Food Memories: American Flatbread

I have not been together with two of my good college friends since, well, college. Not for lack of trying, but it just hadn’t worked out. So, a few months ago, we determined that this Memorial Day weekend would be the time to meet up. Emily lives in DC and has an apartment big enough to host, so Laura flew in from Chi-town and I got on the bus from NYC. 

Unbeknownst to me, an American Flatbread had opened in Clarendon, VA, near Emily’s place. On the first night of our Midd kid reunion, then, we headed over to the pizza place that had begun in Vermont and been the place of many dinners out in the early years of college. Because “local” and “sustainable” are core tenets of the Flatbread philosophy, the menu was a bit different, focusing on ingredients from farms and food providers in the Virginia area. 

the lovely ladies

We quickly settled on the sun-dried tomato and mushroom pizza as well as the New Virginia Sausage, featuring naturally-raised Bluemont pork in a homemade, nitrate free maple-fennel sausage (I’m quoting from the menu). The wine list wasn’t extensive or impressive, but I did find a good bottle: a Muscadet Sevre et Maine from Domaine Claude Branger in the Loire called Terroir Les Gras Moutons. Great minerality from the rocky, granite-filled soil and left on lees for 12-14 months, giving it a ripe, round, and  powerful nose that hinted at the fruity and floral aromatics of a riesling.

ours was an ‘06

I tend to greatly discount the effect that going to college in Vermont had on the developments of my own palette and more importantly food philosophies. I spent years eating locally-sourced food in the college dining halls: apples from orchards right down the road, cheese from Vermont dairy farms, and more. 

Middlebury College

To quote from the college’s site, “Dining Services sources food products from 47 Vermont food producers and also purchases small amounts of fresh produce from the student run organic garden. Twenty-five percent of food at Middlebury is local, and we divert 75% of food waste from ending up in the landfill through our composting program.” Sustainability is at the core of how Middlebury literally functions, from food systems to energy to research. 

Sometimes a reunion makes you remember things you never even realized you’d forgotten.

Celebrations: Fish Tacos for a New Job

To celebrate my new job at Saveur, Stevie invited me over for some lovely fish tacos. Josiah, her bf, had caught a 22-lb. striped bass a few nights before out on Long Island, so she had obviously been brainstorming delicious and creative ways to use up all that goodness filling up her freezer. Enter tacos – fresh, tasty, and easy.

the necessary fixings: radishes, avocado,
cilantro, onion, and lime

Stevie was busy julienning her radishes when I arrived, so I took over fish duties. I gently massage the flesh until it began to flake and fall apart. In a separate bowl, I threw together some whole wheat flour, salt, pepper, and paprika, then heated some olive oil in a pan (we had decided to fry in olive oil based on the recent Saveur article that focused on olive oil’s frying capabilities). Each batch was cooked for about a minute and a half each, then set to drain on some paper towel, sprinkling them with lemon juice while they rested momentarily.

the fish, resting

Then, assembly time. Stevie heated oil in a separate pan to fry up the tortillas, which resulted in crispy, half-moon taco shells. We filled our individual tacos with fish, avocado, radishes for some kick, white onion, and cilantro, then drizzled lime juice over each one. Stevie had brought a Chinon rose for us to sip on – 100% Cabernet Franc and delicious. What a way to celebrate!

‘ze tacos, before they were devoured

Get Well Dinner: Homemade Pizza

I spent yesterday laid up in bed after a trip to the doctor. So that I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner – and to make me feel better – Alexxa brought over the makings for homemade pizza. She’d paid a visit to Fornino, the pizza spot on Bedford Ave, and picked up a variety of other ingredients and accoutrements in the neighborhood…including pizza tiles from the Brooklyn Kitchen.

pizza tiles, keeping warm in the oven.

She and Toni set about prepping everything while I laid around and watched. They rolled out the dough onto some flour and cornmeal. The first they topped with thinly sliced potatoes, caramelized onions, fresh oregano, fontina, and parmigiano.

pizza bianca

We ate this pizza hot out of the oven before we set to making the other. The caramelized onions were rich and delicious, a sweet contrast to the saltiness of the fontina. The dough was thin and crispy, and I loved the touch of the cornmeal.

In the meantime, we got the red sauce cooking on the stove: tomato sauce, 2 spoonfuls of tomato paste, salt, white pepper, black pepper, and lots of rosemary. Alexxa had bought thick slices of prosciutto, which we laid over the tomato base. She topped it with the rest of the fontina and we let it cook in the oven until the edges browned and the cheese bubbled.

 prosciutto pizza. not sure which was better!

Simple but delicious, and it made me feel so very good.

Dinner Party: Moroccan-Inspired Meal

I recently read an article all about olive oil, describing the breadth of aromas, flavors, and places of origin. It included several recipes for sauces, dips, and other miscellaneous condiments from around the world. I was especially struck by a recipe for a pistachio chutney and ended up using the recipe as the foundation for last week’s dinner party.

pistachio chutney, just out of the food processor

The chutney had a Moroccan vibe to it and called for a pairing with game birds. Since I always end up deciding what to cook at the last minute, I wasn’t able to call ahead to pre-order my pheasant, as every butcher in town suggested. So I went with the next best thing and bought a 4 lb. cockerel from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats at Chelsea Market. I spent a fair amount of time discussing preparation methods with the butcher.

spice blend

We settled on a spice rub to complement the chutney – equal parts coriander, cinnamon, cumin, and curry, with some salt thrown in for good measure – then cooked at 350 degrees for 15 minutes per pound (although I blasted it up to 425 for the last 10 minutes so the skin would get nice and crispy).

crispy little booger, resting

For the rest of the meal, I settled on a hummus with crudites as an hors d’oeuvres (made with a rich, spicy olive oil that Toni had given me from one of his neighbors in Croatia), fingerling potatoes boiled with butter and thyme as a contorno, and a strawberry rhubarb crumble with vanilla bourbon ice cream.

les ingredients

We noshed on the homemade hummus while the cockerel was cooking, sipping on my favorite summer rose, a Touraine from the Loire Valley. During dinner we moved from white to red – I’d paired a Vermentino and a Gamay (Beaujolais-Villages) with the meal, and both accented the slightly spicy dish without overpowering any of the flavors. And the fruitiness of the Beaujolais provided an excellent transition to my slightly-too-sweet-so-thank-goodness-there’s-ice-cream dessert. I shouldn’t have used a recipe that called for rhubarb only – didn’t adjust for the sugar in the strawberries!
still delicious.

Overall verdict: success. Everyone ate at least 3 helpings and walked away stuffed!

Brown Bag: Tian Tian Chao Mian and White Gourd Drink

Last week I was terrible about bringing my lunch, which resulted in spending way too much money on crappy Midtown food. This week, I am making a conscious effort to be a better brown-bagger and eat food I actually like. Today’s lunch is leftover ‘everyday fried noodles,’ which I made last night from the most recent Saveur issue, paired with my extra white gourd drink that I bought last week.

My trip to Flushing has inspired me to introduce more Asian cooking into my diet – and this happily coincides with the fact that:
a. the two most recent issues of Saveur have focused on Chinese/Taiwanese cuisine, and
b. I own a wok.

This recipe was super simple to execute; the heavy lifting was mainly in the prep work, which really should be done before the wok is put on the flame. It’s a quick process, and you need to be able to dump and go. For the noodles, I could not find lo mein, so I used buckwheat soba noodles instead (high in protein!), which added some color to the dish.

As for the meat, I luckily live by the amazing Marlow & Daughters. I showed up at 5pm on a Sunday and to my dismay saw no ground pork. I asked the butcher what I should use as an alternative, and he replied ‘No worries! I’ll run back and grind you some fresh meat.’ Happy sigh.

Everyday Fried Noodles, or Tian Tian Chao Mian

1/2 small seedless cucumber, peeled and julienned
Kosher salt, to taste
3 tbsp. canola oil 
1 medium carrot, julienned
1 onion, thinly sliced 
1/4 lb. ground pork
4 cloves garlic, minced
1  1″ piece ginger, minced
6 scallions, minced
1 1/2 tbsp. dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp. rice cooking wine
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
2 cups bean sprouts
6 oz. dried flat noodles, boiled and rinsed under cold water
1 tbsp. Asian sesame oil
1. Toss cucumbers and a pinch of salt together in a small bowl; let sit 5 minutes. Heat a 14″ wok (or stainless-steel skillet) over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add 1 tbsp. oil around edge of wok; swirl to coat bottom and sides. Add carrots and onions; cook until softened, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate; set aside. 
2. Return wok to high heat and add remaining oil. Add pork, garlic, ginger, and half the scallions; cook, breaking pork into small pieces, until browned, 3–4 minutes.
3. Add soy sauce, wine, sugar, bean sprouts, and carrots and onions. Cook, stirring, until hot, about 30 seconds.
4. Add cucumbers, remaining scallions, noodles, and sesame oil; cook, tossing, until hot, about 1 minute. Season with salt.

SERVES 2 – 4

This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #129

Food Memories: Vanilla Bourbon Ice Cream, or “Milk Punch”

I have spent the past few days planning for a dinner party that will be taking place chez moi this evening. Well, mainly planning the dessert part. I wanted to make ice cream, which means deciding on flavor combinations and executing it a few days in advance. Since rhubarb is at its peak right now, I thought a strawberry-rhubarb crumble would be good, paired with a deliciously simple vanilla ice cream. 

Then my simple idea, as usual, became more complex. I thought bourbon would be an excellent addition, and that led me to nutmeg. Suddenly I realized I was making a family favorite: every Christmas, when my mom’s side of the family gathers together, we start the celebrations with what my grandfather dubbed “milk punch.” Which basically means we begin drinking bourbon milkshakes at 11am. Nothing better.

“Milk Punch” Ice Cream

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 cups skim milk
1/2 cup light cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup bourbon (I used Evan Williams)
1. Combine creams and milk in a medium saucepan.
2. Add the vanilla to the cream mixture and bring to just under a boil over medium heat. Remove the cream from the heat and steep, covered, for 20 minutes.
3. Combine the egg yolks with the sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk until the color lightens. Slowly whisk 1/4 cup of the hot cream into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk the egg mixture back into the cream mixture. Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon without running.
4. Remove from heat and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve. Add the vanilla extract and the bourbon.
5. Chill completely (at least 4 hours, or overnight) in the refrigerator, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturers instructions. 
– makes about 1 quart –
Adapted from Serious Eats

Food Trends: Pulino’s

Today I experienced one of those fabulous New York moments in which one feels totally on top of the latest trends and in-the-know about the most fabulous food in town. I opened the New York Times Restaurant Review and bam! Pulino’s was featured. A few minutes later, the New York Tasting Table arrived in my inbox. Pulino’s again. Guess where I happened to eat dinner last night? I was wondering what all of those photographers were doing there.

The interior of Pulino’s, before it got crowded

I was on my way to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and decided that it was early enough that I might be able to get a table. Looks like 6:30 is the perfect time to go – I wasn’t even with my whole party of two and they let me grab a table. My waiter was wonderful, bringing me a taste of each of the roses on the menu when he wasn’t sure which would be more similar to a Provencal style (the wine list is predominantly Italian). I ended up ordering the lighter Nebbiolo and sipped it while I waited. I eventually got hungry and decided to go ahead and order a few appetizers to snack on, hoping that they’d come out about when Toni would arrive.

Roasted Asparagus with Ramps and Rhubarb

First, I ordered what is possibly the most seasonal dish I have ever laid eyes on – roasted asparagus with ramps and rhubarb, served over black pepper mascarpone. Um, delicious. The asparagus and ramps were slightly warm and oily. Rhubarb added a tart kick, as did the black pepper in the mascarpone cheese. All of the flavors complemented each other well, and it continued to taste extremely good as it cooled down to room temp. (At this point, Toni had arrived and got to eat some too).

Baked Ricotta with Black Pepper and Orange Agrumato

Unlike Sam Sifton, I liked the baked ricotta, served hot in a mini cast-iron skillet. The cheese was slightly charred on top and sprinkled with olive oil and black pepper. I also enjoyed the orange agrumato that pervaded the flavor of the dish, giving it a faint but distinct citric profile. That being said, I love most cheeses and anything baked in an oven. Which brings me to the pizza. Pulino’s centerpiece is a large, wood-fired oven which produces delicious flatbread pizzas. We ordered the basil pesto with stracchino and pine nuts to split, just the right amount after the bowl of cheese I had just polished off.

While we were munching and enjoying the saltiness, I eyed my neighbors’ pizza and finally asked what they had ordered. The quattro formaggio with caramelized onions, they replied, want to swap a piece for a piece? After pretending to politely decline, I happily traded. The flavor was a little thin, but the sweetness of the onion was nice. It could have held up to a bit more cheese. Checking my watch, I asked for the bill and we hustled our way down to the Sunshine Theater… only stopping for ice cream on the way. Couldn’t resist the Van Leeuwen truck. I even stuffed it into my purse so we wouldn’t be late for the previews.

I LOVERMONT: Vermont Cheese

I just had to post a link through to this amazing Newsweek article. Cabot cheddar cheese dominated my college diet, thanks to my lovely roommate who (despite her lactose intolerance) could not live without it, introducing me to the joys of white cheddar. I have been a large supporter of Vermont cheese ever since.

loving her cheese.

With amazing dairy farms and developments in sustainable agriculture at places like Jasper Hill Farms, the cheese industry is stronger – and more delicious – than ever. Go Vermont!

Food Adventure: Day Trip to Flushing for REAL Chinese Food

Yesterday afternoon, because Stevie had a car in the city for a few hours, we went on an escapade – to Chinatown in Flushing, Queens. Right where the 7 train ends, there is an entire area of the city that is full of Chinese signs, faces, and strange meat and produce lining the streets. Stevie had scoped out a few places she wanted to go, namely to try steaming pork buns filled with mouth-burning broth, amazing pork and cabbage ramen soup, and the coup-de-grace – hand-pulled noodle soup from Langzhou Handmade Noodles.

The menu. We selected roast duck hand-pulled noodles.

This little noodle shop was located at the corner of Main Street and 41st in the equivalent of an underground food court. Stevie’s got a few germ issues which definitely came to the forefront in this cramped but delicious-smelling space full of various food stalls, but she happily overcame them to watch this man knead and pull noodles before our eyes:

The noodle man, kneading

He kneaded the dough, pulling it like taffy, until it formed long, thin strands, which then were thrown into a pot with duck bones and delicious vegetables. Stevie even wandered over to touch the dough. This took some effort and miming, since the man and his assistant did not speak English and the shop’s translator had his head down in a corner, but she eventually succeeded in bringing over a small lump of dough for us to play with. The soup was served, steaming hot, in a plastic bowl which we had to share (another phobia that was gallantly overcome).

The soup in all its deliciousness.

While sitting and munching through noodles and meat-covered bones, Stevie spotted a green soda can with a strange fruit on it. She tried to ask the lady working the counter what it was – which means we ended up ordering a can to share:

“white gourd” canned beverage

This might have been the best decision of the day. Whatever white gourd is, it tasted like liquid caramel corn, whose chilled sweetness really complemented the soup. We took turns sipping at it until I took a sip and the ominous end-of-the-line slurping sound surfaced – at which point the can was turned over to its rightful orderer. We then got two more to go.

This is what happens when I say “smile.”
Pure unadulterated joy on that face.