Monday, August 28, 2006

A Small Town Celebrates a Golden Anniversary

This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Cutchogue's Annual Chicken Barbeque. For 50 years, our local volunteer fire department has held a chicken barbeque on one of the last Saturdays in August. The Chicken Barbeque is Cutchogue's Bastille Day – it is a highly celebrated event that feels like a celebration of independence, but probably really only symbolizes the last hurrah of the summer.

Each year the Fire Department sells 3,000 tickets. The tickets are sold on one day, for just a few hours, a few months prior to the actual barbeque. A ticket is an extremely hot commodity. It is more than just an admission to the barbeque; it is a rite of passage, a status symbol, and perhaps a true indicator that you are "in" in Cutchogue.

For decades, the barbeque has been a small town event that draws a very local crowd. In the past, the barbeque was poorly attended and forced the Fire Department to go door-to-door in the community in an attempt to sell tickets. However, in the last 10 years, the Chicken Barbeque has tured into what the Hampton Classic might be to the Hamptons. When Martha Stewart turned up at the barbeque a few years ago the tone of our local barbeque was permanently changed. Fortunately, the crowd is still very much a local one, but it wouldn't be uncommon to see a food writer for the Times savoring some chicken and local corn.

On top of all the festivities, the tailgating before entering into the tent to feast, or the endless number of conversations with old friends, the barbeque is really all about the food. A ticket gets you a half of a chicken, unlimited local corn on the cob, potato salad, fresh local tomato and cucumber salad, buckets of beer and ice cream with fresh local peaches. It is truly a night of indulgence. The chicken is grilled to perfection with a barbeque sauce that has been a trade secret for 50 years. The barbeque sauce recipe is analogous to a fraternity ritual - the volunteer firemen take the recipe with them to their graves.

The chickens are barbequed by the hundreds over huge open grills in the fire department's parking lot. Days before the actual barbeque, the Ladies Auxiliary shuck thousands of ears of corn, peel thousands of potatoes for the potato salad, and peel and chop thousands of cucumbers for the tomato-cucumber salad. Each year, the Chicken Barbeque lives up to its reputation. It is an amazing night because each element of the barbeque – the food, the drinks, the people and the ambiance – come together in perfect harmony. It was truly a night of celebration and I cannot wait until next year.

Until next time…

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Is it Me or the Times that's Behind the Times

The lead article in today’s Food section of the Times is entitled “A Passion for Mussels.” The gist of this article is that mussels, which historically have been beloved in France, are gaining popularity and a stronger fan base in the United States. Not that I mind this, and actually hope that this popularity for les choses frainçaises isn’t limited to just mussels, but isn't this also the gist of what I wrote about 2 days go?

Thank goodness a United States District Court in Detroit ruled that the National Security Agency’s wiretapping policies (a.k.a. “Dick’s Law”) violated constitutional rights because I have been starting to sense that some big brother has been listening to the voices in my head.

Let me give you all a rough chronology of why I believe I have been wiretapped. In 1996, I came up with a great idea for a novel. The novel, written in the first person, would discuss the trials and tribulations of a flighty, not-so-pulled-together single woman in her 30s, who in the midst of an unhealthy obsession with her weight and dead-end job, pines for a steady boyfriend and some direction in her chaotic world. Shortly after this brilliant thought came to mind, the novel “Bridget Jones's Diary” was published. Coincidence? I think not.

Then, in 2003, I had another earth-shattering, this is it, $$$, I have a brilliant idea for a movie type of moment. On a cool Pasadena, California morning in January 2003 while watching the Rose Parade pass by, I began thinking about the pressures of being a member of a marching band. The constant stress to stay in some sort of marching formation, remembering your spare tuba mouthpiece, not buckling under the pressure by puckering too heard and breaking a clarinet reed, or not having a perfectly polished brass button on your uniform must be just overwhelming. Thinking that all of the stresses are just taken too seriously, I came up with an idea for a movie – a parody on marching bands. Then, later in 2003, Christopher Guest made “A Mighty Wind,” a parody and mockumentary about folk singers. The similarities to Mr. Guest’s movie and my idea lead me to believe, that once again, I was wiretapped…

I could go on and on. There have been too many moments in which I have felt that my creative inspirations or my creative thoughts have been blindly robbed from me. And now this! Is it possible, yet again, that my thoughts were used to create someone else's piece of work? Were the mussels I wrote about the basis of the Times’ story? In all seriousness, I realize that this didn't happen, but I should mention that I have been eating mussels all my life. Mussels have always been an important aspect of the dining scene on the North Fork of Long Island. So is the Times behind the times on this phenomenon?

But, in the interest of civil justice and constitutional integrity, I sure hope that W’s cohorts don’t stir the appeals pot too much. I would like my mussels to steam for a little longer next time…

Until next time…

Monday, August 21, 2006

You Say Tomato, I Say Heirloom

Spring/Summer/Fall are great times for someone who enjoys cooking seasonally. I’m especially fond of late summer because of a fruit we all know and love… the tomato of course! Growing up with parents who were avid gardeners, I was exposed to all sorts of seasonal local vegetables and fruit. When the tomatoes were finally ripening, this was a magical time. There is nothing else quite like a red and ripened tomato picked fresh from the vine. Just slice into a still-warm tomato, a dash of salt and grind of pepper produces the most delectable treat. Because of this, tomatoes were consumed every day in many ways during their season.

Now that I’m in the city with not even a small patch of land for a vegetable garden, I have to rely on the farmer’s market for local produce. The tomatoes sold in grocery stores just don’t cut it when I know there’s better out there. So off to Union Square I go to grab what I can of the green market’s offerings. In preparation for a dinner party thrown for my friend Boris who came to visit, I decided to pick up some heirloom tomatoes. Wandering around the market, I notice a big difference in price, with Long Island heirloom tomatoes tipping the scale at $3.50/lb and Jersey vine-ripened at only $2/lb. To put this in perspective, the tomatoes in my grocery are only 69 cents/lb but aren’t remotely close to the true tomato flavor I’ve become accustomed to.

What to do with these choices? Hmm, I know! I’ll have a taste-testing using my unsuspecting dinner guests. So I grabbed a few different heirlooms, a couple Jersey vine-ripened and headed home to make a fresh tomato vinaigrette salad. Could they tell the difference between LI heirloom and Jersey vine-ripened? Half of them guessed right. It was pretty tough, I have to hand it to Jersey because they grow a mean tomato. Everyone agreed that one of the heirlooms was by far the best tasting. It was a huge yellow and red tomato (see pic below) and it was also by far the prettiest. Perhaps this gives it an advantage as they say we eat with our eyes before our mouths. Another “pretty” tomato was red with yellow stripes but when it came to the taste-test, it lost every time. It was far too dry and seemed almost like a cross between a pepper and a tomato. Everyone agreed that although the Jersey tomato tasted good, the other two heirlooms won out with a fuller tomato flavor. Long live the tomato, wherever it may be grown!

More on Mussels Thanks to Maggie!

Ever since I read Maggie’s latest posting proclaiming her recent PEI purchase, I have had a huge craving for those succulent bivalves. On Friday, a good friend and I went to a fun, trendy restaurant in Chelsea called Cafeteria. Cafeteria is very similar to Diner 24 (see supra Diner 24 No More) in the sense that the food is retro-comfo (retro comfort food), but I find Cafeteria to be a bit busier and more hip than Diner 24. Unlike Diner 24, you will wait for a table at Cafeteria.

My usual fare at Cafeteria is the Country Fried Steak, a la heart attack on a plate. As a quick aside, the country fried steak is a breaded, deep-fried steak served over garlicky mashed potatoes with a spinach and white mushroom sauce. It is a melt-in-your-mouth, can’t get enough, don’t talk to me while I am eating my country fried steak, but I hate myself after the fact type of meal.

Anyway, on this occasion, I decided to preserve my arteries and I ordered the mussels since it has been difficult for me to think of much else since I read Maggie’s blog. The mussels at Cafeteria were advertised as Prince Edward Island (PEI), but knowing a bit about the popular PEIs, my Nancy Drew sleuthing instinct instantly alerted me that there was something fishy about the mussels on my plate. The mussels were a little beardy and barnacley to be PEIs. PEIs, as Maggie says are farm-raised/cultured mussels grown in mesh stockings from ropes hung in the water. The mussels actually never touch the ocean floor, creating an ideal condition for growth. Because PEIs are raised this way, the mussels tend to be cleaner and free of the grit usually found in other types of mussels.

Another clue that tipped me off to the PEI misnomer was the size of the mussel. The mussels were quite small, despite having a large shell. PEIs are supposed to be larger and meatier. On top of this bait and switch, the mussels were prepared in a cream based broth – not the wonderful white wine sauce I was craving. I still enjoyed the sauce and experienced incredible pleasure dipping my crusty garlic toast in the sauce, but my Cafeteria mussel eating experience just didn’t satisfy the craving Maggie’s blog created.

But, don’t worry; I got my mussel (a la Maggie’s mussels) fix. On Saturday, knowing how I needed mussels my way in a bad way, George made a mussel dish to end all mussel cravings. We found PEIs (the real deal), put them in an aluminum baking pan with chopped shallots, garlic, celery, a stick of butter and an entire bottle of pinot grigio. George covered the pain with foil, put the pan right on the grill and steamed them to the utmost perfection. And he achieved perfection! George shot a bivalve birdie on this PGA golf championship weekend with this mussel dish…

Maggie, hats off to you! Your blog truly inspired my weekend eating experience.

Until next time…

P.S.: Larisa's Food Wire Flash – This just in, a delicious mushroom gravy was made this weekend and was the perfect compliment to a perfectly seasoned and perfectly grilled pork tenderloin.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Amateur to Ace (Let's Hope…)

I recently had a moment of self-discovery, self-realization, a Sartre-like experience, yada yada. I was sitting on the beach – the perfect place to find your inner philosopher – when I came to the conclusion that I need a lot of help. Well, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but I did realize that all the complaining I have been doing lately on the trials and tribulations of being an Associate (a.k.a. a glorified secretary) just hasn't produced the desired results. Unbelievable, I know…

Realizing that if I don't make changes I will become the perfect spokesperson for any major pharmaceutical anti-depressant medication, I decided to take life by the horns, the reins, anything I could grab, and do more of what I love to do.

I signed up for two classes at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). Both classes will be offered this October and are part of ICE's recreational division. (If only these classes counted towards my continuing legal education requirements…) This is really great news for you readers since I will, officially, become credible in October!

I signed up for "French-Mexican Dinner." Having a strong affinity for everything French (including the French) and an addiction to guacamole, I thought this class was perfect for me. The class is all about French cooking techniques found in Mexican cuisine. The second class I will be taking is "Breaking into Food Writing." Looking for any opportunity to break into another career, I signed up thinking that this might be the golden ticket to my success. The class description tells me that I will learn innovative ways to think about the food's story and how magazine editors will stand up and take notice of my work! (And the Pulitzer goes to…)

Hopefully these classes will provide the mental catharsis I need. But, more importantly, I hope to lean more about different cooking techniques and different ethnic influences in food preparation. Better yet, hopefully the writing class will allow me to better explain what I hope to experience!

Until next time…

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bazal Talk

I recently made a delicious tomato, basil, mozzarella salad, a.k.a. Caprese. I make my tomato, basil, mozzarella salad (TBMS) a bit differently than most – well, that is what I am guessing. I haven’t made this salad for many people outside my family, but I was told by my friend that she had never seen a TBMS made the way that I make it. It's quite simple. Put a few pieces of lettuce (I prefer bibb lettuce) on a platter. This serves as your bed of lettuce (go figure). I slice my tomatoes about 1/3 of an inch thick, my mozzarella about 1/4 of an inch thick, and my red onion is sliced very thin. I arrange the ingredients in a circle on the bed of lettuce in the following fashion: tomato, mozzarella, red onion and repeat. It's very simple. I then take my fresh basil and roughly chop it so becomes a sort-of basil confetti. I sprinkle the basil in no particular fashion on top of the salad. I dress my salad with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar that is blended with a hint of Dijon mustard. I'm not sure how this salad could be made differently – maybe chopped and mixed together?

So I made this salad to bring to a barbeque with close family friends on Saturday. The salad was a huge hit, was completely eaten, and became the topic of the entire dinner conversation. Let me first set the stage as to how this conversation started. I was (aside from my family) the youngest person at this barbeque by 60 years. Needless to say, I was not only a guest, but also played the role of the host, a server and dish washer as this wasn't the most mobile and self-sufficient crowd.

It all began with this woman, who for purposes of illustration is a cross between Holly Golightly (Breakfast At Tiffany’s), Madeline Albright and maybe even Queen Elizabeth. She is a bit of a royal, somewhat flighty, intellectual snob – just a royal pain in the arse actually.

So I am sitting at the picnic table savoring in my TBMS goodness when Holiness Golightly-Albright asks for more Caprese. Of course having to bow and oblige, my first thought is what the heck is Caprese? Thinking that this might be just an Alzheimer's moment, I glance at her plate for a crumb of a hint left by some higher power of what might be Caprese. Saved by a few red onion remains, I conclude that this woman must mean the TBMS and I regretfully inform her that there isn't any TBMS left.

Still completely confused as to what Caprese is, I get back to my own TBMS. No sooner after another forkful am I interrupted again by her Royalness asking, "where can I get his bazal." Bazal? Bazal. Bazal…

Just when I am about to ask her if she means the basil, the next character chimes in, "What the hell is this bazal you speak of and is it on my plate?" For purposes of this illustration, this character is best described as an 80 year old, 6’7’’ man who has a size 20 shoe, no sense of balance (despite having cruise line piers for feet) and who doesn't sensor anything he says. We will call him Bill. I say this in the most endearing manner – this man is a close family friend and I respect and love him dearly.

So Ms. Golightly-Albright pipes in, "it’s that most deliciously fresh and fragment herb in your Caprese." Confusing Bill even further by this Caprese comment, Bill says, "I have never heard of bazal. Where can I get this bazal? Now, everyone at the table is doing there best not to laugh, but someone finally says, "Bill, it's basil!!"

The night passed with fewer incidents or comedy, and after getting everyone to bed (I'm kidding), I ventured home to look up Caprese and the pronunciations of basil. Caprese is, according to my sources, a simple salad consisting of fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Bazal, is no such thing. It's basil – pronounced basil. So does Madeline Golightly-Albright have a more sophisticated tongue and is pronouncing basil in Italian, or is bazal just an affectation?

Is my basil to her bazal, my tomato to her tamato? Or is my Demi Moore her Demeeee Moore? Whether it is an affectation or a sign of a more seasoned palate, it certainly took away from the very simple TBMS. Once again, place the tomato, mozzarella, and red onion on the bed of lettuce and repeat!

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Walk the walk and talk the "seafood talk"

Trips to the New Hampshire/Maine area mean to me lobster, shopping, walks on the beach, and lobster. Did I mention lobster? I have two aunties up there and will make up any excuse to go for a visit. I had a great two days and enjoyed fabulous meals as culinary skills run in the family. Sad to leave Sunday night, the only thing that held back the tears was the seafood market around the corner that I would definitely hit up on the way out.

My cooler was waiting to be filled and I did it no injustice that day. “Seafood talk” is big in the New England area. “Seafood talk” is what I like to refer to as talking up the local catch. An example - “Oh, you’ve got to try this lobster! It was just brought in off the boat a minute ago!” So I just had to get some lobster, scallops, shrimp, swordfish (flash-frozen and flown in from Australia), and rope-grown mussels. Mikey from Seaport Market hooked me up as usual. Thanks Mikey!!

It’s becoming a tradition to pick up a couple bags of PEI (Prince Edward Island) rope-grown mussels and cook them up within the next day for friends back in the city. A simple recipe for steaming mussels passed on to me by Aunt Linda produces a feast. A fresh baguette to dip in the juice is key to enjoying the meal. Now that my short visit is over and the mussels have been steamed and quickly demolished, I’ll start thinking up another excuse to visit my aunts again…

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Molto Mario: Please Forgive Me

So it has taken me over a week to write this blog and I want to apologize to any loyal readers for the delay. This blog needed to be written seconds after the experience, but I felt that, emotionally, I wasn't ready until now.

Last Friday (2 Fridays ago) my boyfriend took me to Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's new restaurant Del Posto. We had seen a show on the Food Network about the building and opening of Del Posto, and we both looked forward to seeing if Mario had succeeded in opening a 5 star Italian restaurant. Del Posto is located on the uberly-trendy West Side of Manhattan in the Meat Packing District. The restaurant is in one of those great converted factories that has a very industrial feel to it. The restaurant is also in (what I have coined as) "Celebrity Chef Central" as Masaharu Morimoto's restaurant is right across the street.

So on this once in this month experience (because seriously, you say it is a special occasion, or a once in a lifetime opportunity but that, I think, is just rhetoric for a New Yorker) we dined at one of the most expensive New York City restaurants for my birthday. For the occasion, I wore a new summer dress, a new Celine sandal and my culinary critic's hat.

From the moment we walked into Del Posto I was a critic. Even though I watched the Food Network's show on the making of this venture and I had an idea of what the restaurant was supposed to look like, I was initially stunned by the architecture and interior design of Del Posto. The ceiling was skyscraper tall, Romanesque columns everywhere, marble floors, marble stairs, marble, marble, marble. For a brief moment I thought I walked into one of those gawdy catering halls/wedding palaces somewhere in mid-Long Island. Come on, Mario, you can do better than are situated in the heart of the trendy Meat Packing District…take advantage of the space and keep the industrial integrity of his building. At first, I thought the restaurant's theme should have mirrored its neighborhood – industrial, hard, exposed piping, stainless steel fixtures, but as you will soon find out, I had a change of heart.

The food, albeit spectacular, was also on my critical hit list. George (my boyfriend) and I completely splurged and we both ordered the 10 course Del Posto tasking menu. Our first dish (a cured meat medley) was palately pleasing. The second course – not so much. The second course of this eating extravaganza was a roasted summer vegetable insalate with fresh ricotta. First, let me say, that the presentation of each course achieved levels of aesthetic perfection I did not know existed. There wasn't a piece of out of place parsley, a meandering morel, or a sporadic spot of sauce. Everything was perfectly placed on every dish. As I do believe that presentation embodies much of the food's taste, I was surprised that this exquisitely crafted summer vegetable insalate had less of a summer vegetable taste and more of a parsley taste. The parsley was overpowering. I felt that with every bite, the parsley was cleansing my palate and I wasn't able to taste the flavors of the summer squash, peppers and more importantly, the ricotta.

The fourth dish (I think) was perch over truffled green beans. Even though the descriptions of each course had my mouth watering like a fire hose, I was especially excited about this fourth course. I love truffles. LOVE TRUFFLES. In fact, I will say that the smell of truffle oil is by far one of the most sexiest and sensual smells I know. Any man brave enough to wear truffle oil as cologne would make me one happy woman! I digress, but perhaps a blog dedicated to truffles is now in order.

Okay, so the highly anticipated perch and truffled green beans arrived and I took a forkful of green beans and tasted no truffle. Mario, you hathe forsaketh me… There appeared to be shaved mushrooms in the dish, but they weren't truffles. I will concede that my knowledge on the various fungi is limited, and perhaps there are flavorless/scentless truffles out there, but the dish just wasn't as good without the strong sensual flavor of the truffle I know.

In the interest of brevity, I will forgo a detailed account of each and every course and conclude by saying this. Del Posto was by far, hands down, no questions asked, the best dining and culinary experience I have ever had. I may have been wearing my critic's hat during the entire 10 courses, but my criticism was concededly pedantic.

It has taken me over a week to write this entry because Mario's sense of perfection far exceeded my novice tongue. Certainly, there was not too much parsley in my roasted summer vegetable insalate – it was probably meant to be a main ingredient, not the garnish I thought it should be. As far as the design and style of the restaurant goes, I retract the trailer trash label I gave it earlier and will say that it is precisely appropriate. The style, in all its Romanesque flare, is the perfect compliment to Mario's exquisite menu. I was wrong and Mario, my critic's hat has been apologetically removed.

Until next time…

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Dessert anyone?

All dessert... all night baby! We had a sugar filled night in Astoria and left our meeting feeling high.

Andrea came through with her fresh-picked blueberries from upstate and whipped up a tart with shortbread crust topped with lime curd and blueberries. So tart and sooo good.

Larisa also played up the in-season fruit with some white peaches and blackberries on shortcakes. She made a blackberry juice that was incorporated into some fresh whipped cream. Voila!

I made a "light" version of New York cheesecake swiped from the cook's illustrated book. Since peaches are everywhere I look lately, I made a peach puree to serve with the cake. Yum!

Soft-Boiled Eggs

I am really not an egg person. They are somewhat tolerable scrambled, only if they are NOT scrambled in bacon fat residue (which by the way, bacon is another thing I have to remember to put on my hate list). I also once had an excellent Croque Madame sandwich that I haven’t gotten over. It was 6 years ago in Paris when I bit into that grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg and I remember it as if it were yesterday. Sometimes when I think about my Croque Madame sandwich experience a little tear slowly trickles down my face in honor of its memory. Omelets are also awful. Even egg white omelets are awful. They are too heavy and give me an instant migraine. No…I’m serious, I have never had an omelet that didn’t give me a headache.

So this really begs the question: why the enmity for eggs? Have I had a bad experience with eggs – sort of a Pavlovian bell-food-salvia experience? There was an incident with mandarin oranges, a text book example of respondent conditioning, which has permanently affected my ability to eat, taste, look at or buy mandarin oranges, but I can’t recall a similar egg incident.

So I put on my Nancy Drew hat and called this new found project The Quest for the Egg Enmity. I started this project by thinking about the physical characteristics of the egg; oval shaped, outer shell, messy interior that has the potential to grow into a chicken if not victimized by someone’s sunny-side-up craving. The messy interior/potential for growth is what I found most intriguing during my studies on the egg’s physical attributes. I’ll come back to this point in just a bit.

So the next stop on my quest was the internet. I wanted to look-up as many egg cooking techniques as possible hoping that one would leap off the monitor as the culprit to some past egg experience that has generated my egg aversions. There are so many egg cooking techniques. There are the infinite ways to fry an egg, there are hard-boiled eggs, soft-boiled eggs, poached eggs, scrambled eggs and deviled eggs (so appropriately named if you ask me), to name a few. Sorry, but I want to pay a little more attention to the deviled egg before announcing my egg enmity discovery. What’s up with the deviled egg? Why are they even still around and being served? Seriously, deviled eggs must be a cause for many of our society’s and country’s problems. I heard that a senior member (and by senior I mean the most senior) of the White House staff has a daily deviled egg. Case in point?

Okay, so during this nauseating review on how to cook an egg, I put the mental “red flag” next to the soft-boiled egg. Soft-boiled eggs are typically cooked by placing the egg in cold water, which is then brought quickly to a boil and set to simmer for 4-6 minutes. After 4 minutes, the egg white should be set while the egg yolk is still runny. A soft-boiled egg is eaten by cracking the shell and eating the set egg white and running yolk. Remember that scene from Jaws where Hopper and Chief Brody cut open the tiger shark and that milky substance spills out all over the dock? That’s a soft-boiled egg.

Despite this graphic description, there is something much more symbolic about the soft-boiled egg than just its hideous physical qualities. My aversions to eggs, I am discovering, are psychologically rooted. I think (emphasis strongly added) that I am not partial to eggs because for some reason I remind or associate myself with the egg. I have a tough outer shell, and for purposes of this analogy my skin is much like the firmly set egg white of a soft-boiled egg, but if you crack my shell, I can ooze out like an egg yolk. I am a soft-boiled egg. I have that egg shell appearance – confident, proud, resilient, but inside I am a completely different person. I have the potential for being great (much like the egg turning into a chicken), but right now I am still a little reactionary, ultra-sensitive and slightly undefined.

I am not at all worried by this discovery. This is what I do. I seek out projects, much like this supper club, as a way of helping me understand who I am and what I love to do (all things food related). Perhaps this little introspective journey into my egg enmity is a bit of a psychological stretch (seriously, I know it is), but I feel pretty good about it. I think I’ll have a soft-boiled egg tomorrow for breakfast.

Until next time…

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Summer Salads and Mustard Mutiny

After what seemed like an endless week of unbearable heat, I jetted out to the East End of Long Island for cooler temperatures and fresh farm stand produce. My inner chef was longing to cook after it's week of dormancy. Knowing that every road side farm stand on the North Fork was teaming with fresh local produce, I couldn't wait to assemble a sweet summer salad.

There is nothing better than summer salads made with the freshest ingredients. Well, maybe a few things like chocolate labs and zero balance credit cards, but a summer salad paired with a perfectly seasoned grilled steak – YUMMY! The fresh summer salad consisted of fresh corn off the cob, fresh local string beans, campari tomatoes (see supra 'Tis the Tomato), and local red onions all dressed in a shallot dijon mustard dressing.

The core ingredients of this summer salad were delicious. The corn was as sweet as candy, the string beans had a crispness to them and well, the tomatoes….melt-in-your-mouth juicy! The salad epitomized all that is unique and wonderful to the North Fork. Both the Times and Newsday this past week ran several articles on the ever changing, but wonderfully bountiful North Fork of Long Island. As I stood in my parents' kitchen shucking the local sweet corn and chopping and dicing all my summer ingredients, I couldn't help but think that those articles got it right and it just doesn't get much better than this….until the Dijon mustard created a not-so-mellow mutiny.

The dressing for this summer salad calls for shallots, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. I generally like the taste of a dijony dressing so in keeping with my partial palate, I added a super-sized Dijon mustard tablespoon to my dressing. Wisk, whisk, whisk, stir, stir, stir, blend, blend, blend and voila! When I tasted my fully dressed summer salad, I had a bit of a gastrotack. Too much mustard!

The portion of mustard I used might be perfect for store bought, out-of-season veges, but with the fresh local produce in my salad, the sweetness of each vegetable was lost to the overpowering mustard. I was able to dilute a little of the mustary taste with extra lemon juice, but my next summer salad will be more salad and less mustard.

Despite this Dijon debacle, my inner chef was satisfied. After a hot week in New York City, it was a wonderful treat to be cooking in cooler temperatures with the freshest ingredients on one of the best spots on Earth!

Until next time….

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tin Ceilings and Turning 27

My birthday was last Thursday. As I didn’t reach some milestone age like 21, 40, 65 or 80, I felt the best way to bring in the new year was to toast to it with family over good food, drinks and conversation. My birthday celebration was perfect. Although my family and I raised several glasses to toast the occasion, the festivities, food, drinks and conversation became almost peripheral to something larger I was experiencing.

For the past 2 years, I have constantly struggled with identifying my connection to New York City. Although I have found many connections, like this supper club, more often than not I feel as if the City is so much bigger than me. Anyone who lives in NYC can attest to its madness. The City is perpetually busy, perpetually alive, transient, and eerily isolating. It often feels like I can easily get lost in it if I don’t seek out my connection to it.

To avoid this feeling of isolation or confusion, I try to find those moments or experiences that help me understand why I have decided to live here. After drinks and tapas at one of my most favorite spots (Room 18), we ventured back up to my area to close our evening at another one of my favorite spots – Rolf’s. Any of you who are familiar with either Room 18 or Rolf’s know that both are polar opposites of each other. Room 18 is a small trendy lounge located in the heart of Nolita that serves innovative cocktails and tapas. Rolf’s, a kitschy German bar and restaurant, is located in an old tenement in the Grammercy/Kip’s Bay area of Third Avenue. Rolf’s is cluttered with tchochke decorations and has that atmosphere that at any moment, Julie Andrews could appear singing a medley from Sound of Music.

Despite the obvious and clashing differences between Room 18 and Rolf’s, they share commonalities. Both are located in great old NYC buildings. Both have original tin ceilings, probably dating back to the late 1800s/early 1900s, and both have that wonderful NYC
institutional feel that brings you back to NYC in the 1920s.

As I sat at the bar drinking my hefeweissen celebrating being in my 20s, at a bar in the 20s, I
started thinking about NYC in the 1920s. The bar is original to the restaurant, which has been around for decades. Knowing that 3rd Avenue in the 20s (both the streets and decade) was historically a very industrial and manufacturing area in NYC, I couldn’t help but hear the clanging of the old 3rd Avenue El passing by, the smell of soot and coal that August in the 1920s
could smell like, and I couldn’t help but see the working class men who would stop by Rolf’s for a stein after a laborious day of work in NYC before heading home to their overcrowded tenement apartments that lined 3rd Avenue.

As I sat there staring at the tin ceiling, it was déjà vu. I felt as if I had the experience that perhaps my predecessors did decades ago at the very bar stool where I sat, even though I was experiencing it for myself for the first time. As I continued to drink my hefeweissen and celebrate the remaining hours of my birthday with family, I felt just another connection to NYC. I felt as if I were part of something greater. Like all of those who were here before us, we are
making history daily, and if we don’t stop to feel that connection, we will get lost in NYC’s chaos.

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

350º: No Longer Just an Oven Temperature

As we all know, we are in the middle of one of the worst heat waves known to New York City. This week, Mayor Bloomberg declared a heat emergency in New York City. An additional 400 cooling centers have been designated around the City, City pools are open an hour past normal business hours, the Empire State Building has turned off its colored lights to conserve energy and Con Edison has completely broken down. Power outages have been running rampant all across NYC, and parts of Queens were without power for several days.

This is not the week to love New York City. It is certainly not the week to travel to New York City, be outside in New York City or dine in New York City. Even though I take an air-conditioned bus to work, I work in a heavily air-conditioned building and my apartment is air-conditioned (somewhat), it only seems like a temporary relief to the sweltering heat, seemingly endless sweating and constant complaining.

Due to the heat, I haven't been done much cooking. Living in this heat, which for purposes of this blog feels like a 350º oven, has taken away any cooking inspirations. Despite my somewhat air-conditioned apartment, my gas stove quickly turns the tolerable 84º apartment (with air-conditioning) to a hellacious 90º apartment. Why bother?

I have been eating out a lot this week and my favorite take-out restaurants are getting their fair share of my business. I am anxiously awaiting the return of cooler weather so I can relight my stove. Hopefully this 350º oven us New Yorkers are living in this week isn't a sign of permanent global change. Hopefully this heat is much like an oven broiler – it is infrequently used and only on for shorter periods of time. But for now, this constant baking has certainly rendered New York City overdone.

Until next time....