Want and Need

July 14, 2011

I’m quite proud of my wine bottle rolling pin.  Ingenuity on the the fly and practically free, it works for the brief stints that I need it.  I don’t roll out dough often, or ever, before my most recent endeavors into dough, but I now have a new reason – the Joseph Joseph adjustable rolling pin.  Outfitted with interchangeable rings that allow for different dough widths, it’s cute, compact, and multi-purpose, just what The Littlest Kitchen needs.

Lessons in Flour, pt. 2

July 12, 2011

     

Feeling good about my rolling skills with my makeshift rolling pin, i.e. the empty wine bottle, I gave Maureen Evans’ Strudel Pastry a try.  In her 140 characters, a filling isn’t specified, but I had visions of Nutella and chopped hazelnuts in flaky pastry.  Starting with one cup of flour to 2 tablespoons of cut up butter, coarse crumbs are created, mashed together with a potato masher, which is what I assume she means by “mash tater”, not mashing a real potato into the mix.  The addition of 2 teaspoons of yeast dissolved into 2 tablespoons of water barely moistened the dough.  With gradual splashes of water, I could barely form it into a crumbly ball.  This hard ball, more suited to knocking down bowling pins, is supposed to rise?  Well, it didn’t, nor was I able to pull it into a 17″ x 25″ rectangle.  I did what I could rolling it out into a semblance of a crust, having faith that Nutella will make it better.  Alas, it did not.  The result was more like sheetrock than pastry.  Sad.

I suspect that my yeast was dead.  I suspect that given the dry dough, I should have moistened with cream, more butter, or oil, instead of water.  I suspect that adding a mashed potato would have been better than this.

Lessons in Flour, pt. 1

July 7, 2011

     

Following along with Maureen Evans’ tweeted recipes in the Times, I ventured onto her Kashgar Noodles.  I imagined that these are the same hand-pulled noodles that I see being stretched and banged around at the noodle restaurants in Chinatown, a fascinating piece of theater in the grubbiest joints.  Noodles, especially Asian noodles, are so cheaply omnipresent, that I would never think to make them.  It’s like milking my own cow.  But now, I can attempt the role of bad ass noodle maker on the stage of The Littlest Kitchen.

Of course, it didn’t play out as such.  I had no idea on how to make pasta, having never made it in my life.  When I tried to pinch and pull the noodles, they would fall apart instead of behave like trained elastic bands.  Further inexperience was rolling out the dough, not with a rolling pin (which I do not own), but with an empty wine bottle.
From a little bit of research, I learned that the thinner the dough the better (duh), and when she says “cut crosswise”, that means make them long (double duh).  With the first round of dough, I did neither ending up with something more akin to spaetzle.  Eventually, ingenuity won over ineptitude, to make something surprisingly good for something out of nothing – flour, water, egg, salt, and an empty wine bottle.

 

Beyond the basic noodle recipe in 140 characters, I’m left alone on what to cook with them.  The first try is as soup noodles using Nina Simonds’ Mushroom-Beef Udon Soup recipe from Asian Noodles, my thick-ish noodles being very similar to rope-y udon.  The soup is a dashi based broth (another something out of nothing) simmered with mushrooms and scallions, topped with marinated beef and spinach.  The noodles held up to the sturdy soup, and if they weren’t so ugly and deformed, they could go pro.

Since I was never going to make perfect noodles, I thought that it could take a rougher treatment in a stir fry.  Using the marinated beef from the soup, sauteed with garlic and ginger, these made a great lo-mein, with the addition of snow peas and tofu.  The wonkiness of the noodles went well with the fresh mess and freestyle that lo mein or chow fun  allows.  Wider surface area meant for more marinade absorption and the opportunity for crispy, browned effect.  I may not be ready to thwack the noodles at the Chinese restaurant, but I can certainly be their fry cook.

Almost Free

July 5, 2011

On Independence Day, I tried to free myself of clutter and deal with the disorder of my apartment.  Specifically, I had to make space for the air conditioner, which led to reorganizing in general.  Scattered around, I had collected a number of gallery promos from recent and not so recent shows of images that I like.  Not quite ready to file them away, I had the crazy idea of collaging the back kitchen wall.  A productive folly that forced me to do more reorganizing on the pantry shelves and cleaning out the toaster oven, an hour later, I had a different look for the kitchen.  In fact, I need more images to go all the way down to the counter.  All in good time.

Not So Know It All

June 21, 2011

 

What is there to know about Saffron Asparagus Orzo?  The tweeted recipes in the New York Times has provided me the opportunity to learn more about what I’m cooking beyond the 140 characters provided, a bit of backstory to fill out the brief jottings.  In the case of this orzo, it seemed pretty self-explanatory and clear, no additional research would be needed.  Brown the orzo in butter and garlic; add saffron and stock; add asparagus; add parmesan.  I followed, I flailed, a little.  I browned the orzo a little too much.  There was too much stock to orzo, by the time it was cooked through, it was still too soup-y.   The asparagus became overcooked while I waited for the liquid to cook down.  While this endeavor seemed like a no-brainer, it became more of a lesson in attention to detail.  Not that the final results weren’t still good, it’s quite delicious.  Even with the gaffes, imagine how good it could be?

A Boom With a View

June 16, 2011

  

Last Friday’s afternoon adventure was a walk on the new addition of the High Line with lunch at The Lot, the food truck endpoint at 30th Street.  As expected, the High Line was gorgeous and cool in an only in New York way.  Snaking between buildings, evidence of old tracks, and all the greenery, exhibits the multi-tiered layers that I love about New York.  Best of all, you don’t notice that you’re walking 15 blocks.

There was less to love about The Lot.  Our plan to have lunch at many of the food trucks was thwarted with Taim and the Taco Truck being out of order.  Only Rickshaw Dumplings had something savory and substantial, and they were mostly sold out.  In the blazing heat, I succumbed to Kelvin Natural Slush Co.’s tiny peach ginger slushie, refreshing, but overpriced.

In our wander back downtown, we stopped at the Boom Boom Room on top of The Standard Hotel.  Since it was largely empty before 6pm, we brazenly took a table with a view, ignoring the “reserved” sign at the sunken banquette.  Facing south and west towards downtown and the Hudson, this view does not get old.  It took my breath away to walk into the spacious high vaulted room surrounded by the open views and anchored by a twisting helix at the bar.  Stunning.

The topper is the bathroom.  Through the hall of mirrors, any of the unlabeled doors lead to an airplane sized bathroom.  Compact, in reflective shiny black, it is walled by windows, so you can make your business with a view, or express how you really feel about this town.

Needless to say, the drinks are terrible, overpriced ($20!), and cloying sweet.  “Snacks” at $7 is a trio of pistachios, beet chips, and surprisingly delicious gin and tonic-like olives.  The Boom Boom Room isn’t for drinking, but looking longingly at the city you love.

Biscotti-a-thon

June 14, 2011

   

It started with a tweet.  Not the illicit near naked kind, but Maureen Evans’ tweeted biscotti recipe from the New York Times.  At 140 characters, this brief biscotti recipe seemed all too easy.  I had only made biscotti once before, a friend’s mother’s recipe, which was radically different, so I needed to study up a bit.  A consultation with Cook’s Illustrated, revealed a similar Lemon-Anise Biscotti recipe to the tweet, filled out with more details like mixing dry and wet ingredients separately, and decreasing the temperature on the second baking.  Fusing the two recipes, I boosted the flavor with CI’s addition of 1/2T lemon zest, 1/2T anise seed (instead of anise “flavr”) and 1/8t vanilla.  Incredibly easy, it satisfies my sweet tooth without being sinful and cloying.  I can see it being in my regular repertoire.

 

I was so filled with biscotti pride that I went on a biscotti binge for two work parties last week.  A batch of the easy lemon-anise biscotti for my non-nut co-workers, the crowd pleasing Mrs. D recipe, and as a challenge for me, Pistachio and Dried-Cherry Biscotti from the May 2011 Bon Appetit.  While cooking the BA recipe, I questioned the ratio of ingredients, the dough was incredibly dry, forming the log was like making a sand castle with the abundance of fruits and nuts falling off.  I prepared myself for disappointment.  Quite the opposite – they rocked!  Slightly chewy, and full of complex flavor from vanilla and almond extract, orange and lemon zest, and oats, I’m in love.  It’s more work than the tweet, but well worth it.

Amo Philadelphia

June 9, 2011

When I think of Philadelphia, I don’t really think about Mexican food.  There is Jose Garces’ new Latin cuisine empire – Distrito, Tinto, Chifa – all destination worthy.  But I didn’t expect to find the best tortillas in recent memory at Tortilleria San Roman, in the heart of the Italian Market.  It makes sense since tacquerias are starting to encroach upon the butcher shops, pasta makers, and Italian importers, so why not good basics, different culture?  The modest tortilleria sells only a few things – corn tortillas, homemade chips, sopas, and huaraches – masters of masa.  The tortillas, sold in kilos and 1/2 kilos, are pillow-y soft, nothing like the cardboard tortillas that I’ve come to expect.  Tortilla chips in 1-quart ziploc bags for $1, are crisp and flaky, making me want more.  I’m planning to stock up como loco on the next trip down.

Tortilleria San Roman

951 S. 9th Street

Philadelphia, PA  19147

443-220-7222

Tweet Tagine

June 7, 2011

   

I was intrigued by Maureen Evans’ tweeted recipes in the April 22, 2009 New York Times, both for what’s in them and how they are told.  The article extolled their compact and elegant virtues, but it wasn’t without a little homework.  For her Honeyed Tagine, essentially a lamb stew, I needed to consult Cook’s Illustrated, as I’ve never cooked lamb before.  First,  what kind of lamb?  Only one pound of lamb, or yam, is specified.  I learned that it’s the shoulder, which I got from the halal butcher, who then cut the slab into 1-inch pieces on his bandsaw.  The truncated technique of the tweet more or less matched the multi-pargraphed version in Cook’s Illustrated, the main difference being a longer cooking time at a lower temperature – 250 degrees for 2 hours instead of 400 degrees for an hour – which makes sense for a more tender, collagen enriched braise.  Otherwise, the proportion of spice, aromatics and sweet was very similar to CI’s Moroccan Lamb Stew.  A nice addition at the end is a cup of garbanzo beans baked in for the last 15 minutes.  Now that I have my technique down, I can see myself making it from shorthand in the future.

Destination: Lunch

June 2, 2011

Every day for the last x years, I’ve brought my lunch to work.  Not just to save money, but because it’s not worth the small fortune to eat the mediocre crap in midtown, not even in my own cafeteria.  My lunches are healthier, I’ve fine tuned them to my taste, for pennies.  But I need to live a little this summer.  So on summer Fridays, I’m going out for lunch.  Not near my office, destination lunches.  Or lunches that are normally to crowded and annoying for dinner.  Or lunches that are great deals.

My first summer Friday lunch plan was to go to Totto Ramen on my way out of town.  I love Yakitori Totto, so their ramen  offshoot must be good.  Located on 52nd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, it’s around the corner from an old, now defunct workplace, but not so conveniently located to me now.  The alley-sized restaurant seemed to be everyone’s favorite lunch place with a half an hour wait, which I did not have with a train to catch.

I ended up at Danji, a few doors down, which I had remembered was reviewed favorably in New York Magazine.  The $14 lunch special made it all the better.  Diminutive and tastefully minimal, the look of the restaurant aptly reflected the modern Korean cuisine – bright and clean.  The lunch special of the day, pulled pork, was served on an immaculate tray, daintily served alongside a bowl of rich brisket soup and two mounds of pickles, each with their own personalities.  The pulled pork itself, laid languishingly on a bed of rice, blanketed in a spicy dynamite-like mayo/cream sauce and a showering of tempura batter bits and scallions, a dreamboat of flavors.  Despite the disappointment of my thwarted plan, Danji more than made up for it.