Monday, November 30, 2009


Delicata squash w/ apples, lemons
The other night, as I licked the last of my applesauce from my plate and contemplated the sauces of my future, my friend Tracy appeared, all smiles and a spunky new hat. Immediately, I felt guilty for not having saved her a bite, because this stuff tasted like a holiday party not to be missed. I confessed to feeling a bit piggish and promised to make more soon, before giving her a quick run down of my day in the kitchen. That's when she caught me off-guard with four little words: Do you ever miss. "That's funny," I laughed aloud. Do I ever miss?

I wish I could've answered her with an assured "no," but in truth, I'm forced to improvise often -- from lack of planning, lack of proper ingredients (file under lack of planning), biting off more than I can chew, distraction. I thought of a salad I made recently for the opening of a friend's gallery: crispy delicata squash and shaved apple salad. If it sounds good it's because it was, but it was not what I intended. I planned a roasted delicata squash and shaved apple salad, buttery soft bits of squash that would melt in mouths of art lovers, tart bursts of apple. Then I burned the squash, prompting an internal debate over whether -- when entertaining -- it's better to have a table heaped with snacks (some nearly blackened) or a less-bountiful spread that's a sure thing. To my surprise, I chose the former, arguing that despite the crispy edges of the squash pieces, the salad was very good. So good, in fact, several guests asked for the recipe.

Of course, I would not have served it if I thought it was inedible, so it wasn't quite a miss. But it was close.

Crispy delicata squash and shaved apple salad


Three medium delicata squash, halved, seeded, cut into 1/4" pieces (skins on)
Two medium red-skinned apples
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In large mixing bowl, toss squash segments in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, taking care that each piece is lightly coated. If needed, do this step in batches.

Place segments in a single layer on two baking sheets. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast until underside of squash blisters and can be pierced easily with a fork (20-25 minutes). Allow to cool slightly (20 minutes).

Meanwhile, core and thinly slice apples. In a large mixing bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and parsley. Add cool squash, remaining olive oil and vinegar.

Season to taste.

Serves 10-12.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When life gives you apples.

Some times, it's as if the stars have aligned for my taste buds, and today was one of those days. I awoke this morning with a serious hunger, the kind that inevitably follows an indulgent dinner the night before. In my case, it was an impromptu feast at Sfoglia, where I once worked for several years, first as head bartender, later as general manager. Sfoglia specializes in rustic Italian food, the kind -- they say -- you'd have at grandma's house. With no offense to any of my grandparents, Sunday dinner never once consisted of arctic char crostini with pickled shallot, or a Caesar-style salad of young arugula, shaved fennel and julienned watermelon radish. Nor did any one in my family make perfectly fluffy sweet potato gnocchi and toss them with braised oxtail, apples and leeks. And for that matter, while we did enjoy the occasional pork chop, never once was it smeared -- as it was last night -- with a spoonful of gorgonzola and a heap of bright green and gorgeous celery mostarda, a perfect marriage of tang, salt and sweet. Thank god, they sold out of the bread pudding before it came time for dessert. I'm not even going to start with the bread.

Apple sauce w/ cinnamon, red wine

Let's just say you go there. And the next morning, as you contemplate the contents of your fridge and weigh them against your previous night's meal, consider those two apples on the top shelf, the bruised and mushy ones you meant to throw away last week. Pull 'em out, because you're going to eat them, but first you're going to turn them into a quick and delicious apple sauce. With wine. This recipe takes less than 25 minutes, plenty of time to brew a pot of coffee, boil an egg, toast a few slices of bread and gather some reading materials. Relish the goodness of this meal: rustic -- like Sfoglia -- in a different vain.

Call your grandmother.

Applesauce with cinnamon and red wine


2 medium red-skinned apples, cored and quartered*
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch salt

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat.

Add apples. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until apples start to break down (5 minutes).

Add wine.
Cover and continue to cook until apples soften completely (10-15 minutes).

When done, apples will mash easily with a fork.

Stir in cinnamon.

Serves 2 if you're feeling generous.

* Note: I suppose you could peel the apples, but it's more work, and it is breakfast, and the skins help maintain a rustic charm.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday morning No. 9.

Caramelized onion cereal and table
A few days ago while waiting for my flight home from my other home in Portland, Ore., I bought a few novels at Powell's Books. Powell's is a Portland mainstay, a great "City of Books" within a slightly larger world of artists, baristas, beer lovers, bicycle commuters, chefs, dee-jays, fashion designers, foodies, musicians, outdoorsmen and women, strippers, revolutionaries and wine makers (to name a few). Growing up in the Portland-area, I used to relish my trips to Powell's, and when I was old enough to drive and later lived downtown, I'd go there several times a week -- to read, to see what other people were reading, to stockpile books for winter. At the airport location, I was drawn to a section devoted to literature of the Pacific Northwest. Sherman Alexie, David James Duncan, Stepahnie Kallos's Broken For You, which I devoured in a long day and night years ago. I picked up A Country Called Home by Kim Barnes and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (I passed, reluctantly, on Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter). I've wanted to read Robinson since she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005, and I thought her first novel was a proper start. Barnes I knew nothing about, but the cover description of a pair of young lovers heading west in search of a simple life tugged at something in me good. So it was A Country Called Home that I reached for as my plane lifted east, and I didn't set it down until it was finished.

The novel is set in rural Idaho and is largely about relationships -- mostly familial, some platonic, a few romantic -- and I found them engaging. But it's the landscape that really drew me in. The vast potential of the land, and the meals that it inspired: coffee brewed over campfires, foraged berries and bitter greens, newly-caught fish gutted and roasted alongside rivers, tasting of earth and muck and salt. There were less-rustic meals, too: simple omelettes, steaming bowls of oatmeal, roast chickens and pies. In one chapter, a character inventories the various gravies cooked for him over the course of his childhood: "Redeye gravy stained with ham drippings and spiced with coffee grounds. White gravy thick with flour; brown gravy made rich with Floral Bouquet. Bacon gravy, sausage gravy, turkey gravy -- any bone would do, any carcass stripped, simmered, the broth set to cool, the fat rising and skimmed." Never have I craved biscuits so badly. The mention of fried apples made me weak in the knees.

It was no surprise, then, that I woke this morning craving something hearty, a camping meal. I thought again of fried apples and a bowl of farina, before remembering something better. I've been saving this recipe for curried oats with caramelized onions, waiting for the right day, the perfect mood, enough time. Caramelizing onions takes a good deal of it (mine took more than an hour), so I made a large pot of coffee to keep me company. And while I watched the segments turn from white to golden to brown then black, I reflected on my recent trip to Oregon, artisan coffee, the smell of wet leaves after a good rain, leisurely drives out to Dundee, toast. I was so entranced by memories and onions, I nearly forgot the accompanying grains. Instead of oats, I opted for farina, which I spiced with cinnamon, coriander, cumin and turmeric. A little salt. Then, at last, a heaping spoonful of caramelized onions. Crunchy and sweet, they bound to the farina for perfect savory bites. It was a special meal, and it left me warm, happy, thankful.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Welcome to The Stock Agency.

We're happy you're here.

Tonight we are celebrating years of dreaming and months of hard work. I designed this menu with Tamara -- a vegetarian -- in mind. Some of our best times have taken place around a table, breaking bread, trading stories.

All food is local (most is organic) unless otherwise noted:

Spiced olives, Grand Central Bakery baguette.

Roasted hazelnuts.

Rainbow carrots, sea salt.

Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog

Hummus, cracked pepper crackers.

Roasted beets, thyme, olive oil, sea salt.

Crispy delicata squash and shaved apple salad.

Sautéed shitake mushrooms, elephant garlic, parsley.

Autumnal sangria -- apples, brandy, pears.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday morning No 8.

Travel lunch
Last night and this morning bled into one, the result of my tendency to over commit and plan with a little too much ambition. After getting off work around 1 a.m., I ducked into my favorite watering hole for a little company and a shot of whiskey. I was glad to find both while I rode out the night; about a month ago I booked a 7:30 a.m. flight to Portland, Ore., on a whim, and rather than go home last night for a few hours of sleep, I opted to dance with the dark (and save myself 50 bucks in cab fare). Around 2 a.m., I boarded a Manhattan-bound F train, eventually landing at Penn Station for the first train to Newark International Airport at 4:15. By the time I settled in at my gate, I was exhausted, famished and beyond thankful for the meal I packed for my journey.

Just thinking about airport food makes me grumpy, but that's not the only reason I travel with a sack lunch. Yes, I like to know where my food comes from, and yes, I like to eat as many fresh and unprocessed foods as possible. But I also prefer to eat on my own terms -- and often -- and I've found both difficult and expensive when traveling. On a recent trip home from Southern California, after downing the bag full of snacks I'd packed before take-off, I was forced, upon arriving in Dallas for my layover, to eat at Chili's. And it was awful. Shuffling unsatisfying bites of iceberg lettuce, mealy tomatoes and pre-packaged shredded cheddar cheese between my plate and mouth with a plastic fork, I vowed next time -- and forever after -- I would pack enough for several meals. The food I packed for today easily stretched into three.

Discussing food for travel last week with a chef friend, she mentioned that she likes to use pre-packaged cartons of arugula to pack her travel meals; I love and recommend this tip. I don't often buy packaged greens, but many come in bio-degradable containers, which make them perfect for care-free travel (no need to worry about finding a recycling bin, or getting your favorite piece of Tupperware home). To build my lunch, I removed half the arugula from my container to make room for other food stuffs. I then added one cup of raw almonds, one cup of oil-cured olives, a few ounces of fresh goat cheese, some prosciutto and a whole lemon. It was like a bento -- a super-sized bento -- but still… Because I did not dress the greens, the arugula stayed crisp and delicious. I ate some wrapped in a slice of prosciutto with a dollop of chevre and a few olives. Later, I bought a bagel and made a sandwich. Along with a cup of Earl Grey tea, I was just as happy as I would've been at home. I admit I would've preferred flatware, but a plastic knife is surprisingly effective against a whole lemon. I cut the tip off mine, then pierced the flesh with my fork to release a little juice for my greens. When I was done, I used a little more lemon juice to clean my hands before attacking a bar of chocolate I brought along. Nibbling on a few squares, I found myself thinking ahead to next week and my trip home. What could I add to spice things up? What would you pack?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looking forward.

Birthday Manhattan
Despite purchasing a new MacBook, I have been largely offline the past few days; instead I've been celebrating Halloween, some birthdays and the visit of a good friend. I haven't cooked a lick, which makes me sad, and I'm going out of town tomorrow, so that won't be changing. But I have had many meals out lately, some at my favorite haunts. They were meals that inspired new ideas and triggered unexpected memories. As I look ahead to the remaining fall and the arrival of winter, I hope to continue celebrating some of my favorite things (epicurean, and otherwise):

Bike rides
The Brooklyn Academy of Music
Dinner parties
The Paris Theater
Pasta fagioli
The Russian and Turkish Baths
Sweet and sour (onions, raddichio, soup, etc.)