Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Recipe For Disaster’

Tortas and Lomitos

Tacos rico pierna torta

I wouldn’t exactly call it an epiphany but Saturday I woke up (I’d like to say bright and early but it was more like 11:30am) with the strange and sudden urge to know more about Mexican food. Not just to eat it, that’s easy (despite all of the transplanted complainers who seem incapable of looking beyond lower Manhattan), but to cook it more too, maybe even learn more about the cuisine first-hand (I know Oaxaca is a gastronomic destination but I’m thinking Merida).

Just how a certain subset of white dudes seem unable to resist an Asian girl, I have a fetish for the food (though I rarely dabble in the Korean or Japanese realms). It’s illogical and uncontrollable. Maybe I’m drawn to noodle soups, dumplings and curries because of their very foreignness. Though by that logic I’d also be a goulash or fufu fanatic, which I’m not. I think it’s the complexity of a spice blend or layers of sweetness, salt and spice that appeal. How lots of mixed up tastes blend into something exciting. But that’s not unique to Asian cuisine.

My resistance to Latin American food, Mexican specifically, stems from the feeling that I should know more about it. I wasn’t really raised with it, it wasn’t served in local restaurants growing up and I certainly wasn’t handed down any kitchen wisdom from a knowing abuela (nor an Anglo mish-mash grandma—to this day, I can’t recall my mom’s mom who’s still very much alive, cooking anything, period, let alone notable. My only memories involve puffed wheat cereal from enormous 99-cent store plastic bags, slicing Neapolitan ice cream from a rectangular carton into slices with a knife, and a mock apple pie) and yet it seems really accessible. I mean, I could be south of the border in a few hours by plane and even communicate with people (on a very rudimentary level, to be sure) when instead, I fantasize about locales that are literally my polar opposite where chitchat is futile.

I think that’s the scary thing. No one expects a foreigner in Malaysia or Beijing to know everything or to be able to speak Malay or Mandarin. You risk looking like a stupid American even when trying your best. But cultural floundering feels more shameful in a country so nearby, and one with which I share a heritage.

While cobbling together ingredients in Sunset Park for dinner, I discovered that epazote is easy to come by while recado rojo is not (they even sell the Yucatecan paste on Amazon so it’s hardly obscure). I (or rather James) had to make it from scratch.

Tacos rico torta

In the mean time, a torta was in order. We stopped at Ricos Tacos. My sugar and starch limiting means very few sandwiches in my life. But sometimes you simply need something gut-busting between two pieces of bread, in this case a fluffy bolillo. My pierna was a serious mess, only compounded by the copious amount of string cheese, avocado, beans, pickled jalapeños, and yes, mayonnaise, normally my nemesis. But just like with the banh mi, my aversion is waylaid by overall awesomeness.

I wouldn’t say that Ricos Tacos specialty are tortas, that’s just what I wanted. That might be the advertised tacos arabes, a take on schwarma stuffed into a pita. Maybe next time.

I can say that intrepid DVD hawkers know no ethnic boundaries. African-Americans tend to stick to subways and blankets strewn across sidewalks while Latinos and Chinese ladies prefer the restaurant-to-restaurant roaming approach. I have no interest in discounted copies of Hotel for Dogs, though that doesn’t stop genuinely interested others from completing transactions while eating.

What seems to be uniquely Mexican are roving bands setting up shop in tightly packed eateries. No stage or prior arrangements necessary; these are not Filipina entertainers. We happened to be sitting near the door, therefore entitled to an accidental front row seat when a five-piece band, accordion, stand up bass and all, decided to give the jukebox a run for its money. No one seemed to mind. There’s no way this wouldn’t wreak havoc anywhere else outside of a subway car.

Because one can never have too much pork (I’d already eaten two strips of bacon as breakfast), dinner was to be lomitos, based on a recipe from Diana Kennedy’s Essential Cuisines of Mexico. This was thrifty because we used leftover scraps from the Super Bowl ribs that had to trimmed St. Louis style.

Beans and lomitos

These were eaten with soupy black beans and corn tortillas. Simple. Not the prettiest, but tasty.

1 tablespoon simple recado rojo
2 tablespoons Seville orange juice or substitute
2 pounds boneless pork, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or pork lard
12 ounces tomatoes, finely chopped
½ green bell pepper, finely chopped
2/3  cup finely chopped white onion
2 teaspoons salt
1 small head of garlic, unpeeled
1 whole habanero chile or any fresh, hot green chile
2 to 2 ½ cups cold water, approximately

Dilute the recado rojo with the orange juice and rub it into the pieces of meat. Set aside for about 30 minutes to season.

Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the tomatoes, pepper and onion together over fairly hight heat, stirring well and scraping the bottom of the pan from time to time, for about 10 minutes. Add the salt and set aside.

Toast the whole head of garlic on a griddle or comal, turning it from time to time, until it is browned on the outside and the cloves inside are fairly soft. Toast the habanero chile.

Put the meat into a large, heavy saucepan with the water, which should barely cover the meat. Add the tomato mixture and the toasted, unpeeled garlic and chile and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the meat, uncovered, until it is tender—about 1 hour. (The sauce should be of a medium consistency; if it appears to be too watery, turn the heat higher and reduce quickly.) Serve hot.

The Cardinal Rule

Ah, Super Bowl. The perfect excuse to drink too much on a Sunday and fry the heck out of things. Luckily, the lack of an F train (could a subway line possibly be more useless? And don’t say the G, it’s always come through for me) didn’t dampen spirits or scare away guests. 

Buffalo wings

Of course there were wings. And unusually hot this year. I think someone got carried away with the cayenne pepper.

Vietnamese wings

My annual plea for non-Buffalo wings was finally granted this year. I never man the fryer but I do try to influence what gets dipped into the bubbling oil. This Vietnamese-ish recipe came from the chef of Pok Pok, a Portland Thai restaurant that I always read good things about but have never tried because I am bad and never visit my hometown. Thai food is not enough of a draw, I’m afraid. These were sweet and salty. I would’ve liked to have eaten more than one.

Smokies wraps

I’ve never made wiener wraps out of Lit’l Smokies in my life, and then the one year I do someone brings a big pack from Stew Leonard’s. Call them lowbrow if you will but there was not a single piglet in a blanket left by the end of the evening.

Salt and pepper ribs

An attempt to recreate the salt and pepper ribs at Irving Mill was not unsuccessful though not exactly the same either. These were braised in soy-orange juice blend, which added a touch of sweetness. And the finishing lime squeeze added more citrus punch, as you can see pulp got all over the place. As you can also see, the pile was decimated by the time I realized ribs had been brought out. The crisp-and-tender interplay was right on.

Vietnamese summer rolls

Trying to balance the fried with the fresh, I made Vietnamese rolls (there wasn’t an intentional Vietnamese theme), some with pork belly and shrimp, others with smoked tofu. The vegetables included bean sprouts, lettuce and carrots. I just can't bring myself to use rice vermicelli, a crime akin to rice inside a burrito. For dipping there was a hoisin-peanut sauce based on White on Rice Couple’s recipe and a nuoc cham that used both lime juice and rice vinegar. Maybe a little too tart? You could make 50 of these (think I made around 35) and they will still all get eaten. 

Avocado salsa

Also, a Japanese-flavored avocado dip/salad with jicama, watercress and wasabi-soy dressing for the sake of variety. I figured others would bring guacamole (for the love of god, don’t say guac) and sure enough two showed up bearing the chunky green gift.

No photos of the two cakes that were randomly brought from New Jersey Wegmans by two different people. Everyone in the know goes to Wegmans.

For whatever reason, certain party-goers watch the smaller downstairs TV instead of the big HDTV in the living room. The 30-or-so seconds delay between analog and digital becomes apparent when wild screaming bellows from the basement and nothing exciting happens for upstairs until half a minute later.

I don’t even follow sports. I just like having people over, drinking and making food (not the cleaning, however. James went on such a scrubbing and mopping rampage that he’s now physically sick. I honestly don’t think the average person notices dirt the way he does). However, guests did get riled up as evidenced in this video documenting the downstairs/upstairs divide. I had no idea such fervent Cardinals fans were in the house.

Cookbooks Worth a Look

Check out my list of Accessible (Mostly) Southeast Asian Cookbooks on Flashlight Worthy. Yes, people still read books.

And to All a Good Night

I've spent many of my ten December twenty-fifths in NYC sitting in apartment alone. Last year I did the classic movie and dinner with a couple friends (I still think I'm scarred from Juno). This year I was just going to cook a shitload of Thai food for myself (yes, I had to take advantage of James being out of town, now that he's boycotted Thai food for six years) then decided to throw an impromptu mini-party after finding out that a ton of people (ok, nine is a ton in my world) I knew were staying in town this year. I enticed six to come to Carroll Gardens for Christmas.

I don't do Christmas in a big way, which is to say I'm not a huge participant in gift exchanges. When I hear others discussing present-buying for a slew of cousins, in-laws and other loose extended family members, I'm bowled over. Call me a scrooge but I only buy gifts for my mom, sister and boyfriend. I might swap trinkety things with a few friends, but that's it. Hence, my haul is not mammoth. Get what you give.

Christmas haul 08

This season, I got flowers and tons of cheese, six Snowdonia cheddars from my sister and chevre d'argental, gres des vosges and humboldt fog plus quince paste from James. I've noticed that after being diagnosed with diabetes this year I've received lots of flowers and cheese on occasions I would normally get candy. I could really go for a box of See's right now but I do love dairy products very much. (I've pretty much given up on even a vaguely healthy eating regimen until January anyway. I relinquished my salads, yogurt and oatmeal, no sugar routine on Thanksgiving en route to S.E. Asia and have yet to resume the bothersome strictness. I did start running again this week now that I've finally gotten that pseudo-SARS out of my system after self-medicating with Mexican Cipro.)

Also, a digital SLR, which has me a little unnerved. I haven't even used it yet, if that's not obvious from the murky photos below. Blog-wise, the thing is that you'd think nicer restaurants would require nicer photos but there's no way in hell I'm pulling out a chunky camera in say, Le Bernadin. That's just too dorky (I was going to say gay but that new Think Before You Speak ad campaign has wisened me up to such hurtful language, though until they produce anti-retarded PSAs, I will continue to use that immature adjective). Until I'm embolded, I'm more likely to take pretty photos of tacos or pork buns.

I can't forget bath salts with Japanese delicate pretty boy illustrations that I love so much, socks with an anthropomorphic corn dog and Goldlion antibacterial striped toe socks. Goldlion is a weird obsession of James'. On our first visit to Singapore in '03 he bought a pair of Goldlion (a Chinese brand that seems geared towards middle aged men) pants at Takashimaya and now we always find the Goldlion section at Asian department stores, whether it be Wing On, Isetan, Robinsons or Tangs.

Cramped kitchen mise en place

Ok, onto the food. Prepping is no small feat in your typical Brooklyn kitchen, and I crammed in a little mise en place next to the coffee maker and toaster. I had all four burners occupied and every inch of counter and fridge space (inside and on top) filled to capacity. But apparently, tiny kitchen cooking is all the rage. And I've always suspected that people with giant islands and Viking ranges are the least likely to use such luxuries.

Coconut pumpkin soup

I don't know that it's actually traditional, but the coconut-pumpkin soup from old standby Hot Sour Salty Sweet is always a hit and one of the only concessions I made to my poor vegetarian diners. I used butternut squash because Wegmans is too fancy to carry Caribbean staples like calabaza (they do sell truffles, however) which I'd normally employ. I also pureed half of the squash into the broth and kept the other half in whole cubes rather than the keeping it all cubed. I like the orange on orange.

Green chicken curry

I didn't have time or energy to make green curry paste from scratch though I would have if I were making fewer dishes. I adapted a recipe from It Rains Fishes and used chicken instead of pork, Japanese eggplant instead of Thai, apple and pea (this did bother me) and added bamboo shoots just because I like them. This didn't turn out to be anything special, what tasted spicy the night before turned out to be fairly mild on Thursday. I still think it was better than anything I could've ordered in Carroll Gardens, though.

Pork belly with long beans

Pork with snake beans and chile paste is really pork belly with long beans as a garnish. I've had pad prik king pork and beans in restaurants before and the meat to vegetable proportions are more balanced. For this recipe, though, I followed one from Classic Thai Cuisine that calls for 7 ounces of pork to 2 ounces of long beans. I tripled that but kept the same meat-heavy ratio. And it was damn good, if I do say so myself. Either you're passionate about fatty pork or you're not. There's no pretending there's anything healthy about it.

Catfish papaya salad

Traditional catfish mango salad became catfish papaya salad. I was lucky enough to find green papaya at all. I usually avoid making these salads and have ended up using green apple in the past. Deep frying is kind of a pain at a party because I don't have one of those open kitchens made for entertaining and you get stuck cooking in an isolated kitchen while everyone is eating in the living room (James has mentioned this same problem with Super Bowl and buffalo wings, he never gets to watch the game). With that said, I think this was very successful and the perfect combination of crispy, crunchy, hot and sour. Maybe my favorite dish. I used a recipe from Dancing Shrimp that doesn't appear to be online anywhere.

Beef panang curry

Karen astutely noticed beef was absent from my planned menu and brought a rich panang curry. It made me wish I had gone with my original plan to make panang instead of green since green can be soupy and dull in the wrong hands, i.e. my hands. Though it may seem so, I'm absolutely not a control freak, I love it when people bring food to my parties (ahem, as long as it fits the theme).

Lettuce wraps

Mario brought vegetarian lettuce wraps with peanut sauce. This was also much appreciated because I didn't want the meat-averse to starve.

Christmas sweets

Jane, always an avid baker, made cookies and confections and Jessica crafted a vegan pumpkin pie, which was odd because I've never known her to bake. She forgot the whipped cream but we all survived because Sherri brought vanilla goat milk ice cream. Sure, goat milk product cancel out animal-free nature of vegan pie but the combo is surprisingly good.

Seven bottles of wine, a six-pack of Singha and countless You Tube videos of people falling and portapotty users in Japan getting punked later, I deemed the Christmas party a success (I mean, in my head, that's not something you declare aloud unless you're a freak). Though for me, the highlight was when Norbit came on HBO. Nothing like Eddie Murphy in a fat suit to put me in the holiday spirit.

Once again, it has became apparent that I'm averse to including humans in photos, both myself and others. This is absolutely not intentional or any sort of backlash to endless Facebook party pics. I just forget. Maybe this could be a 2009 resolution, as opposed to resolutions as I am, to focus more on people than food in the new year. We'll see.

So Dishy

Green bean salad

I just accidentally discovered a perfect Thanksgiving side dish. Unfortunately, it will have to wait until next year to be put into play.

I was trying to use up leftovers in the house so things won’t rot while I’m out of town. Cooked turkey breast and green beans led me adapting a chopped wing bean salad, a favorite that I make occasionally.

After adding more coconut milk than called for (there’s no way the whole can will get used up by Thursday so I increased the ¼ cup to one) and a topping of fried sliced shallots and garlic, I was struck by the resemblance to green bean casserole. In fact, I thought the same thing last time I made this dish. I’m forgetful but consistent.

All you would have to do is remove the poultry and swap coconut milk for cream of mushroom soup. You could even use the classic French’s fried onions. Once diners got over the shock of a cold dish rather than a warm bubbly one (who needs hotdish, anyway? I'm not from the Midwest) there would probably be a few holiday converts. At least I’d hope so. Traditionalists might still balk at fish sauce and chiles on the Thanksgiving table.

Apple (Burnt to a) Crisp

Burnt apple cobbler

I’m starting to think that many Chinese are onto something with their non-use of ovens. I’m about sick of mine because nothing but sadness comes out of it. Last week I bungled my attempt at a simple roast chicken (the skin wouldn’t crisp and the juices stayed bloody despite doubling the cooking time).

Sunday I tried making what I thought would be a simple apple crisp to get rid of a glut of on-the-verge-of-rotting apples given to James by his mom. I really hate unsolicited fruit (there were also oranges that already molded) and just don't enjoy it enough to eat a serving a day. Nature's candy, my ass.

This mishap was partially my own fault because after 45 minutes in the oven, the topping was still white and floury, no buttery crispness in sight. It was only after I took a dry test bite that I realized the mistake was not so much the temperature but that I’d forgotten to add a cup of brown sugar. Duh. In a last ditch effort to save the dessert, I rubbed the sugar over the top anyway and put it back in hoping for caramelization.

I think this would’ve succeed somewhat, and here is where blame is hard to pin down. James decided to take the pan out put it in the broiler. Despite not agreeing with this move, I then turned the knob to broil from 375. Within a minute, the treat had burst into foot-high flames rendering the entire thing charcoal black (once we were able to put the fire out). A total bust, which steamed me over the amount of time it took to peel and slice a million apples, not to mention the expense of wasted Plugra, pecans and hazelnuts.

Above is the salvaged version, after the blistered black top had been scraped off. It still tasted like shit and was dotted with persistent white floury patches. Just looking at the disaster makes me feel physically violent.

I say it was James’ fault for putting the dish in the broiler. He says it was mine for turning up the temperature. Really, I think I’m being punished for wanting to eat dessert. I try not only to minimize my sugar intake, but to keep it out of the house or else I'll pick at it all week (I'm still bummed over the ice cream maker downstairs that's only been used once). I had already made a minor health concession by making a pure apple crisp when I really wanted to make a version with a caramel layer. I'm definitely being punished.

Sunday Night Special: Roast Chicken & Lentils With Mustard Vinaigrette

Roast chicken and lentils

I’ve never roasted a chicken, plain and simple, and that doesn’t seem right. After reading the article in the New York Times’ food section this week about Simon Hopkinson and the “most useful cookbook of all time,” I was reminded that I’d received Roast Chicken and Other Stories for Christmas last year but it got lost among all the other cookbooks I’ve accumulated since December.

The title cracked both my sister (who sent the gift) and I up, as if roast chicken was a self-evident story. Just wait till you hear the one about cod. As it turns out the book really is quite useful, straightforward and anecdotal. I enjoy cookbooks where you get a sense of the author’s personality (assuming they have a likeable one) and opinions.

I think roast chicken is one those so simple it’s hard to do right things like making an omelet. And why bother when you can pick up a perfectly good rotisserie chicken for around $6. I also shy away because this is the type of preparation where the bird itself makes a difference. I’m a horrible person who buys grocery store chickens. I tried imagining what a specimen from Bresse, or more accessible for Americans, a Blue Foot, might taste like. Maybe next time. Maybe never. I can’t even justify paying $20 or so for a run-of-the-mill organic chicken. I’m not there yet. Antibiotic-free was as far could go.

I’ve worked with whole chickens before, but I tend to make things like adobo or curries, never anything European. I hadn’t ever used fresh tarragon before this recipe. One notable difference between ordering from Fresh Direct instead of going to Chinatown is that you don’t have heads and feet with tiny toenails to deal with, though these bony feathery spikes sticking out the wings weirded me out a bit. And there seemed to be more neck attached than usual.

The roast chicken recipe is here on Culinate; it’s really very simple. I had minor trouble, the same trouble that plagues me every Thanksgiving and makes me glad I won’t be cooking a turkey this year. Any juices that are supposed to accumulate in the pan for basting, dry up and burn, then the bird still isn’t cooked after going well beyond the recommended roasting time. And the wine intended to go with the meal gets finished too quickly because there’s so much time spent waiting around for dinner. Ok, I can’t blame my drinking on the oven.

This time I added white wine to the pan to ensure extra liquid, and the drying up problem still happened. And after 45 minutes in the oven with 15 minutes resting with the door open, the skin still wasn’t as brown as I’d like and the juices weren’t completely running clear when I tried slicing the meat. I ended up having to put the chicken back on 350 for an additional 20 minutes. I swear it’s the crappy Magic Chef brand oven that I’ve had in every Brooklyn apartment. The temperature is clearly not accurate.

The chicken survived, but I wasn’t completely wowed. I hate to admit that despite all my butter rubbing and herb and lemon stuffing, the flavor was more subdued than I’d like. The flesh was really moist, though. Maybe it just needed more salt. I’m a chronic under-salter and with all the recent salt-is-the-devil articles, I’m becoming even more paranoid about my health.

Roast chicken

No, I’m not going to make it all pretty for a picture (as if I ever do). It’s just me eating tonight and I don’t want to wash extra plates. You get the idea whether or not it’s sitting in the pan.

Trying to maintain a French-ish theme, I also made Salade Chaude aux Lentilles Avec Vinaigrette à la Moutarde minus the salad part. No arugula, just the green lentils in a vinaigrette. I hate to admit that these rich, tart legumes were tastier than the chicken.

Sunday Night Special: Colombo Chicken Curry & Green Bean Mallum

Colombo chicken curry & green bean mallum

Yes, this is food from last Sunday. I’m not foretelling the future. I would forego mentioning this meal altogether (I document my cooking very infrequently because honestly it’s not that exciting and lately I just haven’t had the attention span) but Sri Lankan food is something different for me. I don’t know that I’ve ever cooked the cuisine before and I’ve only tried it twice in restaurants.

1080recipes A friend was savvy enough to find my Amazon wish list and order “Mangoes & Curry Leaves” for my birthday last month. Unfortunately, I wasn’t savvy enough to keep said list up to date and already had the book. No problems, that’s why I love Amazon. Even though I wasn’t the buyer, I was able to exchange it for the same authors’ brand new cookbook, “Beyond the Great Wall.”
I took the opportunity to add “1080 Recipes,” the supposed Spanish “Joy of Cooking,” into the order. Now I’m faced with some serious skimming. I realized that 1080 is a lot of recipes, but I had no idea the book would be a massive 2 ½ inches thick (yes, I measured it).

So, before delving into my two new acquisitions I gave “Mangoes & Curry Leaves” another look. Who knows when I’ll have a chance to get back to it. All I knew is that I wanted to make something using chicken because I had bunch of bone-in thighs that needed using up. Colombo Chicken Curry fit the bill and only required the purchase of cashews and two tomatoes.

I do way more Southeast Asian than South Asian cooking so I’m used to pounding lots of herbs and fresh chunky things in a mortar and pestle. This style is more about toasting and grinding. I was shocked that I actually had every spice on hand: cumin seeds, coriander seeds (and used every last bit) fenugreek, cinnamon sticks and cardamom (not the pods, unfortunately). Interestingly, a spoonful of white rice and three times as many cashews also get tossed into the skillet, browned, then pulverized.

The end result, stewed with chopped tomatoes, grated coconut and coconut milk is complex in a way that’s hard to describe. I wouldn’t say that it tasted Indian or Malaysian but it definitely hinted at both. Just like whenever I infrequently attempt Malay curries, the flavor is rich, spicy but slightly flat like something’s lacking. Part of this is my inability to salt properly but I think the big issue is freshness of ingredients. It’s not like I live anywhere near the Spice Islands. Who knows where my spices came from and how long they sat around before sitting around in my kitchen.

I took one of the side dish suggestions seriously and read up on Green Bean Mallum. I’ve never heard of this vegetable dish. Luckily, EatingAsia has reproduced the recipe using sword beans. You’re not likely to find anything that exotic in the NYC area or probably anywhere in the U.S. but green beans work just fine. Better than fine. I really loved this condimenty side, maybe even a little more than the chicken. I ate this with brown rice like a hippy during the rest of the week and it was amazing and super spicy.

I was wary about shredding the beans, ultimately using my so-so food processor, because I hate fiddliness. But the texture was necessary. Whole beans would’ve been too substantial and dominated the dish. Really, the grated coconut is almost equal in prominence. Which reminds me, if you hate coconut I totally don’t understand you and you’ll hate both of these dishes.

Essentially, you cook the beans, shallots, turmeric, grated coconut, green chiles (I didn’t have Maldive fish or recommended substitute bonito flakes so instead sprinkled a few dashes of fish sauce) illogically with no water or oil in a covered pot for ten minutes. That’s it. You could totally do this with carrots, which I think wouldn’t be wholly untraditional. Though soggier, you could probably use a shredded green like spinach too.

Up in Smoke

New smoker I don’t know a lot about barbecue, smoking, grilling, curing, any of it. And I’m just not wound up enough to learn the nuances. (I ate at Dinosaur BBQ last weekend after seeing the kind of long and confusing Dark Knight in Edgewater, NJ, and I didn’t even feel compelled to update my old write up. Not because barbecued meat isn’t great but because I don’t have much of anything to say about it.)

Smoking meat But James bought a smoker on what I think was a whim. I’m convinced that he’s trying to keep up with a coworker who owns a whole building with a deck and yard. It’s hardly a contest. We had to set this smoker up indoors, downstairs, just near an open door…in the same space my damp laundry was hung to dry. My pants now smell like a campfire. And the coworker with the bigger smoker just up and bought a caja china so we’re screwed.

So, I didn’t participate much in the creation of our smoked ribs. And I don’t even know if we did this right. It might’ve been a disaster but the end result wasn’t too bad, the meat was just a little tough and maybe even a little too smoky, dare I say cigarettey (that woman on Tyra last week who loved eating cigarette ashes would’ve been happy). I think the instruction book was full of shit and had us cook the ribs first. Smoked ribs and corn Are you really supposed to cook meat before smoking it? And do you bake or grill? And if you grill, that's a lot of rigamarole to smoke on top of that process. Does smoking cook meat? I’m totally confused and promise to read up on these matters before a second attempt.

The pork was rubbed with a mysterious spice blend–celery salt and ground mustard were the only ingredients I caught a glimpse of–and sauced with a combination of Daddy Sam's Bar-B-Que Sawce and Rancho Gordo Rio Fuego hot sauce.

The corn was freshly shucked and sauteed with scallions, red pepper, jalepeno and given a squeeze of lime. And no, none of it came from the greenmarket.

This smoking venture needs more investigating. Lamb might be fun, or cheese, maybe nuts? I’m not quite ready for the stuffed and smoked moose heart yet.


Feliz Cumpleaños

36 Ah, it’s the one time of year where I willingly post a photo of myself. I don’t know when I decided that it would be a good idea every July 25th (yes, I know it’s the 27th now) but it’s a not-terribly-useful habit I’ve stuck with. So, this is 36. It could be worse.

Friday, I had a birthday dinner at Dovetail, which was odd because I never eat (or do anything) on the Upper West Side. The food was likable, service was a little strange. More on that later.

Last night I had a low-key party with a Spanish-ish food theme. As to be expected, I drank too much (it’s all I can do to get these words out in a semi-coherent fashion). What I didn’t anticipate was receiving a copy of Sing Blue Silver, which I foisted on my captive audience.

Now that I’ve come to terms with my aged status, I can openly reminisce about the big deal it was when this Duran Duran documentary aired on MTV a full 24 years ago. I recall having to use the timer on the VCR and being scared to death that it wouldn’t record properly. DVR had changed my life.

I also received a soda siphon, the two liqueurs I’ve been meaning to track down: crème de violette and maraschino, a Sephora gift certificate, Vosges bacon chocolate bar, plastic Japanese food containers with anthropomorphic characters, a few bottles of wine including a Riesling in a crazy pink cat shaped bottle, a Spanish grammar book (from my Spanish teacher, duh) and a few more items.

Back to the food. The more I looked at last month’s alfresco feature in Gourmet (this month’s has totally upped the ante, by the way) the more I realized how good the recipes sounded. I’m not a hater, so I borrowed two dishes. I must point out that they were consumed completely indoors.

I couldn’t bear to also use the white sangria recipe included with this set menu and opted for a Thai basil infused sangria from Food & Wine that ended up having zero basil flavor.

Manchego and olives

Manchego with almonds and green olives

Cauliflower red pepper salad

Roasted red peppers and cauliflower with caper vinaigrette


While still not a greenmarket convert, I will concede that you need quality tomatoes if you’re going to make gazpacho. I wasn’t thrilled about spending $35 on the summery ingredient, but it had to be done. I did have to nix serving Serrano ham to keep within a reasonable budget. I didn't expect the color to be so orange. I did throw in a few yellow and green-striped tomatoes, which could've toned down the more typical ruddiness. Update: hmm…I brought leftovers for lunch and just noticed a strange bitter undercurrent, likely from too old garlic. I didn't taste much of the soup on Saturday so I didn't catch it, and it's not like there would've been anything I could've done about it anyway. It's a shame, though.


Boquerones are as easy as buying them and placing the vinegary fillets on a plate. I was actually surprised that these disappeared so quickly because people are generally anti-anchovy.

Chorizo cooked in cider

I braised chorizo in hard cider with a bay leaf based on a recipe from The New Spanish Table. This was also insanely simple.

Spanish cheeses

Murcia, mahon and cabrales were served with membrillo and fig-almond cake.

There was also an Oreo ice cream cake from Baskin Robins (I didn’t grow up with Carvel so Cookipuss and Fudgy the Whale mean nothing to me) that I neglected to take a photo of.