Dinner Party: Lamb, Pinot, and a Summer Breeze

Cookouts are a novelty in New York City.  Growing up in Atlanta, I completely took it for granted that we had a grill and private outdoor space, where we could gather together to eat, drink, and laugh to our hearts’ content. Here, however, I can count the number of people who have the luxury of a patio or backyard on one hand. My friends Emily and Mike are some of the lucky few — in fact, they not only have a terrace but also a killer view of the Hudson River from their place on Riverside Drive. And fortunately for me (who is starting to go a little stir-crazy in this hot city), they invited a group of us over for dinner last night.

I was too busy enjoying the breeze and the view to snap a photo,
but Toni managed to get one of the table. 

After some wonderful strawberry-lemonade cocktails that Emily made, we sat down to a meal of lime-cumin-and-coriander marinated lamb chops that I brought from my stash, an herb-and-balsamic couscous filled with fresh parsley and basil from Emily and Mike’s flower pots, and some yummy sea salt kettle chips. We’d decided upon a pinot noir pairing: Bo brought a bottle of Au Bon Climat, while Alexxa and I both brought a Mark West from Sonoma County.

Ours was an ’08.

To shake things up, we decided to chill one of the West’s. The wine professed to have lots of bright cherry and raspberry notes, which were present in the chilled wine, but it wasn’t until we drank the other bottle that we noticed its spicy, dry, and dusty qualities (fairly common characteristics of Sonoma wines, I’ve found, especially their syrahs): in both cases, the wine’s high acidity went beautifully with the meat. Then, when we popped the Au Bon Climat, we experienced the real treat of wine themes – it was a totally different wine, light, fruit-forward, and with this beautiful black pepper finish.

I talk big, but this is what I actually look like when I drink wine…

As the sun was setting, we dug into Mike’s homemade ice cream sandwiches (apparently a theme this summer): M&M and chocolate chip cookies, with coffee ice cream in between. We sat around the table a bit longer, savoring the warm summer breeze and watching the red moon as it rose, before we all headed home to our stuffy apartments for the night. These moments make me love New York — this city reminds me how much joy the little pleasures bring, when you take the time to notice them.

Lime-Cumin-and-Coriander Lamp Chops

  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 2+ Tbsp olive oil
  • 21 (1/2- to 3/4-inch thick) lamb chops

Whisk together garlic, cumin, coriander, lime juice, salt, pepper, and oil and transfer to a sealable plastic bag large enough to hold the lamb (or to several individual bags). Add lamb and seal bag, then make sure the lamb is evenly coated. Marinate at room temperature, turning bag occasionally, for about 45 minutes.

Heat charcoal grill and cook lamb in batches about 3 minutes each side for medium-rare. Transfer cooked lamb to a plate and let sit, covered with aluminum foil. Let the meat rest about five minutes then serve.

Recipe adapted from Gourmet.

Party Favors: A Freezer Full of Lamb

This past Tuesday, SAVEUR hosted its first annual Summer BBQ at Pier 66 in New York for the magazine’s chef and foodie friends. I spent much of the day running around in search of things like passion fruit puree for specialty cocktails for one of our advertisers, greeting chefs and their teams,  making sure the bar stayed stocked, and trying to find someone to pull town tarps when it started to rain… All in all, I had a blast and officially love my new job.

Look for me and my gray hat.
Image courtesy of newyork.metromix.com

Once everyone had left and things were mostly cleaned up, we were instructed to take as much home as you can. Really? Yes. This meant bottles of wine and rum that were left over, goodie bags, freshly squeezed lime juice, you name it. People gathered what they could carry (which was nowhere near everything), but no one went toward a lonely little cooler full of lamb left to us by chef Victor Casanova. I feared the worst: that all of that beautiful lamb would be left to rot on the pier with no refrigeration. Sufficiently upset, I grabbed the whole thing on the way out, added a few bottles of wine and some cage-free eggs that another chef had left behind, and carried my heavy load out to the West Side Highway to grab a cab home.

The loot. It looked like I was hiding a 
dead person in my fridge.
I was too tired when I got home to do anything but stick the meat in the fridge. So last night, I rolled up my sleeves, pulled out the boning knife, and got ready to remove the fell and french these suckers when something glorious happened — I opened the bags and they were already beautifully cut into individual servings. All I had to do was separate them into single-person portions to freeze, readying them for easy thawing for the thousands of yummy lamb dishes I will be trying over the coming weeks.
Toni’s freezer, full of meat (mine’s already full).
I kept a few out for dinner last night at Toni’s. Ana came over and I put the two of them to work on dessert (two Croatians + mistranslation of tsp/Tbsp + makeshift measuring utensils = a brand-new recipe for chocolate chip cookies). In the meantime, I steamed some rice and threw green beans into a pan with butter and almonds, a quick and easy stir-fry-and-steam method that I love when I need to quickly cook some veggies. 
Looking tasty.
I heated up the grill pan, added some salt, pepper, and fresh thyme to the chops, and let them cook, about 3-5 minutes a side (I like medium rare, but everyone else likes their meat cooked more thoroughly). Since the oven was heating up for the cookies, I put the lamb in a pan to finish in the oven for a few minutes.
A square meal.
We sat down to eat our very well-balanced meal (Mom taught me well: meat, starch, green) and poured ourselves a glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc… not a traditional pairing, but it went nicely with the meal, as well as with the humidity. While we were eating, we put the cookies into the oven for about ten minutes. I went to check on them and at first thought they hadn’t cooked at all. Then, I realized the bottoms were brown – the extra teaspoons of baking powder had created spongy cakes rather than a crispy cookies. Which was fine, as the plan was to make homemade ice cream sandwiches: their sponginess absorbed the melting ice cream and prevented the cookie from cracking as we bit into them. 
Really wishing I had another one of these, right now…
And Toni made me promise not to make him fat…

Creative Time: Zucchini Latkes and Roasted Tomatoes

Recently, I’ve had no appetite for the standards: chicken, beef, pork, even shrimp, bore me. And they are everywhere, in every grocery store, on every takeout menu, in every recipe search. How is it that a nation as big as ours has such a small repertoire of meats? One of my earliest childhood memories is a market in Provence; I was about six or seven years old when I saw skinned rabbits on sale for the first time. 
Market in Aix-en-Provence.
Image courtesy of http://daleeurope.wordpress.com/
Meat hasn’t really bothered me since, especially since I grew up eating venison, pheasant, and duck that my dad would bring home every now and then. What bothers me is how limited I feel on a day to day basis when I want to branch out. I think of the supermarkets in Rome, how even the plastic-wrapped meat aisles included options like veal, rabbit, mutton, and more. We just don’t eat like that in America, at least not enough of us do for the big guys to cater to diversified diets.
I was feeling this sentiment rather urgently the other day while I was brainstorming a menu for a small dinner party. I just couldn’t bring myself to cook another boring piece of meat, so I didn’t. Instead, I found inspiration on Amanda Hesser’s food52 site: these delicious zucchini latkes. I felt that the cakes would serve as a sort of homemade veggie burger, rich and thick enough to serve as a main dish. I used three large zucchini, two potatoes, some parsley, and lots of lemon zest in the cakes. I added two eggs since I’d essentially doubled the recipe, so it ended up requiring about a half cup of bread crumbs to hold it together. S&P on top, and I tossed them in a pan with heated olive oil and butter.
 Fresh out of the frying pan.
Wanting to bring some color to the spread, I chose a side dish that I could broil in the oven: roasted grape tomatoes and garlic. The dish was simple enough, requiring me to check in on them only periodically as I stood over the stove, frying my zucchini.
A little pop of garlicky-red and thyme
made a pretty table accent.
We ended up with a very lovely spread: the zucchini cakes and tomatoes, as well as a loaf of bread, some peanuts (I was craving salt), and some charcuterie with cheese. With some light white wine, the meal was extremely refreshing and satisfying – both in terms of my palate and my mental well-being. We were so full, in fact, that no one had room for dessert!
Served with a dollop of Greek yogurt
and a big squeeze of lemon juice.

A Lovely Day, A Lovely Meal: The Cloisters, Lamb Chops, and Panzanella

On Thursday afternoon, I got the best piece of news – I had a summer Friday the next day! One week in and already a day off! I decided I didn’t want to waste a gift of a day, so I took myself out to the Cloisters, a museum of medieval architectural remnants and treasures that actually integrates the elements into its structure. (I can hardly fathom the effort and thought that went into its making!)

 An image of one of the four cloister areas that was reconstructed once rescued from its original location.

Having rented the audio guide, I learned that the site—in Fort Tryon Park in Northern Manhattan—was chosen because of its isolation, so that it could reflect the actual setting of a Benedictine monastery, slightly removed from society. John D. Rockefeller, who acquired the Cloisters and the Park and gave them to the Met and the city of New York respectively, even bought the strip of land in New Jersey across the Hudson to prevent development and preserve the serenity of the location.

That’s called having a lot of money.
And doing good with it.

So, after having enjoyed such a perfect day, I decided I wanted to make the perfect meal. I had finished this month’s SAVEUR on the subway, and two recipes had struck me – lemon-thyme lamb chops and panzanella, or bread salad. The recipes were both rich with fresh and easy-to-find ingredients, many of which I already had around the house. (Most importantly, it would use up the half of a baguette I had left from dinner the night before). I made a slight tweak to the panzanella, using balsamic as I’d finished off the red wine vinegar. Eh voila! As beautiful, fresh, and simple as the way I’d spent my day.

My pretty spread, with a glass of Bordeaux to accompany.

Quick and Easy: Striped Bass with Lemon, Butter, and Parsley

After a wonderful date night at Marea on Saturday night, where I ate my way through four courses and topped it off with a macchiato, I did not sleep. Call it heartburn from too much food or heart palpitations from the coffee or an unhappy coincidence – I was suffering on Sunday from lack of rest. So when it came time for dinner, I wanted something that would be simple and easy, no grocery shopping involved.

Marea, photo courtesy nydailynews.com
I had thawed the striped bass fillets Stevie had given me the night before, so I knew that they would be the central component of the meal. Looking in the fridge, I found: lemons, garlic, parsley, zucchini, lettuce, and half of an avocado. Most of these ingredients consisted of produce that was looking not quite as fresh as it did two days ago and thus needed to be used. 
Check out the beautiful globular zucchini I found at the market
Stevie had pan-seared her fillets in butter and topped them with an herb sauce, and since I happened to have a lot of parsley on hand, this seemed like a good (and quick) way to prepare my fish. I heated some butter in a frying pan and added some chopped garlic. Once I rinsed the fish, I dusted the fillets with a bit of sea salt. When the butter was hot,  I added them to the pan and let them sit in the fat, two minutes per side. To finish them off, I stuck the pan in a 500-degree oven for another two minutes, then promptly removed and plated, drizzling them with the pan juices and some freshly squeezed lemon, topping with loads of parsley.
Seared bass with garlic butter, fresh lemon juice, and parsley
Meanwhile, I was thinking about lunch. This June, I have placed a little budget bet with myself, and one of the ways I have been keeping on track is by bringing my lunch. Sounds simpler than it is, I’m afraid, especially given how busy and tired I usually am in the evenings. However, creativity prevailed, and I decided to slice and stir fry the zucchini… until I realized I was already frying fish. I quickly changed course when I discovered some frozen peas, and rather than try to thaw and risk overcooking them, I threw them (ice crystals included) into a saucepan with my salted zucchini. Although I had to periodically remove excess liquid, the result was a pot of crisply-steamed green vegetables. I threw some fusilli into boiling water, and my own version of pasta primavera was done in 15 minutes.
Dinner is served!
In a salad bowl, I added the lettuce and avocado, tossing it with the rest of the lemon juice, s&p, and a dash of Croatian olive oil. All of this took about 20 minutes between prep to table. That, combined with the lovely green palette, made this a very satisfying, light, and healthy meal that did not keep me up at night.

Fresh and Tasty: Summer Salad with Rose

To celebrate the first Saturday of the summer, my friend Anna came over for brunch. I had lots of yummy lettuce leftover from the Greenmarket, as well as some Jonagolds. I threw those together in a bowl with some dried cranberries, slivered almonds, and a hunk of blue cheese, tossing them with my homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Anna brought some San Pellegrino and an avocado, which I sliced and served on the side with a few hunks of bread. A splash of rose and we were set – fast, easy, fresh. That’s what summer is all about!
our lovely spread

Gifts: Wusthof Boning Knife

A few weekends ago, my mom and aunts came in town to celebrate my aunt Laura’s 50th birthday. I had a blast showing them around “my New York,” namely Williamsburg and the Lower East Side, since they’d never been to either area before. We dined at Diner and Fatty ‘Cue, ate at Frankie’s Spuntino, drank at Delmano, and sipped at Alphabet City Wine Co.

The family at Fatty ‘Cue

Needless to say, I had a blast rolling from one meal to the next. So, imagine my surprise when a thank-you gift arrived in the mail. Not that I shouldn’t have expected it – my aunt Laura is a giver, not a taker. It took me 7 years to get her to take a trip to come visit me because she’s not one to take a lot of time for herself, so even though the weekend was her celebration, she couldn’t quite let it be all about her.


However, the gift was not a little one, but a fantastic Wusthof boning knife! I’ve been wanting one for awhile, ever since my knife skills class a few months back. I hate buying discrete chicken parts, but without a boning knife, it is difficult to split a whole chicken while raw. I usually end up roasting the whole thing and pulling it apart with my fingers. No more! With my next, and every, chicken, I will think of you, Laura. Thank you.

Dinner Party: Cous Cous, Cocchi, and Clafoutis

Yesterday, I had the good fortune of going to the Union Square Greenmarket on a weekday. Rather than avoid the Saturday crowds, I was able to easily peruse the produce available and brainstorm the dinner I had planned with Stevie and Georgia. 
Union Square Greenmarket
Despite Stevie’s warning “I’m willing to bet the farmer’s market does not have any summer squash yet either,” I emerged victorious with beautiful yellow summer squash in tow, as well as some fantastic shell peas I couldn’t refuse. I knew I had a half of an onion and some carrots in my fridge, and suddenly my veggie dish came to life.
my pretty little shell peas
Georgia got off work a bit later, so Stevie and I started chopping and cooking. I began slicing my veggies while she split cherries into halves for a clafoutis. To sip on while we waited on Georgia (and the wine!), Stevie prepped her Cocchi Americano cocktails, made with orange slices, soda water, and Cocchi, a white wine aromatized with many herbs and spice – entirely refreshing in her very hot apartment.
mixology magic
Georgia arrived with wine and Kalamata olives in tow. For the cous cous, we heated up the water to a boil, added some salt and olive oil, and then added the grains. Once covered, the flame went off and the cous cous was left to steam for a few minutes. Stevie chopped arugula, diced olives, and zested/squeezed lemon into a bowl, which I garnished with some parmigiano. In the meantime, my little veggies were sauteeing in a pan over low low heat.  The cous cous was added to the arugula salad, and supper was served.
greenmarket goodness!
Georgia had brought a lovely Pouilly-Fuisse and a Roero (a region in Piedmont that, like Barolo, uses the Nebbiolo grape to make wine). We sipped on those, digested, then transitioned to dessert. The cherry clafoutis came out of the oven just in time, and after she’d dusted it with powdered sugar and let it sit a moment, Stevie served us. A dash of lemon juice and it was deightful, tasting like a thick, eggy crepe with the fruit inside rather than on top!
a little sweet to round out the meal