Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

WCB #47: Cats Don't Share

You know how little kids often like the box that a toy comes in better than the box itself? (Dad once built a giant box fortress for Devorit and me when they bought a gadzillion large appliances all at once -- in my mind's eye, it stretched across the living room and was the Best Fortress Ever.) My cats -- and, I suspect, yours too -- are the same way.

Especially Max. Max fell in love with a Poland Springs box:

And much joy was had as he squirmed about. But trouble lay ahead, for Max is not the dominant cat in our household. Widget, the demon cat, is. And while he had no interest in the box before Max found it, it was only a matter of time before he realized that he could torment his brother by making him give it up.

Widget: Ho ho ho! What do we have here?

Max: Noooooooooo!

Mom, don't let him take away my box! I've got my mousie right where I want him and he'll ruin EVERYTHNG!

Luckily for Max, we drink a lot of bottled water. Solution:

And peace reigned supreme...until Widget decided he wanted Max's box, frantic wrestling ensued, and both boxes were trampled in the melee. Oh well.

Take a minute to visit the elegant Kiri and his friends over at Clare's!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Lemon and Spice and Everything Nice

I never realized how often lemons appear in my kitchen until I found myself constantly typing "lemon" into Blogger posts. In fact, if you'd asked me pre-PBPO to rank lemons on my personal citrus hierarchy, they would have come in relatively low, probably behind oranges, tangerines, and limes.

Ahead of grapefruit, though. For sure. I've held a grudge against those ever since I learned -- painfully -- that they taste nothing like grapes. (Yes, I was a literal-minded child.)

Like many of you, though, I use lemons all the time in cooking, especially in savory dishes. (Check out Cream Puffs in Venice, where April is lemon month.) Here's a quick way to use their cheerful zing to dress up olives, which are already pretty darn good. People will never believe that you made these yourself.

Marinated Olives
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis's Everyday Italian

3 T. olive oil
2 lemons' worth of zest
.75 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1.5 c. Sicilian cracked green olives
1.5 c. kalamata olives
juice of half a lemon
2 T. chopped fresh basil

In a skillet large enough to hold all the olives, stir the oil, lemon zest, and pepper flakes over medium heat for about a minute, being careful not to let anything burn.

Turn off the heat and add the olives, mixing to coat. Add the lemon juice and basil.

Transfer everything to a container with a lid -- I use a Mason jar -- and refrigerate, shaking occasionally to mix things up, for at least twelve hours. Bring them to room temperature before serving, to great acclaim.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's So Easy Being Green

Especially once I found my camera! Thanks to the Patient Co-Worker, naturally.

Ok, I'm starting to give up on my indifference to spring. I've had asparagus every day for the past week, so it's becoming pretty ridiculous trying to pretend that I'm ambivalent about the season and its offerings. Check around the food blog world and you'll find these bright green stalks everywhere, and rightly so.

In my book, asparagus is best on the grill, preferably with some kind of soy-ginger marinade. Since I'm am grill-less in the city, I resort to roasting. Scatter a handful of spears on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and coarse black pepper, then roast in a 425 degree oven for fifteen minutes or so -- perfection.

I like them plain or chopped into pasta with pecorino and olive oil. Last Saturday, I stepped things up a notch and wrapped each spear in a prosciutto pashmina. Instant classy finger food!

I'm not ready to embrace fava beans yet, but I'm getting there.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blogging Blind

So I've misplaced my camera. My best guess had been that I left it at the Patient Co-Worker's house this weekend -- I borrowed her apartment for a party I was throwing, as two of my guests are violently allergic to cats, and mine in particular are having a grand old time with springtime shedding -- but it sounds like that's not the case. Which is most vexing, as I had pictures of all the party food in various stages of prep, not to mention several shots of the cats being adorable (while shedding).

In fact I spent a large part of yesterday admonishing the felines. "Save the cuteness! I don't have my camera -- you're wasting it, my little allergen fuzzballs." You will not be surprised to learn that my instructions had little effect.

So no pictures until the camera turns up (I hope) or I buy a new one (I fear). Sigh. But I will tell you about a dip that I served at Saturday's party. It wouldn't be particularly photogenic, I suspect, and it's also so ridiculously easy as to be a little embarrassing. But it's always devoured and Saturday was no exception.

Jalapeno Artichoke Dip

1 package reduced-fat cream cheese
1 c. grated Parmesan
1 6-oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts
3-5 pickled jalapenos

Bring the cream cheese to room temperature. Reserve a couple of tablespoons of the artichoke marinade, then mince the hearts and the jalapenos. Add them to a mixing bowl with the cream cheese and stir everything together. Add the grated Parmesan gradually until everything's combined. If it seems too dry, dribble the reserved artichoke marinade into the mixture until you like the consistency better. Taste, and consider whether you want to add more jalapenos or more cheese. Or more artichokes, for that matter. I certainly won't stop you.

I prefer this dip at room temperature, but many people like it heated. Easy to do -- pop it into a shallow baking dish, sprinkle more Parmesan on top, and bake at 300 for ten minutes or so until warm and gooey.

* Regular cream cheese is fine, but nonfat will throw off the consistency.
* The dip is great with chunks of bread, tortilla chips, or celery sticks. I may have made a sandwich out of it on occasion. Maybe.
* I always use five jalapenos, but of course adjust that to suit your taste. You may need to compensate with extra artichoke hearts if you use only three chiles. Oh, and don't use fresh chiles in this recipe -- too powerful.
* Save your good Parmigiano-Reggiano for another time. I mean, I'm not saying that I reach for the green can, but a domestic Parmesan -- and yep, I get the pregrated kind -- works very well here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Quick + Basil + Chiles = Happy BNA

Most people look forward to spring with fervent anticipation. Me, I have nothing against the season, but since I'm biased against its successor, I tend to not get all that excited.

But I do share the growing impatience with rich hearty dishes, with stews and braises and the like. Time for something bouncier. Zestier. Basil-ier. (Ok, so it's a little early for basil, but still.)

Here's a quick recipe that combines all of those traits into one sprightly springtime dish. The photo's a little insipid, but the chicken is not -- this is powerful stuff. Bring on the warm weather!

Chicken with Fresh Basil
Adapted from Nancie McDermott's Quick & Easy Thai

Serves 3-4.

3 T. vegetable or olive oil
1-2 T. coarsely chopped garlic
0.5 c. finely chopped onion (I used red)
0.75 lb. chicken, cut into small pieces
2 T. fish sauce
1 T. reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 T. water
2 tsp. sugar
2-3 T. coarsely chopped hot green chiles, such as jalapenos, serranos, or Thai chiles
1 c. Thai or Italian basil

Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cook until the chicken's browned, being careful not to burn the garlic.

Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, water, and sugar, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring well, until a thin, smooth sauce forms. Toss in the chiles and basil and stir until the basil wilts. Remove from heat and serve.

* I used serrano chiles, and the dish was mighty hot. Careful when you're adding them to the skillet -- don't breathe too deep.
* We served this over white rice, but next time I would make brown rice for more heft and crunch.
* I was able to find Thai basil, which has a fantastic bright flavor, but I'm sure regular Italian basil would work well.

Monday, April 17, 2006

NY Nosh in the Lower East Side

When she found the walking tour, Devorit was almost beside herself with excitement. “LOOKLOOKLOOK!” she emailed me. “It’s like All of a Kind Family!”

Did you read those books? They’re a series of children’s books about a Jewish family living in New York’s Lower East Side soon after the turn of the century. The family has five “stair-step” girls – Ella (eldest, most responsible, sort of the Elizabeth Wakefield of the group), Henrietta (wild, rambunctious, Jessica to Ella’s Elizabeth), Sarah (grave middle child, with a stubborn streak), Gertie, and Charlotte (indistinguishable adorable rapscallions, as I recall). Each book was made up of many stories, told from different sisters’ points of view and filled with fascinating detail about New York in general and the LES in particular. Devorit and I were mesmerized by these books, and especially by the Jewish holidays and rituals they described. Sure, we knew about Passover and Hannukah, but Purim, Succos, and Yom Kippur were less familiar. And the food! I think my love affair with Jewish food started with the descriptions of the food of the LES – pickles, gefilte fish, chicken soup with rice, candied grapes and oranges, the barrel of broken crackers and sugar babies that Gertie and Charlotte saved their pennies for (although did they ever get in trouble when Mama found the crumbs from their midnight feast in their bed!).

(I won’t speak for Devorit, but when I first learned that we are one-eighth Jewish, one of my first thoughts was of a happy near-kinship with the All of a Kind Family girls.)

So when Devorit found this walking tour, we obviously had to go. And I can’t recommend it highly enough. We were lucky to have Susan, our guide, entirely to ourselves for three sunny hours. She conducts several tours, and we chose the one called NY Nosh – a walking and tasting history of the Jewish community of the LES. She was a treasure trove of detailed information (and didn’t even seem to mind our penchant for snapping pictures).

Some of the afternoon’s tidbits…

A mushroom knish at Yonah Schimmel's knishery, which has been serving up gloriously sticky and dense knishes for a century.

Gorgeous sides of sable at Russ & Daughters, open for just about as long. I thought I liked smoked salmon best until I tasted this.

A savory onion bialy, chewy and mellower than the pile of onions would suggest, almost like pizza crust.

And a quartet of salty offerings from The Pickle Guys -- from left to right, a green tomato pickle (shudder), then a full sour, a half-sour, and a new pickle. The sour was the Platonic ideal of a kosher pickle, in my opinion (and not so much as a sprig of dill ever came near it), but the new pickle had a pleasant, refreshing taste -- a very crunchy, slightly salty cucumber. (Let's not talk about the green tomato pickle.)

Cannot recommend this walking tour highly enough -- and you may even find yourself looking up All of a Kind Family at the library.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

WCB # 45: Yoga Cat

Max loves to "help" me with my yoga practice. I bet I'm not the only one who has trouble balancing when a cat is twining around my ankles or wrists.

Downward-facing WHAT?

Check out the other limber kitties at Clare's!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thai Love

Thai is our favorite kind of cuisine to order (assuming you don't count pizza as a kind of cuisine, which, well, I guess I can see arguments on both sides of that one). But I have zero confidence in my ability to make Thai food -- it seems so complex and nuanced, as though the tinest mismeasurement would send the dish galloping into disaster. So when the Angelic Co-Worker (who, by the way, has been known to lead yoga classes for the Patient Co-Worker and me when the boss is out of the office) started talking about a book of Thai recipes that were easy and delicious, my ears perked right up.

As always, the Angelic Co-Worker's advice was well worth following. Nancie McDermott's book Quick & Easy Thai is awesome. Nothing's overly complicated or frightening, the ingredient lists are manifestly manageable, and the recipes we've made turned out marvelously well. I can't speak to its authenticity level, but the food tastes as good as our favorite delivery place -- and that's saying something.

Here's one of the first dishes we tried. I drank every last bit of the spicy coconut sauce. The chicken absorbed the panaeng curry paste very well, although next time I will try tofu for kicks.

Chiang Mai Curry Noodles
Adapted from Nancie McDermott's Quick & Easy Thai

Serves 3-4.

2 T. olive oil (the book says vegetable oil, but I don't keep that on hand)
1.5 T finely chopped garlic
2 T. red curry paste or panaeng curry paste
.75 lb. boneless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 c. unsweetened coconut milk
1.75 c. chicken broth
2 tsp. curry powder (I used Penzeys Hot Curry Powder)
2 T. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 T. fresh lime juice
.5 lb. dried egg noodles
.33 c. coarsely chopped shallots
.33 c. coarsely chopped cilantro
.33 c. thinly sliced green onions

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add the garlic and toss well. Next mush the curry paste into the oil and garlic, stirring about a minute. Add the chicken and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally to brown it evenly and to mix it with the curry paste.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles as you normally would. Drain, rinse well in cold water, and drain again.

While the noodles are cooking, add the coconut milk, broth, curry powder, soy sauce, suar, and salt. Stir well. Bring to a gentle boil and cook at a simmer for about ten minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the lime juice, which really adds a noticeably tangy dimension.

Divide the noodles among your bowls, and ladle the curry over the top. Sprinkle each serving with shallots, cilantro, and green onions according to your whim.

* You could use tumeric instead of curry powder, if you prefer.
* I used a can of panaeng curry paste that Devorit and I purchased at Kalustyans, but next time I think I'd like to try to make my own.
* With the hot curry powder, these noodles were plenty spicy. I wouldn't have wanted it any more fiery (can you believe it?), because I inevitably slurp the noodles and thus expose my lips to the feistiness.
* Next time I would cook the sauce a little longer to reduce it, as it came out quite thin.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Good Passover!

Have a joyous holiday, friends -- we're off to a seder tonight with the Patient Co-Worker and her husband.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

If Only We Had a Paladin on the UWS

…I mean, why stop my geeky sci-fi/fantasy post titles now? Three points if you get the above reference (but you’ll have to read through to the end for it to make sense! I am evil like that).

So anyway, Devorit visited us last weekend, and a merry time was had by all. She was most pleased to encounter significantly more liveable weather this time around. Her first visit to New York was last July, when it was approximately a gadzillion degrees and two hundred percent humidity. Devorit and I share a genetic horror for temperatures over ninety degrees, so you can imagine her relief when Sunday dawned bright and clear. (Sure, there was some rain on Saturday, but contrary to popular belief, the OC does get substantial rainstorms, so the moderate drizzle here was nothing she couldn’t handle.)

We spent several hours wandering through (read: getting lost in) Central Park, which is exploding with daffodils of all shades of white and yellow. When Devorit casually mentioned, with a devil-may-care kind of saucy sangfroid, that she was contemplating a hot dog from one of the park vendors, I knew I had to take her to Gray’s Papaya instead.

(I know, I know. Many of you are staunch defenders of the Central Park pushcart hot dog vendors, and I respect that, I really do. I am simply incapable of eating a hot dog that I have seen emerging from that grayish water. I’m just not a strong person that way.)

So off to Gray’s Papaya. In case you haven’t had the pleasure, this is a place that sells hot dogs and juice – and that’s it. (Well, some sort of breakfast items in the morning, maybe.) And the employees are known for their surliness. That may be an overstatement; say rather that they are strong proponents of efficient ordering. They know what they’re doing, and they expect the same from you. It can be a little intimidating on your first visit, especially if you’re a person of acknowledged hot dog weakness like myself, so I coached Devorit a bit.

BNA: You have to tell him either plain or with sauerkraut.
Devorit: Um…(looks stricken at prospect of no mustard)
B: (remembering Devorit’s devotion to the yellow side of the condiment aisle) No, no, you put your own ketchup and mustard on afterwards, at the counter there. See?
D: Aha. Very good. So…hmmm. I don’t know if I want sauerkraut or not.
B: (eloquent silence)
D: (raising eyebrow) Yes, I know that you don’t like sauerkraut, but I do.
B: Hey, on your head be it.
D: Fine, fine, get two plain.

Successful ordering ensued. Visual aid:

Then there was the mid-consumption conversation:

B: You like?
D: It’s good. But I wish I had ordered mine with sauerkraut.
B: Whyyyyy?
D: I like it!
B: Dude. You know what sauerkraut is, right?
D: (sighing) What?
B: Zombie cabbage.
D: …you are demented, you know that?
B: And you should not eat the undead. Am I right?
D: Dude. You have ruined sauerkraut for me. You suck.
B: Another mission accomplished!

Stay tuned for more of our weekend adventures.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

WCB #44 -- All Your Suitcase Are Belong to Us

Devorit is in New York. As people do, she brought a suitcase. It was, obviously, ripe for conquest by the resident feline warlords.

Visit Clare's to see Kiri and his friends!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Someone Stop Me!

Friends, we've known it for some time. Hard to deny, really. But after this weekend in southern California, I have realized that I must take action. Because I, BNA, have a severe spice problem.

Here it is: the spice cabinet.

The middle shelf is for cat food (as you can see, we need to go shopping. The catlings are pointedly refusing to eat the adult wet food, though. Anyone else have this problem transitioning their kittens' food supply? Anyway). The rest...spices. Herbs. Mixtures of both. Four rows' worth on the bottom shelf.

And one to grow on, on top where I can barely reach, for crying out loud. Can I remind the assembly that we live in a tiny NY apartment?

It wasn't always this way. In fact, when I moved out here, I packed up most of my spice collection and sent it downstate with Devorit, along with most of my wine collection. I figured, hey, time to break free. How many spices do you really need, foolish girl? Break free from the guilt emanating from all those tiny jars!

...the road to hell, etc., etc. You can see how long that set of good intentions lasted. About a week, as I recall. Then it was a jar of cinnamon here...a fistful of nutmegs there...all of a sudden, I had to make a trip to the Container Store (ok, I love the Container Store) to get a spice rack to house this monstrous collection.

This weekend, Devorit and I drove an hour to reach an actual Penzeys Spices store -- a glorious place I had never before seen. My favorite part? Alphabetization. Glorious, precise, logical order. My little Virgo soul thrilled to its fingertips. And the spices weren't bad, either.

But now I am under strict self-imposed orders to stoppitalready. Look! There's no more room! End of story! And...scene!

Except I just got this new curry cookbook...and I don't have any curry leaves or various other crucial things...and Devorit's coming to New York this weekend.

Please. Help me.

p.s. I think I mentioned this in a comment once, but not in a full post -- I have two people to thank for my Penzeys addiction -- the fabulous Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen, who first piqued my curiosity about the brand, and my cousin-in-law R., who presented me with my first jars, the Some Like It Hot collection. Thanks to both!