Monday, August 27, 2007

What kind of beans are those?

"What kind of beans are those?" asked the scrub-clad guy picking out green beans next to me.

"Honestly, I don't know. But I plan to find out," I said as I picked out a generous handful.

"Well, you're braver than me," he said, to which I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed. (Note to self, this is how you meet people at the grocery store…)

Depending who you ask, those could be cranberry beans, or they could be Italian Borlotti beans. Given that my receipt from NYC's Fairway Market said cranberry, I'm going to go with that. Besides, my research (compliments of Larousse Gastronomique) says that even though they are Italy's most popular bean, many sold there are actually Cranberry beans imported from the U.S.

This was my first experience with fresh beans if you don't count the green varieties eaten in the pod. Identifying them was only part of my learning experience. I still needed to know how to prepare them. Improvising on a recipe I found at, I did the following:

~ 1 cup Shelled, fresh Borlotti/Cranberry beans
1 stalk Celery (in 2” pieces)
5-6 pcs. Baby Carrots (or 1 regular carrot cut into 2” pieces)
1/2 Onion (in two pieces)
4-5 Whole peeled garlic cloves
2 ea. Bay leaves
10-12 Whole black peppercorns
2-4 cups Chicken stock (enough to cover)
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/2 tsp. Dried thyme

This "recipe" is simple enough. I placed the shelled beans in my 1 1/2 qt saucepan and then placed the next 6 ingredients in a cheesecloth bundle that I set on top. I poured in chicken stock to cover everything and turned on the flame. I brought it up to a simmer and then turned the flame down to maintain the simmer until the beans were fork tender. The process took about 30 minutes, but it's more important to simply check the beans periodically than to rely on a timer. When the beans were almost finished, I added the salt. Adding it too early can cause the beans to toughen—blech! To serve, I strained the beans, removed the cheesecloth pouch and transferred them to a serving dish. A quick drizzle with a high quality olive oil and a toss with the dried thyme and I was ready to eat. To accompany them, I toasted some rosemary bread that I had rubbed with a split garlic clove.

Overall, the meal was very beige. Fresh thyme would have brightened the final dish, but I was working with what I had. Apparently, an addition of canned tuna to my spread would have rounded out a typical Italian summer meal.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Slow Food Cocktails at Flatbush Bar(n)

Today I had a lot of firsts: my first trip to Brooklyn, my first time drinking rye whiskey, my first Slow Food NYC event. I'm sure there were a few others, but those are the highlights. So, for starters, Slow Food NYC is a local chapter of Slow Food USA, which is an offshoot of the larger Slow Food International. Follow that? Anyway, I'm a card carrying member and this is what the group stands for:

Slow Food New York City, the NYC convivium of the international Slow Food movement, identifies the varied and authentic gustatory and cultural experiences that are unique to our city and preserves and cultivates them through education, activism, and enjoyment. We support and celebrate regional farmers, artisans, and professionals who fill our market baskets and dinner plates with fresh, seasonal, and sustainably produced foods and traditionally crafted food products and beverages. We recognize and protect the many varied cuisines and food traditions that represent the rich cultural mosaic that is our city. In a town renowned for its fast pace, Slow Food NYC takes the time to savor, promote, and defend the slow traditions that make our city unique.

So getting back to the event, it was a focus on greenmarket foods that were used in farmhouse-style hors d'oeuvres and served alongside cocktails that were also prepared with fresh greenmaret ingredients. The cocktails were prepred by Alan Katz who, among his other credentials, is President of the New York Chapter of the United States Bartender Guild and has a satellite radio show on cocktails on Martha Stewart Living Radio.

We had five cocktails as follows:
  • Cucumber & Mint Martini (muddled with gin and apple cider)
  • Peach Thyme (muddled peaches with thyme, pisco, Cointreau, lime juice and egg whites)
  • Black & Tan (muddled blackberries, lime juice, mint, rye whiskey and homemade ginger beer)
  • Deep Mountain Daiquiri (dark rum, lime juice and maple syrup)
  • Watermelon Smash (cahaca, homemade limoncello and watermelon
All were yummy, but my favorites were the Black & Tan and the Peach Thyme, which Katz sad would also work with figs. Now I have some ideas for the next time I get inspired to have liquor with my fruit.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tom Kha, take two

Look familiar? Well, as promised, I took my leftover Tom Kha soup and used it as a braising liquid for some skinless chicken thighs I had. (It baffles me that Zabar's sells them skinless since a good crispy piece of chicken skin is so devilishly delicious.)

Anyway, in a 2 qt. saute pan (high, straight sides) I sauteed a chopped shallot in olive oil. Yes, vegetable oil would have been more appropriate to the dish, but I use extra light tasting olive oil when I saute since it's higher in monounsaturated fat. Once they were soft, I scooped them out so they wouldn't burn. In the same pan, I seared my chicken thighs that I had sprinkled with ground cumin and kosher salt (sea salt is good too, but never iodized). After searing them on both sides, I poured my leftover soup into the pan via a fine mesh strainer. This removed the sad looking tomatoes, cilantro, green onions and stray fish bits from the soup's previous incarnation. Then I tossed the uncovered pan into the oven (400 degrees) and promptly forgot about it.

About an hour later I remembered what I had done. About half the liquid had evaporated and the chicken had browned on top. The chicken was falling off the bone and browned on top. This is when I really started to miss the skin, since it would have been crispy... To finish my dish, I took the chicken out of the liquid and started to boil the $#!t out of it. Because there was no thickening agent in it, it didn't turn into a sauce, but the flavor did concentrate as the water evaporated away. FYI, to thicken it, a cornstarch slurry would have been the best choice since it doesn't add flavor like other thickeners (a flour and butter paste, for example) do.

When I was just about ready to take it off the heat and serve, I tossed in some fresh chopped tomatoes with the seeds and excess juice squeezed out, chopped green onions, the shallot I'd sauteed earlier and some fresh cilantro. That all added a bright and fresh quality to a dish that is otherwise rich.

Overall, the dish was a success, although I would have thickened the braising liquid if I'd had cornstarch on hand. If you want to try turning leftovers into another meal, go for it. But remember that you can't keep extending the life of food forever. Yes, the rigorous cooking kills any stray bacteria, but spoiled food is still spoiled no matter how hot you get it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

And "Bam", you got'cha Tom Kha...

Lest any of you get the wrong idea, I don't cook everything with lemon juice and olive oil. In fact, just to prove my point, here's a little something in the gray area of what I find acceptable. Normally, I keep a safe distance from pre-packaged and processed foods (especially sauce mixes), but I picked up a few items from Curry Simple when I interned at Food & Wine.

The first one I tried was the Gourmet Coconut Soup or Tom Kha. The package is filled with the soup base and suggests adding chicken or shrimp as well as mushrooms (unspecified, but I would have chosen straw).

One thing you'll learn about me is that I almost never follow a recipe as it's written. No offense to the cook who wrote it, but I just have a habit of tweaking things to my personal taste. I'd probably make a horrible recipe tester... So, in that spirit, I decided to do a seafood medley. I bought a couple tiny squid, some raw shrimp and a white, supposedly mild, Vietnamese fish called
swai that I hadn't heard of before. I also bought some green onions, cilantro and tomatoes for it. Well, that's not entirely true. I bought the tomatoes for something else, but decided to toss them in for a little color and added vegetable-ness. (Yes, I know that's not a word...)

Unfortunately, by the time I got around to making the soup (two days after this shopping trip), the squid had gone bad. How did I know? You ask. The horrible smell. It hit me like a brick wall and I immediately wrapped them back up, tied them up in a plastic bag and dove for the can of air freshener. Luckily, the fish and shrimp passed the sniff test. And, yes, I got my nose up in it pretty well, just to be sure.

The process was simple enough: Add the soup base and an equal amount of water to a pot, bring it to a simmer and add the meats and vegetables. I added the chopped onions first so that they could soften and decided to double the amount of water since the base was fairly concentrated and I wanted a brothy soup. Then I added the chopped tomato sans seeds and the fish, which I cut into one-inch pieces. After a minute, I added the peeled raw shrimp, which need less time to cook. I tossed in the cilantro just before serving so that it stayed fresh.

In the end, the soup tasted good for a pre-packaged product. Now, had it been a powder mix, I might not be saying the same thing. It had the familiar burning in the back of my throat that I always get from Tom Kha soup and it was pleasantly balancd in flavor. I didn't need to adjust the seasoning at all. I did, however, decide I don't like swai fish... Maybe it didn't work with the soup, or maybe it was a little past its prime, but I ended up fishing it out and eating just the shrimp. Oh well. The one filet only cost me $2. Tomorrow, I'm going to try using the left-over broth as a braising liquid for chicken thighs. Don't worry, I'll let you know how it turns out!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hello, My Name is: Jamie

So this is it... My first blog. Or at least, the first one intended for public viewing. Hopefully I can manage to introduce myself without boring everyone to death.

I attended Northwestern University and, after a horrible attempt at being an engineering major and a mind-clearing summer study abroad trip to Thailand, ended up graduating from the Medill School of Journalism with a journalism and Asian studies degree. After that, I decided I liked Northwestern so much that I just couldn't leave... So I stayed on for another year and a half and earned my masters degree in magazine publishing with a concentration on business reporting. Exciting, huh? Well, just wait, it gets better, I promise.

While in graduate school, I took a summer off and decided to travel the world. I started off in Costa Rica, worked my way North through Central America, then dropped into Ecuador, the Galapagos and Peru. After a horrible trans-Atlantic flight via Chile, I ended up in Barcelona in an apartment without any luggage. So, with the clothes on my back and my camera that I had carried on, I started exploring and rebuilding my travel wardrobe. After a month exploring Europe by train with no pre-determined itinerary (I'm sure my parents loved that!), I settled into Paris for two weeks of journalism seminars. Then, it was off to Delhi where I worked as a copy editor for three months at India Today, a national weekly news magazine. A few stops later, I was home from my six-month foreign escapade, graduated and looking for work.

I landed outside of Cleveland where I bought a condo and put my nose to the grindstone helping to launch Club & Resort Business, a monthly trade magazine covering the country club and golf resort industry. Well, after nearly a year and a half, I decided that my heart wasn't in Cleveland and it was time to move on to my next adventure: culinary school.

I picked up, moved to New York City, re-entered the rental life and enrolled in the full time culinary program at The Institute of Culinary Education. To finish my graduation requirements I interned at Food & Wine and have since been freelancing in the Big Apple.

That gets you to where I am now. So come along with me on this journey as I figure out this whole blogging thing and establish myself in New York's food writing community. Comments, criticisms and tips are very much appreciated. Don't be shy!