Monday, September 29, 2008

Not a recipe (again)

It's been a while since I posted a bona fide recipe of any kind. I've been making food at home, but I'm still in the rut. But fall weather and autumn vegetables (okay, gourds) are upon us, so there's hope for something new on the horizon. I project being burned out on squashes again this year.

Anyhoo, I don't know how many of you have been to a restaurant in the last couple of weeks, but if you have, you're in a minority. We've been out twice in the last week and noticed a definite decline in patronage. Business seems to be brisk at the cheaper, low-end places I rarely, if ever, deign to dine in, but it's not great at some of the better and independent places. I hope things turn around soon and people feel confident in spending money again because I'd hate to see any of my favorite places go out of business. In particular, what I've decided is my favorite restaurant, Los Rosales--the restaurant I chose for my birthday celebration this year. Ah, how nice it is to celebrate my birthday in an authentic Mexican restaurant where I have no worries of having a sombrero hoisted upon me and a chorus of Feliz Cumpleanos sung to me by an unamused staff. Yes, I did work at El Chico when I was a teenager; why do you ask?

So if you live in Nashville or anywhere around, please stop by. Don't go to Cinco de Mayo yet again. Leave the neighborhood and La Paz behind. And try the enchiladas verdes this time. And don't forget to have the guacamole. It's actually fresh-made; not that green goo that comes out at the order-by-number Tex Mex joints. I ask you this as a personal favor because I want this place to be around for a long time. Because I'm not making stuffed avocadoes at home. Or any of the seafood dishes that the Significant Omnivore so loves.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A bagel's tale

I could go on and on about the 24 hours I spent in New York last week, but I won't. I don't have the energy to do so. But I do have some things to share.

First, Claudia was right. BLT Prime treated me quite well for dinner, despite specializing in critters. Our hostess, Amanda even ordered grilled cheeses from the kitchen without bacon when she noticed I wasn't eating any. She said, "You have to have one of these" and I'm glad I did. So decadent...truffle oil-drizzled mini grilled cheese sandwiches. Second only to truffled macaroni and cheese in my heart now.

So they already had me at the grilled cheese, but when we sat for dinner, there were popovers. With gruyere cheese melted inside. Popovers! Yes, I know they're easy to make (everyone--EVERYONE--I've raved to about them has said so), but I never have 4 cups of warm milk and/or 8 eggs in my house. Nor do I have a popover pan. And besides, why ruin the memory? I don't make things this decadent at home. I mean, white flour! No.

Anyway, this popover was huge. We're talking if the Swedish Chef was just a little smaller, he could use it for a hat. And I ate the whole thing. Despite knowing that a salad, dinner and dessert were coming. Dinner was a delicious medley of chopped vegetables with a few shavings of truffle on top and tossed with a few Hen of the Woods (relax, it's a mushroom) and a couple of other savory (never slimy) 'shrooms. I squeezed in as many bites as I could, but knew I needed to save room for dessert, which included lemon-cassis meringue pie with lemon sorbet. I shoved in as much as I could in what tiny crevices were still unoccupied in my stomach. And then there was more. Creamy chocolate petit fours. But there was no room. So Amanda boxed some up for me. She's the Significant Omnivore's new best friend since I was unable to eat them until I got back to Nashville the next day. Naturally, he helped me out.

But this post is supposed to be about bagels. I don't think a bagel store still exists in Memphis; those that opened during the bagel craze of the mid-90s have since become sushi bars and other eating establishments. A couple of bagel places survive in Nashville, but I rarely visit them. Because they're just not right. I don't know why it is that a chain bagel store can't manage to make an authentic New York bagel. And because they can't, I just don't bother.

But why can't they? Lots of bagel joints in NYC make really great bagels. Granted, some are better than other, but all are better than what we get here. We were staying in Times Square and the concierge pointed us toward Times Square bagel.

That, my friends, was a very good recommendation.

It's a small place and sort of BagelNazi-esque in that you better know what you want or the people behind you might toss you out. This is a place that people who know where to get a good bagel go to get their bagels. The line was populated with sour- and sleepy-faced New Yorkers who'd not yet had their bagels and coffee and by God, you better not get in their way. Though, luckily the woman in front of us had already had some cheer juice and helped us out before our big moment at the counter.

When it's our turn, we see trays of fresh bagels right out of the oven get unloaded onto the shelves in front of us. No! It can't be. But it is! I order a wheat bagel for breakfast (plain) and an oat bran, plain, and salt to go. My boss was a little curious as to why I ordered mine plain, but when we got out to the street and I bit into my bagel, she figured it out. There is just nothing like the experience of biting into a fresh, warm New York bagel. The outside is crispy, but not hard and once your teeth get through the exterior and tear through the warm, soft, fluffy flesh inside...heaven. You just don't get the same experience when it's been sliced and covered in cream cheese.

I brought the rest back to Nashville and heated them up for the SO. They were almost as good as fresh--still crispy on the outside, but soft once you get through that thin layer of crust. When the SO attempted to slice his bagel, I admonished him and showed him how he must eat it. I figure, since I toted these things all the way back from NYC, I have the right. Right? Right.

But why can't anyone outside the city of New York make these bagels? I've had very good New York style pizza here. Certainly, there's not something in the water or a special kind of NYC humidity that makes these bagels difficult to replicate. Is there? Though I should be careful what I wish for. If there were such a place here that could create a bagel that good, I'd have to make a deal with myself that I could only have a bagel if I walked to get it. Because there really isn't enough room for that many more carbs in my life.

So maybe the best bagel should stay in NYC after all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pairing wine with rabbit food

Natalie McLean gives a lesson on choosing the right wines to serve with your veggies in this piece via NPR. When you think about it, it's quite logical. In fact, I don't actually like most cabs and certainly not merlot and I wonder if it's because of what I'm eating or that they're just too heavy generally speaking. I much prefer a pinot noir and I love a good chianti classico.

The commentary ends with a handful of tasty-sounding recipes. Also, check out Natalie's wine and food matcher on her website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pasta e fagioli

I still have well over eight pounds of various peas and beans in the house. Some fresh, some dried, all legumes.

So, thinking that the Significant Omnivore was tired of having cornbread and squash with the legumes, I decided to branch out a bit with a batch of October beans. It didn't take long for me to decide to do some pasta e fagioli with these very sturdy beans, but just how should I do it? There are eleventy billion recipes for pasta e fagioli, so instead of following a recipe, I just looked around the kitchen a bit to see what I could come up with. Sciuè sciuè.

What I decided on was a filetto di pomodoro since I had big Bradley tomato and a couple of Romas from my neighbor's garden. Bradley tomatoes are hearty and sweet and (I think) are excellent tomatoes to use for a fresh tomato "sauce." And, hey wouldn't you know it, but this sauce being cooked over at Claudia's place recently as well. When life hands you tomatoes....

Along with the tomatoes, I had a couple of fresh lemons, an onion, garlic, and fresh rosemary. I put the garlic and fresh rosemary in a pan with some extra virgin olive oil and let it infuse a bit and then put the diced tomatoes and some minced onion in the oil mixture. After just a couple of minutes, I took it off the heat and squeezed the juice of a lemon on it and topped it off with some sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Voilà (ecco?), filleto di pomodoro sciuè sciuè.

I spooned the sauce over a mix of the cooked October beans and some grocery store gemelli (next time I will go to Lazzaroli's!) and served it with a few slices of sautéed polenta. Squisita!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fried chickpeas (peas again, yes)

The creative juices have not been flowing with regard to menus lately. I seem to have tricked the SO into moving in only to feed him roughly the same eight dinners over and over again. When you cook every night, it's hard to get all excited about a single meal, so they all kind of suffer.

But I'd seen this post on 101 Cookbooks and thought, "hey, that's easy--few ingredients that are easily available, not a huge amount of food...I'll try it."

So I did. Last night. There are a few things you should know if you'd like to try this yourself.

1. If you use tofu from a box, it's not really going to crisp up enough if you cook according to the directions. Your basic Mori-Nu extra firm, even when drained is still going to be a tad slimy if it's not fried up on its own first. I'd cook the peas and onions first, remove from the pan, then fry the tofu with a little more oil and salt, remove from the pan, then saute the zucchini, then add it all back together (I didn't use any greens in mine; I didn't have any on hand).

2. Chickpeas pop right as they're getting to be the desired golden brown and crusty. Luckily, I'd stepped over to the sink when the first little guy escaped over the side of the pan and directly onto the floor behind me. At first, I wasn't sure what had happened. And then, like a mogwai drenched in water, they started popping out all over the place. I dove for the cabinet with the lid to keep my precious babies in the pan. A few got loose and onto the stove, but I rescued them. Only one hit the floor. None hit me, thankfully.

3. Don't overcook those squash and zucchini bits! Mushy squash doesn't go well in this dish.

It's not worthy of its own numeral, but I also think that I'd change this up quite a bit next time. I'd keep the oil, salt, lemon, and chickpeas but pehaps it'd be better as a side dish...maybe mixed in with some orzo. Maybe some slivered almonds and barberries, too but that might be going a bit far.

Regardless, fried chickpeas are a new favorite treat. And that's a good thing since I went to Baraka Bakery yesterday and stocked up, having forgotten I already had some at home.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Peas, peas me

I'm sure I'm the first person who's ever used that as a blog post title. Anyhoo.

Despite the fact that I have still seven pounds of Rancho Gordo beans at home, I set out Saturday morning to the Nashville Farmer's Market in hopes of finding some interesting and local fresh peas and beans. It'd been several years since I'd been to the local farmer's market because I was turned off by the overwhelmingly non-local produce and opted instead to give my business to the McNeil's at their produce stand (which has mostly local-ish produce from the Mennonites as well as some other stuff to fill out the bins).

Things have changed at the Nashville market; though I still found several stands selling produce with stickers on it (hello, I know those bananas weren't grown by you), there still seemed to be a lot more actual farmers (or farmers' reps, I guess) selling food.

Given the time of year, though Tennessee gardens aren't overflowing with bounties of a whole lot I want to eat. The peaches are coming from South Carolina now and at least some of the apples are coming from Michigan. I did find some local Muscadine grapes and there are still plenty of tomatoes, zucchini, crookneck squash and peppers out there.

And peas and beans. Yep, plenty of peas and beans. Beans with no strings, beans with strings. Shelled peas, unshelled peas. I collected a bag of fresh crowder peas and some unshelled October beans. The SO remembered October beans from his childhood, but I'd never heard of them. Turns out they're a cranberry bean with beautifully crimson-marked pods. I can't wait to see what's in there. They're ripe, but could stand to dry out a bit before shelling, so I cooked up the crowder peas this weekend instead.

I'm not sure if I've ever had fresh crowder peas. And I'm not sure I could ever have anything but fresh crowder peas again. These peas were delicious. I only had to cook them about two hours and they were done--the skin's kind of thick, so after that amount of time, not a whole lot else happens to them. I added some minced garlic and Liquid Smoke to the pot and they quickly developed an impressive pot liquor that really thickens up when chilled (leftovers!) as if there were fat in there. Odd but good. So I recommend scooting over to the market to get some.

Also, be sure to drop by the Schrock Family Bakery stand...there are quite a few pies, cakes and breads to choose from. We took home a *mumble* as well as a loaf of fresh cracked wheat bread (the SO says it's delicious; I've not had it yet) and a loaf of something called salt-rising bread. I'd intended to get some sourdough, but in the few minutes I was pondering my purchase, two different people came up to buy the salt-rising bread. So I just had to give it a try. It's got a rich taste to it that's almost buttery even though the recipe calls for shortening...please, Lord, let that be butter or vegetable shortening in that bread and not lard (the label does not say lard, but they're not required to do so--but I know it's popular with the Mennonites). Regardless (ignorance is bliss), the bread was the perfect way to enjoy a nice tomato sandwich loaded with locally-grown and superripe Bradley tomatoes.

I tell ya, I like that it's cooling down, but I'm sure going to miss all the great food that I can only get in the summertime.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008