Archive for December, 2010

Anniversary

December 16, 2010

It’s been another year in The Littlest Kitchen!  A year ago, I was hoping to get on to a second phase of renovations, but alas, paying off debt and living it up a little has taken precedence.  The slow road of budgeting has been effective, and I think that I’ll be debt-free by tax time as long as Christmas doesn’t kill me.  No regrets on the great meals and great places that I’ve been to this year.  More fun, more savings, less stuff.

This year, I’ve also rediscovered my hoarder files to find that a) New York and its surroundings are an ever evolving being that doesn’t necessarily exist after it’s been written about 10 years ago; and b) recipes are imperfect and some time suck.  The randomness of following different recipes has been a great way to learn how to cook, defining what I like to eat and how to fix it.

In the upcoming year, I’d like to clean house a bit.  I’ll thin out the files and weed out what I know I don’t want to cook instead of needlessly hanging on to the past.  I’d also like to re-evalualte what I do and don’t need in the kitchen, like do I really need dried avocado leaves from 1998?  All in the interest of being a better and more efficient cook in 2011.

Simply Bad

December 14, 2010

From the same article on Beans in the March 2010 Real Simple as the Black Bean Soup, I also tried the Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon and Escarole.  My favorite combination of cooked greens, beans and smoky fatty bacon, it had to be a win win win win situation.  Except, somehow, this tasted like dirt.  To single out the culprit, I tried the escarole which was thoroughly soaked and washed –  I usually wash my greens by soaking them in a bowl of water, letting the sediment sink to the bottom, and rehydrating any limp leaves via osmosis.  Not it.  The black eyed peas didn’t taste particularly dirty, but there was a vaguely mineral taste, possibly it needed to be cooked longer than the 3 minute warming time, or is it the pitfalls of canned?  Needless to say, I wasn’t crazy about  this dish, especially having made better versions of this combination with white beans, tomato and kale.  Am I being overly critical, comparing it to prior successes?  Is it a bad recipe?  Bad ingredients?  Bad execution?  Simply bad.

Real Average

December 9, 2010

What I found appealing about this recipe for Black Bean Soup from the March 20101 Real Simple was the union of black beans and beer.  I’ve made many black bean soups in the past and have never quite mastered beer and beans.  Also intriguing was the roasted jalapeno salsa, which is always attractive at the supermarket, but I’ve never tried to make at home.  And all this could be made in 35 minutes?

It did not take 35 minutes, more like an hour (an episode of This American Life).  I’m a slow chopper and I let the soup cook longer than directed.  It also took longer to broil the jalapeno pepper in the toaster oven.  But overall, it was easy with a nice black bean mashing at the end.

With this kind of simplicity comes a lack of depth.  The salsa added a lot of heat, and the soup could have used some sour cream or yogurt.  It’s okay.  I’ve preferred versions that I made in the past with chipotle pepper or coconut milk.  The super spicy salsa became a great guacamole, especially in a fish taco.  Real simple, yes.  Make again, no.

I’ll Eat Vancouver

December 7, 2010

I have been remiss in updating the blog for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, work will often pull me under unexpectedly at any moment like the sea.  Second, my computer needed to be upgraded to support the new version of Safari and WordPress.  And last, I went on vacation to Vancouver.

Traveling to Canada when the dollar is at parity makes a more expensive trip than I like.  About the only thing that’s “cheap” is the food, which is a good thing because it is superior.  Here are the notables:

-Vij’s – the best Indian food.  Everyone waits in line no matter who you are.  Patience is rewarded with creative cocktails and fresh bread once you sit down.  The widely lauded lamb “popsicle” is worthy of praise as perfectly charred chops in a creamy perfumed sauce.  In Vij’s cookbook, you find out why it’s so good – four cups of whipping cream.  1480 West 11th Avenue, West Side.

-Motomachi Shokudo – After a bike ride through Stanley Park, all I wanted was a hot bowl of noodles.  Conveniently located next to the bike shops, Motomachi serves up ramen to restore my weary self.  Springy noodles with a balance of accompaniments including a special burnt onion oil, I was warmed while the outside was not. 740 Denman Street, West End.

-Salt Tasting Room – When wine becomes the meal supplemented by finely curated salamis and cheeses.  Its sparse rugged interior adds to its a priori authenticity in Blood Alley. 45 Blood Alley, Gastown.

-Hawker’s Delight – The laksa wards off Vancouver’s chill with thick noodles in a curry broth for only $5.  Creamy, spicy, and full of tofu, chicken, and fish balls, it’s worth as much as a fur coat.  4127 Main Street, Main Street.

-Xian Cuisine Food Stall – Did I mention how cold it is in Vancouver?  About the only thing that I wanted to eat was noodle soup which I got in all variations of the Asian spectrum.  At the Richmond Public Market, you can watch them make your hand pulled noodles served in your choice of soup.  A bit of a schlep outside of town, I wish I had a bigger stomach to accommodate all that the market had to offer.  8260 Westminster Highway, Richmond.

-Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe – hippie dippie eclectic, with a menu that reflects its familiar yet unconventional decor.  Comfort food is given a twist like the Southwest Eggs Benedict served on a bed of cornbread, guacamole and black beans.  2095 W. 4th Avenue, Kitsilano.

-La Quercia – surprise after surprise at this Italian restaurant that reminded me of The Big Night.  A prix fixe menu provides multiple dishes that rotate daily, making me want more.  On my visit, I had a creamier than thou burrata, and meltingly tender braised beef cheeks, amongst the many fine things that I tasted that night.  Fine dining is in low key intimate setting, which apparently is always booked.  For a prix fixe that is $45, no wonder.  3689 W. 4th Avenue, Kitsilano.

-Indian Candy – maple cured salmon.  Sweet and savory and smoky, all the good things in life.  Need I say more?  Granville Public Market, Granville Island.

Even the local neighborhood sushi places had outstanding sushi, better than many NY places for a fraction of the price.  Vancouver is a great place chase away the cold with a good meal.

The Soup Doctor

December 2, 2010

In the realm of the culinary, I like to consider soup one of my more proficient skills.  I can make a soup out of almost nothing and know how to make it taste good.  I know what I like in a soup and I’ve made many in my life time because, well, I like soup.  As an evolving soupmaster, I’m always trying new recipes and new approaches.  From a September 10, 2008 clipping from the New York Times comes three vegetable soup recipes from Mark Bittman, which all needed a little help to make me like them more.

Fresh Tomato “Borscht” is more like a chunky gazpacho.  A tomato consomme is made from many many tomatoes, simmered and strained, then cooled.  Minced cucumber, bell pepper, more tomato, and scallions serve as “garnish”, but really creates the body of the soup.  Being a bit finicky about texture, I didn’t like the chunks of crunchy vegetables bobbing in the tomato water, too much contrast, not enough integration.  To make the soup more to my liking, I pureed it and, for more body, added bread crumbs – the way I usually like my gazpacho.

Zucchini Egg Lemon Soup is like a vegetarian avgolemeno, the Greek chicken soup.  Grated zucchini substitutes for shredded chicken in a creamy lemony rice enriched soup.  The texture was spot on, but tasted watery, lacking the richness that chicken gives.  Adding a squirt of lemon juice at the onset of eating didn’t help, although it added a nice brightness.  It wanted a little bit of chicken bouillion to smack of umami, which I gave it.

Late Summer Minestrone had all the best summer offerings, why did it make such a bland soup?  Zucchini, corn, green beans, carrots, and tomatoes all made for quite a sweet soup, but it lacked a savory edge.  Again, bouillion made it better, although what would have been perfect would be a rind of Parmesan simmered with the soup.  For more interest and thickness, I added orzo and fresh cranberry beans.  That’s the way I like it.