hash seemed a natural conclusion to our leg o’ lamb experiment. I had planned to use regular potatoes, but Fresh Direct, our online grocery service, delivered sweet potatoes instead. Undaunted, we forged ahead and made a hash with sweet potatoes, lamb, onion, green pepper, and thyme, topped with poached eggs. Well, I’m not much of a sweet potato person to begin with, and this didn’t help their case. The lamb was a little too chewy, the potatoes a little to sweet. Verdict: edible, but definitely not a winner.


CONCLUSION:
At the end of day 4, there was still some lamb left, even though I had also been bringing it to work with me for lunch. I chucked the remainder into the freezer, probably, realistically, to suffer a drawn-out death by freezer burn. Will I be buying any more oversized roasts for the two of us? Probably not. But I did learn how to make a killer lamb pizza.