Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fast food: Pickle on a stick

I am of the theory that there are a few types of food common across almost all cuisines - sandwiches, savory pies, dumplings, pickled vegetables, meat on a stick.

However, I do not know that every cuisine has mastered the art of the fusing of two of the best of these ubiquitous food forms. Here in New York though, the work has been done, and thus, while Daniel was visiting last week, we were able to sink our teeth into that veritable sign of advanced culinary culture - pickle on a stick. This one was sauerkraut flavored, sold on the street by Horman's Best Pickles of Glen Cove, NY. It was crunchy and sour and satisfying. Everything a pickle should be. Plus, did I mention it was on a stick?

Oh, and fine, I'll do it, there was a little excitement today. A mention on a New York Times blog. Even my stoic (but dear) mother the Midwesterner used five exclamation points in her email congratulations to me. NY Times Baby. (Her words, not mine.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lucky Duck

Turkey bacon is a lovely idea, but we all know it's a sorry substitute.

Here's what Daniel has waiting for him when he comes to visit next week...

Courtesy of Chelsea Market.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Outer Borough Eating Club - Friends, old and new at Sripraphai (and one enemy)

Back when we really lived in New York and had our beloved Saturn Willie (God bless the original Willie Randolph) for taking wild rambling journeys in search of the best that the outer boroughs had to offer in the way food, there were many, many trips to the great Thai palace, Sripraphai (or as Daniel and I lovingly call it, Sri.)

A brief pause to remember Willie Jr and his Mets plates

Given the sheer number of times we visited Sri, it is a bit odd that it's never turned up on this blog. But perhaps it became so fixed in our restaurant routine that I took it for granted. Well no longer. While there are certainly good Thai restaurants in the Bay Area, none has yet lived up to Sri. This is in part because of the restaurant's extensive menu, in part because they are willing to really make things "Thai spicy" if you assure them that you can handle it, and in part because (imagine me shaking my head here) of something akin to alchemy. Maybe it's fish sauce?

During our recent two week sojourn, before I returned to my beloved city without my dearest eating companion, Daniel and I schlepped out on the 7 train (oh where are you Willie?) and visited our old friend Sri for a late lunch.

As always, the place was crowded, although since it was already three, we didn't have to wait for a table. We decided to go all out and get two appetizers and two entrees, a mix of old and because I was feeling daring, new.

Here's what we ate:

Som Tom (Papaya salad) with the dried shrimp on the side:

The verdict: This is our signature Sri dish. We order it every time we come because it is the best som tom I've ever had. And this day was no exception. The papaya was perfectly shredded without those weird big pieces that sometimes get thrown into the mix. There was plenty of sour, sweet, super spicy sauce without being too overly dressed. It's such a uniquely refreshing dish in spite of the extreme spice. Plus, although he doesn't love sticky rice, Daniel capitulated and allowed me to order some and so I had big hunks of sweet, glutinous rice to pick up with my hands, pair with the spicy slaw, and therein create little bites of heaven.

Special shredded barbecue chicken salad:

The verdict: Again, spicy, sweet, and tangy. But now with chicken! Even better with the sticky rice than the som tom. Thai salad is the best salad.

Panang curry with chicken:

The verdict: This is Daniel's current favorite (it used to be the cashew nut chicken), and it really is a supremely good version of this dish. It's rich and sweet, with a kind of gingery, sort of flowery flavor, which I recently learned is from galangal, a South East Asian cousin of ginger. I love how the Sri version has that pretty drizzle of coconut milk on top.

Thai noodles with ground fish meat, curry sauce & fishball; served w. fresh vegetables

The verdict: For my main course, I decided to try something new, and asked the waiter to help me choose between the fish maw soup and this dish. First he tried to discourage me from the fish maw by telling me that it was made of "the inside of the fish" (it's the bladder folks), but when he saw that was only getting more interested, he quickly informed me that it was a Chinese dish not Thai and that I shouldn't get it.

So, I told him that I wanted the N-14, the dish above. "No," he said. "Only Thai like that. It's too spicy." I was sold.

And, boy, oh, boy, am I glad I fought for what I believed in. This stuff was good. I ended up eating it like soup, dumping in the accompanying hard boiled egg, noodles, cilantro, and veggies. It was spicy, but not overly so. But it was a kind of rich, really complexly flavored tomato broth with bits of glorious ground fish and of course the ubiquitous Thai fish balls that have a texture somewhere between gefilte fish and a hard boiled egg white and a tamale. It was really aromatic and fresh tasting. I loved it.

I loved it because I love Sripraphai. It is my friend.

Here's who is not my friend. The teenage boy who sat down next to us with his father, who was, admiringly, attempting to broaden his son's supremely narrow food horizons.

From the moment this kid sat down, he complained. This place is disgusting. I'm not eating anything that is touching fish. I'm not eating anything that has mushrooms. This looks like cat food. That smells disgusting. Why would you bring me here?

God help him, the father promptly ordered himself (and the kid) a beer.

The boy kept looking over at Daniel and me, eyes wide with pure revulsion at what we were eating. And because he was so unpleasant to be seated near at this our return voyage to our darling Sri, I ate with a gusto generally reserved only for foie gras and South Carolina barbecue. I mmmed and ahhed with every bite. I closed my eyes and slurped the noodles, and I ate every last bite. This boy needed to be schooled. And I was going to show him that what his precious little stomach couldn't handle, that of this 5'4 dirty blond could put away in spades.

After we left though, I started to wonder if maybe this kid had a particularly sensitive palate, and that maybe, with some proper help and years of therapy he could be a really great eater. Maybe below his extreme and vocal distaste for certain foods was actually lurking great passion for food that just needed to be awakened. I mean I hate bananas with a loud and vocal vengeance. And probably that I despise them so much reveals that I have the capacity to love other foods with equal gusto. Maybe this kid is the same as me. Or maybe he's just a big wuss.

Who cares? When we left, Daniel and I stopped at the refrigerator cases and bought beef jerky. And we ate it with bravado.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Headache and the city

One of the difficult elements of life as an itinerant or frankly of life as a city girl in general is that sometimes when you're out for the day, you're out for the day. It's just too much of a pain to get home. Even if you are paralyzed by a throbbing headache while on a fruitless trip around the city to search for a replacement for a coffee pot that you broke while benefiting from the generosity of a lovely brother and his lovely partner.

In such an instance it is too difficult to imagine getting back all the way across the Bridge, so you use a little ingenuity to fight the pain between your temples. What do you need in such a situation? Caffeine. Perhaps a little nosh. And some drugs.

Here's my little relief picnic, enjoyed on the platform of the 2/3 while heading down to J&R to try to find this coffee pot.

The bad news? J&R didn't have it and the one I bought instead didn't work.

The good news? Cheddar flavored popchips, iced coffee, and two Tylenol do wonders for an aching head.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Bread Project- Yogurt-Zucchini Bread with Walnuts

Before leaving for this three months sojourn of food writing, girl book researching, and couch hopping, I wanted to bake some bread to exercise those muscles before what has the potential to be a bread dry spell (which is better than a dry bread spell as that would just be lots of croutons.)

I had wanted to do some sort of luscious yeast bread for a really big hurrah, but that week in San Francisco before coming back to NY was so hurried and frantic that quick bread was all I could muster. That I chose to do a zucchini bread might come as a surprise to those who know me since zucchini has long been one of the few vegetables that I somewhat actively avoid. My distaste is nowhere near that approaching how I feel about bananas, and I will happily eat the suckers with certain preparations or to avoid being rude, but that texture, which is prone to slippery sliminess is just not my thing.

However, when I saw this recipe in b for Yogurt-Zucchini Bread with Walnuts, I was intrigued, and I thought, why not? I'm being bold in my life decisions, I might as well be bold in my bread as well. Here's how it turned out -

Looks good, no? Moist and shiny. That's the jalapeno chutney glaze that I added to give it a little more kick. I also made a few other alterations because when I tasted the batter it was a bit sweeter and blander than I wanted. But the end result was very satisfying. Good for dessert, breakfast, or a little snack. Especially with some of that aforementioned Roquefort spread on it...

Here's the recipe. Adapted from Food and Wine with my alterations in italics.

Yogurt-Zucchini Bread with Walnuts

-1 cup walnut halves
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 t baking powder
-1/2 t baking soda
-1/2 t salt (I used 1 t salt)
-3/4 cup plus 2 T sugar
-2 large eggs
-1/2 cup vegetable oil
-1/2 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
-1 cup coarsely grated zucchini (from about 1 medium zucchini - I used 2 small)
-3/4 cup low-fat grated cheese
-jalapeno chutney (for brushing on top as glaze)
-a dusting of sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter and flour a 9-by-4 1/2-inch metal loaf pan.

2. Spread the walnut halves in a pie plate and toast them for about 8 minutes, until they are fragrant. Transfer the toasted walnuts to a cutting board and coarsely chop them, then freeze for 5 minutes to cool.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar with the eggs, vegetable oil and fat-free yogurt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients along with the grated zucchini and toasted walnuts and stir until the batter is evenly moistened. Fold in the cheese

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes (in my oven it took about 1 hour and 20 minutes), until the loaf is risen and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

5. Using a pastry brush, brush on about 2-3 tablespoons of jalapeno chutney (any other slightly savory/tangy chutney or preserves would also work). Add a dusting of sea salt if desired.

6. Let the loaf cool on a rack for 30 minutes before unmolding and serving.

Zucchini on Foodista

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

We Want Food - Necessity is a Mother...

In my current life as an itinerant [insert nebulous professional label here], I am faced with a two conflicting issues.

One - I'm trying to save money, fighting every inclination to splurge on the delicious foods tempting me at every turn. Instead I've been packing lunches and making simple, inexpensive dinners (breakfast is an English muffin as always.)

Two - While I know where I'll be staying the week after next, I don't have next week solidified yet. (Don't worry, there are couches to crash on if need be, I'm just holding out hope that this other more stable possibility comes through.) Given this, I don't want to buy too much food because I don't know precisely where I'll be schlepping it.

The results of this tension have been some very odd gastronomical mash-ups, as I try to use all of the ingredients I have before purchasing new ones. Tonight's creation - savory English muffin French toast with an Asian brown sauce and roasted turkey. It sounds strange. Even disgusting. And as I was creating it, I thought, oh Lord, this could be inedible. However, wonder of wonders, it was really delicious.

Here's what I did. I beat an egg and then added a little black salt, a little cumin, a pinch of cayenne pepper and a good dose of ground black pepper. Then I soaked the English muffins in this egg bath before throwing them into a hot pan. I poured the leftover egg mix over the English muffins while they cooked, so they each developed a nice ring of eggy crust. Once they were cooked, while the pan was still hot, I removed them and threw in the turkey so it could crisp up a bit. This is where the Chinese brown sauce inspiration struck me. I poured about an eighth of a cup onto the turkey, and because of its sugary, corn-starchy nature, it quickly started to brown (well brown more) and then caramelize, clinging to the turkey in an ooey gooey sticky fashion.

I then removed it from the heat lest it burn, spread a little hummus onto the eggy English muffins, topped them with the caramelized turkey, and then added a dash of hot sauce. Weird? For sure. So good that I'll admit to having used my fingers to wipe any lingering remnants of sauce off of the plate? Definitely.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fast food- Taco Chulo provides respite a little combobulation

So I'll admit to feeling a little discombobulated of late. I was in SF. Then in SC. Then in NYC. Then back in SF, and now here I sit back in Brooklyn. I'm really excited to be here, working hard, but I'm a little Daniel-sick and as I said a little discombobulated.

This sense of confusion began when Daniel and I visited the city for our recent two week sojourn. Here I was in a place I know so well, for a relatively extended period of time, but without really living here. It was odd. And being the food oriented person that I am, I sought a sense of grounding in some of my old favorite New York flavors - hummus, challah, date bars, and bagels.

While Time argues otherwise, I find that when I feel a little anxious, I crave comforting familiar foods, so boy was I in luck two weeks ago when I was able to treat a little low-level anxiety with one big old burrito - courtesy of my old friend Taco Chulo...

For the three years that I lived in Williamsburg, the El Gallo burrito, featuring savory tender chicken in a spicy salsa blend of guajillo, ancho, and morita chilies, was a staple of my diet. While I am now quite devoted to the veggie burrito at La Taqueria in San Francisco's Mission, my heart still belongs to Chulo. Back in the Williamsburg days, I would get home at night, see if my beloved roommate Ariel, an equally commited El Gallo fan, was game, and then we would place an order for delivery. Easy as one-two-three. Until the day that the brains behind Taco Chulo had the gall to remove our friend from the menu.

Now this could have led to utter devastation, but the gods were smiling, and armed with a now probably quite valuable relic of a menu and the knowledge that the folks at Chulo will allow you to "pimp" your own burrito, we were able to recreate the glory that was El Gallo, and our tradition continued unmarred.

So when I entered Taco Chulo for the first time in over a year, I felt hopeful that my craving could be sated. I looked at the menu and struggled to remember exactly what had gone on the burrito of my dreams. The waitress came, at first bold enough to try to remember my order, but when she realized that I was going to list what I wanted ingredient by ingredient, she wisely got out her pad.

Satisfied that I had ordered correctly, I sat back to read my book and to wait. A few minutes into my relaxing read, however, I had a terrible realization. I had forgotten to ask for cabbage instead of lettuce. I scurried to the counter to alert the waitress of my grave error. She looked at me, in my state of burrito-induced panic, a little strangely. Was there a glimmer of concern in her eyes? Or was it fear? I didn't care. I needed that burrito to be just right. Could she do it? Was there time? Finally, sensing the urgency of the situation, she hurried back to the kitchen. She'd see what she could do.

A few minutes later she emerged with this...

Ah, it was perfect. Cabbage and all. A comforting combination of the crunch of the said member of the Brassica oleracea species, the chewiness of the tortilla. The whole pinto beans adding a little pop to the the satisfying bulk of the potatoes. Salty, spicy, and a little sweet. Utter perfection.

And in the hopes that if enough people hit up Taco Chulo and order my dear El Gallo, they might reinstate it. Here is the list of ingredients:

Taco Chulo's El Gallo Burrito (RIP)
-whole wheat tortilla
-pollo rostizado (chile-spice-rubbed chicken)
-potatoes (NOT RICE!)
-whole pinto beans (NOT REFRIED!)
-marinated cabbage
-salsa seco
-cilantro, onion, radish
-cheese and crema optional

Go, try it. It will bring you comfort.