Monday, March 28, 2011

A Treat for Lent or St. Patty’s Day?

I’m not a fan of Daylight Savings Time arriving in March. For several years now, it has screwed up my internal clock. I mean, for years I’ve been conditioned to expect the change of clocks in April. When it happens in March, I get crazy. I start getting religious occasions and holidays all mixed up.

For example, these flaky, golden Cloverleaf Rolls were supposed to be Hot Cross Buns, a traditional Lenten recipe. To make it just a little more confusing, the yeast dough recipe listed in my cookbook is for Parker House Rolls.


Perhaps I should start from the beginning. I’ve recently discovered that the 75th Anniversary Edition of the Joy of Cooking is rather a good reference book for classic breads and yeast dough. The recipe for Hot Cross Buns caught my eye. Joy of Cooking has a narrative format. Instead of the ingredients at the top, they’re interspersed throughout the directions. The Hot Cross Buns recipe starts with the directions, “Prepare Dough for Parker House Rolls, Above.” Immediately, I switched to the previous recipe (apparently Parker House Rolls are a good foundation recipe for lots of different breads). I’m cruising along, ready for the first rise, when I realize – as Bugs Bunny used to say – I should have taken a right at Albuquerque. I missed the point when I should have jumped back to the Hot Cross Buns recipe. The citron, the raisins, and the cinnamon and extra sugar are sitting on the counter untouched. Too late to retrace my steps and correct the mistake. As we often say, particularly in Lent, the Devil is in the details.

Fortunately, I was at just the right point to complete the recipe for Cloverleaf Rolls. (Are you dizzy yet?) All I needed to do was roll the dough into these little balls and pop them into muffin tins and bake.

With that quick save, I follow the Cloverleaf Rolls recipe to its conclusion, the house smells like warm yeast rolls, and the rolls break into lovely segments that catch the melting butter. It’s the perfect treat for St. Patrick’s Day, and would actually be a nice accompaniment for Corned Beef and Cabbage.

My Lenten penance for my carelessness will be to commit the recipe for Hot Cross Buns to memory and try again next weekend.

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 21, 2011

Zany's Farewell Food Truck Tour

Zany dropped the bombshell in my office a few weeks ago.

"I'm breaking up the band. I'm moving to Chicago to help Mad Me-Shell fight the city ordinance against food trucks," she cracks.

"You're kidding me, right?"

Only partially. The Chicago food vendor politics bit is just a cruel joke, but she is leaving the Big Apple for a pretty important job in Chicago.

"But, what about lunch?" I moan. "I can't go back to brown bagging."

Needless to say, I am devastated. My bubble is burst. Zany is the heart and soul of this noshing operation. She came from a small town that considered fried Oreos and pickled eggs ethnic food. She embraced the New York street food scene with gusto and 52nd Street was her all-you-can-eat buffet. How will we shoulder on? Imagine Holmes without Watson, Butch without Sundance, Batman without Robin, Mary without Rhoda? (Oddly enough that last analogy is perhaps the most appropriate.)

But, I digress. Marie Antoinette and I agree we must send Zany off in a big way and what would be better than a farewell food truck tour? It's a big idea and has the makings of a world class reality TV show - a single over-the-top day of food truck dining, finished off with some elegant finger food and some celebratory beverages.

There's no time to set up a suitable guest list (imagine Martha Stewart or Donald Trump on the truck food circuit?) so we juggle our schedules, cancel appointments and hit the streets together for a final food truck bender.

Breakfast: The truck theme is already evident. I’ve narrowly missed being mowed down by two garbage trucks on the way to our rendezvous. It is 8 AM, and we convene for breakfast at the Sweetery NYC truck parked at the corner of 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue.
I trot up the stairs from the E train. Sweetery has not yet opened its window. Zany is already in place on the corner of 52nd. She has a natty rainbow-colored scarf wrapped around her neck and is shivering, yet I think I see steam coming out of her ears. "Marie Antoinette is late," she grumbles.
We spot Marie Antoinette on the opposite corner. She crosses over and gives Zany the stink eye. "I feel like crap,” M-A says. “If I didn't love you so much, I'd still be home in bed."
I think this is starting off well. Maybe these gals need a little coffee in their veins – and definitely pastry.
We are first on line and take our time ordering. The woman behind us is a little cheesed-off, but timing is everything. We order a selection of sweet and savory – a spinach croissant, a cranberry buscuit, a bacon scone, and a chocolate brioche. We take the haul over to the atrium in the Citicorp Center so we can sit down.

The coffee is absolutely scrumptious. We divvy up the goods. M-A seems to be feeling a little better.
“Biscuits should be one of the major food groups, along with chocolate,” she says.
Zany peers into the hole at the top of the brioche. “It’s like a volcano of chocolate just waiting to erupt,” she says in awe.

The brioche tastes like an exquisite chocolate éclair. “I feel like I can accomplish anything today,” declares Zany.
“You resigned. You don’t have anything to do!” I retort.
We take a power walk back to the office and notice an odd number of people with ashes smeared on their foreheads. It seems we’ve made an unfortunate choice for our day of excess, but there’s no way we can put the genie back in the bottle now. I breeze into the office just before my first meeting is about to start.
“See you in three-and-a-half hours,” says Zany.

Lunch: Marie Antoinette ditches us at lunch for a long-standing engagement with a friend at a tony seafood restaurant. Zany is miffed. “I am leaving, you know. What’s authentic about a piece of halibut?” she demands.

We take our place in line at Taim Mobile, the ultra-hot vegetarian truck that serves falafel and smoothies. We like the snappy graphic depiction of chick peas that covers the truck. The line is moving slowly, and Zany thinks it’s because the preparation of smoothies is labor intensive.
“They need two trucks,” she says. We decide to skip the smoothies. We don’t want to fill ourselves up.
We have time to soak up the surroundings and we realize that we’re standing right next to the famous joint, Le Bernardin.
“Maybe we should have taken you to Le Bernardin for lunch,” I say. “The line might be shorter.”
“I prefer falafel,” says Zany and for a while she waxes nostalgic about great falafel sandwiches she has eaten. We order the falafel and the hummus sandwiches, as well as a heaping bag of fries with saffron aioli.

We drench the piping-hot fries in the velvety saffron aioli, which is a bright canary yellow.
"I could bathe in this," says Zany.

The falafel is a crisp and savory revelation. The hummus sandwich is garnished with cool, fresh cucumber salad.

I think I hear Zany squealing with delight.
As we’re eating, we decide to ping Mad Me-Shell. She’s the one who first defected to Chicago, and she’s an avowed carnivore. She is sure to have an opinion on our lunch menu. She responds in less than 60 seconds. The exchange goes something like this:
TW: We’re halfway through Zany’s farewell tour - we’re eating vegetarian truck food right now. Are you disappointed in us?

Mad Me-Shell: WHAT?! I’m not even disappointed as much as I am disgusted!!! What is happening over there!? That settles it – Zany, we WILL be eating the burger with bacon, pulled pork and fried onions on it. I feel like I need to eat a pound of bacon or something just to set the scales straight!
At this point, I’m starting to feel a little full. "You get a new job, and I gain ten pounds," I point out.
Zany whisks the paper wrappers into the brown bag in one clean sweep. "See you in about four hours," she chirps.
Dinner: Marie Antoinette rejoins us for dinner. She is still feeling poorly and says she is not going to consume any adult beverages. Admirable, but her resolve quickly topples like a house of cards.

For our final stop, we go crazy. We take the party indoors, we sit down like adults, and there’s even a wine list. At Ayza Wine & Chocolate Bar on West 31st Street we order flights of red wine, a cheese platter, a White Truffle Pizza, Crispy Baby Shrimp Dumplings and a house favorite, Angry Chicken Lollipops.

I note that the last time I had three meals in a row with the same person I was probably five and the person was my mother.
As we eat, Zany reflects on her life as a street food connoisseur. She says our encounter with the La Cense Beef Burger truck was a spiritual moment. “That was the first time I ate without condiments,” she explains. “The truck guy said the burger was so good, it didn’t need any. I took a bite, the fountain in Columbus Circle where we were eating suddenly went on, and I knew it was a sign.”
She has fond memories of Chowder Fest, our first adventure on the rebound from Mad Me-Shell. “They’d read your posts, they thought we were famous, and they gave us prime seating,” she recalls. “We made new friends and ate endless seafood for three hours until we closed the place down.”
But her favorite adventure has to be the encounter with Mr. Pink and the Double Dog. “Now that was a culinary masterpiece,” she recalls, getting misty-eyed. “Pepper relish, Parmesan shavings and two dogs in one bun.” It was the dog days of summer, and she and Mad Me-Shell were flushed with nitrates and had to be restrained from hurling insults at a mild-mannered guy who was eating a salad by a fountain on Sixth Avenue.
She says she might come back to New York some day. “If the city approves the “open container law” I’ll move back and open a wine and cheese truck.”
The grand finale to our evening is a dark chocolate fondue. Zany spikes a marshmallow with her fork and dunks it into a luxurious pool of molten chocolate.
“I would rather die happy than die thin,” she says, almost as if it were a benediction.
At last - after 12 hours of nearly continuous dining - we are stuffed to the gills and must say our goodbyes. We are going to miss Zany. You've got to love a woman who celebrates Hawaiian Shirt Day religiously and gives you first dibs - ahead of two hundred guests - on her wedding cake.
It's been a fitting send off for a great food adventurer. Her farewell note is signed, "Yours in Condiments." My only regret is that we didn't have time to get the food trucks of Manhattan to parade up 6th Avenue and honk in Zany's honor.
The lunch hour is just not the same anymore. Nowadays when I walk up 52nd Street - hungry for a little street food excitement - I sometimes imagine I still see Zany queued up at one of the food trucks, craning her neck to see if the line will move faster. But, it's probably just the heady aroma of fried food messing with my brain …
©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Winner of “The Farmer’s Kitchen” Cookbook Giveaway

Happy Spring, and congratulations to Joumana of the wonderful blog “Taste of Beirut.” She’s the winner of the “Culinary Types” random drawing for the new book "The Farmer's Kitchen" written by food blogger Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal. Joumana, contact me at the email address link on my blog with your mailing information and I will get the book out to you immediately.

And, don’t forget to come back tomorrow to learn the shocking – but always tasty – details of what’s happened of late with our cheerful crew of food truck fanatics.

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 13, 2011

“The Farmer’s Kitchen” – A Cookbook by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal - And a Giveaway

If you’ve ever found yourself flummoxed by what to do with the mind-boggling variety of fresh produce available at the farmers’ market or through your CSA, Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal have created a manual just for you. The team has published the cookbook “The Farmer’s Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Enjoying Your CSA and Farmers’ Market Foods.” The book draws on their years of experience in professional kitchens and on the farm.

Julia is a chef and consultant to restaurants, farms and food producers. She also authors the blog “Grow, Cook, Eat” where she chronicles the culinary creations that come from her urban vegetable garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Brett worked in restaurants for nearly two decades and now runs Even’ Star Organic Farm in Lexington Park, Maryland. Their collective wisdom on culinary techniques and fresh produce has helped to create a highly targeted guide with dozens of seasonal recipes that maximize freshness and flavor.

Julia Shanks is a chef, consultant and food blogger
Julia and Brett realized that people were often challenged by the variety of vegetables and the amount of produce they receive as part of a CSA share.
“I don’t subscribe to a CSA,” say Julia. “I rely more on my own garden and the farmers’ market, but the perennial complaint that I hear is, If I get another &*$%$% bunch of Swiss chard, I’m going to scream.”
Julia says CSA members often struggle with “hard to use” veggies or even some vegetables that they don’t even know where to begin – like Kohlrabi. Even the more benign vegetables like cucumbers can become overwhelming when you get three pounds for three weeks in a row, and home cooks need help coming up with new ideas and long-term storage tips to manage the bounty.
“This book was designed to help the consumer navigate through the diversity and abundance of the produce available,” she explains. “We wanted people to have a guide for all the wonderful - and sometimes weird - foods that farmers grow.”
Brett Grohsgal manages Even’ Star Organic Farm in Maryland
Brett had already created a CSA cookbook for his subscribers in Maryland as a way to help educate them about the produce he grows and give suggestions on how to use it. As a farmer, he most valued how the cookbook not only simplified the communication with his customers but also promoted loyalty. The team thought that other farmers would appreciate such a tool as well.
“The Farmer’s Kitchen” contains A to Z descriptions of a large variety of vegetables, greens and herbs as well as storage tips and shelf life advice to assure optimal freshness. Brett says even some of the more basic tips – like storing mesclun in Tupperware with a moist paper towel – are so important, yet aren’t taught in cooking school.
"The Farmer’s Kitchen” also bursts with more than 200 simple recipes utilizing culinary techniques that bring out the best in local, seasonal produce. Julia says one of the bigger challenges in assembling the book was taking their professional culinary experiences and distilling that knowledge into accessible recipes and tips.
“Between the two of us, we have 35 years of professional cooking experience,” she says. “It was important to translate “chef-speak” into “normal-person-speak.”
Julia says the recipes have the distinct personalities of the co-authors.
“For me the most surprising and fun recipes were Brett’s,” she says. “I made the “Savory Vegetarian Greens with Potatoes” (page 132) for the first time skeptical that it would be bland and boring. I ended up really loving this dish and have made it countless times since.”
Brett’s favorites are the squash blossom recipes (pages 215 – 216), the Stuffed Peppers (page 178) and the Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad (page 251).
At its core, “The Farmer’s Kitchen” reflects the co-authors’ deep passion for the glories of eating seasonally.
“We hope people will learn that there’s really great food to be found at the Farmers’ Markets and CSAs, to be more adventurous at the farmers’ markets, and take advantage of all the wonderful foods that farmers’ grow,” says Julia.
I prepared the following recipe from “The Farmer’s Kitchen.” When pan roasted, the sliced Brussels sprouts were so rich and savory, I almost couldn’t stop eating them!

Quinoa with Roasted Brussels Sprouts - courtesy of “The Farmer’s Kitchen” by Brett Grohsgal and Julia Shanks
½ cup quinoa
½ pound Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin or chopped
½ lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: ¼ cup toasted, slivered almonds

Rinse quinoa under cold water. Put in a small sauce pot and cover with water. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until quinoa has popped and is cooked through.
Meanwhile, cut Brussels sprouts in half and then slice thin.

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the olive oil, and let heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes or until aromatic. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring regularly, until they are bright green and soft. Remove from heat.

When quinoa is cooked, drain excess water. Toss with Brussels. Add juice from ½ lemon and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in almonds, if using.

If you’d like to receive a copy of “The Farmer’s Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Enjoying Your CSA and Farmers’ Market Foods,” leave a comment on this post between now and Saturday, March 19th at 11:59 p.m. EDT, and tell me about your favorite vegetable from the farmers’ market or CSA. One winner will be chosen at random and announced, appropriately, on Sunday, March 20th, which is the first day of Spring. We can only ship within the United States.
©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Burger Babes Have It Their Way at “The Counter”

Spring may be just weeks away, but we’re getting a little cabin fever down at the old office and it’s still too cold to eat outside. Food trucks are cool, but grabbing your takeout with frigid fingers as a wicked wind roars down 52nd Street is not. I consult Zany.

TW: (sounding hungry and desolate) I’m going stir crazy. Somebody spotted me downstairs at Subway the other day and threatened to expose me on CNN. We need a new lunch adventure!

Zany: (with an efficient, “take no prisoners” tone) Call Marie Antoinette. We need a strategy session! We need flavor!! We need variety!!! We need real utensils!!!! Let’s move!!!!!

Zany is the General MacArthur of the lunch hour.

For lunchtime maneuvers, we journey out into Times Square in search of hot food, eaten indoors. Our target is The Counter just below 42nd Street, which promises fresh, 100 percent natural Angus beef hormone and antibiotic-free burgers, customized our way.

Some math genius in the promotions department has determined that there are 312,210 combinations available at The Counter. This has Marie Antoinette a bit intimidated.

“That does not bode well for the most indecisive person ever – moi!” she says without uncertainty.

Following a brisk walk through Times Square – where there may be more pigeons than people – we pause to look at the multi-media show in The Counter window, where burgers, buns and toppings multiply before our eyes. There’s something oddly captivating – and even thrilling - watching this burger constantly regenerate, but then, it is Times Square, so food porn is acceptable.

We push through the glass door and leave the cold air behind us. The warm, lip-smacking aroma of flame-broiled beef envelopes us immediately. We take a seat at the counter. There are tables, but somehow it seems appropriate to eat at the counter at The Counter. Zany notes that it’s a nice compromise between eating standing up on 52nd Street and sitting down like grown-ups. The décor is ultra modern – clean, white counters and blinding, bright lights. It’s a bit like having a cheese burger in George Jetson’s kitchen. We are lucky we arrived when we did. Within minutes, the place is jammed and there’s a line out the door.

We are each presented with clip boards and pencils and a long list of options to build our orders. Think of it as a multiple choice burger.

It’s just five steps to a better burger – meat, cheese, toppings, sauce, and bun. While we wait for our burgers, Marie Antoinette and I each indulge in a shake. Hers is Peanut Butter. Mine is an “adult” coffee shake with a shot of Kahlua. (Don’t raise your eyebrows. I’m an adult) As the shakes are delivered, Zany swipes her index finger through the dollop of whipped cream atop Marie Antoinette’s shake.

M-A is horrified. “Are your fingers clean?” she demands.
“I just walked through Times Square,” says Zany. “Of course they’re clean.”

Zany is a fried pickle chip connoisseur (it’s a genetic thing) and she approves of The Counter’s approach. The golden fried coating is hot and crispy, with cool, crunchy pickle concealed within.
Three mountainous burger platters are placed before us. Marie Antoinette scores on originality, with kind of a Switzerland-takes-Texas creation, with a brief stop at Coney Island. Her burger consists of beef on Texas Toast, Gruyere cheese, tomato, mixed greens, Applewood smoked bacon, fried onion rings and a side of horseradish mayo.

My burger is built on a foundation of Texas Toast – beef, Tillamook Cheddar, grilled onions, Applewood smoked bacon, roasted red peppers, lettuce and red relish. I try to wrestle the small tower into my mouth, but I am quickly facing an architectural disaster. I am forced to resort to knife and fork, and deflect the scorn of my comrades-in-arms.

The Zany Burger is beef on a bun, Tillbrook Cheddar, dill pickle chips, tomato, mixed greens, and Applewood Smoked Bacon. She cuts her burger in half and reveals a perfectly cooked, pink center, which she garnishes with a smear of chipotle aioli. She sighs with supreme satisfaction and takes a bite.

“This is why I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to work out,” says Zany. “Right here.”

While I would dearly love to leave you in burger bliss, I must conclude with a bit of foreshadowing. There may be lean times ahead for our little lunch platoon …

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved