Category Archives: Food

The multiculturalism of crepes

DSC_0002My youngest son goes to a magnet elementary school in our neighborhood. The latter fact is more the reason he attends that particular school than the arts and humanities centered curriculum, but we do enjoy many of the activities based upon the school’s theme.

This week the school community’s marked their Third Annual Multicultural Celebration. My son came home very excitedly to share that his class would be representing France. After a visit from a French college student, he was obsessed by the thought of making crepes as our contribution to the event. The sound of his voice repeatedly saying “crepe” in an attempted French accent, convinced me that this was an idee fixe that deserved to be indulged.

After a tedious remarkable number of suggestions from my 9 y/o with regards to how to make crepes (the batter must be made the night before cooking, beer is a necessary ingredient…), I located a reasonably simple recipe on Epicurious. Late Wednesday night, after closing the Wine Bar, I stirred up a triple batch of the recipe and went to sleep with a clear plan – and conscience.

After school, I hit up the store for a medium sized jar of Nutella and, upon arriving home, immediately got busy heating up two nonstick sauté pans. I brushed the hot pans with melted butter and got into the rhythm of working two pans, while also peeling and chopping a few apples to cook with brown sugar and cinnamon for an alternate filling.image

The process was satisfyingly quick. In barely an hour, I had approximately 40 filled crepes, divided into two dishes with about twice as many Nutella ones than apple. I dusted the crepes with powdered sugar and we were on our way.

The event (and the crepes) was fantastic. The number of nations represented on the incredibly laden tables was mirrored by the audience in the multifunction room. The smells and flavors were rich in a way completely unrelated to any world currency. It was positively heady. I am so lucky to live in a city where my children have the opportunity to attend school with such a culturally diverse population. C’est magnifique!DSC_0004

 

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Filed under Albany, Boys, Cooking, Education, Events, family, Food, Local, Recipes, Schools

The (not so) Great Pumpkin

image: janoskis.com/

Now that it is October, I’m ready to address the apparent plot for pumpkin flavor to dominate American palates from August through December.  I mean, seriously, to how many products will fake pumpkin flavor be added?  Click here to see a fairly comprehensive list of products available currently.  Prepare to be impressed – or repulsed.

How do you feel about this?  Are you a pumpkin aficionado?  Is your autumnal existence incomplete without the infusion of the great orange gourd?  Or maybe, like me, you enjoy a taste of something seasonal but don’t really understand the need for “whipped peanut and pumpkin pie spice flavored spread” or “pumpkin spice fettucine?”  How did this happen?

According to an article I read, it seems we have Starbucks to thank for the current obsession with pumpkin everything.  Their pumpkin spiced latte hit the market about 10 years ago and there’s been no stopping the demand for more room in the garden for pumpkins.  Prior to 15 years ago the state of Virginia had no pumpkin farms.  Today, more than 4,000 acres are devoted to pumpkin patches.  Geez, that’s a lot of ground for poor Linus Van Pelt to cover!

image: pbs.org

For the record, I enjoy an occasional pumpkin spiced latte on a crisp fall day.  I love to add a half a cup or so of canned pumpkin, along with nutmeg and cinnamon, to my waffle batter this time of year.  Pumpkin pie?  Yes, please!  I am absolutely down with that.  Recently, though, when a guest at the Wine Bar (who was visiting from Hong Kong) questioned me about the pumpkin flavored beer we were offering on draft, I really didn’t know what to say.  “Um, uh, during ‘autumn’ we Americans like to flavor as many edibles as possible with the flavor of pumpkin?”  Yeah, that.  Sigh.  Good grief.

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Filed under beer, Coffee, Food, Observations

Dinner at the Art Cliff Diner

During the two weeks we spend at the beach each summer, we eat dinner out maybe a handful of times. Part of that decision is based upon practicalities – kids, expense, day drinking and driving, but the fact that we’ve been disappointed with pricy meals in restaurants with menus that attempt to satisfy adults and children, is the biggest factor in choosing either take out (less expensive than dining in with tip/adult beverages) or cooking at home.

All that said, there’s a place in Vineyard Haven I’d been wanting to try for a few years – the Art Cliff Diner. Sunday the stars aligned and the guys and I finally got there and we couldn’t have been happier. The Art Cliff is both a food truck and a stationary restaurant. We pulled into their shared parking lot at what seemed to be the ideal time, about 5:15. The restaurant wasn’t open for business, but the truck’s menu more than sufficed for us.

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There were maybe a dozen options and we were able to find something for each of us – Liam chose the cheesesteak sandwich ($14?) which was as fine an example of that item as I’ve ever enjoyed. The meat was thinly sliced, maybe even shaved, with sweet onions and the perfect amount of cheese. The portion was more than generous.

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For Griffin it was the pig on a roll ($8?), a moist pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw. He declined the chipotle mayo, but I’m sure it would have added a terrific kick to the tender and overstuffed sandwich. I also went with pork in the form of spicy pork taco. The soft flour tortilla ($8?) was complete with juicy pork, greens, a sour cream based sauce and green salsa. It was really, really delicious.

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Quinn went with a ho-hum hotdog ($4) which he thoroughly enjoyed and we rounded out things with two generous orders of fries – one plain and one dusted with grated Parmesan. The fries were fantastic and would make an awesome and satisfying snack solo at only $6.

Our total for a really high quality and nicely presented meal, with soft drinks was a fair and reasonable $57 before tip. I imagine their offerings change regularly, but can’t imagine ever being disappointed by their food.  Have you been there?  Tell me about it!  If you haven’t yet, try it and let me know.

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Filed under Boys, Dinner, Eating, Food, Martha's Vineyard, Recommendations, Summer, vacation

Sipping from Siro’s Cup

With Dominick and Carolyn Purnomo.                            Photo by Joe Putrock, Special to the times Union.

Last night I attended my first Saratoga “event,” the 21st Annual Newton Plaza Siro’s Cup.  I was thoughtfully included in a friend’s group and during a very busy week, it was the thing for which I was most excited.  What to wear? Could I forsake peer comfort with foot comfort and wear flats? Accessories were key and I wanted to feel put together from head (day 2 hair, flat ironed and sprayed) to toes (freshly pedicured in a gorgeous shade of pastel sea foam).  I knew I needed to feel confident in my appearance and went with a whole Goddess of Reading look.  I think it worked.

The showers through which I had driven in Albany had completely disappeared and the air in Saratoga was fresh and comfortable.  The fancy cars, Maserartis, Rolls Royces and my dream car, a 2 door Porsche, were parked on display and the whole thing felt about as swanky as you can get when you’re essentially walking barefoot from your own wagon parked in a grassy field.

Inside the party there was an almost overwhelming sense of stimulation.  People were ON.  The multiple bars set up attracted what seemed to be the most outgoing cliques of friend – there was a definite (and deserved) sense of holding court.  The clothes, the makeup, the hair…there was so much to absorb.  Fashion-wise, it seemed that anything went.  Naturally, there were Nantucket Reds, seersucker and linen adorning the guys and dresses in every length and color on the women.  There was a lot of jewelry, along with a fair amount of serious suntan.

A constantly flowing river of attendees were carried on a current of cocktails. People seemed happy and there were many outbursts of laughter to be heard.  The “first party of the season” feel to it made for an excellent vibe.  It was fun.  I loved seeing my favorite Pirate Girl and am so psyched the she has taken up residence for the season, like the ballet or the writers of Yaddo.  There were other hospitality folks there – the generation II Purnomos, Matt Baumgartner, Michael Cocca.  It was nice to see them being on the receiving end of hospitality for a change.

Many familiar faces were in the crowd.  I mean, I’ve worked in local restaurants for long time and have probably served thousands of people. I had a couple of moments, though, of feeling mildly out of place amongst a crowd who have far more lucrative investments than merely budgeting carefully and buying consigned clothes.  A couple of times I greeted attendees I knew from one restaurant or another and I wasn’t recognized without giving my name or context.  Do I look that different?  Am I invisible as a server?  Have I gained weight?*  Am I aging poorly? It was a little awkward to navigate.

Gnocchi and shaved truffles

Gnocchi and shaved truffles

The scene, though, was captivating.  I could have walked, marveling under the star-filled sky, for even longer, but my belly demanded food and I don’t like eating standing up.  I headed to 15 Church and got exactly what I was looking for – something delicious and indulgent to eat and sip and the welcome of friends I’ve worked with over the years.  I wish Saratoga was closer.

Burrata, tomatoes, basil

Burrata, tomatoes, basil

*no charge for that peek inside my head.

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Filed under drinking, Eating, Events, Food, friends, Local, Restaurants, Saratoga, Summer, Wine

Come on in my Cucina

See that post title above?  I have a confession about it… I seriously almost used  a more, shall we say, colorful homophonic version of the word “come,”  but chose not to because I was afraid it might be interpreted as vulgar.  I may be salty at times with my language choices, but crass is something I do not want to be.

So – why the temptation to use a word with carnal connotations to describe a dining experience?  Well, because Cucina, located at the north (east?) end of town in Woodstock, is a very sexy restaurant.  From the wide porch which offers dining al fresco during the warmer months, to the painted plank floors and the understated decor, to the menu which invites exploration and sharing, this place is hot.

My number one advice for planning your meal at Cucina is this: go with people you love because you’re going to want to share your food. Until the dessert course, of course, but we’ll get to that…

My home(town)girls and I selected Cucina for our “midway” dining date based upon recommendations from the Wine Bar & Bistro Chef, Nick, and the prior experience of one of the girls. We had 7pm reservations, but arrived a little early since most of our usual shopping destinations are still on winter hours and had closed by 6pm. We began at the bar, an open, well-lit area, and perused the creative cocktail list. I struggled with personal responsibility wanting to order one of everything, gin drinks aside. Because of our mutual appreciation of wine with dinner, Ginny and I elected to share the Orient Old Fashioned as an aperitif and it was a revelation. Spicy from the ginger syrup, smooth from the Bulleit, refreshing and piquant, I easily could  have gulped this down in record time.

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squid – two sauces

The dinner menu came with its own impressive array of temptations, but as a party of four we were in a good position to try a number of items.  I took charge (imagine!) of how many dishes we would have and collectively we agreed on what each course would contain.  We started with two appetizers – the crispy squid and the shrimp and white beans.  Neither dish broke any new ground in terms of composition, but the execution was exceptional.  The squid was lightly battered and virtually without greasiness, while the shrimp were perfectly cooked and accompanied by beans which retained the ideal amount of firmness.  Great start!

shrimp, white beans, tomatoes

shrimp, white beans, tomatoes

We followed the appetizers with two salads and a special pizza.  The asparagus, snap peas, endive, etc salad was creative and capitalized on ingredients which are coming into their own, seasonwise.  What can you say about roasted beets, Coach Farms goat cheese and balsamic vinegar other than yum?  Exactly.  Our beautiful pizza, topped with a riot of green veggies, including some banging jalapenos, on the thinnest of crusts, was a spicy delight.

pizza

pizza – baby spinach, jalapenos, red onions

We finished our savory experience with two pastas – the spinach and ricotta filled ravioli with brown sage butter and an evening risotto special with scallops, shrimp and saffron.  The portions aren’t tremendous, but the flavors are and we were very content with the quality and amount of food we were served.  Speaking of served, our server was terrific.  No complaints at all , start to finish.  With our meal we enjoyed a bottle of Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, 2010, a wonderful food wine which I am familiar with from the Wine Bar & Bistro on Lark.  Perfect.

MY dessert - no sharing

MY dessert – no sharing

When it came time for dessert, I was done with sharing and insisted that it was every woman for herself.  My choice, the butterscotch budino, was off the hook, crazy delicious.  Butterscotch, caramel, toasted coconut and sea salt put together in ideal proportions to make a dreamy pudding-esque climax to a wonderful evening.

Yeah, I’ll come on in Cucina any time.

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Filed under Dinner, drinking, Eating, Food, friends, Recommendations, Restaurants, road trips, upstate New York

“Stuff” to do with your Field Goods

 Have you ever participated with a CSA?  I did one year and found myself more than a little overwhelmed by the array of obscure greens and heritage vegetables.  While I enjoyed the challenge of trying to create meals from previously unknown ingredients, I have never been tempted to commit again to the responsibility of having to retrieve my bag of goods from a remote location.  Field Goods and their convenient delivery to my school has proven to be the ideal solution for getting fresh, and sometimes frozen, produce into my kitchen and my tummy.

This week’s bag included some beautiful Portobello mushrooms and the timing of this exchange on Twitter could not have been more perfect:

twitter

 

Ding, ding – dinner has been determined!

I started by wiping the mushroom and removing the stems, trimming the ends a bit.  Using a combination of olive oil and butter, I sautéed the chopped stems, adding minced shallots* and chopped onion* and basically softening everything up.  I had about 2/3 of a cup of leftover couscous and tossed that in as well.  Rummaging through the fridge, I also found a few sprigs of (kind of) fresh thyme and minced that up to add to the pan along with about a ½ cup of bread crumbs.  I seasoned with salt and pepper to taste and turned the oven on to 350.
caps

I placed the intact caps in a shallow baking dish and drizzled them with a little olive oil and put them in the oven to soften up a bit.  After about 10 minutes, I filled the caps, generously piling the stuffing on.  I had some kind of crappy parmesan cheese in the cheese drawer and grated it over the mushrooms and covered the baking dish with foil.  I heated everything through (maybe 7 or 8 minutes) and then uncovered my tasty meatless dinner.

Delicious and satisfying!  I will definitely make these again.  Maybe, once Lent is finally over, I’ll add a little sausage or ground turkey…

Leftovers lunch!

Leftovers lunch!

* the shallots and onions were both from previous weeks’ deliveries.

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Filed under Cooking, Dinner, Eating, Food, Recipes

Down and dirty paella

DSC_0012Ever have one of those days when you’ve taken something out of the freezer to cook for dinner with an idea that becomes less appealing as the day goes on? Yeah, me, too. Earlier this week I took a pound of 16-20 shrimp and some thinly sliced chicken breasts out to thaw with a plan to make some sort of garlicky scampi with pasta. It sounded like just what I wanted at 6:00 a.m., but as the day progressed I reconsidered. I wanted something with more vegetables and some spice…

I did a quick search on epicurious using shrimp and chicken as my search terms and came up with a super simple recipe for paella that I knew would work, both in terms of ingredients on hand and Lilly boy preferences. In less than 30 minutes, dinner was ready to go in the oven and I was ready for a quick run. Not a bad Tuesday at all.

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I started with a chopped onion and a bag of frozen chopped peppers from my Field Goods service. Talk about easy – cut open the bag and toss it into the pan! When the veggies were softened, I removed them from the pan and sautéed the chicken, which I had cut into 1.5-2″ chunks, in the same deep pan. When the chicken was almost cooked through, using a slotted spoon, I removed it and put it aside.

Next, I placed about 3.5 cups of chicken broth (a combination of homemade and boxed) in the same pan and turned the heat up to high. When the broth was almost boiling, I threw in 1.5 cups of arborio rice along with about 1.5 t of smoked paprika. I turned the heat down to medium and stirred the rice every few minutes (while I changed into my running clothes) until it was al dente.

The final step was reincorporating the vegetables and chicken and adding the uncooked shrimp. I removed the pan from the heat, covered it and took off for my five mile loop. After returning home, I placed the covered pan in the oven at 300 degrees to warm through for about 10 minutes. Boom! A fast, tasty dinner which everyone enjoyed. If I had some saffron, I certainly would have used it, but I instead seasoned simply with salt and pepper to taste and spiced up my own portion with a delicious pepper jelly I had picked up in New Orleans.

This “recipe” is incredibly versatile – chorizo, leftover ham or chicken thighs could easily be swapped in for the protein choices I made. The flavor profile could be varied by adding beans and/or some hearty greens or trade the paprika for some fresh thyme or flat leaf parsley. Go crazy – it’s just dinner.

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Filed under Boys, Dinner, Food, Recipes, Uncategorized