Archive for June, 2010

The Island

June 29, 2010

Staten Island has always been exotic to me.  A foreign land approached by sea, whenever I’ve gone on the Staten Island Ferry, I immediately turned back around.  Guided by a New York Times on Thompkinsville, there’s more to Staten Island than just the ferry.  The plan was lunch in the Sri Lankan area, explore, thrift.

Talked up by Robert Sietsema and Anthony Bourdain, New Asha was my destination of choice.  After taking a subway, the ferry, and a bus – almost two hours – I was starving.  In my condition, I was relieved that New Asha was a steam table buffet, immediate gratification; but to have travelled so far for the ambiance of a Chinese takeout, might have struck me otherwise.  The $10 lunch special was a heaping load of rice, chicken curry, creamed greens, coconut-y lentils, caramelized eggplant, and roti.  I can objectively say that it was delicious, it’s not just my hunger talking, or my rationale for traveling so far.  Well spiced and well priced, I would have this often if it was actually close to me.  Such is what makes the adventure special.

This area of Thompkinsville is actually walkable from the ferry, but since I didn’t know how far it was on my initial ascent, I took the bus.  Just as well, it’s hot and it’s all uphill.  Walking down Victory Boulevard revealed more Sri Lankan restaurants and groceries, Mexican tacquerias, Caribbean takeout, Polish “Place”, and Italian pizzerias.  Almost a geological layering of immigration, I would have loved to have a taste of them all, but New Asha did me in.

At the bottom of the hill, closer to the ferry, is the thrift store trifecta of Everything Goes.  Separated into three locations – furniture, books, and clothing – it’s reasonably priced and so unlike Manhattan.  Staten Island can feel a world away, but worth visiting again.

New Asha Sri Lankan Restaurant

322 Victory Boulevard

Staten Island, New York  10301

718-420-0649

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Endless Buttermilk

June 24, 2010

The two corn and buttermilk recipes only used up 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk out of the quart that I bought, what to do with the rest?  I didn’t want to make biscuits or a cake, I still had plenty of cornbread.  Since buttermilk is a staple of southern cooking, I consulted The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, which had plenty of ideas, and is such a pleasure to read.

   

In making the most of what I had, I made their Cornbread Salad with Buttermilk-Lime dressing.  Supposedly like a panzanella, the cornbread croutons were my least favorite part, becoming soggy and gummy, not having the hearty elasticity of day old country bread.  Everything else I loved.  The dressing is flavorful and herbaceous, although a little thin, nothing that a little sour cream and/or yogurt can’t cure.  I love the combination of bibb lettuce and arugula.  I love the parboiled tomatoes, skin and seeds removed, and the technique – stick a fork in a tomato, boil for 30 seconds, rinse under cold water – which could please the most finicky tomato hater.  To make it to my taste, I replaced the cornbread with hard boiled egg, enjoying the cornbread on the side.

Since I was so happy with the salad, I tried their Crispy Corn Bread, a completely different creature from the Cornbread with Cheese and Corn.  This version is thin and baked in a frying pan.  Lard, or in my case, bacon fat is melted in the pan and heated in the oven before the batter is added, ensuring a brown and crispy crust.  Being almost as thin as a pancake allowed me to reheat it in the toaster oven for two crispy surfaces.  But I still think I prefer the more cake-like quality of the other cornbread.  Maybe I’m not so southern after all.

   

Further defying southern tradition, I opt to make Cook’s Country’s Oven-Fried Chicken instead of a traditional buttermilk fried chicken.  A healthier alternative, skinless chicken is marinated in buttermilk, mustard and Tabasco overnight, and then coated in bread crumbs and cornflakes.  There is good crunch and good flavor, but it’s not fried chicken, more like Shake ‘n Bake.

My reverence for southern cuisine is as a special occasion food, but this southern-influenced meal is light enough for everyday. Using up the buttermilk, though, takes weeks!

Corn and Buttermilk

June 22, 2010

Whenever I pull from my files, I wonder why I kept the clipping in the first place.  How is the recipe interesting to me?  What sets it apart from others?  The ingredients?  The technique?  The combination?  These two recipes which marry corn and buttermilk in the form of mashed potatoes and cornbread from the November 16, 2006 New York Times, mystify me as to why I kept them.  Even though I love mashed potatoes and cornbread, I don’t need to know how to enable a fattening habit.

   

I’m guessing that the appeal of Mashed Potatoes with Corn and Chives is that it’s not that fattening and they’re easy to make.  Lowfat buttermilk substitutes for butter and full fat milk, enhanced with poached garlic, corn, and chives.  A little bland, it screams for butter for that mouth watering taste that I associate with mashed potatoes.  Butter, I gave it, to take it to the next level – potato pancakes.  Fried to a golden brown and topped with a fried egg and hot sauce, I didn’t look back at its former self.

  

On the other hand, Cornbread with Corn and Cheese is 100% indulgence.  Not just buttermilk, but olive oil, cheddar cheese and butter keep the cornbread moist to almost a fault.  Fresh out of the oven, it struck me as bland, again, but toasted a day later, its features shone through – tangy cheese, grainy cornmeal, and chunks of creamed corn.  Super toasted for croutons, was its best incarnation, as it never dried out.  

In my edit out process, I’ll keep the fattening cornbread instead of the lowfat mashed potatoes.  Sometimes vice rules over virtue.

Beyond Prime

June 17, 2010

A couple of months ago, on an excursion to Boom Boom Chicken in Fort Lee, we stumbled upon Prime & Beyond, a Korean steakhouse and butcher shop.  The entrance was alluringly displayed with aging cuts of beef in temperature controlled cases and a few takeout items; the dining room had the dark leather booths of a hearty eating establishment.  We had to come back.

Lunch was the time to go with it’s simple, less expensive menu – hamburger, hot dog, steak, and bone soups.  Dinner is meat priced by the pound.  We got to the restaurant just as it was wrapping up lunch, so we had only one choice – steak and rice.  I can’t complain, for $20, my perfectly delicious steak came with rice, a fried egg on top, and salad.  Our young amiable host told us that the steak –  a thin, melt in your mouth piece – was a wet-aged ribeye, compared to their selection of dry-aged steaks, which are “crazy, nutty”.  He’s the butcher; his brother, the restauranteur.

He also informed us that they would be opening a Prime & Beyond in Manhattan in a few months.  I’m happy and sad for the same reason – they’ll be closer.  Steak this good should be more conveniently located, but at the same time, I love that we found this place and it took good effort to get here – train, bus, foot.  We didn’t read about it, or hear about it from anyone, it just looked good and unique.  Of all the restaurants on Main Street, we believed in this one.  And it succeeded.

Something Out of Nothing

June 15, 2010

 

It would have been a shame to throw out the poaching liquid from boiled potatoes and chicken.  With the help of a few well placed ingredients, the fortified water is transformed into a thai vegetable stock.  Shallots, lemongrass, and ginger, all a little past their prime, become more than the sum of their parts to create a fragrant broth after an hour on the stove.   Part alchemy, part Charlie Chaplin’s boot soup, all good.

Thai Vegetable Stock

– chop one onion or two big shallots

-slice a one-inch piece of garlic

-cut one stalk of lemongrass into 4 pieces

-in a stockpot combine all ingredients with 5 cups of water or reserved poaching liquid and 1/2t salt

-bring to a boil, and simmer for an hour

-strain out solids

Extraordinary Giardiniera

June 10, 2010

  

My love for pickles extends to the colorful Old World jars of giardiniera.  Not fancified or modernized with wasabi or heirloom beets, the combo of carrots and cauliflower are preserved in a white wine vinegar, that’s it.  Usually when I pick up a jar, it is the dustiest product on the shelf.

Paired with another dusty product on my shelf, herbes de provence, it makes for a Mediterranean influenced chicken salad.  The pickled giardiniera gives the immediacy of crunch and tanginess, whereas the herbes de provence add a fragrant undertone that lingers against the plain canvas of shredded chicken and mayonnaise.  A little old makes for a lot of good.

Giardiniera Chicken Salad

-dice 1/2 cup giardiniera

-combine 1 1/2 cups shredded chicken, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1T giardiniera juice, 1t herbes de provence, 1/4t black pepper, giardiniera, and 2T minced basil, optional

-serve over greens or in a sandwich

Do I Really Need…

June 8, 2010

Another measuring spoon?  It’s not like owning another Ferrari, but since I already own so many, is it necessary?  The limited room in The Littlest Kitchen would suggest not, but I have been needing an extra tablespoon measure since I recently broke one.  I like to have at least two – one wet, one dry.  This dual table/tea spoon measure from Muji is irresistibly elegant, a single piece of stainless steel without any nooks and crannies.  I’m happy to add it to my growing collection.

The Home Lab

June 3, 2010

  

At the behest of my illustrious Jamaican barbecue host, I made ginger ale for batches of Dark and Stormy.  Duly skeptical at first, and a little icked-out – yeast is in ginger ale? – I was curious enough to try it.  The link that he had sent me had the overwhelming detail and precision of a science project, down to the kind of grater to use for the ginger.  I could not go astray.  It took me longer to read the instructions than to actually make it.  In short and committed to memory:

-combine 1 cup sugar and 1/4t yeast to an empty, dry 2 liter bottle

-mix 2T grated ginger and the juice of 1 lemon in a measuring cup, add to bottle

-fill bottle with water, leaving an inch at the top

-let sit for 24 to 48 hours

 

The instructions were emphatic about not using a glass bottle because it could explode due to the buildup of pressure.  In the unfortunate event of a messy explosion, I let it sit in the tub to keep it contained.  The end result was tasty, a far cry from Schwepp’s.  Sweet and spicy, but not quite effervescent, it could have used more than the day that I gave it to ferment.  As quickly as it was made, it was gone shortly thereafter.

Rating Raita

June 1, 2010

           

Since pulling out Mark Bittman’s recipe for seven variations of raita from the May 29, 2008 New York Times, I have been eating raita with everything for weeks.  Not just the Indian inspired dishes that I’ve been making as an excuse for ghee, but on eggs, as a dip, anything that needs a spot of creaminess, spiciness, and crunchiness.  The mix-ins vary in texture from crunchy radishes to mushy bananas, and there is a constant linger of cumin and heat.  Dannon should give these savory versions a try.  Notes on the variations:

plain – a healthy alternative to sour cream

cucumber mint – I like my tzatziki more

mixed vegetable – crisp and refreshing from the radishes and red pepper

beet – pretty in pink, I prefer potato

potato – not crunchy, not mushy, but that assuring soft and structured potato salad feel

chickpea – I feel so healthy eating this

banana coconut – sweet and pleasantly squishy

I bailed on the tomato raita, given that tomatoes are out of season and that there’s minced onion, no thanks.  I’ve also strained it for a thicker version, which makes for better dips.  Dare I say it, I think it agrees with me.