Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tour de Noodles

It has come to my attention that I eat a lot of noodles. Nobody really went out of their way to point this out to me, but in reviewing my diet this past week, I've noticed an abundance of pasta. I love me some carbs. I like bread, straight up. Rice is okay, too. I also live in fear that I will one day wake up and weigh 300 lbs.

This is my version of Chinese Dan Dan noodles, which is basically an Asian version of spaghetti bolognese. Mine was mouth-inceratingly spicy, so tread lightly with hot bean sauce.

The finished product: goes well with beer.

1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped fresh garlic
2-3 tbsp hot bean sauce
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 cup chopped scallions

1 lb fresh egg noodles
1 tsp sesame oil

Chop the pork into an even finer mince.
In a wok or heavy pan over high heat, heat peanut oil. Add ginger and garlic and stir briefly, about 20 seconds. Add the pork and stir 2-3 min to separate the grains, but do not brown.

Meanwhile, boil (unsalted) water for the pasta.

When the pork has separated and changed color, add the bean sauce, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar. Cook, stirring often, 3-4 min. When the pork has cooked through, turn off heat and stir in scallions.

Boil noodles 3 1/2- 5 min. Drain and toss with sesame oil. Serve with meat sauce.

It's your call on keeping the meat separate from the noodles. Whatever floats your boat. Also works well with peanuts, cucumbers, and/ or cilantro thrown in at the end.

Next up: Something a little lighter, perhaps, after all that pork. But I clearly have an Asian fixation. This is a Japanese dish called Otsu. It's ridiculously good, and one of the few things I actually follow a recipe for, unlike my ungodly Dan Dan concoction above. The recipe calls for tofu as the protein of choice, but I also like to use sliced avocado.

Tofu: My roommate likes it. I prefer avocado, aka "The Bacon of Fruit"

For the dressing:
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1-inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup unseasoned brown rice vinegar
1/3 cup shoyu (soy) sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

For the rest:
1 package soba noodles
1 package extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, roughly chopped
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Recipe adapted from Heidi Swanson,

The dressing for otsu is really what makes it. It's perfect for summertime, and I use the leftovers on top of salads, rice, and other bland things.

The final leg: Something not Asian. Remember my first post, about garlic scapes? Yeah, I'm still pretty into them. Despite my initial hesitation, I ended up making scape pesto last week. It was actually too strong by itself (a shock, given my abrasive-taste tendencies), so I blended in a can of cannellini beans to make a sort of pesto/hummus/pasta sauce/ spread thing. I then put this multi-hyphenated spread on top of fettucini, along with a nice healthy handful (or two) of grated Parm, and fried up some sweet onions for texture on top. That's it. No recipe. You should be able to figure this one out.

The cannellini beans give these noodles a great creamy feel without actually using any cream (don't get me wrong--the cheese didn't hurt, but I'd like to think the healthful properties of beans made up for some of that dairy goodness).

And that is all in my Tour de Noodles--for this week, anyway.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Market Report

It's summertime in the city, which means an abundance of produce at the market. I don't wish to get overly involved in the politics of the urban Greenmarket: for my part, the Union Square market is close to work, fun to browse, and pretty to look at.
Offering my two cents on the locavore/ Slow Food/ sustainable agriculture trend and its consequences seems, to be frank, a bit tired to me. It's not that I don't care--these topics are certainly pertinent to my personal and professional life--I simply don't feel the need to embroil myself in an already much-publicized, highly complicated batch of issues. I do, however, offer the following as food for thought, if you are so inclined:

Epicurious Seasonal Ingredient Map
(One of my personal, thought-provoking favorites): A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss
NY Times Opinion: Do We Really Need a Few Billion Locavores?

Moving along.

The point here is to share with you the delicious wealth of fruits and veggies (and meats and cheeses and breads) arriving with the warm temperatures. Above, we have gorgeous stone fruits, a colorful trifecta of beans; below, an assortment of cabbages and scallions, plus carrots, radishes and a strange creature ("famous," according to its signage) known as the Avocado Squash.

Sometimes shopping at the Greenmarket can be intimidating. There are too many booths, too many people, and way too much to choose from. Sometimes I panic when foods with a limited season arrive, because I think I need to buy those garlic scapes/ artichokes/ sour cherries/ one billion other potential things RIGHT NOW BEFORE THEY GO AWAY FOREVER. These feelings are natural. It is important to breathe deeply and soldier on when the panic sets in, lest it become too overwhelming and you miss out on [whatever food] entirely.

Anyhow, this is just a small sampling of what's on display now. Check the Council on the Environment of NYC's Greenmarket Guide for a complete list of market locations, seasonal updates, volunteer information and more. (Also, if anyone has actually done some work at any of the city's Greenmarket, let me know! I want some firsthand perspective.)

Wait, are these really famous? What do I do with them?


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Uncommon Goods

Things I covet:

Toast Mattress

Finger Food Plates

If pressed, I would choose the mattress over the plates.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Turning Japanese

I have always had a strange obsession with grocery shopping. I find the practice highly therapeutic--grocery stores provide me with anonymity, alone time, and plenty of eye candy. In New York, sometimes the process is grueling: larger stores are jam-packed at rush hour, thus destroying the relaxing quality I miss from my suburban supermarket youth. But the city has something my childhood strip malls (mostly) didn't: ethnic grocery stores.

One of my favorite things about living here are these kinds of speci
ality shops, which usually cater to homesick expats and immigrants, not curious little white girls like me. Perhaps it's some subconscious fascination with The Other, or maybe it's just that I like looking at weird foodstuffs. Although I won't pick favorites, I do have a tendency to go for Asian in particular, a habit that started even before I spent time in Thailand and China. While some ethnic enclaves require epic subway rides to depths of Brooklyn or Queens, there are a few more centrally located. Of the various options (Manhattan's Chinatown, K-Town, etc.), there is a small(ish) but highly visible Japanese contingent in the East Village, centered near the shitshow of St. Mark's but radiating several blocks out from there. In this zone, there are several grocery stores catering to Japanese clientele, stores that go deep beyond the typical sushi-and-ramen noodles stuff. This weekend I took a mini-field trip to Sunrise Mart, a store on the second floor above the St. Mark's Bookshop, to see what I could find.

Shiitakes #1 & #2, respectively. Note the price difference.

The problem with many of my adventures is that I don't go with a plan: I don't usually need (or sometimes even want) to buy anything, and most of the time I wouldn't know what to do with the stuff even if I did. But I can't be stopped. I am a machine.

Jumbo sardines (does that count as an oxymoron?).

I always feel slightly awkward wandering around, food-stoned and happy, while other shoppers go about their business with no concern for the novelty around them.

Endless condiment choices!

Despite my occasional confusion and the potential annoyance of shoppers around me, my little culinary jaunts are usually worth it. Case in point: I got a bag of dried shiitakes, three rice balls, a tub of pickled vegetables and imported yam-flavored soba noodles for about $7.

Sunrise Mart
4 Stuyvesant St., 2nd Fl. (near 3rd Ave.)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 598-3040


Thursday, July 17, 2008

This Week's Diet

Some things I have eaten recently:

Cotton candy at Brighton Beach. I forgot what a strange and lovely sensation it is to have pure sugar disintegrate in your mouth.

Additionally, Brighton Beach is one of my favorite places in the world. I'm not entirely sure why. It's gaudy and tacky and utterly delightful. I always come home smelling of poppy-seed pastries and smoked fish and sunscreen.

Deep-fried tortillas at home, as part of D's authentic Mexican tostadas.

Sautéed dandelion greens from Philoxenia, in Astoria, Queens. Bitter and pungent, not altogether that pleasant. This was my first trek to Astoria in search of Greek food. Sadly, entering Queens is not the same as entering the Greek Isles. I was hoping for more of an overwhelming cultural explosion, the way I feel when I venture to Chinatown or even the aforementioned Brighton Beach. Clearly, not all ethnic enclaves share (or want to share) the same aesthetic character.

Tiny and perfect marinated taro at Soba-Ya in the East Village. I have a disproportionately high tendency to crave Japanese food, perhaps because the intricate attention to detail appeals to the OCD-infected side of me. This was a precursor to my bowl of hot duck-and-scallion soba noodles, 85-degree heat totally irrelevant.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dumpling Dilemma

Some kitchen tasks go above and beyond the realm of “practical.” Last month, the New York Times published an article on “recipe deal breakers;” which vary, of course, according to the chef, their budget and their kitchen space. The following is an account of a recipe that had many, many deal breakers for me: the use of cheesecloth, a 24-hour refrigeration period, expensive ingredients, tedious dumpling folding, and more. Why, might you ask, would I ever subject myself to such a recipe? Sometimes you have no choice. As part of my work, I cross-test recipes submitted by various chefs to determine if they’re acceptable for the “average” home cook. As for this Tomato Essence with Chanterelle Mushroom Dumpling number, I’ll let you be the judge:

First, I ground close to 5 lbs of roma and vine-ripe tomatoes, along with a basil leaf, a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and some black pepper, in the food processor until it was liquefied. Then I poured the soupy mess into a cheesecloth, tied it up, and hung it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Yes. Hung it in the refrigerator. For 24 hours. I sadly do not have pictures of this step, but suffice it to say that my jerry-rigged string “hook” to dangle the blob of raw tomato pulp over a bowl for 24 hours was not pretty. What’s even less appealing is that the entire purpose of this exercise was to extract the tomato’s “essence,” all of the juice that dripped through the cheesecloth.
This is what 5 lbs of tomatoes drained of their essence looks like.
The resulting liquid was almost clear, with a strong flavor and aroma of tomatoes (without the nuisance of actually seeing or eating them).

On to the dumplings: The filling was made of sautéed chanterelle mushrooms(clocking in at approximately $30/ lb), which were later chopped to a rough paste in the food processor.
After chilling the mushroom paste, I painstakingly folded tablespoon-sized dollops into 50 (thankfully pre-made) dumpling wrappers and sealed the edges with an egg yolk. Then the dumplings were boiled in the tomato essence, creating what was essentially a highbrow version of wonton soup.

After bringing in a sampling of the dish to my bosses at work, we all decided that perhaps this was not the best recipe for the “average” home cook. Was it that difficult? No, but it certainly was time-consuming, not to mention expensive and somewhat tedious. Then again, there are home cooks out there who love taking their time with recipes and handcrafting every component, in which case: go for it. For now, I’ll stick with Golden Dragon takeout when my craving for dumpling soup sets in.


Monday, July 7, 2008

American Beauty

In a belated show of patriotism, I would like to present one of God's most beautiful creatures: The Chicago Hotdog.


Behold! This is the weiner of my hometown, and something I sorely miss here in New York. It's an all-beef dog in a steamed poppy-seed bun, gloriously complete with neon-green relish, sliced tomato, raw onion, hot sport peppers, a quartered pickle, yellow mustard and celery salt. No. Ketchup. Ever.

Related: "This American Life" explores Chicago's legendary Weiner's Circle...


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pork Emporium

Bib Bim Bap I: Unmixed, still pretty.

Last week I had the pleasure of doing business over lunch at Momofuku Ssam Bar. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision based mostly on the fact that the business at hand revolved around an impending conference on Chinese cuisine. No, Momofuku isn't really Chinese food, but when you're in the neighborhood discussing the merits of various bao fillings, it's only natural that someone should bring up David Chang's super-hyped pork-belly buns.

But those buns lost their appeal to me (well, not really "lost," more like "were overshadowed by") when I saw bib bim bap on the menu, which is definitely not Chinese (try Korea)—but whatever—I am not one to deny my tongue or arteries the pleasure of shredded Berkshire pork (usually beef in more traditional versions) and a poached egg (usually fried) over rice, especially when the bowl also included pickled shiitake mushrooms, red kimchee puree, pickled baby cucumbers, caramelized shallots and seasonally-appropriate broad beans. Any bowl of bib bim bap is essentially an assortment of toppings (the word literally means "stirred or mixed meal"), and this one only differs in its toppings of choice.

Pickled Vegetables & Chap Chae: Meh.

As with most Momofuku fare, this is probably the richest, heaviest version of bib bim bap in the city. It's not really an indicator of what you would get in any Korean restaurant, but that's kind of the point. The poached egg (which, surprisingly, must be requested as a $1 add-on) was really the kicker—while I find that noodles with poached eggs (i.e., Momo ramen) can get a bit slimy, rice actually seems to absorb some of the yolk, making a lovely, sticky stew. The pork was, as it is always in a Chang production, generous, tender and fatty. The mess of pickled vegetables on top were a smart addition: their vinegary bite helped cut some of the egg/pork richness, though I did find it slightly disconcerting that the rice, egg and pork were all served warm while the vegetables were room-temperature or colder. (Note: once everything was stirred up into a big swampy mess in the bowl, the temperature evened out.) My side of chap chae, Korean-style vermicelli noodles with vinegar-kissed carrots, shiitake and scallions, was underwhelming and probably unnecessary, as the bib bim bap is easily 2,000 calories and awful filling by itself.

Bib Bim Bap II: Let the oozing destruction begin!

For all the hype surrounding the Momofuku mini-empire, it's nice to know that they still turn out a good product. The bib bim bap is only available during lunch, and is a (relative) bargain at $14. And while the Chang-sanctioned version of this Korean standby is by no means traditional, it still maintains the basic values of the dish: simple, hearty and delicious.