Pizza Philosophy

October 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

Throwing together a quick pizza for dinner is such an appealing option these days that I’d say it happens every other week in my apartment. Given the frequency and the myriad permutations of orthodox and unorthodox ingredients, the sky really is the limit. I usually start by selecting an ingredient or two that really strike my fancy, thinking of classic flavor profiles/combinations using those and other ingredients, selecting the most fitting cheese(s) and then reconfirming my concoction will actually hypothetically taste good when served in pizza form.

This was certainly the process I went through this weekend when creating a pizza plan at whole foods. I had recently heard a friend rave about a brie and fig flatbread they created and it inspired me to integrate fruit. Pears are definitely in abundance this time of year and one of my favorite combos is a pear, arugula and prosciutto salad. With this in mind, I grabbed a blend of grated fontina, pecorino and parmesan planned to top things off with some balsamic reudction. On another tip from my friend, I grabbed some frozen dough at Whole Foods (who knew this existed in the freezer section!?) and was on my way.

Last night, I began assembling my pizza (for three days I begrudgingly but patiently waited for my rock hard pears to ripen) and in my produce drawer noticed a lone leek leftover from some cauliflower soup. After debating for several moments if a leek would work on this particular pizza, I realized leeks, like pancetta, usually make everything more tasty. I sliced my leek into thin rings and sautéed them in olive oil until slightly caramelized and softened. About 15 minutes later, it was judgement time. The verdict: leeks took the pizza over the top and nicely balanced the sweetness of the pear. I will certainly be keeping these in mind for future pizza creations…I’m thinking some leeky variation on tarte flambee pizza might be in my near future…

Pear, Prosciutto & Arugula Pizza (with Leeks!)

Ingredients:
1 pound pizza dough
1 leek
1.5 cups grated cheese (I used a mixture of fontina, pecorino and parmesan but mozzarella would also do nicely)
1 ripe Bartlett pear, thinly sliced
4-5 slices prosciutto, torn into thin strips
2 handfuls of arugula
Balsamic reduction or syrup
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
Red pepper flakes

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 425. Slice the light green and white part of the leek into ½-inch coins. Separate the interior rings. Over medium high heat, sauté the leek in a bit of olive oil until caramelized and softened. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. Roll out pizza dough onto a non-stick baking sheet or pizza peel if you have one. Top with cheese, sliced pear and sautéed leeks. Bake for about 15 minutes, remove from oven. Top with prosciutto and bake another 3-5 minutes more.
3. Toss arugula with salt, pepper, and balsamic reduction to taste. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes if desired. Slice and serve!

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The Great Pumpkin!

October 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Over the last month or so, pumpkin has been emerging both in the supermarkets and on the internet, like clockwork as it does each fall. While Thanksgiving traditions should (and will) be given their own post, one thing that is traditionally missing on my family’s Thanksgiving table has always been pumpkin pie. Gasp…I know. That’s right, no pumpkin pie and usually no pie in general. We are much more a cake family that occasionally detours towards cobbles, crumbles and buckles when seasonal fruit is involved. Perhaps it’s that reason alone that pumpkin pie has just never appealed to me.

My pumpkin memories come instead from my best friend’s mom’s pumpkin bread. I still recall the smell of it baking and us gobbling down as much as we could get our hands on when it was still warm from the oven. While I don’t recall how old I was, at some point I copied her recipe on an index card in bubbly child’s handwriting. I still use the card today and smile over the ingredient list when I come to 3 cups flower. As soon as I buy another loaf pan (and find storage for it my studio apartment kitchen), I plan to whip up a batch this season but in the meantime, I couldn’t resist some doing something the jar of Libby’s pumpkin I picked up on an autumnal whim on my last trip to the grocery store.

Enter one of my favorite dessert sources: Baked. This recipe from the first Baked cookbook actually came to me via another tried and true source Martha Stewart. I halved the recipe as my fridge can only hold so many pumpkin whoopie pies and came out with about a dozen large whoopie pies. Admittedly my decision to make this particular version of whoopie pie was most definitely based on the cream cheese icing, which I believe can be considered a dessert in itself. Leftover icing in my kitchen means finding any appropriate vehicle with which to consume it. Graham crackers and teddy grahams while low brow serve this function surprisingly well…

But back to the whoopie pies! They bake very quickly – no more than 10-12 minutes – and come out very soft and cake-like. The tang of the frosting was the perfect complement to the sweetness of the pumpkin. Next time, I may miniaturize them even more than suggested to create a more macaroon-ish sized treat.  They also went over well with my elderly neighbor Ben and one of my favorite doormen Jose who are often recipients of my baking experiments when I need to unload them for fear of consuming them all myself!

Early Trip to Kin Shop

October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

On Friday night, we took several out of town visitors to Kin Shop, Harold Dieterle’s recently opened restaurant in Greenwich Village. Having been the one to select the restaurant for the one big dinner we had with visitors who had ventured all the way from Europe, I realized choosing such a new spot was always a risk but in this case my confidence in Perilla and Chef Dieterle. Rupert jokingly reminded me I was on the line if things went south, and I gladly accepted the challenge!

For a restaurant that had literally been open for five days, Kin Shop was impressively smooth with respect to all aspects of service. The quality of food was right on par with what I’ve come to expect at Perilla making it clear that Dieterle and his partner Alicia Nosenzo’s talent translates well into modern Thai cuisine. The restaurant, located just across the street for BLT Burger on 6th Avenue is long, narrow and about size as Perilla. The chef’s counter in the back would be a fantastic place to sit when walking in with a similar, close-up spectator view to the open kitchen that Casa Mono offers. Chef Dieterle was there right in the mix of things, which is always nice to see.

One thing that I believe will bode well for Kin Shop is it’s fantastic selection of wine. Usually when craving thai, I go straight into beer mode and quite happily order a Singha, but the spice of thai always makes my mind wander to think of the fun pairing ideas that exist. To ensure it was a crowd pleaser, this evening I went with the 2008 Julien Meyer Pinot Gris from Alsace. The wine was teh perfect smooth, crisp complement to the food that followed. If it’s beer or cocktails you seek, however, Kin Shop has no lack of exciting options in those categories as well. On my next visit, I definitel intend to have the Sohm & Khing, which features house-infused ginger mekhong, domaine de canton, aperol, grapefruit bitters and lemon soda. While the classic Sigha makes the cut as well, a more interesting venture would be the Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale from Japan.

Being a large group, we had planned to order family style and our friendly, well-informed server told us that was the recommended way to go. For our first course, we started with the Spicy Duck Laarb Salad, Warm Sliced Snap Peas with Bay Scallops and Hand Cut Beef Tartar. The duck, served in romaine lettuce leaves was one of the spiciest dishes I’ve had (our served was candid about this!) and I loved every almost painful bite. Those with less affinity for spice should definitely order a side of milk, as water and wine do little to cut it! Whatever you do, don’t forego ordering it! The coconut flavor of the curry like sauce under the perfectly cooked scallops was sublime and cooling in contrast to the duck. Finally the beef tartar was simple yet fresh and almost melted in one’s mouth. I especially liked the rice crackers that accompanied it.

Moving on to entrees (and a second bottle of Pinot Gris) we sampled the Stir Fried Wonton Noodes with chicken sausage, thai broccoli rabe & oyster sauce, the Pan Fried Crab Noodles and the Roasted Duck Breast with Red Curry. I especially enjoyed the wonton noodles but the duck was the leader of the pack. Each thick, medium-rare slice was meant to be paired with and wrapped with green mango and curry in crispy roti. I could eat the roti alone or days! When dining on my own I will definitely be sampling the rabbit and goat curries (which came highly recommended) as well, but was not sure how those would fly with our guests so did not want to rock the boat when ordering for the table.

I will definitely be paying another visit to Kin Shop soon, and I can see it as a great weekend brunch spot once the open for those hours.

Pancetta Pasta Pronto!

October 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Sometime during my middle school years, my mom cobbled together a dish one night that is now fondly known as “Pesto Pasta Pronto!”. The exclamation point (which I visualize whenever I say it) added some pizazz and emphaiszed the alliteration nicely. On a side note this invisible yet seemingly mandatory exclamation point seems to surface in many aspects of my life (i.e. I have a friend who we now refer to in email writing, etc as “Craigers!”)

On nights when all of our crew practice, ballet lessons, choir practices, etc at up most of the evening, some diced rotisserie chicken, jarred pesto and bowtie pasta with freshly grated parmesan more than did the trick and certainly beat fast food. In my adult years, particularly lately, my go go go lifestyle has often caused me to to resort to Pesto Pasta Pronto! a time or two and all too often Seamlessweb is my go to for lunch, dinner and sometimes (gasp!) both. Lately however, I’ve tried to plan quick simple dishes that can rival takeout and do less damage budget wise. Often I take inspiration from recent restaurant dishes we’ve enjoyed, and lately two pastas from Maialino and Otto both featuring sausage and greens came to mind.

This may become my own signature quick pasta dish dubbed fittingly “Pancetta Pasta Pronto!” avec exclamation mark of course! While I didn’t measure any quantities exactly, this dish can certainly be improvised, substituted and/or tweaked to the ratios of your liking. The best part: it can be thrown together in just about 25 minutes. In keeping with the pronto theme of this post, I didn’t even snap a photo before we dove in!

Pancetta Pasta Pronto!
Serves 2

1/4 cup diced pancetta
1 yellow pepper, julienned
1 bunch broccolini (cut into small floret and a bit thinly sliced stalk)
1/2 pound dry penne rigate
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, more for garnish
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Meanwhile, over medium high heat, saute pancetta until crispy and set aside. In same pan, saute yellow pepper until slightly caramelized and tender. Add broccolini florets and stalk slivers. (I love how momofuku ssam bar serves the sliced stalk in their spicy sausage rice cakes, so I’ve taken to doing the same…) Saute until tender and slightly browned/charred. Set veggies and pancetta aside (I kept mine in a warm oven).

At the same time as you cook the pancetta and veggies, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in pasta and cook until just al dente. Strain pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of pasta water. Return pasta to pot and stir in pancetta, peppers and broccolini. Add 1/4 cup pasta water, about 2 tablespoons heavy cream and parmesan cheese. Still well and season liberally with salt and pepper. Depending on the sauciness at this point, add additional pasta water and cream as needed unti pasta is coated in a nice creamy sauce.

Sprinkle with additional parmesan if desired and serve. And there you have it: Pancetta Pasta Pronto!

Substitutions

Here are a few subsitutions that crossed my mind as I made this dish. I’m sure I will dabble with these variations in the near future:

Pancetta – You could use several slices of bacon or italian sausage with the casing removed. Proscuitto could aslo be stirred in a the very end (so as not to overcook it)
Yellow Pepper – A sweet onion or shallots would work nicely here as well.
Broccolini – I had originally thought to use chard but this was what Trader Joes had to offer (and I may even prefer it!)  Broccoli Rabe or spinach would also be nice.
Penne – Orecchiette, fusili or linguine may also be nice in this

Basically the sky is the limit!

West Coast Adventures: Napa & Yountville

October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

When our adventure left off, we had just completely a whirlwind two days of cycling, imbibing and eating of Healdsburg. From Healdsburg, we heading towards Napa with a few specific tastings scheduled based on the wonderful suggestions of my friend Mark at Terroir. We left just after breakfast and on our way out were sure to go back for a bottle of Alexander Valley Zinfandel from Quivira and a few picnic items at the Dry Creek General Store. We also stopped by Ridge’s Lytton Springs facility for a quick tasting and marveled at their eco-friendly straw bale construction. At this point several wrong turns may have ensued and some may recall a bit of bickering over directions, but we quickly got back on track and en route to Napa.

Stony Hill

Our first stop was  Stony Hill Vineyard, a fantastic family-owned vineyard tucked away in the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park not far from St. Helena. In fact, their location is so remote that we were sent incredibly detailed instructions from Owner Willinda McCrae and were told to call her back if we didn’t receive them in email or we would never find them! This alone was an incentive to go and explore! The McRae home and surrounding vineyards were spectacular, definitely the most serene and beautiful of our entire trip. Willinda was kind enough to walk us through the aging barrels and tell us about the history of this small but wonderful winery which produces some lovely Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon and Gewurztraminer. After the tour, we sat down to taste several of their current vintages and were given several printed recipe pairings to take home with our wines. During our visit, Willinda inquired about where we were heading next, and we told her we’d be staying the night in Yountville and dining at ad hoc. As it turns out, ad hoc serves several Stony Hill wines and the crew had been up for a visit/cookout not long ago.

Corison

After winding our way down the narrow, twisting roads of the State Park, we quickly came upon the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus where we detoured to have our picnic and explore. We found a nice picnic bench for lunch and then strolled through the gift store. Luckily we didn’t have much time before our next apportionment or space in our suitcases or I could have done some serious shopping for kitchen gear. Soon after, we arrived at Corison, another recommendation from Mark, ready to sample Cathy Corison’s legendary Cabernet Sauvignon. We had the place to ourselves and had a great time chatting with Bob while tasting. One of the most unique wines we tasted and took home was the Corazon Cabernet Sauvignon Rose, which we opened a few weeks ago before summer ended in New York.

Quixote

Before setting out, we asked Bob for a few other recommendations and he quickly suggested Quixote. “Even if they aren’t open for tasting, you have to check this place out for the achiteture alone,” Bob explained. Intrigued, we made our way to Quixote and quickly understood Bob’s comment. Quixote, part of Stag’s Leap Ranch, specializes in Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting room itself was designed by Viennese architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, and certainly stands out in Napa. As we tasted, we were shown a binder documenting the correspondence and sketches during the construction, which certainly illustrated Hundertwasser’s passion and devotion to his style and vision. The wines was as delightfully unique as the building itself and we bought one bottle of Panza Petite Syrah to add to our collection.

Not your average California architecture...

Yountville (The Land of Thomas Keller)

Finally, after a day-long journey, we arrive in Yountville and dropped our things at the Napa Valley Railway Inn. Relative to some of the pricier options right in town, this hotel was a great find. While it felt slightly Chattanooga Choo Choo-esque, we had a great stay and enjoyed being right in the heart of town. We spent an hour or so browsing Washington Street, picking up a quick snack at Bouchon Bakery and checking in to see if The French Laundry had any last minute openings (never hurts to ask, right!?).

Luckily, we were more than happy to stick with our original plan and dine later that evening at ad hoc. The 4-course family style menu that night featured an incredible salad with fresh corn, radishes, and heirloom tomatoes, a delicious hanger steak with fingerling potatoes and padron peppers, a mild semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with hazelnuts nad peaches and finally a chocolate peanut butter bar with ice cream. Everything reflected Thomas Keller’s immaculate, refined cuisine but felt as though we were eating in someone’s living room thanks to the friendly, approachable staff and warm, lively ambiance. When we order a glass of dessert wine from Stony Hill and mentioned our visit, our server informed us he had been at the party they hosted for ad hoc just a few weeks earlier. Small world!

Stuffed from a delicious dinner, we walked home reflecting on our favorite parts of the day. The next morning we were up early to grab pastries and coffee to go at (again) Bouchon Bakery for our drive to San Francisco. Not surprisingly, the blueberry muffin was one of the best I’ve ever had, and the almond croissant met my high standards instituted from studying abroad in Paris. While we have a Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center in New York, the original is certainly a bit more quaint (aka not located in a mall) and welcoming. With plenty of pastries and caffeine to fuel our journey, we set out to Oakland to ship our wine before returning to the airport to drop our car.  In the next and final chapter of West Coast Adventures, it’s on to San Francisco!

 

 

The Most Important Meal of the Day

October 6, 2010 § 3 Comments

Breakfast is unquestionably my favorite meal of the day, especially if allowed to throw brunch under that umbrella as well. These days, my breakfasts during the week are eaten at my desk and tend to be the usual yogurt, oatmeal, toast, etc (except of course on “bagel day” at work which until this job I referred to as Thursday). The weekends in New York City are a bruncher’s paradise, but I’m usually happiest with a nice latte and pastry or muffin from a nearby bakery or café.

Perhaps one reason why I love breakfast so much is that many of my fondest family meal traditions revolved around breakfast. While they can’t be called glamorous or highbrow, my family’s go-to breakfast treats are definitely memorable. While my mom spearheaded lunch and dinner most days when we were growing up, my dad was the breakfast ringleader mainly because he would be up early for rounds at the hospital. My most vivid breakfast memories took place during my “only child” glory days until Lizzy was born when I was six.  Our usual breakfast on week days consisted of the typical cereal, bagel or toast, but we let loose a bit of the weekends.

While my dad was an expert at French Toast and pancakes, we usually reserved those for special occasion or everyone’s favorite “breakfast for dinner” (which due to the breadth of his repertoire was often on the menu he was left to preparing our evening meal). Instead, we opted for nothing other than Sara Lee Pecan Coffee Cake straight “from our grocer’s freezer”. This classy breakfast was only elevated by the fact that we both hated pecans so spent the first 5 minutes of our morning carefully extracting them from the otherwise delicious cake prior to diving in. One would think we would have sought out a nut-less frozen breakfast pastry, but this method suited us just fine.

When we found the freezer devoid on coffee cake, we resorted to cereal – more specially cornflakes which were my dad’s favorite. This seemingly healthy start to our morning was quickly counteracted when my father would open the sugar jar and we would both liberally scoop a few spoonfuls (err…tablespoonfuls) on top. The key, I learned early on, was to let the sugar settle to the bottom of the bowl and then scoop a slurry of sugar and milk up with each bit of flakes. To this day, I will not forget the sweet, slightly grainy/crunchy texture that resulted.

When visiting my grandmother in Atlanta, even more glorious breakfast treats awaited me. Hours before my mom and dad would stir, my grandmother and I would head downstairs to her kitchen to have our own special breakfast consisting of bacon, bacon, frozen honey buns and more bacon. Once my mother swears I had made it halfway through the 1-pound pack of bacon before she intervened. While my passion for bacon has not waned, luckily my consumption is down to a slice or two every now and then at brunch.

Luckily as I grew up, my family’s taste in breakfast took a classier turn, and I would now like to introduce you to my favorite Gregory breakfast tradition: Dewey’s Moravian Sugar Cake. The best news: These are available online to be shipped across the country. Years ago, when this was not the case, my paternal grandmother would drive 6 hours to Winston Salem and literally filled her tiny car to the brim with 5-6 dozen of these to give as Christmas gifts to friends. She purposely made this marathon trip alone because a passenger would have only squandered space for more cake! Probably a good thing as I don’t know how anyone could survive the ride with the cinnamon sugar aromas that must have been wafting all around. My family now keeps a good stock of sugar cake in the freezer and breaks them for special occasions or when the craving hits. We just let them thaw overnight in the fridge, dab a couple of pats of butter on top (this leads to ideal puddles of sugary goo when baked) and bake it for 10-15 minutes until it is bubbly, slightly browned and crisp on top.  Just writing about sugar cake has caused me to consider adding a few to my shopping cart on the Dewey’s website right now!

A Visit from Across the Pond

October 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

Only a few days after my mom and sister’s departure from New York, Rupert’s parents arrived on Thursday to spend the weekend with us from England. We had a wonderful weekend of catching up (we hadn’t seen them since last Christmas!) and, of course, eating. Here are the highlights (aka why I will be going to the gym this week!):

Maialino

Dinner at Maialino was the meal I was most looking forward to this weekend and it did not fail to exceed my high expectations! Of the myriad dishes we tried, my favorite of the starters was a refreshingly crisp escarole salad. In the pasta department, the Bombolotti alla Norcia, a short, fat tubular pasta with sausage, chard and a light cream sauce, was spectacular. On an autumnal, slightly sweeter note, the Butternut Squash Agnolotti was decadent with the toasted pumpkin seed garnish adding a perfect salty, crunchy contrast. Of course, desserts made an appearance and I went straight to my favorite olive oil cake and was impressed by what I believe was a flourless choclate torte as well. Along with dinner we began some refreshing Prosecco, moved on to a wonderful Fontodi Chianti Classico (as Rupert’s parents had just visited Tuscany) and a taste of Barolo from Maialino’s incredibly unique Nebbiolo Bar.

City Bakery

I’ve done my share of singing the praises of City Bakery in the past, but this weekend marked my first encounter with their whole wheat croissant. A bit of a croissant purist, I have to admit I was skeptical about any healthy sounded ingredients being incorporated into something that is inherently indulgent. Rupert and his parents when to City Bakery while I was at work on Friday, so I discovered this souvenir in our apartment on Saturday morning when looking for breakfast. Even a day old, this croissant was soft and would have been wonderful as it was, but I took it a step further by slicing it in half and running it beneath the broiler for a few minutes. The whole wheat flour actually adds a bit of a sourdough-like tang and heartiness making this the best croissant I’ve had thus far in New York. I highly recommend trying it…asap! And, with the weather turning cooler, I would not hesitate to pair it with a mini-shot of their hot chocolate.

Tamarind Tribeca

On Saturday night we ventured to Tribeca to the new Tamarind. I love the original location and had heard wonderful things about the new outpost. The space itself is breathtaking with a very modern, austere design. We were seating along the glass wall upstairs, an ideal perch for viewing the goings-on in the kitchen and at tables below. The food was every bit as delicious as that of the original, and the service is impeccable without being obtrusive. Tamarind’s chicken tikka masala is creamery and a bit sweeter than what I normally encounter and I enjoyed the selection of flavored rices in addition to basmati. The tomato coconut variety was especially unique without being overpowering. Broccoli and cheese naan, albeit a bit untraditional, was a fun twist on the staple. I would highly recommend Tamarind to people who are unfamiliar with Indian cuisine and it sets diners up for a delicious and unintimidating introduction. More than once managers (and perhaps even an owner) visited our table to ask how everything was and it was clear their aim was for people to have the perfect experience

ABC Kitchen

For a late (post Arsenal v. Chelsea match) brunch, we walked a few blocks to ABC Kitchen. Having been once before, I knew this would be a crowd pleaser with a few healthy selections after a long weekend of eating out. Rivaling the impeccable seasonal, local food at ABC Kitchen is the gorgeously designed dining room and unique glassware and serving pieces sourced from ABC Home next door. We had some wonderful juice elixers to start while taking in the atmosphere and perusing the menu. Finally we narrowed our selections and came out with the signature peekytoe crab toast, morel, parmesan, oregano & farm egg whole wheat pizza and avocado & roasted carrot salad. All were spectacular with the pizza vying for first place with Pulino’s. We also tried a cauliflower soup which was rich and creamy featuring Rupert cheese. Apparently Rupert is a lot like Gruyere – not a bad cheese to be compared to if your name happens to be Rupert! On my next visit, I must save room for dessert as I’m sure they do a fantastic job with those as well. Easier said than done! I’d also like to visit for dinner soon as I’ve only been for brunch.

Tonight’s dinner, after a long run along the West Side Highway, featured Special K with Strawberries, which was exactly what we wanted after such a delicious but filling weekend!

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